Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tuesday Apr 30 2013

Today's scripture focus is: Luke 1:67-80
Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is: 1 Samuel 1-2, Psalm 86, John 1:18

Zechariah's Prophecy

67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us[a] from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

The child spoken of, of course, is John the Baptist.  This is an amazing prophecy about the coming of the Messiah, and the deliverance of the Gospel in flesh and deed.  
This entire passage is The Gospel.  God's promise to Abraham, God's promise of salvation, God's promise of a prophet to cry out "Make way!", God's promise of Himself, born into flesh to be the salvation for our sins.



Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29 - Monday - Luke 1:56-66 ~ Tiffany

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Ruth 3-4, Psalm 85, John 17
Today's scripture focus is Luke 1:56-66
Have you ever thought about the meaning behind your name?  If you have kids, did you think about it while naming them?  My husband and I did.  The Mr. is very serious about names, their meaning, and the effects they have on people.  We have three children, and their full names mean the following: "Life-giving Faith", "Jehovah is My God", and "Strong Gift of God."  Most people  don't blink when we tell them we have an Evelynn, or Ethan.  But when we mention Elias, we get wrinkled foreheads.  "Where did THAT name come from?  What does THAT mean?"
I imagine Elizabeth felt much the same way I did when I first had to begin explaining Elias's name (meaning: Jehovah is My God, and the fact that it is Greek for Elijah) "It's my kid - leave me alone!"  She's trying to name her child what she had been commanded, and everybody says "But, wait, we haven't heard that one before!"
But Zechariah had been commanded by an angel to name John, John (as we read in Luke 1:13).  So, because this name had been commanded by an angel, much as Jesus's name had been commanded, and because John's birth was somewhat of a miracle (due to barrenness and advanced age) I decided to research just exactly what John means.
According to behindthename.com, John, in the original Hebrew, means "Yahweh is gracious."
Isn't that beautiful?  Not only was God showing His graciousness to Zechariah and Elizabeth by giving them the gift of a child in their old age, but He was showing His graciousness to the world.  He wasn't just putting Jesus there to a world who had no idea about Him.  John was to be "filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb" and to "make a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:15-17).  God was showing His graciousness to an old couple who desperately wanted a child, and to a world that needed to know Him better.
So in this simple passage of naming a baby, we learn once again of God's mighty grace.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 1:67-80
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: 1 Samuel 1-2, Psalm 86, John 18

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday, April 26 ~ tammi

Today's Bible In a Year reading: Judges 19-20; Psalm 84; John 16
Today's scripture focus passage: Luke 1:46-55

Here are links to Driscoll's "Mary's Song," and MacArthur's "Mary's Praise."

Today we look at one of the most famous texts in the Scriptures, a section widely referred to as "The Magnificat."  Mary's song of praise and submission to God after the angel's announcement that she will give birth to the Son of God.

I'm going to confess I did not take a lot of time to study this passage or read up on it.  We are in the final week of tax season here in Canada and so on top of my usual wife/mother/homemaker gig, I am also working almost full-time outside our home now, too.  But the final big push is on to finish up everyone's taxes for another year, and in less than a week, I will be a free woman again ~ woo-hoo!!  Well, free to focus on my responsibilities in and around our home and family, anyway...  :)

I am always in awe of Mary's willing submission to God's will despite what it might cost her in terms of her relationship with Joseph, her reputation in her village, and even in terms of her life, since the Mosaic Law prescribed stoning for a woman in what would soon be her very obvious condition.  Yet she seems perfectly at peace with it all.  Come what may, she knows God has spoken and He's got it all planned out.  No matter what happens, her faith, her future, are secure in Him.

One reason for this, MacArthur points out is that she's SOLIDLY grounded in Scripture.  Her song is chock-full of references to the Old Testament.  This is a woman who KNEW the Word of God. 

...she starts out in verse 46 by saying. "My soul doeth magnify the Lord," which is an echo of Psalm 34:2, "My soul shall make her boast in the Lord." In verse 47 she says, "And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior," which echoes Isaiah 45:21, "There is no God else beside Me, a just God and a Savior." And in verse 48 she says, "He has regarded the lowest state of His handmaid," which echoes 1 Samuel 1:11, "If Thou wilt indeed look on the infliction of Thine handmaid and remember me and not forget Thy handmaid," the words of Hannah. It also is reminiscent of Psalm 136:23, "Who remembered us in our low estate, for His mercy endures forever." Again in verse 48 she says, "Behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed," which echoes the words of Leah in Genesis 30 verse 13, "Happy am I for the daughters will call me blessed." In verse 49 she says, "He that is mighty has done to me great things," which echoes Psalm 126:3, "The Lord has done great things for us whereof we are glad." And then in verse 49 she says, "Holy is His name," directly quoting Psalm 111:9, "Holy and reverend is His name." And so it goes that she is very well versed in the Old Testament as she unfolds her familiarity with Scripture and applies it to her own situation.

She also understands the history of Israel. She understands how God has exercised His mighty arm in verse 51 and how in the past He has scattered the proud. He has brought down rulers. He exalts the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, sent the rich empty handed. She understands how through the history of Israel God has helped Israel, verse 54, and done so in remembrance of His mercy promised, in verse 55, by the Abrahamic covenant. She is not just familiar with Scripture, she knows covenant theology. She understands the theology of the Abrahamic covenant. She understands that it was an eternal pledge made to Abraham by which generations would be blessed. She is knowledgeable of Scripture and she is familiar with theology. She had read, she had heard, she had memorized, she had meditated on the sacred Scripture and when her heart burst out in praise it wasn't trivial and it wasn't sort of self-invented. Scripture just poured out of her mouth. It was the language of Scripture showing her alacrity, her facility and her familiarity with the text. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, as Matthew 12:34 and when she spoke it reflected that her heart was filled with God's Word.

A friend of mine once said her prayer every morning was that God would make her like a sponge so she could soak as much of God's Word in each day as she possibly could.  That way, when she was squeezed by life's struggles and tests, that's what would come out.

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I think that must have been Mary's prayer most of her life, too.  I think if I was so completely saturated with the Word of God, when trying or uncertain times arose, or when faced with challenging situations I just can't figure a way through, I'd be more peaceful, exultant, and submissive, too!

Tomorrow's Bible In a Year reading: Judges 21
Monday's scripture focus passage: Luke 1:56-66

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thursday, April 25 ~ Miriam

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Judges 17-18; Psalm 83; John 15.
Today's scripture focus is Luke 1:39-45.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[a] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

The baby Elizabeth was carrying "leaped for joy" when Mary's voice was heart.  We know that when babies are born they recognize voices, so obviously they can hear those voices and learn to recognize them when they are still inside the womb.  This was a little different, however.  Baby John had never heard Mary's voice before.  Mary lived a good distance away from Elizabeth, but the angel told her that Elizabeth was also pregnant, so she decided to go see her.  From  Mary & Elizabeth by Mark Driscoll:

When you read the Bible, if you’ve not been there, you think, “Oh, maybe she went down the street, around the corner. Maybe she drove.” What did she do? She walked upwards of a hundred miles. The specific town is not stated, though the region is. So she walked about a hundred miles, teenage girl by herself, in perhaps 100-degree heat, in danger.

It doesn't say if anyone went with her.  I would think someone must have, but who?  And if not her parents, then why would they allow their young daughter to make a journey like that?  Some things we aren't told.  But we do know that it was a long distance to travel.  So she finally arrives, walks in the door, and receives this amazing, joyful reception from Elizabeth.  We don't know if she'd told anyone yet that she was pregnant, but I'm sure she was very nervous as to the reaction or response she would get, so for her to be greeted with joy by someone who knew not only that she was pregnant, but the circumstances, was probably a tremendous relief.

Chapter 1, verse 41: “And Elizabeth was filled with,” that’s a lot of, “the Holy Spirit.” This is the Holy Spirit taking this woman and her deepest desires and bringing them, birthing them to life. “And she exclaimed with a loud cry,” so she’s prophesying-you’ve got to see this: Elizabeth, six months along; Mary, teenage gal, peasant, maybe illiterate. She’s just conceived. Their wombs are together. Elizabeth puts a hand on Mary, prophesies, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” What are children? A blessing. You, Mary, are blessed of God! You’ve got a baby.
Listen to this, verse 43, it’s really good: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” In that culture the older person would be honored by the younger. The older person wouldn’t honor the younger. This is highly unusual. “You, Mary, are the mother of my Lord.” The first person in the Bible to call Jesus Christ “Lord” is Elizabeth. And she does it while Jesus is in Mary’s womb, newly conceived. It’s not tissue. It’s the Lord. She’s worshiping Jesus.

So now we’ve got the eternal Son of God coming into human history through the womb of the poor, marginalized, unmarried, virgin, rural, potentially illiterate young girl to identify with us sinners by living a humble, simple life; by being tempted, though not sinning so that he could be our substitute and reconcile us to God and take away our sin and send us the Holy Spirit so that we might have new life birthed in us. The new life like Mary was enjoying through the presence of Jesus. We get the life of Jesus in us through the Holy Spirit.

And Elizabeth says, “I can’t believe I’m in the presence of the mother of my Lord.” She hasn’t even seen him live, walk on water, raise the dead, heal people, die on a cross, resurrect. But she’s already worshiping him and claiming him as God. Love it!

God truly does work in mysterious ways, doesn't he?

Happy Thursday!

Tomorrow's scripture focus:  Luke 1:46-55.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage:  Judges 19-20; Psalm 85; John 16.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wednesday, April 24th

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Judges 15-16, Psalm 82, John 14
Today's scripture focus is Luke 1:34-38

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Accompanying Mark Driscoll sermon: Jesus' Birth Prophesied
Accompanying John MacArthur sermon: The Virgin Birth: A Divine Miracle

Notice the difference between Zechariah's and Mary's response (emphasis mine)....

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

At first glance, the responses seem pretty similar.  But if you look close, there is a slight difference, and it turns out that slight difference is huge indeed.

Zechariah's question is a matter of belief.  He doesn't believe it.  And he's got some good reasons not to - he's old, his wife is old, they were barren even before they were old.  It's just not physical possible anymore.  He doesn't believe.  And that's his question, it's one of unbelief.  How can I know this is true cause this sounds ridiculous.

But Mary's question is not a matter of belief.  She believes.  She just doesn't understand how God's going to do it, because she knows it's physically impossible to be pregnant and be a virgin at the same time.  She wants an explanation, and God graciously gives her one.

Both Driscoll and MacArthur agree that her question was not one of doubt, but of the mechanics of how this was going to work.

Isn't that amazing?

Who "should have" had more faith?  Zechariah or Mary?

He was a priest, with education and vast knowledge of the Law.  And he was a righteous man.  There's no doubt about that.

But she was a simple girl, with minimal if any education, whose knowledge of the Law was restricted to what she heard at synagogue or possibly what she learned from her parents.

By all accounts, she should've been the doubter.  But she wasn't.  She had a simple faith.  She believed God.

And, if that wasn't enough - she was willing to do whatever God wanted her to do, no matter the cost to herself.

38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” 

Just think of it.  She was engaged to be married.  She was in the middle of planning her wedding to the man of her dreams.

She knew what the angel was telling her.  She knew what she was getting into if she accepted.  She knew that no one would believe her story of a virgin conception, of an angel visitation, that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah.  No one would buy that story.

And the angel never gave her any assurances.  Gabriel never told her that Joseph would also receive an angelic visitation.

Now, she likely assumed that Joseph wouldn't have her stoned - since God would want Jesus to be born, that would be a safe assumption.

But she had no way of knowing if Joseph would divorce her.

And she had every reason to believe that everyone in their town would call her a fornicator for the rest of her life, that everyone would taunt her Son that He couldn't even be sure of who His father was.   And in all likelihood, that's exactly what happened.

We tend to romanticize Mary and how glorious it would've been to be pregnant with the Son of God.

But again, we're looking at it through this side of the New Testament, not hers.  The reality was not romantic.  The reality was not easy.  The reality was hard.  Really, really hard.

She was willing to be the subject of scorn for the rest of her life, because she was a willing servant of God.  She was willing to give up marriage to a wonderful man if necessary in order to do the will of God. She was willing to give up all of her best laid plans, because God had a better plan - not an easier plan, but a better plan.

That is faith.

That is absolutely incredible faith.

Are you and I willing to say, like Mary did, "I am a servant of the Lord, may it be to me according to Your plan, not mine"?

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 1:39-45
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Judges 17-18, Psalm 83, John 15

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday April 23 -- Sandy's post

Today's scripture focus is: Luke 1:26-31
Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is: Judges 13-14, Psalm 81, John 1:13

Birth of Jesus Foretold26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph,of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

I love reoccurring themes in the Bible.  It speaks to our own persistent failure to grasp..well..anything, and moreover, it speaks to God's infinite patience with us. It's also a repeating reminder that He keeps His promises, no matter how often we forget His power.

Consider these verses.  Gabriel comes to Mary and declares that God has chosen her to bear the Savior.  Her response? "How's that gonna work?!"
Remember in Genesis when God came to Abraham and Sarah and promised them a son? Laughter at the absurdity of that, is what He got in response.
When Gabriel came to Zacharias and promised him and Elizabeth a son, another "How?" came up.

It speaks volumes to His patience that He doesn't just say, "Holy crap, you guys.  I AM GOD.  JUST TRUST ME."

It is so easy for us to forget His power and promises, especially when things get sticky.  But, as I said last week, HE DOES NOT FORGET.  I can imagine His people felt forgotten in the many, many years He was silent.  I'm sure they felt forgotten while oppressed under Roman rule.

But He did not forget.  He did not dally.  He came perfectly, in His time, to deliver on the ancient promise of a Savior.  And His name is Jesus. The Christ.  Our Savior.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday, April 22-by Pamela

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Judges 11-12, Psalm 80, John 12
Today's scripture focus is Luke 1:18-25

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision inthe temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Sometimes we just don't get it. We. Just. Don't. Get. It. Even when an angel (An ANGEL!) arrives with the most exciting and amazing news and an answer to our prayer we just don't get it. Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a child. They had been obedient and careful servants and waited on Him to answer their prayers. I'm sure it was often without some question as to why it had never happened for them but still the bible tells us that their lack of children did not interfere with their heart for obedience. And yet, as their prayer was being answered...there was doubt...the need for proof...and a question of unbelief.

How often do we pray for something and wait on God for something and yet when our prayers are answered (in His timing-not ours!) we still question and wonder how this could be. This has happened to me over the last few years in the circumstance of my job. I graduated in May 2009 and that Fall I was hired into my perfect job. The one I had hoped for, dreamed about, and prayed for. Unfortunately, soon after I started, I realized that my 1 year term position would be phased out for the next year. This was confirmed in February (you can read about it here) and I was devastated. There was no possible way I would be able to stay in my position. It was hopeless....as hopeless as two seniors having a baby! Yet, nothing is impossible with God. A few weeks later there was a resignation and I began to question, just like Zechariah "How shall I know this?" because for God to hear and answer my little prayer was just so unbelievable. In His perfect timing ... even though I was told I would not be returning for the coming school year, I was offered a permanent track position just a few months later (you can read about it here). It was unbelievable. Something only God could have done. Sometimes. We. Just. Don't. Get. How. Big. God. Is.

MacArthur reminds us:
When God chooses, He can speak and act in massive ways. When He chooses, He can create the universe in six days. When He chooses, He can flood the entire globe, drowning the entire human race except for eight souls and do it in 40 days of rain. When God chooses, He can send a shower of fire and brimstone and bury the city of Sodom, the city of Gomorrah and the cities of the plain at the south end of the Dead Sea. When God chooses, He can part a sea so that two million people can walk through on dry land and a following army be instantaneously drown as the sea which was parted closes on them. When God chooses, He can with His own finger write His law in stone on a mountain that is shaking with fire and brimstone. When God chooses, He can feed an entire population of people with food that He creates on the spot as He did the Israelites in the wilderness. When God chooses, He can make water come pouring out of solid rock. When God chooses, He can cause the formidable walls of an ancient city named Jericho to fall flat to the ground. When God chooses, He can open the ground and swallow people up. God can do astonishing, powerful, massive things.

God can do astonishing, powerful, massive things. He can and He does. Not only does he do astonishing, powerful, massive things but He does these things with ordinary, common people.

MacArthur says:

He's the God who works with common people in ordinary ways in life. You would think that the story of salvation, the saga of the Redeemer, the Messiah having come would start with some fanfare, maybe some cataclysmic events. But the story of salvation, the saga of the arrival of the Messiah starts with a common couple named Zacharias and Elizabeth. He's so undistinguished that the only adjective used to describe him is that he was a certain priest, not even a notable one, not a brilliant one, not a famous one, just a certain one, of which there were about 18,000 at that time in the line of Aaron the priest who served as priests in Israel. So many that they were divided into twenty-four orders and they only were allowed to serve two weeks a year because there were so many of them. He was a common man. He married a woman named Elizabeth who came from a priestly line. She was the daughter of a priest and had been given the name Elizabeth in honor of the wife of Aaron, the first high priest whose wife had the same name. So, he married a girl who came out of a priestly background and, of course, he did, and so they shared a rich, religious heritage in Judaism. But they were just plain common people. Except for the two weeks that he served at the temple and the three main feasts of Israel when he was in Jerusalem, the rest of the time he just lived life in his village and helped people and counseled people and taught them Scripture.

The story begins with this very common couple. This isn't unusual for God. Abraham was a man who was a common wanderer, an old man. He and his wife had no children. He was nomadic. God picked him out of all of human kind and made him the father of the Jewish nation through which would come the Scripture and the Messiah, the Savior of the world. And there was Isaac after him and there was Jacob and there was Joseph, the patriarchs we call them, with all their foibles and all their sins and all their failures and all their weaknesses. Their lives, frankly, were void of the miraculous. Their lives were just filled with the common stuff, the common struggles of life in a sinful world and yet redemptive history worked its way through them.
Then there was Moses who was a cast-off baby floating down the river in a basket, rescued by an Egyptian princess. There was Moses, impulsive, impatient, stuttering, lacking confidence, proud, disobedient. Yet to him was given the privilege of being the recipient of the divine law of God, where God established His law forever, giving to mankind the righteous standard for all people of all times. Then there was David, a simple shepherd, a poet, a singer, a song writer. David who became a soldier, David who became a murderer, David who became an adulterer. David, a poor father who had a rebellious son. David who was both strong and weak, who was both confident and vacillating, who at times was proud and other times was humiliated by his sin. And there were the prophets, common men, simple men, herdsmen and farmers. God used them to speak His profound divine truth.
And then there were the Apostles. And the Apostles themselves were the commonest of men, farmers and fishermen and a despised tax collector. They were weak. They were doubting. They were ignorant. They were struggling with selfish greed and wrong motivation. They were uneducated. They came from Galilee which was considered the place of the uneducated. And yet they were the mighty force that God used to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and from them it went until its reached the world and including us. God is the God of the common man. God is the God of small beginnings. God uses not many noble, and not many mighty but God has chosen the simple and the humble and the base things through which to effect His glorious purposes.

God chooses and God uses. In His way. In His timing. For His purpose. We don't always understand but God is sovereign and He holds the plan. The plan that is far superior to anything we could imagine. When Zechariah heard that his prayers were going to be answered instead of being filled with excitement and joy, he immediately felt doubt and uncertainty. For this reason, Zechariah was punished:

"Verse 20, verse 20, and this is something, "And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place because you did not believe my words which shall be fulfilled in their proper time." I mean, just on a human level, if you had never been able to have a child and you were in your 70's, let's say, taking mid-ground, and all of a sudden you were going to have a baby, you'd be wanting to talk about it. He couldn't. He wasn't even going to be able to tell the wonderful story that he was in...what a story, I mean, you go back to your little village and say, "Guys, guess what happened to me while I was down there. I went into the holy place and an angel came to me and an angel made this promise," and so forth. He can't tell the story. He can't even hear the questions that are asked because he's deaf.
He didn't believe the Word of God. That's serious. Serious to disbelieve the Word of God. And the angel's response is appropriate, "The angel answered and said to him, 'I am Gabriel.'" Who do you think you're talking to, buddy? I'm not just some guy who...I am Gabriel. "Who stands in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news." And by the way, the Greek on the phrase "I am Gabriel," is very emphatic. This is not just a common visitor. This is Gabriel.

...It's merciful in that it's temporary. It's severe in itself. If you're going to be so unbelieving as not to hear God's Word, then you're not going to be able to speak it. If you're so faithless as not to believe, you're going to be useless in the proclamation.
So God shut him up and that was an every day, every moment a reminder of his sin of unbelief. And when people said, "What happened to you?" He would have to write out, "I was made mute by an angel because I didn't believe when God spoke to me."
Wouldn't it be good if God did that to people who didn't believe His Word? Then we'd know who they were. The problem is, we would go in and out of being mute most of our lives, I'd think.
God shut him up. His normal duty was to teach the Old Testament and tell people about God and give them counsel and wisdom. That's what a priest did during the most of his year. He couldn't tell this wonderful story. He couldn't do anything but bear the shame of having been made deaf and dumb by an act of judgment from God.

We pray and we ask and then sometimes we are surprised by God's response....even if it is exactly what we are asking for. I think sometimes we honestly forget the magnitude of what is possible with God. How useful are we to spread God's news if we don't believe in what God can do. He can make the impossible-possible. He can do all things. He can and He does.

Four years later, and multiple changes in our school staffing situation and I am still teaching at my dream job. I prayed for it, I asked God for it and yet I have been filled with doubt and uncertainty as I waited on God to reveal His plan in His timing. I didn't think it was possible. I was wrong. I'm so thankful for God's mercy and grace as I struggle with believing that He can do the impossible.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Judges 13-14, Psalm 81, John 13
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Luke 1:26-31

Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday, 19 April 2013 ~ Roxie

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Judges 5,6; Psalm 79; John 11
Today's scripture focus is Luke 1:15-17

I must apologize to the early morning devo doers. The calving busyness has not let up, though I am not so bone deep weary as 2 weeks ago, but I did let my energy get so drained that I could not finish this post last night...or even early this morning. I do hope that the result is, at least, coherent....and then, of course, my internet decides today is a good day to be finnicky. So sorry.

Luke 1:15-17
15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 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."

I know that we are not studying the Old Testament at the moment, but I have always loved how the Old and the New weave together; with little snippets here and there of threads that connect to reveal a beautiful synergy...more beautiful and intricate together than any part alone. These verses are another example. In the tradition of Isaac, Joseph, Samuel and Samson, a woman struggling with the shame and guilt of infertility and the soul-deep longing for motherhood, is given a positive answer to the prayer that she wept so often in private away from scornful, pitying eyes. Her womb is to be filled, and then her arms. Her shame is not only to be taken away, but her son will be born with his path already sketched out...proclaimed to his doubting papa by a messenger of the Living God. 

After a long period of silence from God, no king, no judges, no prophets, an angel declares to an elderly man that his also elderly wife will give birth to a son who, not only “will be great in the sight of the Lord”, butwill be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Here is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work as God sets the next stage of His plan for His creation in motion, preparing the way for the Lord, His beloved Son, Jesus. In the ways of the prophets of old, the Lord calls a man to turn His chosen people back to Him, to teach repentance and to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord”. The Lord was ready to make a huge move and needed His people to be at least a little bit aware; to at least hear a warning so no one can say there was none...and so hearts would be ready for His next show of power and love.

It is interesting how only part of the rules for the Nazirite (no grapes or grape products, fresh or fermented; no haircuts; no exposure to corpses) are spoken of here: “He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.” Is the lack of wine or fermented drink linked to the presence of the Holy Spirit? Is it related to being “great in the sight of the Lord”? Is it a sacrifice that the Lord asks of John as a reminder of his close walk with Him? Whatever the case may be, it is part of the Old Testament Nazirite vows. A Nazirite, according to Numbers 6, is a man or woman who “wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the Lord”. Some of these vows were for just a time (Numbers 6 describes the extensive offerings and ceremony required at the end of this period) and some were for life, such as in the case of Samson and John the Baptist, when their mamas were told, even before their birth, about the special relationship their boys would have with their God. (aside: I sometimes wonder, as well, if the pictures painted of or the actors that portray Jesus have long hair as a subtle query as to His own Naziritism, though the Bible does not support this...at least not that I can find).

John was not only to live as a Nazirite in terms of his diet, but the angel also proclaimed that “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.” Zechariah, as a righteous man and priest, would have recognized this as a prophecy from Malachi (Malachi 4:5-6). His son was to be the fulfillment of prophecy, chosen to bring God's message into the world...a message relevant and urgent in Old Testament time, in New Testament time and our time. His son would be the Elijah of the new day, a prophet with a heart in tune with God and the power to call the people back to God, calling them to repentance. He would remind them of who they really are and what their hearts were made for...a relationship with the Living God, the Almighty who wants their hearts and their love, not sacrifices.

I know, for myself, that I need daily reminders of who I am in Christ. I need to be called to repentance and I need to be told over and over and over that God really does love me. And then, when I get the truth of His beautiful, all-encompassing love through my thick skull...and often even thicker heart, I can hear God more clearly, saying, “Be ready, beloved, be ready.”

I do not know what the future holds, but I do know that I need to be ready. I fail so often in my preparations, letting life’s distractions turn my heart from focusing my all on Jesus, but deep down in there, I can hear it...

“Be ready, Beloved, be ready.”

I pray desperately that I will be ready and listening each time He calls on me. And I pray the same for you.

Monday's scripture focus: Luke 1:18-25
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Judges 7,8

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thursday, April 18 ~ Miriam

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Judges 3-4; Psalm 78; John 10.
Today's scripture focus is Luke 1:5-14

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,[a] of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,

When I was a kid, we had these audio tapes of the Christmas story and the Easter story.  They were like radio theatre, like a movie with no picture, like the described video they have for the visually impaired nowadays.  There were actors with different voices portraying the different characters.  I think one of the reasons I love Luke is because it includes this account of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  I may be wrong, but I think this is the only account that includes their story.  (I would research that, but I'm too tired today.)

Anyway, these audio theatre tapes really made the story seem so much more real to me.  You could hear voices portraying the different characters and their fear (when the angel appeared), skepticism (how are these two senior citizens going to have a baby?), joy (when Mary, the mother of Jesus, visited Elizabeth and the baby in Elizabeth's womb "leaped for joy" upon hearing the voice of the mother of his Lord), joy again (when John was born and Zechariah regained his voice in order to insist upon the name the angel had given him).... you get the idea.

To go on, I've loved the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth because in some ways it is a dream come true story.  Here you have an elderly couple, regular people.  He was a priest, yes, but there were thousands of those.  He wasn't up there on the hierarchy of priesthood.  His wife was a regular gal.  Even Zechariah entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense wasn't anything he had earned, other than by merit of being a priest.  He was chosen by lot.  Does God have a hand in ordinary things, like picking a name out of a hat?  Most definitely.  The guy that God intended to go in and burn the incense that day was chosen by lot.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were "righteous before God".  Were they the only ones?  I'm sure they were not.  But the fact that they were not unique in this doesn't make it any less true.  By all accounts, if you follow God and do His will, He will bless you.  Yes, but does He always bless us with what we want?  No.  Does He bless everyone at the same time in the same way?  Definitely not.  Zechariah and Elizabeth may not have been any more or less righteous than others that they knew, but others were having children and they were not.

Disappointed and upset will be the person who believes that God's blessings are things you can pick out for yourself, like shopping on-line or choosing things from a catalogue.  "If I save up enough "goodness", enough doing what Jesus would do, enough prayer and service in my righteousness account, I can pick what I want from God's blessing catalogue."  Uh-uh, sorry.  Not how it works.  Can we pray for what we want?  Yes.  And we see in verse 13, the angel says "... your prayer has been heard...", so obviously, Zechariah and Elizabeth wanted children and prayed for children.  Did God answer their prayers?  Yep.  Every single one.  He said "Wait for it...  wait for it...  wait for it... wait for it...    OK, now!"  He had a plan.  He had His own timing.

So anyway, here is regular priest Zechariah and his regular wife Elizabeth and their prayers are answered with a "yes", and their dreams of having a child come true.  And not only that, but their pregnancy test is the voice of an angel!!!  Can you imagine?  You pray and hope for something for years, and not only do you get a "yes" but you get an angelic confirmation!  Nevermind that Zechariah was terrified by the angel, nevermind that he was skeptical and was struck dumb for nine months... anyway, I would continue, but I'm already encroaching on tomorrow's verses, so I'll leave that up to tomorrow's poster.

Happy Thursday!

Tomorrow's scripture focus:  Luke 1:15-17.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage:  Judges 5-6; Psalm 79; John 11.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wednesday, April 17th

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Judges 1-2, Psalm 77, John 9
Today's scripture focus is Luke 1:1-4

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Accompanying MacArthur sermons:  Luke: Physician & Historian and Luke: Theologian & Pastor
Accompanying Mark Driscoll sermon: Eyewitness to Jesus
Accompanying Matt Chandler sermon: Skeptics Welcome

Let's get started on the book of Luke!

And Luke starts out with an introduction before he gets going.  Luke is humble, and does not mention his name as the writer of either Luke or Acts (both of which it is universally accepted that he wrote).  But we do know a few things about Luke from other scripture.  We know, from Colossians 4:14, that Luke was a physician.  He was a scientist, a learned man, an analytical man.  We know he was from Antioch in Syria. We know that he was a Gentile (the only Gentile to pen a book of scripture!) and likely converted to Christianity a bit later in life, definitely after Christ's death, resurrection and ascension.  So he was not personally an eyewitness to the life of Christ.

We know that Luke was passionate about Christ and that he was very loyal.  He was with Paul and suffered alongside him - he was imprisoned with him three times and, according to 2 Timothy 4:10-11, was the only one who did not leave Paul when the going got tough. We know that Paul loved him.

Luke was a historian.  We know from these verses that he already knew about the books of Matthew and Mark - and did, in fact, know them both personally.  Knowing that his writing needed to be iron clad, Luke researched and he interviewed eye witnesses.  This book was written about 30 years after Jesus' ascension, so if Luke wanted to interview any living eye witnesses, he had to do it now.  Luke makes it clear that he was not an eye witness himself, but that his sources were eye witnesses and servants of the gospel.  He investigated everything right from the beginning and when he had acquired such a precise understanding, he was compelled to write it out exactly.

And Luke is detailed!  There are, according to MacArthur's sermon, 7 miracles, 19 parables and about 30 life events of Jesus that are only recorded in the book of Luke. Not in Mark, and not in Matthew. (Driscoll has slightly different numbers as you'll see in the quote at the end of this post - but the point is the same).    Luke has added a lot of information here for us.  In fact, the books of Luke and Acts make up more than half of the the New Testament - not in # of books obviously (Paul had 13 - or 14 if he wrote Hebrews), but in length.   And, obviously, all of Luke's research led to him writing this book under the direction and control of the Holy Spirit.

Luke also writes an orderly account - he writes in a logical order.  It is generally chronological, but some of it is also thematic in order to make a point, so it's not strictly chronological.  If this was strictly an historical account it would be entirely chronological.  But Luke was also a theologian, and so it follows a logical and persuasive order, so as to lead the reader to believe the gospel of salvation.  Luke is definitely a theologian - he deals with God's sovereignty, that salvation is extended to everyone (Jew and Gentile alike), the role of the Holy Spirit, the fear of God, forgiveness, worship, the Second Coming - but his main focus is the cross.

And who did Luke write this book to?  To Theophilus, which means loved by God.  This book is obviously also intended for all of us who are loved by God, but it was specifically written for Theophilus.  For one man.  Our God is such a personal God!!  Luke refers to him as "most excellent Theophilus" which very likely means that he was wealthy and in a position in the Roman government. Mark Driscoll contends that likely, due to his prominent position, he wanted to make very sure of the accuracy of this Christian faith before taking the risk of publicly claiming Christ - and that he possibly even funded the research of this book (and the book of Acts) and possibly paid Luke to take the time off work to do the years of research required to write these two books.

Driscoll says (emphasis mine):

there are four Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have 60 percent of their material in common, they are known as the Synoptic Gospels. When you watch the nightly news, it’s like that, the local ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates. Pretty much the same nightly news, a little different order, a little different emphases, but pretty much the same idea-60 percent of the content. John is like the BBC, it’s just on it’s own. Ninety percent of John’s Gospel is unique to John.

But there are some portions of Luke and some aspects of Luke that make Luke a very valuable contribution, one of which is that Luke is almost entirely chronological. So, if you’re a historian and sequential data matters to you, some of the other Gospels are arranged theologically, Luke’s is arranged chronologically. So it’s almost in order, there are a few minor exceptions.

And there are forty-one parts of Luke that are not in any other Gospel, and had Luke not investigated it and written it down, had Theophilus not funded it and commissioned it, we wouldn’t know any of these forty-one things about Jesus. So there’s some treasure in here that you can’t mine anywhere else.

And I, for one, am looking forward to it!

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 1:5-14
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Judges 3-4, Psalm 78, John 10