Thursday, December 31, 2009

A day off for ear infections


My ear has become hostage in a tragic plight against an infection.  No, not really - really it's just a beginning of an ear infection.  But, I'm taking the day off to give my head a break.

Hope you all have a great day!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Listening with Two Healthy Ears

The last week or so, my right ear has been clogged up.  Feeling like an ill fitting ear plug has been inserted in the ear, I can hear though sounds are a bit muffled.  I have grown more and more frustrated with this as the sounds around me are not heard as easily as they usually are.  Holding one hand over my left ear, I try and listen with the right and notice how sounds are still there just a bit dimmer. 
A clogged ear is frustrating enough in the real physical sense.  It impedes in conversation, hurts my head, and my hand keeps finding it’s way over to my ear and rubbing around my ear to see if I can relieve the pressure. 
A spiritually clogged ear is not only frustrating, but can be dangerous.  It can be so hard to hear God midst the sound of every type of media that is available, but when our hearts are hard it leads to clogged ears.  What can that do to us?  If we can’t hear God’s direction, we can head in the wrong direction, getting lost in the process.  Sometimes, we misplace the task that God has given us, putting it up on the shelf and collecting dust when we should have it out and working.  I think about a time in my own life that I had clogged spiritual ears.  My listening was full of grad school, friends, church, work, family; they weren’t bad things, but all busy, noisy, demanding things.  I had a conflict that needed to be dealt with and just didn’t know how.  Mulling this over and over and over in my mind, I would pour out my heart to God.  But, I didn’t hear the answer until my ears were unclogged.
There is a little bottle of swimmer’s ear drops in my bathroom, sitting on the counter.  It hurts just a bit as the drops sit in the ear, a sting which can be felt all the way through my ear and into my head.  Ouch!  I know that the liquid stinging inside my ear will help it heal and soon my hearing will be back to normal.  I have to take my medicine to make it better.  Often with spiritual ear clogs, it works the same way.  Something will sting as God starts clearing away the blockage.  Little by little the medicine of the ultimate Healer works and our hearing is returned. 
How are your ears today, do you need to borrow some swimmer’s ear drops?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Exercise of Assumption Jumping

Turn on the news and you will catch snippets of events that are completing changing the lives of people.   Thirty seconds and you can very easily assume that you know all there is to know about the matter.  I think, I can’t believe that they, I would have, etc…  What wonderful exercise we can get from jumping from assumption to assumption. 
Some of you might be familiar with the news broadcaster Paul Harvey, who so famously would conclude his last point with a new plot twist or change after stating, “and now for the rest of the story.”  In other words, the first information you received was just that, first information.  But there is more! 
I think that God is a lot like that.  He gives us a little piece of information and we think that we have got a good grasp of what that means.  Then, God sits down to broadcast the nightly news and we hear that we really haven’t heard the whole thing. 
I think about what God has communicated to me through his Word, through prayer, and through the Holy Spirit.  It is my human side that starts thinking – okay God, thanks for the information.  I can take it from here.  But, just as soon as I jump on that particular conclusion, I find that my assumption was just that – my assumption.   
As the New Year is approaching, I am going to endeavor in the New Year to strengthen my leaning skills.  In other words, I am going to work on leaning on God more and jumping to assumptions less.  What do you need to start working on?

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Great Debate

Every year people seem to have an opinion on the Great Debate.  They argue over it, discuss it, shake their heads, act in agreement, read articles about, and plan for it.  What could this debate be about?  What could possibly evoke such feelings and opinions – politics, religion, family, medicine?
No, it’s when the Christmas decorations should go up and when they should come down.  Every year, I hear comments and tut tuts from people who disapprove of when the stores start putting out their Christmas displays.  After Thanksgiving, before Thanksgiving, the week after that, and for a few grumpy Scrooges – never!  There are just so many opinions and I think it’s rather funny. 
"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!" (Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol).
Take down your decorations, put up your decorations – just remember to honor Christmas in your heart.  

Sunday, December 27, 2009

There’s No Such Thing as Too Many Books

I love to read and do wear a sweatshirt from time to time, which proudly proclaims that there is No Such Thing as Too Many Books.  Well, okay maybe there is, in the total extreme.  However,  it would take lots and lots of books to get there.  What is it about these books though?  What can be captured in words that grabs the attention of the reader; inspiring, teaching, comic relief, worlds of words of imagination.
One of the books that grabs my attention the most are those by Tolkien.  I admire his writing, the creative ability that he used to make a world in his mind and heart and come to life for so many.  It is in the winter that I find myself turning back to those familiar pages.  First, there will be Bilbo and his story.  The shiver of the Iowa snow will be replaced with the warmth of the Hobbit gardens.  Then, the Lord of the Rings will follow next.  The stories always catch my attention and every year brings something new to mind. 
I think in the next few days I will start cuddling up with my books, a warm blanket, and let my imagination wander.  

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Spring Dreams & Pruning Shears

Today is the day after Christmas!  In a day that is often made up of crazy schedules, clean up, recovering from lack of sleep, and of course a visit from Santa, thoughts can start turning towards winter and how long it is.  Personally, I like snow; the quiet star like beauty of each flake that washes the world in white.   It blankets the plants, providing the earth a barrier of moisture to prepare for spring.
I look out the window right now and the ground has a light covering of snow, just a dusting really.  And it’s stark, fresh color leaves the outline of the plants sharp and precise.  Hunkered down in the living room, with a roaring fire in the oven, a cup of coffee in hand; this is the perfect time to examine the Burpee’s seed catalog that just came in.  On the cover, in a summer red yellow color, only to found in perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes, a slice of such a fruit is presented.  I can hold that catalog, flipping through the pages as I look at different fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs that can appear come spring. 
Turning the pages over, I spot the grape plants.  As I stop to look at these plants, with their little ringlet vines, jagged edge leaves, and ornament like fruit of green, blue, and purple cluster on those vines.  I dream of the taste of these fruits fresh off the vine, the very taste and smell of purple. 
You know, Jesus talks about being the vine, the carrier of the nutrients to the leaves and fruit, (John 15:1-17).  Grape vine is hardy stuff!  If you have had to clear some out of the yard before, you will quickly come to realize that it is not so easy to clear away.   But, a grape vine that is taken care of will not just be allowed to grow wild and tangled through trees and under brush.  Instead, branches that don’t grow fruit are cut off.  The branches that don’t bear fruit are drains on the energy of the plant, taking away from it vigor needed in the production of fruit.  They are removed, wither and are thrown away – even burned up.  In other words, those vines are trash.
The master pruner cuts off those branches that don’t produce fruit, and then prunes the branches that produce fruit.  Take a moment and read that again.  No fruit, no branch, fruit, prune the branch.  Someone who is knowledgeable of the needs of the plant, knows that more grapes will actually be produced through careful pruning.
Many have experienced both of these.  As we grow and journey, God removes the branches which are non-productive in our lives.  These branches are the ones who hold us back, a drain on our energy and strength.  They may be something in our history or a choice we need to change.  One of the branches that was cut from me was a relationship.  The cut at the time felt like a blow that went to my very heart, draining my vivacity to life.  However, over time I realized that this was actually a branch that needed to go.  However, one little piece remained, a shred of the dead that had hung on to the vine.  Instead of removing that piece by force, I was told that it was time to be pruned.  I had to tell this individual that they were forgiven. 
I really didn’t want to do that!  I just wanted this time to be over, allowing me to move on and grow on the fruit producing branches.  Yet, I found myself holding my phone in a dark car, sitting in a parking spot for just a few moments.  The few words that were spoken left me with anxiety, and then it hit me – I realized the truth!  This removal was for me, I had been set free of something left over and dead.  Only the master pruner could have removed just enough, not too much or too little.   
As you prepare for spring, sit down with the Burpee’s catalogue and spend a little time with the Master Pruner.  Is there anything that needs to be removed from your vine, is there any pruning that needs to happen on those branches that do bear fruit?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Anticipation then Delight in the Gift

“Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in Him.”
Psalms 111:2
Green, red, blue, silver, purple, shimmery, glittery, flowers, patterns, penguins, red hats, reindeer… all sorts of patterns are splashed across wrapping paper, which wraps up the gifts under the tree.  Bows, ribbons, tags, and cards hold surprises to be enjoyed in just a few hours.  Each gift has been carefully picked out or constructed with care, each card prepared with the right words and gently placed around the tree. Look at this with the eyes of a child and it becomes a wondrous vision of possibility, promise, and the anticipation of it all just builds and builds in their hearts.  Then, the moment comes when gift opening begins and paper is ripped, torn, bows find new homes on playfully patted heads and sticky bow floral arrangements.  The gift is seen and the excitement of the waiting is worth the gift that is now seen. 
Mary had witnessed a gift being presented to her.  Instead of a tree with packages, paper, ribbons, and bows; she had a life growing within her.  But, I’m sure that with an auspicious start that the anticipation had only grown in Mary’s heart.  Then, the baby was born – the eternal Son of God!  Zechariah had seen an angel, been quieted for a time; and now a new baby greeted him – John.  Joseph had been spoken to by God, had been chosen to be an earthly father by God the Father to His only son.  A stable became a nursery and maternity suite for Mary.  Shepherds had seen angels, visited the baby, and then told everyone they could about what had happened.  I’m sure the entire town was buzzing about the story of this baby.  Mary’s gift had been wrapped in her own womb, and then she gave birth.  After all of the other events also occurred, Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart,” (Luke 2:19). 
She took what had happened, all of what had happened and pondered them.  To ponder is to think about, taking a topic in your mind and heart; turning it over and over, upside down, right, left, and right side up.  Mused over, brooded over, deliberated, considered, contemplated, and mulled over by Mary were a reminder to her of the gift of God.  How do we know that? She treasured all of these things in her heart.  Think about something of great value to you, a treasure.  Is it treated differently?  Is extra care gone into cherishing this item, appreciating its value?  Mary viewed these occurrences as treasures. 
Merry Christmas to each one of you.  I hope that as you go about your day today that you will have special reminders of the treasure of the gift of Jesus this Christmas.                                                                                                                                           

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Nursery Visit

Don’t you just love nursery windows at the hospital?  A new baby that is taken to meet family and friends is held, cooed over, and adoringly held.  Every baby is precious, a new life to join the souls of this earth.  There was no nursery window, no baby shower, no maternity ward with fresh clean blankets to wrap the baby in. 
Here at the stable, Mary and Joseph have gone through the process of birth.  The stable animals are still there, Bethlehem is a busy place that night.  I would imagine that by now Joseph has cleaned up the mess of the birth, perhaps Mary has gotten some sleep, and even fed the baby.   Looking at this new baby, God’s son come in human form would have been an amazing moment. 
Then, there are shepherds that come to visit.  Not the most likely of baby shower guests or maternity ward guests gathered there.  As instructed, the shepherds went, and there they “found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger,” (Luke 2: 16).  I wonder what they talked about, was it in hushed whispers or glorious hosannas, did they try to do anything to help Mary and Joseph or were they completely overawed by what they had experienced and didn’t have a thought left.  We do know that the excitement of the events of the time had not worn off, did not dull down – instead the shepherds “spread the word” and told people what had happened.  Everyone who heard was amazed by what they heard. 
It really is an amazing story.  Have you shared it with anyone? Have you allowed God to share it with you?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Did You Hear What I Hear?

A very excited bunch of shepherds had just witnessed the most amazing show of their life, an angel host who sang God’s glory.  They leave though, they go back to heaven.  I can imagine the excitement, the stillness after that exhilaration.  With that, the shepherds decided to leave and head to Bethlehem and see what had happened, to see what “the Lord has told us about,” (Luke 2:15).
I love a thick blanket of snow at night, on still nights with lots of moonlight.  It is so quiet, seeming that not only the moon reflects brightly off the snow, but sounds carry over the land and not become trapped in blades of grass.  Sounds carry over each current of snow that lays on the ground.  It is in that silence that you can hear a whisper as if it were a quiet voice, a quiet voice as if it were spoken words, spoken words and peals of laughter like shouts of delight.  God likes to speak to us in the quiet as well.  It is when we allow our minds and heart to grow quiet that it is easier to hear Him. 
The lives of these shepherds were never the same.  They saw angels, they saw the glory of God, they have now witnessed the silence and stillness as the heavens were quieted and angels returned to heaven.  Then, they hurry to Bethlehem – hurry with great excitement; with anticipation and curiosity perhaps?  We don’t know what happened to these men, what they went on to do, how their stories were passed down amongst the people.  We do know that they witnessed the glory of God.  They viewed God’s glory and witnessed His great love. 
In the midst of these days before Christmas, when the food, wrapping, shopping, programs, carols, and parties becomes too much – stop and take a quiet moment.  Look up at the sky and imagine what it looked like, this same sky that held a host of angels.  Allow your heart to grow quiet and listen.  Do you hear what the shepherds heard?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sheep Pen Front Row Seats

There are a few groups that I will pay to see up close on stage and many more that I’m fine with sitting up in the nose bleed section and just listening.  But for those few, I want to see every detail, every movement as well as hear each note. 
I can just imagine the shepherds, the angel came and they were terrified.  Then – just when the adrenaline levels start passing their peak, a whole bunch of angels appear!  “A great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel,” (Luke 2:13).  I wonder just what a great company is. Was it fifty, a hundred, three hundred, nine hundred, a thousand, ten thousand?  Can you imagine the brilliance of the light and sound as the praise was given to God, reflecting His glory? 
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14)

Glory first, peace second, favor third – did you notice the order? 
Glory is first – putting God first in all things.  A great strategy that enables and empowers us to grow, reach, change, strive, and continue seeking through God’s grace.  This is a time of reflection.  Not reflection as in a mirror bouncing light, but more like a prism that is shined on and then is a tool for that light to make a beautiful rainbow of color.  If we focus on God’s glory, we focus on being clear for God to use us as a tool – His tool. 
Second is peace on earth to men.  Sorry ladies, I promise that this is not a chauvinistic maxim; men as in mankind.  If I look at the news, which I don’t really do to often, it is full of everything and anything but peace.  There are wars, innuendo, rumors, politics, fights, feuds – it just seems to go on and on.  But, this century really isn’t anything different, so where is that peace?  Well – it’s because peace is number two in the statement, not the finishing line.  God’s peace is really three fold.  One is the peace that as a child of God we can have, the peace that “passes understanding.”  This is an internal peace, deep down, which is not changed by our daily trials and endeavors.  The second part of peace is that which comes as a promise when we are in heaven and with God.  Imagine that peace!  It’s not a boring, laissez faire type of peace; this is peace with action and movement.  Finally, there is a peace after Jesus comes again – and restores God’s creation.  Peace on earth indeed, won’t that be amazing to witness.  I long for the day that amber alerts, terror alerts, and news alerts have become a dark part of the past; when the ultimate war has had it’s final skirmish fought; when the foot soldiers are finally called home and healed completely.
The third part is the one which really applies to the peace on earth to men on whom his favor rests.  Can you think of who this might apply to?  Perhaps an Old Testament patriarch, an ancient queen who saved her people, a modern day hero or heroine, a loved one, a personal mentor, the list could go on and on.  God’s favor resting, the wrap of favor round that person’s shoulders, is such a comforting and beautiful thought.  What does favor mean though?  David might have expressed it best in the Psalms.  Swept up into uncertain times, facing difficult and dangerous situations favor described by David was “God making the mountain standing firm, rejoicing afresh after the difficult nights are over, it is healing, being spared, and being lifted from the depths”.    
Christmas is only a few days away – are you a crystal prism?  Have you experienced God’s peace?  Have you sought God’s favor?  Are you sitting in the front row enjoying the spectacular praise offering of the heavenly host or hanging out in the nose bleed section? 

Monday, December 21, 2009

Angel Signs and Shepherd Hearts

Baaah Baaah Baaah Baaah – that is my best imitation of sheep in writing, not that in person is really much better.  What can I say; animal imitations are not my thing.  But this sound is commonly heard in churches this time of year, coming out of the mouths of too cute children who forget lines, yell lines, and everything in between.  This is the time of year when those children act out the birth of Christ, including the shepherds in the fields, thus the sheep. 
The actual shepherds out in the fields, had an important responsibility and they were chosen specifically to hear the good news of the birth of Jesus.  Why shepherds?  These are not political leaders, they weren’t the wealthy social leaders, they were laborers.  Yet, these laborers had special responsibility – they were in charge of the sheep. 
I love driving past farms with new lambs out in the pastures.  They are so cute with their spindly legs and fuzzy furry bodies.  However, sheep are a metaphor that are used over and over in the New Testament.  Sheep, a gaggle of furry followers that don’t have much of an ability to protect themselves from predators, need looked after, and will wander off and get lost. 
It was to the shepherds that the angel appeared. I wonder what the sheep did – startle and run to the edges of the pen perhaps, or maybe they were less scared of angels than the shepherds were.  An angel messenger came – and the “glory of the Lord shone around him,” (Luke 2: 9).  These men were terrified, this is not nervous or startled – but terrified!  The angel said -"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” (Luke 2:10).  Not just good new, but good news of great joy.  Not just for some people, but for all the people! 
What was the good news?   “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord,” (Luke 2:11).    Imagine the jaws that had to be scraped up off the ground that night, not from being speechless but from being knocked down with fright.  God’s love is so completely overwhelming.  Have you ever noticed, that angels start with a message of do not be afraid?  Do not be afraid, for God has….that seems to be the pattern that this typically takes.
God sent messengers to shepherds, which is such a beautiful symbol of how God cares for us.  Sheep need attention to their health, protection from predators, gathered into a pen for the night, and have wounds tended to.  We as a flock of people, a body of Christ are very similar.  We need attention paid to our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  Just like having a regular physical is something that is recognized as a standard health care, the shepherd knew his sheep and would prepare to take care of their health needs on a regular and as needed bases.  Our shepherd, God also takes care of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.  By prayer, praise, exercise, eating well, and really developing the relationship with Him that our heart seeks, and He seeks for us – we gain health.  This is a sacrifice for our shepherd because we are messy sheep.  We will bounce into him, possibly even try to ram him, struggle when given medicine, put up a fight when it comes to having a thorn removed or a cut stitched up. 
Sheep also are not good at protecting themselves. They need a warrior who will protect them from wolves, lions, the dangerous animals which see sheep as an easy meal.  Satan is described to us as a roaring lion.  At night, sheep were put in a pen with only one entrance/exit.  The shepherd slept there to keep the sheep in and the predators out.  We also need a protector, who can and will fight for us, who positions Himself to be our guardian. 

I am just amazed over and over how God uses those who are not the obvious choices to take a central role in His story.  Shepherds out in the field, doing their daily and nightly job – just being there with the sheep are such a beautiful comparison of what God is to us.  Have you recognized your shepherd lately in your life?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Brand New Baby

Babies are so incredibly precious.  This new life containing new experiences, new promise, new possibility – opening up their mouths and squalling for the first time, clearing their lungs.   A very pregnant Mary went with Joseph to Bethlehem for the census.  Imagine her discomfort traveling, feeling the baby move.  Then, upon arrival the town was bustling.  The inn was full, so not even a bed welcomed Mary after her journey.  Instead, it was in the stable that this family unpacked their bags and settled in. 
Can you imagine the smells, the sounds as animals were bedded down for the night.  I imagine that there wasn’t a great deal of privacy, that people were coming and going getting things and checking on their animals.  It was in that stable that Mary delivered her baby.  This baby was even more special, not only was he brand new to this world but also eternal, not only a brand new baby to Mary but also the Son of God who was around when the world was put into being. 
A humble beginning to a Godly baby; a new possibility with eternal possibility; a new promise fulfilling centuries of promise, incredibly precious indeed.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Head Counts and Joseph

Have you gotten an envelope yet asking you to participate in the census?  It’s not such a strange thought in the US, this nose count (in a pseudo metaphorical sense) that is used by government officials to determine funding, number of representatives, etc…  Not so long ago, our government set up so that the number of representatives each state had in the House of Representatives was based on the population of the state – so that was and is a very important number.
This is not a new idea though, there was another census taken back when Caesar Augustus was in charge of Rome.  Who was Caesar Augustus, not the one with the red cape and the shiny armor in a Charles Hesston film, but the real Caesar – who was this man?  Well, first of all – Caesar was a leader of Rome. Gaius Octavius was his name, born in 63 B.C.; the very famous Julius Caesar was his great-uncle.  Octavian climbed the ranks of Roman leadership under the guidance of his great-uncle.   One of the things that Octavian was known for was to restore peace to Rome after 100 years of civil war.  The Senate also gave up power to Caesar and gave him the title of Augustus – meaning exalted.  So, it makes sense to me that Caesar wanted to see what exactly he had control over.  The census was an ongoing process, repeated every fourteen years.  Historians have argued over why there would be a census, but it could have many purposes, including: taxes, preparing against possible rekindling of civil war factions, did Caesar trust Herod, and of course ego. 
Regardless of why, the census took place.  So, Mary – who was now back home and Joseph packed their bags and headed to Joseph’s home town.  You couldn’t e-mail or fax or even mail in your paperwork, instead you had to go home.  We haven’t really heard much about Joseph in all of this so far.  Except, we know now that Joseph was an ancestor of David, and so went from where he lived in Nazareth to Bethlehem.   The David that was mentioned is the King David that we meet in the Old Testament. 
Joseph takes Mary with him on this trip, his fiancé, his pregnant fiancé.  By now, Mary is getting pretty close to her due date.  I would imagine that she is suffering all the normal end of pregnancy discomfort.  Rather than focus on Mary, let’s shift to Joseph for a little while.  Luke doesn’t go into detail about Joseph like some of the other books of the Bible do.  But, we do know from them that Joseph had initially had thoughts of quietly breaking off the engagement and then had a visit from an angel who basically told him to not break this off, and instead in a dream told him, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins,"    (Matthew 1: 20-21).  What an enormous vote of confidence that God had in Joseph.  Not only was Mary being trusted with the Son of God, but so was Joseph.  This was a very strict, very conservative society – where Mary really did face repercussions for her obedience.  Now, Joseph was being told by God that he needed to obey as well. 
There was going to be a cost in obeying I’m sure, rumors and discussion of whether the baby was his or not.  Joseph was giving up his reputation.  This was also a people not set free by grace, but bound by laws and this would appear as if laws had been broken, which could also force consequences.  Yet, Joseph gave up his reputation, his rights to complain, he gave up a lot for obedience.  But, what a show of favor to this man. 
I’m not always obedient either – sometimes I know what I’m supposed to do, but I might be giving up my right as well – my right to complain or to be perceived a certain way.  When I weigh the cost of obedience versus trying to reason, ignore, plead with, or just flat out disagree with God, the scales always seem to tip back towards obedience.  Then, there is the fear of obedience – what will people think if I…. if I don’t…. if I try….if I succeed…if I fail…  … … Again, I urge my heart to measure the consequences with God’s point of view instead of my limited one.  I can’t way that I am always obedient, but I’m trying to grow in my obedience.  Are you?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Growing Up – the Process

John, born with such promise and a prophesy.  But, what happened with that potential?  Luke 1 finished with “the child grew and became strong in spirit…” 
Such detail was given to the pregnancy and then – just this little phrase.  Don’t you wish there was a bit more detail?  I do!  But, we do now know two things – growth and strength occurred.  Growth obvious means physical growth, as a toddler stretched and grew into a little boy.  Then, the little boy into a pre-teen, a teenager (perish the thought) and then a man.  Just imagine Elizabeth and Zechariah smiling and shaking their heads as John outgrew his clothes, ripped holes in his pants, and changed shoe sizes every month.  At the same time, there must have been another kind of growth occurring – a growth in maturity and understanding in God’s ways.  The hunger that is a cliché in a young boy might have also been a hunger for God’s words and love.  Elizabeth and Zechariah must each have been a part of this growth.
The other thing that happened is that Zechariah became strong in spirit.  Strength usually denotes intensity, a power, a depth, or a concentration that is a forte in someone’s life.  Note that there is a word before strong though – became.  John was not born strong in spirit, but had to become that way.  Even with such a big entrance into the world, John still had to become strong.  What an encouragement that one word is as I also work on my own becoming. 
The next part of the phrase was that John “lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.”  Why would John live in the desert?  The desert must have been a great place for learning.  Part of the desert’s appeal to John might have been the solitude.  This allowed him plenty of time to think, to pray, to seek God.  The desert is also a place to observe needs being met in unlikely ways.  There is actually a lot of beauty and growth in that austere climate, blooms, growth, and wildlife that flourishes there.  Every need is met perfectly to suit that environment.  John would have seen this and had a chance to see God provide for every need of the environment. 
Until….and there is that timing word again.  Until John appeared publicly to Israel, he left the quiet to go to his people.  God had spent an intensive training time with John to put him to work – not to just keep him on the proverbial bench.  God was training John for a reason.  This was now the beginning of putting the training into practice. 
How are you being trained?  How are you going to put this into practice?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Father’s Song

I can just imagine Zechariah holding his new son close, a little boy holding onto his finger and gazing up at him with eyes in a way that only an infant can.  Opening his mouth, he gave his son a prayer, a poem of song to prophesy what his son’s life would present.

Offering praise to God, Zechariah prophesied that his son came, not to be the source of salvation, but instead be the herald to the one who would!  A father’s pride in his son having a purpose that was part of God’s plans was the role John was being spoken to about by his dad.  I wonder if it was one of those quiet moments between father and son, holding the baby close and talking to him, praying over him in the quiet of a nap. 

Zechariah started with praise – Praise God because He has brought redemption to His people!  Oh the journey that the people were taken through, from creation and a flood, from Egypt to wandering, from bondage by neighboring nations to national freedom, and now – from true bondage of the soul to true freedom.  Each of the steps that God had planned were a step in “showing mercy and remembering his holy covenant,” (Luke 1:72).    The difficult times were also a part of this, even though I’m very certain that when the people were going though them it was heartbreaking to understand.  Have you ever felt that way in your own life?  I have, times when I have wondered (quite loudly) why something difficult is happening, why God is allowing that to happen. 

I love the next part of this, as Zechariah remembers the difficult times the people have faced, and then goes on  to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,  and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days,” (Luke 1:74-75).  Times of difficulty to enable us, can you imagine?  That is just not the way my mind thinks so it’s hard for me.  Enable, to authorize, make possible, permit, give an okay to, consent – God how could you consent to those difficult things?  Yet, somehow I don’t think Zechariah didn’t even stumble on those words.  I think that this man had a much broader understanding, I think of how this new father has a different awareness in the role of a father.  He will hold his son close and teach him, and part of that will be allowing young John as he starts toddling and growing to learn consequences.  This sense of boundaries, knowing what can and cannot be done, knowing what to expect from the choices that are made is an authorization of a parent to give (yes – give) a child a better and wiser confidence in choices. Zechariah, what a heart he must have had, realizes that the people are enabled to serve without fear because the Lord has proven over and over the consequences of stepping out in trust were to find the Lord ready to support and tend.

Then, Zechariah’s attention turned to his son, John, you “will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,” (Luke 1: 76).  John – you are going to be a prophet of God, one who will help prepare people to hear what He has to say.  And then, going on…
 77to give his people the knowledge of salvation
      through the forgiveness of their sins,
 78because of the tender mercy of our God,
      by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
 79to shine on those living in darkness
      and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the path of peace."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Birthday to Who?

Delivery day came for Elizabeth.  She labored and gave birth to a little boy.  I don’t know about you – but in my family when there is a new baby it is a party!  Food, celebration, gathering in to welcome a new life.  It seems that for Elizabeth and John it was the same, Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives gathered in and “shared her joy.” 
As part of the Jewish tradition, John was to be taken and circumcised at 8 days old.  Everyone gathered in, this was a celebration of this new life and a time to officially introduce the baby, presenting him with his name.  It was common to name a baby boy after his father, so the people started naming the baby Zechariah.  Elizabeth spoke up and said, ‘“No!  He is to be called John,”’ (Luke 1: 60).  Elizabeth spoke up; she acted and stepped out choosing to worship God, not tradition.  Traditions are wonderful things.  They are acts which can provide a steady groundwork for us, a sense of self and culture.  They also can be binding if we allow them.  If we allow traditions to bind us, we let the traditions control us rather than making them change to meet our needs, and then they are enslaving us.  I can just imagine people looking at Elizabeth as she stepped out against tradition – an emphatic “No!”
The people tried to reason with Elizabeth. ‘“There is no one among your relatives who has that name,”’ (Luke 1:61).  Come on Elizabeth, you know the tradition.  If not Zechariah, maybe after someone else in the family?  Grandpa? Dad? Great-Grandpa?  So, then the question was passed to Zechariah. 
I wonder if this time was a sting to Zechariah’s pride?  In this very male led culture, Elizabeth was asked first.  I imagine that that had happened more and more during these nine months.  But, Zechariah asked for a tablet and wrote, “His name is John,” (Luke 1:63). 
Oh Zechariah, how I love that you stuck with it!  Nine months of loss of voice and now he has a chance to share the experience he has reaped!  Zechariah’s lost voice came back!  He started praising God, the words flowed out.  I wonder how his voice sounded, did it sound strange to him?  Did Elizabeth smile as she listened to Zechariah speak again?
The neighbors were amazed – can you imagine the scene?  The quietness enforced on Zechariah was lifted, Elizabeth had a baby boy in her arms that no one thought she would ever have, and now I’m sure they are hearing the entire story.  Now, they started wondering and asking each other, what kind of child is this?  The Lord is already moving so powerfully in his life, and he’s only eight days old! 
Be encouraged!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Time Apart

Have you ever needed a break?  I have!  I have had a time when I just want to get away from the noise, the people, daily routines, expectations…  I need a vacation from life those days!  You know, it’s the days where you sit up in bed and declare that it’s just not good a day to get up. 
Sometimes, it is really important to have the time away.  Mary needed time away and found a sanctuary in the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah.  It was about three months that they welcomed Mary before she went home.  Can you imagine as Elizabeth shared with Mary discussions over symptoms of an early pregnancy?  Discussions over strolls in the hills, perhaps quiet times sitting with Zechariah. 
But, it is important to note that Mary went home.  Mary didn’t hide away and stay hidden.  She rested, gathered strength, and then went home.  I can imagine Mary gathering courage around her as she packed her things and headed back home.  She was about to face the unknown and the known.  The unknown of how people would react, who would talk, what would they say, what would people think, how would they treat her?  The known of daily routines, well known streets, familiar voices and faces of family and friends would also be welcoming her.
If you need a break, how are you taking it?  If you are hiding, how will you gather courage to come out and face the unknown and known?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mary's Song

Luke 1: 46-55 is often referred to as Mary’s song, but in my mind, I think of this more as Mary’s prayer.  Can you imagine a thought, a prayer, a song that captures the turning point of your life and having it recorded in such a public way?  Yet, the Christian community is at its strongest when at its most transparent.  These words are a very transparent view to Mary’s heart at this time when she has been specially called and swept into life, world, and eternity changing events. 
   "My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”
In the turmoil, I often struggle in putting praise first.  I have had to very consciously decide to praise, especially when I don’t feel like it.  Through most likely bouts of morning sickness, physical changes, a visit to relatives and imagining what other people are thinking (especially Joseph) – Mary’s prayer starts with praise.
“…for he has been mindful, of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.”

Before you assume that this is some sort of false modesty or fake humility – please read the entire phrase.  Mary has been told that she is favored by God, from a very reliable source!  Notice that Mary also makes a very mindful and intentional resolve.  She does not claim the credit for her own sake; instead Mary is giving the praise back to God.  I think Mary must have been something like a mirror.  God chose to shine on her, and she reflected back His light and praise to Him. 
It’s so easy to let my own pride take over and then I am not a good mirror.  Instead of reflecting, I lose focus and distort what shines on me.  I love Mary’s humble heart. 
“His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. “
Mary was about to have a baby that was not socially acceptable, it was not Joseph’s child – and yet this phrase sprang forth.  I wonder what Mary’s parents were like; did she learn this attitude from watching them?  Joseph was also going to be giving his family name to this child of God, I’m sure Mary was aware of the prophesies unfolding before her very eyes.  Joseph was from the family of David, and there was a promise that came with that family name – that was carried from generation to generation of a savior. 
“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” 
Back to that humble heart, Mary must have had an attitude which pleased God.  I love how Mary had a humble heart and yet seems to have also possessed a great sense of strength and truth.  I think we often take words like humble and gentle and twist them into meaning week and walked on.  But, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Mary is choosing to rely on God’s strength and protection, keeping her and this child safe and provided for.  These words are also a bit prophetic considering the trials that are to come (but I don’t want to get ahead of myself).
“He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.”
 To have money is not a bad thing; it is the love of money that is so dangerous.  It dangerously supplants a need for God in our lives.  Those who are hungry for God, are ready to seek, ready to listen, ready to act, and ready to obey.  It can be so hard to be ready, noises and distractions can become our currency and what leaves us empty. 
 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever,
      even as he said to our fathers."

The promise of a Messiah is one that has been through forty two generations and now has arrived.  Forty two generations!  Can you imagine how this promise has been passed down with hope and anticipation by some, by complacency and a sort of lasses faire attitude by others? Yet, this reminder was enough to stir mercy in God, a reminder of a promise from the God who never breaks promises.
Mary does indeed have a beautiful heart, one that reflects God beautifully and in turn displays the humble, strong, and disciplined choices in her life.  If your own family carried a legacy over forty two generations, what would it be?  If you could start a family legacy now that would carry even four generations, what would that be?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wide Open Arms

Eleven hours at least walking and pregnant.  Was Mary sick with this pregnancy?  Did her stomach churn a bit as her body adjusted to this new and yet eternal life within her? 
I can only imagine Mary standing outside Elizabeth’s door, wondering if she tentatively paused at the door or charged in with great faith and gusto; perhaps something between.  I have never been someone who likes to jump into the new things without a lot of information before.  When visiting other people, I am always more comfortable when I know what to expect, when I know how I will be welcomed. 
Mary entered the home, she greets Elizabeth and as the sound hits Elizabeth’s ears, the baby that is now six months old jumps within her.  A baby that is six months old, as Elizabeth rises, the baby in her womb will feel her shift, feel balance as his inner ear is developing, even has working hearing and is developing working hands.  Baby John must have done his own little dance.  Mary was really greeted – as was the life she was carrying in her. 
Mary enters the home, greets Elizabeth, and Elizabeth blesses her!  What a great welcome! This is the moment when an older, wiser woman greets the young and perhaps scared girl with not only joy, but great warmth.  "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished,” (Luke 1:42-45).  Talk about a warm greeting! 
I can just imagine the bustle that occurred from there.  Gathering Mary in to her arms, comforting her, talking, laughing, letting her rest from her journey.  Elizabeth would have had her own story to share.  Zechariah would have been there as well – though still silent.  This is an example of the community of God functioning well. 
What is God doing in your life that will be an encouragement in the life of another later?  What are you walking through that during this time someone within the community of Christ you can seek healthy and helpful support?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Journey

One foot, the next foot, walking down the road, the pace of one foot in front of the other allows you to take in your surroundings, observe.  Sandal lacings loosen as they warm up during the day, perhaps small stones slip in every once in a while causing bruises.  Mary journeys from Nazareth to Judea, about an eleven hour trip on foot.  This time would have given Mary a chance to think, to process what had just happened.  There is a life growing inside of her, and with that she risks many things.  Mary chose obedience at great risk to herself, her reputation, and her plans.

Journeys are such a wonderful time to think and take a break from your daily routine, maybe even break out of your daily routine.  The time Mary would have had might have been a mental and emotional time of refreshment for her.  Can you imagine the turmoil she faced back home?  She is an unmarried woman, engaged, seeing an angel, pregnant – what will happen next is Mary’s guess.  I would imagine that she has started trying to figure out what she will do next, where God will want her to go.  Note, that Mary didn’t doddle on her way to Judea, she hurried.

 Our earlier time with Luke led to the introduction of an angel who passed along this amazing news to Mary and very specifically told her about her relative, Elizabeth.  God knew that Mary was going to need support, and thought no one was exactly in her place, Mary could find needed support.  Afterall, Elizabeth was in her own very special situation, Zechariah was still unable to speak and Elizabeth was now about six months pregnant.  Mary hurried to a source of comfort and security that God gave her. 

When God gives us a task, we often fight against it. 
No God, I don’t think that that is really what I should do.  I think I should do this other thing instead.  Just a thought really….
Yet, the more we fight against what God has planned for us, the more often find ourselves absolutely miserable.  When we accept, even though we may be very uncomfortable with the task before us - God provides support.  And not only is the support present, but the promise still exists for us as it did for Mary; “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you," (Deuteronomy 31:6-7). 

If you are facing a task of obedience, what comfort has God provided you?  What promises can you cling to and be reminded that the Lord – the one who sent an angel to Mary, will NEVER leave or forsake you?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Accepting the Gift

Has anyone ever given you a great gift?  It doesn’t have to be some thing; it could be a gift of time, care, sacrifice, or an act of service.  The reaction that most of us have is that we have to do something to give back or we just can’t accept that gift.  Sometimes though, we can receive gifts that are so overwhelmingly generous that we just don’t feel comfortable accepting them. 

Thank you – but it’s just too much. 
In your head, you are thinking – there is just no way I could ever repay them.

The story that we are more familiar with starts with Mary and now, Luke introduces us to her.  Many talk about Mary being a young girl, probably in her teenage years.  Mary was pledged to Joseph, a local carpenter.  Pledged, she was engaged or promised to Joseph, to be his wife.  And with that also came an expectation that Mary was a virgin, coming into her marriage with this precious gift of herself saved for her husband. 
Here is Mary, going about her daily life; chores, wedding plans, gathering, cleaning, cooking, visits with friends, and then – she has a surprise visit!  An angel visited her, saying "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you," (Luke 1:28).  Ummmm, what to think now?  What should she say? Do? What does that mean?  The Lord, the most Holy God, sent the teenager Mary an angel messenger with a very specific message.  I can just imagine how Mary’s head was spinning – did it go completely blank or did all sorts of thoughts and questions come rushing in?  Did her knees tremble, her hands shake, or was she calm?  In fact, Luke goes on to tell us that Mary “was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be,” (Luke 1:29). 

Mary is about to receive a gift, a gift that is just too much.  Additionally, Mary is about to make a choice, a lifelong changing choice.  The angel realized that shocked look and quickly spoke up with words of comfort, telling Mary to not be afraid.  Instead, he reassures her by telling her she has “found favor with God.”  Then, the angel goes on to deliver the gift.  Mary – you are going to have a baby!  You are going to have a baby boy named Jesus.  “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end," (Luke 1:32).  I wonder if that angel had to pick Mary up off the floor. 

The gift has been given, Mary you are receiving this incredible honor.  Way bigger than a new car, we are talking about impacting the entire world’s history and future.  It is a pivotal moment in time.  Mary could have balked, refused, stomped and railed at God. 

How could you do this to me?  Do you know what people will say?  And do you mind telling me exactly how I’m going to have a baby?  I’m not married!   What will Joseph say?  What if he doesn’t want me now?  Will people stone me?

You see, Mary had some real concerns.  Becoming pregnant outside of marriage was a stoning offence, a death penalty in gruesome and painful way.  Words could also carry death, words in rumors and gossip, whispers that cut and hurt. 

Picking herself up, Mary asks how this can happen – remember, not married and a virgin. 

The angel gives an answer.  "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God," (Luke 1: 35-37). 

Again, Mary receives words of encouragement.  The angel gives her an answer which reflects the sovereign power of God, the Creator of the world who spoke everything into existence – now is sharing the very life of His Son, the Son of God with this girl. 

Mary must make a choice, and she makes it so gracefully.  Showing us that the Lord’s choice of who to give this gift too was perfect.  Mary answered that she is the Lord’s servant, the handmaiden.  With this, she accepts the gift. 

The angel leaves.

What a beautiful graceful gift giving.  How often do we turn down gifts God would like to give us?  It’s really hard to be on the receiving end, it’s humbling.  When we do this, are we turning away someone else’s blessing?  How can you help bless someone today?  How can you accept God’s blessing gracefully today?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Not Wasting the Loss

God certainly has a great sense of drama – just the perfect way to get our attention.  The first person we get to know in Luke’s story has seen an angel, received a life changing message from God, and now – no talking until later.  No talking! 

There is one thing that I’m going to ask you to keep in mind through this – when God presents you with what seems like a loss, are you going to waste it? 

The people that had been outside praying and worshiping were now starting to wonder about Zechariah.  Where could he be, what could he be doing?  The room Zechariah was in wasn’t exactly a living room with comfy furniture to lounge about on.  Instead the Kodesh Kodashi, the Holy of Holies, was the place that held some precious reminders of God; like the Ark of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s staff, a canister of oil, and a jar of Manna.  Each thing was a “stone of Ebenezer” (1 Samuel 7:12), a memorial to serve as a reminder of God’s help.  Clouded with incense, to keep a reminder of the need to protect themselves from God, this was an indirect way to approach God.  This time was measured and known of by the entire people, it was realizing the power and sovereignty and holiness of God.  So, people started to worry about Zechariah.  What was he doing in there? 

Then here comes Zechariah, with amazing news and no way to tell it.  Can’t you imagine, Zechariah’s heart about to burst, excitement, amazement, fear, awe – and his mouth opening and closing with no sound coming out.  The people did people understand that something had happened.  But what?  There would have been discussion, speculation, hoping, praying, worrying of the people gathered there.  What happened, what was God trying to tell Zechariah, what was Zechariah trying to tell them?  On that holy day and during that holy time in that holy place did this message only apply to Zechariah, or was this something that was about to impact the nation? 

Remember that I asked you before to keep loss in your mind, and then to go a step further – to understand not wasting this loss.  Zechariah had big news to share.  He had seen and experienced something amazing!  He had a message from God!  Not only was he going to be a Dad, but this new life would grow to a son who was a joy, a delight, great in God’s sight, and will be a missionary for God amongst God’s own people.  I don’t know about you, but I think that I would have wanted to be able to talk, to shout, to sing, to ask, to seek, to share.  But, not a sound would come out.  This was a loss in Zechariah’s life.  It was now Zechariah’s choice of how to gain from God’s gift.  Silence as a gift?  That does seem like an odd concept.  Discipline of a loving parent, when well done really is a gift, a gift of teaching, teaching self-discipline, teaching consequences, and teaching boundaries.  Silence for an extended period of time might have actually been a great learning time for Zechariah.  Imagine not speaking for one week.  At first, it would be strange, and most certainly it would be frustrating at times.  But, how much closer would you listen and pay attention to others?  How much closer would your conversations be with God?   Keep it in the back of your mind; I’m coming back to this later – not wasting loss.

Zechariah leaves the temple, goes home.  Guess what – Elizabeth is going to have a baby!  Elizabeth is ecstatic, and says, “The Lord has done this for me," she said, "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people," (Luke 1:25).  Disgrace?  Yes!  Elizabeth had a loss of her own.  She wasn’t a mom and for that reason, would not have fulfilled one of her primary duties in that culture.  Imagine how empty Elizabeth’s arms must have felt when others were holding their toddlers, aching heart as other mothers celebrated the achievements of their children, feelings of failure.  Yet, we also know that Elizabeth was upright in the sight of God, an authentic follower of God.  The time before this baby was a loss in Elizabeth’s life, yet here she is.  Notice that she’s not saying, “it’s about time God, where have you been?”  Instead, she is rejoicing and is benefiting from years of solid knowledge and practice of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.  God has prepared Elizabeth and Zechariah to raise this new baby, they have gained from their loss – not wasted it. 

We all have losses in our life.  Is there one that really is a gift from a loving and holy Father?  Are you going to waste your losses or grow in them?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Zechariah – SHHH - Pay Attention!!!

Here is Zechariah – going along, doing his job and then he has a surprise visitor. 
Let’s stop here for just a moment.  Have you ever wondered why Luke would start the story of the birth of Christ by talking about an old married couple?  How do they fit into this story of wonder, pain, hope, and truth?  Yesterday, we saw how the story of our lives is not like a simple story book that we read to children with a typical plot.  Instead, imagine that you are walking down the street, for every person you meet, talk to, interact with – you are connected with by a piece of thread.  One of your hands is holding the thread end connected to you, the other to the other person.  In even a short time, imagine how incredibly complex the pattern would be – like the most intricate lace.  Out of times past, you have been handed the thread and invited to be part of this truth.  Now, with thread in hand – let’s keep journeying. 
We left Zechariah yesterday worshipping in the temple as others gathered outside worshiping and praying.  Before entering the inner sanctuary, Zechariah took time to prepare himself to enter THE holy place in the temple.  This place, the very holiest spot in the temple was only entered into by a priest at certain times and after following strict rules for preparation and cleansing.  A curtain separated the most holy part of the temple from the other parts, as this was thought to be the part where God lived.  This inner sanctuary was a spot that was went into with great conscious decision and preparedness, a serious expression of worship.  So, there is Zechariah.  He has taken time to prepare himself, washing himself, putting on special clothes, and preparing to make atonement for the people’s sins.  The purpose of the priest going in was to in essence pay for, pray for forgiveness for the people who had sinned.  Atonement is to compensate or to make amends or reparation.  Zechariah would have approached the curtain and slipped inside. 
I don’t know if he had ever been in the inner sanctuary before, did Zechariah know what to expect?  Fingering the curtains, Zechariah moved into the room, past the curtains to keep the space separate.  The place was too holy, too precious to be viewed by the sinful or on a casual daily basis.  I wonder how the room looked as Zechariah’s feet walked in to this holy place, what a humbling task to go and try and atone for a people, his people.  I wonder if he thought of specific people, maybe people whose sin had affected him personally or those he cared about. 
Zechariah prayed and then – there was a surprise.  An angel came, an angel!  Of course Zechariah was afraid.  Who wouldn’t be?  I think that angels might be used to that reaction when appearing in the reflection of God’s light because they often start by saying – Do not be afraid.  This particular angel, Gabriel, called Zechariah by name and telling him to not be afraid.  Gabriel came to deliver news, Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, was going to have son!  Going on, the angel went on to tell Zechariah, “and you are to give him the name John.  He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord,” (Luke 1: 14-15).
I can imagine that this is just too much to take in for Zechariah.  First, he is in this very special place and then an angel appears, and by the way – you are going to become a dad!  Then, there is even more, this son of Zechariah, John will bring many of the people of Israel, “back to the Lord their God.  And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord," (Luke  1:16-17).  Head spinning, figuratively and perhaps even physically, Zechariah asks a question – How?  Remember, he’s and older man and Elizabeth is past the age where she can have children.
Let me jump in for just a minute and say first of all that God is big enough for all of our questions.  I love that!  I love that no matter what questions I have, God is big enough for each and every one of them.  Now, God’s response may not be a three point outline in how and why something is or isn’t.  At least for me, the answer is rarely that clear.  Now, Zechariah questions Gabriel the angel.  Responding with authority, Gabriel gives a rebuke that was fairly mild, though I imagine it felt severe at the time.  Gabriel told Zechariah that because he did not believe what he was told, he would be “silent and not able to speak until the baby is born,” (Luke 1: 18-20). 
Imagine coming out of the holy place, literally struck dumb by God’s angel, given a beautiful promise of a son. 
I read about Zechariah and I wonder if I am approaching God, aware of His holiness.  Do I take God for granted or do I pause to recognize His holy sovereignty?  Sometimes, many times, I approach my God much too casually.  I must remember that He is the supreme creator of the universe.  Zechariah had a heart that was humbled to go into this special spot, approaching God with conscious decision.  That requires not only a realization of the holiness of God, but also requires self-discipline.  We are told that the word of God is nourishment for us, nourishment that never turns bad, never grows stale, never is something we outgrow.  Yet, to utilize this we have to be in the Word and that requires both effort and disciplining our time.  The amazing thing is that as you learn more of God’s word, the more you can learn how to listen for God’s voice and recognizing it with more clarity.  Zechariah had his voice taken away from him.  I’m going into that more tomorrow (would hate to spoil the surprise).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Christmas Story

Have you ever stopped to think of the story of Christmas?  Movies try to tell it, beautiful books share stories with pictures that are amazing.  Sweet rhymes, carefully crafted cards, and eloquent songs sing of the Christmas story.  But, as with many changes from the original book to the movie – there are many parts left out.  So, I find myself heading back to Luke, my personal favorite of the truth tellers. 

You see, the story doesn’t start with Mary, Joseph, and the manger.  It really starts a long long time before that.  But, Luke starts when King Herod ruled Judea.  The Romans were in control.  A priest went to go serve at the temple, his name was Zechariah.  Elizabeth, his wife, probably packed his bags and sent him on his way.  I wonder if Zechariah lived near the temple or if this was a long journey for him.  Can you imagine approaching the city?  Tension would have filled the air as Roman soldiers were seen on the streets.  Daily tasks still had to be done.  And there was Zechariah, walking to the temple.  Were there people he stopped to greet on his way? 

Elizabeth and Zechariah were “upright in the sight of God.”  They followed the Lord’s commandments and regulations.  These were people who knew what the Lord expected of them and put great effort into this.  These two were also not parents.  Elizabeth couldn’t have children and they were past the age of having children.

As I said, Zechariah was called – it was his turn to go serve as a priest before God.  Preparing himself, his heart he was to go to “into the temple of the Lord and burn incense”.  Now, this was more involved than just walking into a church with an incense burner.  This was a solemn act of worship, one that was taken very seriously.  And Zechariah went into the temple while the worshipers gathered outside prayed.

What does this have to do with the Christmas story?  It tells us that like all true stories, this is not a simple plot line that just starts and stops based on someone’s imagination.  This is also a reminder that our stories are also multi-layered.  The actions that Elizabeth and Zechariah were taking were setting the stage for the ultimate Christmas gift.  They were faithful to obey and allowing the Lord to use them to move.  So, my first question is – how are you faithful to obey and allow the Lord to use you?

Monday, December 7, 2009


 I am ready for snow.  I know quite a few people who would groan and argue, vigorously declaring that snow should either be reserved for Christmas Eve through New Years Day.  But, I love snow!  Now, let me put my disclaimer in that I am not a fan of ice, slush, sleet, or the yellow snow…. just the clean white snow, made of mounds and mounds of snowflakes.
Each flake is unique, that is what people have said for quite a while.  I guess that that is a fact which I have accepted without a lot of thought before. Pausing now to ponder that raw fact, the enormity of it hits.  Ever snowflake falling is different?  The statistics say that there are about 500,000 different snowflakes in each square foot of snow.  That is billions of snow flakes in very short order.  Incredible! 
Now – adding an extra layer, here is an added dimension of amazement!  God knows about each individual snowflake.  He can keep them all straight, knows the differences, and how many total fall each year.  Incredible isn’t it?
So, I’m ready for snow – it’s a miracle of unique creation that we are rewarded to witness each year.  

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Royalty & Decoration

Have you ever wondered what it means to be a child of God?  I think of the sovereign God and how we can read the description over and over of how he is the King of Kings. 
This leads me to two different thoughts.  One is how we might treat each other.  Being associated with royalty generally brings about a certain degree of ceremony, pomp, and respect.  The deference which is accorded one who is deemed as royal or a child of a king is different.  There is a great deal of care and attendance which comes those in that position.  In return, there is responsibility of caring for those who the king is ruling.  A good king, a wise king, keeps the needs of the people in his uppermost thought.  Though they may not relish paying taxes (who does) or providing civil services, this is all part of meeting the needs of the people.  If I look at someone and see the face of a child who is related to the Most High King, is the way I treat them going to be different? 
The other thing I think of is the crown which normally goes with being part of a royal family.  We had a jewelry party/brunch (a girls party) yesterday.  While we paused to eat, fellowship, laugh, share, and of course look at the beautiful jewelry, I wondered about the women I was having this time with.  Do they see themselves as the child of the King?  He will adorn them with priceless of jewels of grace, love, peace, hope, and righteousness.   Do they see how truly decorated they are by a God which wants to abundantly provide perfect gifts for His children?  If so, how would their own self perceptions differ?  Would they take time to care for themselves, to fill their time wisely to care for each other, themselves, and meet their family needs?
These questions are a challenge to me, are these ideas that I can grasp in my daily life as well?  

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Holiday Stroll – from the View of a Beagle

Last night was the annual Holiday Stroll in the small mid-western town of Muscatine.  The main “downtown” street was blocked off from all but foot traffic and the people pour in.  Starting when it is dark, the lights wrapped around street lights, in window displays, and in a Musco Lighting display all give everything a lovely holiday glow.  In storefronts, dance classes perform and musicians play in some other stores.   As I was walking down the street, I saw the cute little beagle who hangs out in one of the stores – and I wondered… if she could tell me, what would this whole event look like to her?
Perhaps, something like…
“Well, being a beagle, you all are so much taller – giants really.  So, you can imagine how tall those trees are.  Who is that fellow that keeps showing up in the store windows by the way?  Shouldn’t he really look into getting some different clothes, he might start to smell if he doesn’t.  Or is it like my favorite collar and it only needs to be washed if I find something really great to roll in? 
Wow – so many feet!  Look at them go, big feet, little feet, and so many different kinds of shoes.  I wonder where everyone is going.  Do they just walk back and forth in front of my door or are these different giants?  It’s hard to tell through the glass and in the darker lights. 
Oooohh, did you smell that stuff in that guy’s cup?  I hear the store next door has cider for everyone.  I wonder if this is cider.  Hey – you – yes – you – put your cup down here for me please.  Everybody says this is the time for sharing, so share already.  I’ll share too, I have a bone that might be tasty.  Don’t mind the lint. 
Well, my person is calling me.  I guess I need to peel my nose off the door and resume my job here at the store.  I’m the official greeter.  Except this time of year, I think I’m the official greeter/hand warmer.  People sure are nice to share that with me.  I get awfully hot some days. “

Friday, December 4, 2009

Let Me Be You

Ron Block penned this beautiful song...  I hope that you enjoy the beauty behind the words just as I did.

"I had a dream the other night when everything was still
I walked along the world’s end to a river on a hill
A Man who beckoned there said these words to me
“If you’ve done it to the least of these you’ve done it unto Me.”

I turned my look to those who stood beyond the One in white
One caught my gaze I’d turned away from my door one night
He’d begged me for some bread, I turned away to sleep
“If you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it unto Me.”

I’m not loving the way that I want to
I’m not living today as I would do
Why can’t I find it?
It feels like I’m blinded
Where’s the living love in me to live like You?
I try to be what You are to me, but I just can’t be You

I hung my head before the Lord who lives within my heart
He said, “Dear one, I’ve just begun to show you who you are
You’ret rying, oh so hard, to do what I must do
You’re a riverbed for Love to roll on through
You can’t ever be like Me, so just let Me be you.”

“You can love with the love that I give you
You can live with the living that is true
Cry with the crying
Die with the dying
You’re a riverbed for love to roll on through
You can’t ever be like Me, so just let Me be you.”

“You can love with the love that I give you
You can live with the living that is true
Cry with the crying
Die with the dying
You’re a riverbed for love”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Candlesticks and Renewal

Victor Hugo wrote a beautiful story of heartache and redemption in Les Miserable’s.  In this story, the main character John Valjean is escaping his prison sentence.  Imprisoned for stealing food for himself and his family to escape starvation, the sentence is finally over.  However, the stigma of being a convict remains. 
Exhausted, hungry and with growing desperation Valjean finds himself outside of a home, the home of a priest.  The priest welcomes this man into his home, feeds him, provides a bed, and a safe shelter.  How does Valjean repay the man for his kindness?  As I said, his fear and panic was mounting, so he stole a candlestick from the priest, a silver object worth a fair sum of money.  Sneaking out, it was not long till Valjean was at the door of the priest’s home again – this time with a constable forcing him back.  The stolen candlestick was to be returned to the priest. 
It seems pretty self-evident what the next reaction would be right?  Why yes officer, this was stolen from me.  Thank you for returning it to me.  Once a crook, always a crook… don’t you hear the statements going on and on.  Instead, the priest turned and to the astonishment of both John Valjean and the constable which was preparing to arrest him for larceny – the priest refused to accept the candlestick and then even offered the matching one.  My friend, you forgot the other – my friend, the priest acknowledges this man, this thief, this dubious character and makes it clear that these candlesticks are anything but free.  They come with a high price, the price of John Valjean spending the rest of his life repaying the debt that the priest had set before him.
I’m not sure I could do what that priest did.  I’m not sure I could offer the second candlestick.  But, I am hopeful that I could do this and offer renewal.
Whatever happened to Valjean?  Well, I would hate to spoil the ending…