Tag Archives: Advent

December 5: no detour from calvary

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in in the inn. Luke 2.6-7

Now you would that if God so rules the world as to use an empire-wide census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, he surely could have seen to it that a room was available in the inn.

Yes, he could have. And Jesus could have been born into a wealthy family. He could have turned stone into bread in the wilderness. He could have called 10,000 angels to his aid in Gethsemane. He could have come down from the cross and saved himself. The question is not what God could do, but what he willed to do.

God’s will was that though Christ was rich, yet for you r sake he became poor. The “No Vacancy” signs over all the motels in Bethlehem were for your sake. “For your sake he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8.9).

God rules all things – even motel capacities – for the sake of his children. The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing of the cross in Jerusalem.

And we must not forget that he said, “He would come after me must deny himself and take up his cross” (Matthew 16.24).

We join him on the Calvary road and hear him say, “Remember the world that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15.20).

To the one who calls out enthusiastically, “I will follow you wherever you go!” (Matthew 8.19), Jesus responds, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8.20).

Yes, God could have seen to it that Jesus have a room at his birth. But that would have been a detour off the Calvary road.

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

December 4: for God’s little people

In those days a decree went out for Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. Luke 2.1-5

Have you ever though what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5 shows); and that he so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah’s mother and legal father were living in Nazareth; and that in order to fulfill his word and bring two little people to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town?

Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of seven billion people, where all the news is of big political and economic and social movements and of outstanding people with lots of power and prestige?

If you have, don’t let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God’s little people – the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to bless his children.

Do not think, because you experience adversity, that the hand of the Lord is shortened. It is not our prosperity but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart. And to that end, he rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21.1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice in that, unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in heaven, that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

December 2: Mary’s magnificent God

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has show strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” Luke 1.46-55

Mary sees clearly a most remarkable thing about God: he is about to change the course of all human history. The most important three decades in all of time are about to begin. And where is God? Occupying himself with two obscure, humble women – one old and barren (Elizabeth), on young and virginal (Mary). And Mary is so moved by the vision of God, the lover of the lowly, that she breaks out in song – a song that has come to be known as “the Magnificat.”

Mary and Elizabeth are wonderful heroines in Luke’s account. He loves the faith of these women. The thing that impresses him most, it appears, and the thing he wants to impress on Theophilus, his noble reader, is the lowliness and cheerful humility of Elizabeth and Mary.

Elizabeth says, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” (Luke 1.43) and Mary says, “He has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (Luke 1.48).

The only people whose soul can truly magnify the Lord are people like Elizabeth and Mary – people who acknowledge their lowly estate and are overwhelmed by condescension of the magnificent God.

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

December 3: the long-awaited visitation

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us… Luke 1.68-71

Notice two remarkable things from these words of Zechariah in Luke 1.

First, nine months earlier, Zechariah could not believe his wife would have a child. Now, filled with the Holy Spirit, he is so confident of God’s redeeming work in the coming Messiah that he puts it in the past tense. For the mind of faith, a promised act of God is as good as done. Zechariah has learned to take God at his word and so has a remarkable assurance: “God has visited and redeemed!”

Second, the coming of Jesus the Messiah is a visitation of God to our world: “The God of Israel has visited and redeemed.” For centuries, the Jewish people had languished under the conviction that God had withdrawn: the spirit of prophecy had ceased, Israel had fallen into the hands of Rom. And all the godly in Israel were awaiting the visitation of God. Luke tells us in 2.25 that the devout Simon was “looking for the consolation for Israel.” And in Luke 2.38 the prayerful Anna was “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

These were days of great expectation. Now the long-awaited visitation of God was about to happen – indeed, he was about to come in a way no one expected.

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Advent Week 2: Peace

A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” Luke 1:39-45

Today’s focus: peace…or rather, Shalom, the Hebrew word for/about peace. This peace goes beyond our earthly understanding of peace. It is not niceness or political correctness. It is not the absence of armed conflict or a peaceful co-existence. Shalom goes beyond serenity. It speaks to wholeness, completeness and fulfillment. The presence is ever-expanding. And to pursue it would be to pursue fulfillment. And purpose began at creation.

We were created to partner with God to bring Shalom into the world. We were created to take what was created good and make it better; to bring it to completion. Then came sin and this became impossible.

With sin, came chaos. No fulfillment. A constant yearning.

Jesus came to bring Shalom – to bring fulfillment. That’s why the angels sang “peace on earth.”

When we look at the life of Christ, we see anything but peace. God chose to become less; came in the form of a baby, was born in a stable and laid in a manger because there was nowhere else to put him. While He lived, he was oppressed and afflicted. Towards the end, he endured mocking, brutality, and the cross.

Does that sound peaceful?

Attending Church of the Open Door, this morning’s speaker, David Johnson, then proceeded to ask three questions.

1: Have you ever been a part of a miracle?

At this, we look to Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was a disturbed teenager who had just seen an angel and heard of the impossible. She couldn’t bring this disturbing news to her parents – they wouldn’t understand (I was there once too…we all were teenagers once). She chose then to spend time with her cousin Elizabeth; who was also pregnant…as the angel had told her. Keep in mind that angels do not have a natural calming affect…I know I would probably freak if I were to ever see one while walking this terrestrial planet. Wouldn’t you?

We, too, should understand that when God calls us to something and that although it may be exciting, it is always disturbing, will probably be painful, definitely questionable and unsettling.

Johnson then pointed to the by-product of Mary’s arrival: what happened to Elizabeth when she came. The baby leapt within her womb and, due to the Holy Spirit’s coming upon her, she knew the gift that Mary carried and, in turn, calmed Mary’s fears. Elizabeth brought Shalom into the picture.

At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

When God’s life is born within each of us, we have the capability of feeling Him move. God is not dormant – He is fully alive – and He will begin to grow within us, stretch us, scar us, scare us and that growth may even hurt. We need to remember that is all for His glory. He is preparing us to do a great work for Him and preparing us for His kingdom.

2: If you were called to play a part in His story, would you say yes?

3: What if you knew (fully believed) that all of the things in your life that have ever grown/scarred/scared/disturbed you were actually moving you towards Shalom? Would that give you peace? What if you knew that you were part of something…if you had a place in bringing and restoring Shalom…would that give you Shalom?

Johnson recalled last week’s message about Joseph. He was disappointed in the fact that Mary was with child before they were even married. He had considered leaving her…then…then God revealed to him the plan. And in accepting that plan and saying yes, Joseph was given the Shalom he needed to go through it.

Mary, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky. She saw an angel – that disturbed her. She then went to Elizabeth; a woman who was older; a woman who had lived; a woman who knew loss, who knew what it was to be barren. Elizabeth was able to stand firm and be the confident spirit (through her wisdom) that Mary needed:

“God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

Mary was blessed because she had said YES even when she didn’t fully understand. All of that administers peace and it can stretch from one generation to the next.

I couldn’t help but ask those questions of my own life and point them towards The Vine. Every step towards this moment has been a part of a miracle. Each person on the Vine team has been asked to be a part of God’s story. We all have. And that third question? I couldn’t help but think about my current situation:

What if you knew (fully believed) that all of the things in your life that have ever grown/scarred/scared/disturbed you were actually moving you towards Shalom? Would that give you peace? What if you knew that you were part of something…if you had a place in bringing and restoring Shalom…would that give you Shalom?

I fully believe that everything that has led to this moment, here and now, has been moving us towards bringing that Shalom to Minneapolis. There are thousands of people in that area that do not know God. Some may have not even heard of Him or what He has to offer. I’ve been given peace in spite of not knowing what steps are coming next. I’ve been given peace even though I do not know what the outcome will be.

I have.

Been given…

Peace.

Have you?

Advent Week 2: Christmas is Love

What does great, true love look like?

The greatest expression of true love is sacrifice and surrender – not for a friend, but rather, for an enemy. Lay your life down for a friend? Sure. Lay your life down for your enemy? I’d like to say yes, but probably no.

Other than Easter, this season reminds me of this more than any other time of the year. And why shouldn’t it? People set aside their agendas for thirty days to decorate their homes, purchase-receive-and give gifts, attend church, give time or money to a charity they care for, and travel miles to be with loved ones. Why? Some, probably because they feel that they have to out of necessity. Others, love.

So why shouldn’t Christmas be about love with all the giving and cheer that infuses the air this time of year. Seems like a given, don’t you think?

Yet, despite of all of the action this season, the ultimate example of love is the love of God. His love is far deeper that the trite “love” that fills this time of year. His love was ultimately demonstrated in the sacrifice of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.

How can we love like that? Let’s follow Joseph’s example.

I attended services at Church of the Open Door this morning and the message revolved around Joseph’s choosing to follow God’s call and love Mary and the unborn child she carried in spite of himself and his culture. He sacrificed the what ifs and the either/ors to follow God’s will and love that Child as if He were his own.

The speaker at this morning’s service also spoke of another Joseph, hundreds of years before Jesus’ time. Take a glimpse at Genesis 37-45.

Joseph had many brothers, was his father’s favorite and was hated by his older brothers. They beat him and had thought about leaving him for dead, but chose then to sell him into slavery. He was sold again in Egypt and served in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar’s wife accused him of sleeping with her and Joseph was thrown in prison for it. He remained there until the cup-bearer remembered the dream-reader and Joseph was summoned to read Pharoh’s dream about the seven years of surplus and seven years of famine. Joseph was then placed in charge of everything and, in a wild turn of events, his brothers were the very ones who came to him for help during those seven years of famine. Did Joseph get his revenge and send them back, empty-handed?

He may have wanted to, but he didn’t. Read what he says:

Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God…
Genesis 45:5-8

In much the same way, Mary’s fiancé, Joseph didn’t quietly divorce Mary as he had contemplated. Instead, he chose to love her and stick around to raise the son of God.

Have you experienced a love like that? Have you given love like that?

It’s humanly impossible.

Only God can give that you that type of love. Only God can love you that way through the love of others. And only God can love others that way through you.

Advent Week 1: Hope of Christmas

“A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” ~~ O Holy Night

Does Christmas thrill you?

Children get excited at the coming of the season. Some in anticipation of Santa, other simply because it’s Christmas. I still feel that same wonder. And maybe it’s because I’m single. Maybe it’s because I have the heart of child and, boy, do I hope that last through the rest of my life!

And yet, I have the same distractions every other adult faces each year. Trim the tree, plan a party (or parties), whatdo I get this person or that person, wrap, ship, write my annual Christmas letter.

And that is why I’m thankful for the season of Advent. In going through it at church, I can shift my focus on the things that truly matter this time of year.

The word advent derives from the Latin word for coming – the Lord is coming. The entire focus? The birth of Christ and the anticipation of His return as King. Advent is far more than simply marking history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ so that all of creation might be reconciled to God.

The first week of Advent brings Hope. Or Expectation. This draws attention to the hope we have in Christ and the expectancy of His return.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Did you catch the parallel between things hoped for and things unseen? Try applying assurance to something your five senses can’t detect. It’s challenging, isn’t it? The benefit of this is that hope, through Christ, is available to us no matter what we see, hear or feel. It’s above our circumstances.

Max Lucado agrees with Paul’s claim that hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:3-5):

Hope is not what you’d expect; it is what you would never dream. It is a wild, improbably tale with a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming ending… Hope is not a granted wish of a favor performed; no, it is far greater than that. It is a zany, unpredictable dependence on a God who loves to surprise us out of our socks and be there in the flesh to see our reaction.

Isn’t that amazing? How many times has your hope in Christ knocked your socks off?

Love…hopes all things…but now abide faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:7, 13

Have you ever wondered why those three are written in that order? Maybe hope isn’t something we automatically do. Maybe it’s something we receive, like grace. Check out Hebrews 11:6. Could it be true that without hope, God wouldn’t be able to please us? The same verse says that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Is hope that reward?

Think about this. If faith is what we give to God and hope is what He gives to us, then we have the dynamic of a relationship. With that in place, we can love. So love is built on hope, which is built on faith.

For hope to exist, hopelessness would have to exist first. We didn’t have hope prior to Christ. That, among many other reasons, is why God sent His Son. After all, a perfect world wouldn’t have the need for a Savior. Deliverance arrives undeservedly and perhaps, unexpectedly, just as in the unlikely way God came to earth to provide a once-and-for-all substitute for the sins of all men on that first Christmas 2000 years ago. That’s why circumstances in life can look bleak, but that’s where hope lives and thrives.

The good news? We can’t hope enough. That’s why our senses  and minds are inadequate to judge God’s design and methods and hope becomes more a function of God’s involvement than our desires. I, myself, could not have created the plan of salvation or the virgin birth. My creative imagination could not have concocted the plan for the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down, for the Red Sea to part and offer up dry land, or create all that we see (or Eden for that matter).  Nor do I have any idea what the answers are to my problems  or know what I will be blessed with this Christmas.

My prayer is this: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).