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Archive for December, 2008

Unto us

Unto us a Child is born
Unto us a Son is given
In order to redeem our souls
The Father sent the Jewel of heaven

The birth we celebrate this day
Was planned before the world began
But it announced the grand unfolding
Of our God’s eternal plan

Angelic praise burst through the skies
Proclaiming the birth of this Child
The One whose purpose was His death
That God and man be reconciled

Let earth and heaven now proclaim
With voices raised in wondrous praise
That Jesus, now the risen Saviour
Forever lives, forever reigns

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“Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.”  Matthew 1:19

Joseph was a man who followed the commands of God.  He knew the law and he obeyed the law.  He would have known that the punishment for a woman caught in adultery was to be stoned to death.  It would not have been wrong for him to demand this sentence to be executed upon Mary.  But it was not in his heart to do that.   And once he received God’s instruction through a dream, he knew what he needed to do and he did it.

Although I cannot tell for certain, it appears that Joseph did not take Mary to him as his wife until she was already more than 3 months pregnant.  People being the same then as now, they were certainly doing the math when the baby was born.  All appearances were that Joseph had acted improperly during their betrothal.  This just man appeared, in the eyes of others, to be most unjust. 

What better man to be the earthly father of Jesus than one who loved and obeyed the law, but also valued mercy; one who himself, very probably, had borne reproach for his obedience to God.

How I thank God for the men and women he has placed in my life who model the love and mercy of God, and who believe in holiness and obedience to God even when it brings the displeasure or disapproval of man.   And I pray that He will make me one of these people as well, who faithfully imitates Christ in my following of Him.

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Muted out

Sometimes things in the Bible make me laugh.  This is one of them. 

And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”  Luke 1:18

Zacharias has just been given the best imaginable news by an angel.  His response is to ask for a sign.  Zacharias!  That was an angel talking to you.  Seems like that might be a good enough sign.

So unbelieving Zacharias was made mute (and apparently deaf) when he doubted the message of the angel regarding the birth of a son.

Imagine being his age, after so many childless years, to finally be counting down the days until the birth of your son.  How many times during those months did he look at Elizabeth’s swollen belly and long to lift his voice in praise?  Or to laugh with her when the baby kicked?  Or to speak of the words the angel had told him?  Each time was a reminder of his doubt.  Is it any surprise then, that by the time John was born Zacharias was fully convinced of what the angel had told him and his first words after having his speech restored was this eruption of praise:

“Blessed is 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,
Who have been since the world began,
That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
To grant us that we,
Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Let us not be muted out through unbelief, but continually lift our voices in praise to the God who is faithful to perform that which He has promised.

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“So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.”  Luke 1:8-9

Life gets rather monotonous at times.  It can seem to be an endless cycle of repetitive futility, with each day appearing amazingly similar to the one before.  Nothing exciting happens, nothing dramatic.  Just the usual routine.  Yawn…….

That’s what this verse reminds me of.  Zacharias is just doing his usual thing – serving in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood.  Doing his duty, just like usual.

Zacharias would have had no way of knowing when he woke up that morning that the entire course of his life would change in one moment on that day.  He went into the temple to perform his duties, just like he always did.  But this time something remarkable happened…..he was chosen to burn incense before the Lord, an event that would only occur once in his lifetime.  Already the day has changed for Zacharias as he prepares to go into the Holy Place.  It is far from being an ordinary day now.   And as Zacharias enters the Holy Place and stands there alone, offering the incense before the Lord, it must seem like the most singularly extraordinary day of his life.  Then, in the midst of this holy moment, an angel brings a most spectacular announcement – Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth will have a son.  And not just any son, but the prophet who proceeds the appearance of the Messiah in Israel.

Suddenly the day is anything but ordinary.  In one moment everything changed.  Everything.

We are a fast paced society.  A culture of adventure.  Ordinary is boring to us.  But it is often in the very ordinariness of life that we will experience a holy moment.  Are you watching?  Are you expectantly waiting?  It may not be anything as spectacular as an angel, but God will certainly show up in your ordinary day.  But will you notice?

Our salvation has not condemned us to boring lives of monotony.  Rather, we are now intricately involved in the biggest adventure of the universe – impacting lives for the kingdom of God.   And in one God ordained moment a life could be changed for all eternity.

Ordinary?  I don’t think so.

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“And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.”   Luke 1:6-7

There are not many people that the Scriptures name as righteous, but Zacharias and Elizabeth are two of them.  They were obedient followers of the Lord, blameless.  They were doing all the right things.  And yet, they still lacked what was considered the most precious blessing attainable – an heir.

Jewish society of their day looked at barrenness as a sign of God’s displeasure.  How painful it must have been for them, year after year, to watch neighbors, friends and family members have children while they remained childless.  I wonder if Elizabeth felt ashamed.  I wonder if they ever felt that God didn’t see their pain, or didn’t care.

Regardless, they continued to serve Him, doing all the right things even though life had seemed to treat them very unfairly.  And all this time they had no idea the privilege God was waiting to confer upon them.  Had they known they would be the parents of the forerunner of the Christ, I am certain they would have been able to wait contentedly for the appointed time, serving God faithfully.  But they didn’t know….and they still served Him faithfully.

In a day when most people feel entitled to certain things if we are serving God, it would do us good to reflect upon the example of Zacharias and Elizabeth.  Even when the life they expected was not granted, and even when they did all the right things and nothing changed, they continued to serve Him.

Will we remain faithful when our expectations are not met, when our desires are not granted, when our longings go unfulfilled?  We must determine in our hearts that we will, for this is the way of the true servants of the Lord.

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“According to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.” Luke 1:9

No priest was allowed to burn incense more than once in his lifetime.  How many years had Zacharias performed his duty as priest, showing up at the appointed time of service hoping that this time the lot would fall to him to burn incense, only to not be chosen – again?  What was it like for him to see new priests get chosen while he still waited?  Must have seemed pretty congruent with the rest of his life – always watching someone else get the blessing.  But for Zacharias – no son, no incense, no blessing. 

Even though this method of casting lots seems random, Proverbs 16:33 says “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”  Zacharias’ many years of waiting was not his bad luck – it was the very timing of God.  There was an announcement planned for Zacharias.  The timing was critical and God was holding back the lot until His appointed time.  But when the time came, nothing was able to hold it back.  And the lot fell to Zacharias.

It is hard enough to wait when you know there are better things on the horizon.  For Zacharias, there could not have been much hope of anything on the horizon at this point.  An old man by now, Zacharias may have at times entertained thoughts of having been cheated by life.  But God was planning something more tremendous for Zacharias than he could have imagined.

Life is no series of coincidences.  What an unimaginable frustration life would be if there was no sense of God’s providence in every step.  But because I believe He is sovereign, I can trust that even if it seems that good is withheld from me, it is in accordance with His plan and His timing.  Each day can be filled with peace as I recognize that because He orders my steps, I can completely enjoy where He has me today as I wait for what is on the horizon, whatever it may be.

Maybe it will be something as significant as a John the Baptist.  Maybe it won’t.  But I can trust that it will be exactly what He planned, exactly when He planned it.

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“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”  Matthew 13:44

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would have done anything to have it?  I know some people who are like that about every new piece of technology that comes out.  They rush out to get it, spending way too much money, because they absolutely must have the latest thing.  And once it has been acquired, they gleefully display it, describing the features and functions in detail to anyone who will listen.  They don’t mind the expense, for their heart is set on this new purchase. 

Now picture the man in this Scripture….walking through a field his foot hits an object protruding from the ground and he stumbles.  Curious, he looks down to see what he has tripped on.  He digs a bit and discovers a box.  How odd that it would have been left in this field.  He opens it, and to his amazement, it is full of gold coins and jewels.  The gems catch the sunlight, almost blinding him with their sparkling brightness.  He closes the box quickly, looking around to see if he is observed.  Stealthily, he hides the box again.  He searches for the owner of the field.  He must purchase this field, he must have that treasure.  The owner names his price – much more than the man has.  Undeterred, he sells his home, his donkey, and all his possessions to raise the money to buy the field.  All the earthly possessions he has acquired and enjoyed and treasured over the years, gone in an instant.  But this man is filled with joy.  Because now he has the field.  Now he has the treasure.

For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, leaving the glory of heaven to come and die for sinners.   And He has set a joy before us – the joy of knowing Him.  Compared to this, all earthly joys fade into nothingness and all earthly treasures become dull and lackluster.  So let us leave behind the trinkets we have entertained ourselves with and pursue with all our hearts the one true treasure – Jesus Christ.

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