Advent Week 4 theme: Peace – There are no mood swings in God’s personality

Sometimes I think I make God tired. It seems like all I do is ask. “Please, God …. “. Even though I often follow the ACTS structure, learned way back in my first women’s Bible study, I feel like I spend a lot of time in S. ACTS stands for Adoration – Confession – Thanksgiving – Supplication.  Do you ever feel that way? Last week I was having a ‘moment’ and I prayed out loud to God sitting right there in my car – Please, please, God show me something, give me some way of knowing … and 15 minutes later, God presented me with a sign from Him that the path is straight, I’m on it, and I need to trust Him for the next step. I felt like Ahaz at the time. Is it OK to ask God for confirmation, a sign? Does God get tired listening to our recycled prayers “Please, God …. “. I don’t think God gets tired. He doesn’t have mood swings. And here’s a tip – God wants us to talk to him, constantly  (1 Thessalonians 5:17) so when he speaks to us, we recognize his voice. Look at the Advent scripture for today. God told Ahaz to ask for a sign. And notice that Ahaz refused. It’s not because he didn’t want to bother God. It’s because he was proud and pious. I don’t know about you, but I never want God to tell me I’m pious. What I want is a peaceful heart and that’s my prayer for you today too. Be at peace in this most beautiful time of year.

Isaiah 7:10-14 (The Message)

God spoke again to Ahaz. This time he said, “Ask for a sign from your God. Ask anything. Be extravagant. Ask for the moon!”  But Ahaz said, “I’d never do that. I’d never make demands like that on God!”  So Isaiah told him, “Then listen to this, government of David! It’s bad enough that you make people tired with your pious, timid hypocrisies, but now you’re making God tired. So the Master is going to give you a sign anyway. Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She’ll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us).

Christmastime is here – what children call their favorite time of year – beauty everywhere – joyful memories https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lku1SuCYO8

Advent Week 3 theme: Joy – Seeking purpose is not a modern day syndrome

This is the time of year we all take a little bit longer with thinking about out goals, contemplating our purpose, what we accomplished this year, how we can make changes to improve the coming year … tell me you relate.  If you think goal setting and purpose seeking are a syndrome of modern times your thinking needs to be adjusted. As it turns out, people have been born for a  purpose since the beginning of time. Maybe we just have so many more options we spend more time figuring it all out. Before you get too far into analyzing today, let’s go far back and see purpose in action.

In the first few verses from today’s Advent reading, Zachariah talks about God’s power to save his people and deliver them from the destruction of their enemies. He acknowledges their freedom to worship the Lord and how God’s people can live holy lives. Then he continues with revealing the purpose of his son, John.  Just as John was born to fulfill a purpose, so is each of us. Zachariah tells that it was by design that his own son was born before Jesus.  John would the one to tell everyone that the Master was coming to be their light in a dark world and to offer forgiveness for sin.

Luke 1:67-80 (The Message)

Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free.
He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives, and in the very house of David his servant, Just as he promised long ago through the preaching of his holy prophets:
Deliverance from our enemies and every hateful hand; Mercy to our fathers,
as he remembers to do what he said he’d do, What he swore to our father Abraham—
a clean rescue from the enemy camp, So we can worship him without a care in the world,
made holy before him as long as we live.

And you, my child, “Prophet of the Highest,” will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins. Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace. The child grew up, healthy and spirited. He lived out in the desert until the day he made his prophetic debut in Israel.

Mary had a purpose ….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsXOP7aQeqQ Be Born in Me – Francesca Battistelli

 

Advent Week 3 Theme: Joy – Time to get our faith act together

If you’ve been touring the Bible with us over the past couple weeks you might remember that Zechariah was given joyful news from an angel that he and Elizabeth were going to have a baby even though they had given up on that idea years before. Zechariah didn’t believe it, even though the angel was delivering the message straight from the only infallible and omnipotent God. What happened? Because of his lack of faith, Zechariah had to deal with lack of voice for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

You also might remember the days of abundant joy expressed by Elizabeth and Mary as they celebrated the unique blessing of being mothers to miracle babies. We have discovered the joy factor in our readings this week.  Today real joy returns to the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah with the birth of their baby.  Because of tradition, the friends and family were ready to name the baby Zechariah but by now daddy Zechariah figured out that he needed to get his faith act together and do as God told him. That’s all it took …. Read how it all came to pass.

Luke 1:57-66

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”  They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”  Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

 

Advent Week 3 theme: Joy – Behind the scenes of the ultimate sleepover

When you were growing up do you remember the fun of staying overnight with your best friend? Or maybe a group of you got together and had an all out slumber party. Pity the moms the next day when the most of the house looked like the dressing rooms at Macy’s after Black Friday.  If you’re a guy you won’t admit to having a ‘sleep over’ but most of you have to confess that you spent many nights around a campfire talking to dudes then sleeping on the floor of a room called the ‘man cave’.  Come on now grown up boys and girls, wouldn’t you love to just for a time travel back in time to revisit a few of those experiences?

The ultimate sleepover! That’s what I think of when I read today’s Advent story. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months before going back home.  Mary was ecstatic about being God’s chosen one, and knew it wasn’t by accident that she would be the mother Jesus while he lived on Earth. She knows she was set apart and she recognizes the power of God. I think of Mary and Elizabeth talking all day and into the night about the awesomeness of God and remembering times that God showed his power to his people how he was merciful to them. What happened there, didn’t stay there. What happened was the anticipation of the most joyful event to every take place.  Listen in on their conversation as you read the passage for today.

Luke 1:46-56 (the Message translation)

And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened—  I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength,  scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel;  he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.

 

Joy Unspeakable Joy – Chris Tomlin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tC3SwhJsLqU

Advent Week 3 Theme: Joy – The First Time Jesus Acted Out

Have you ever been so happy, it was hard to breathe? I think the aging process sometimes dilutes the intensity of the happiness factor, but for this one moment go back and grab some memories of can’t-sleep-can’t speak-excitement. Imagine the emotion blinging from the walls, floor and ceiling of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home. Elizabeth was greeting Mary, the mother of her Lord and God. And don’t forget that long after she had given up any hope of being a mom, Elizabeth herself was pregnant with the baby that would grow up to be John the Baptist.

Elizabeth recognized that Mary was carrying the Son of God; this scripture tells us that even the unborn baby acted out for the first time – while in the womb, jumping for joy.  For women and men who have never experienced the somersault of a baby during pregnancy, it’s an indescribable sensation, each movement tethered to a deeper, heart connection. Imagine young Mary being radiant with the love of the child she’s carrying, visiting in the home of her relative who was excited about her own impending chance at motherhood, carrying the child who would grow up to have a strong and loving relationship with his cousin, John the Baptist.

That’s a lot to absorb, and even more to contain. Their own fireworks display, right there in Judah!

Luke 1:39-45 (the Message translation)

Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,

You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears,
the babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!

Mary did you know?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ax5d8JzdyaA   Rascal Flatts

 

Turnabout is … what? It’s opportunity, that’s what it is!

I’ve heard it and I know you’ve heard it. “Turnabout is fair play. What goes around comes around.” I’m not saying there’s any connection, of course, but … well … let me know what you think. I have a severe case of laryngitis and have no explanation except possibly this one. For the past two weeks I’ve been using scripture from advent readings I received from a friend at church. Somehow, and I’m not sure how I would do this, but I got a few of the days mixed up and wrote about Zechariah and his 9 month forced code of silence two days in a row. Luke 1:20 “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” When I looked at my notes last night I realized that if I was at the right place on the prescribed schedule I would again be writing about Zechariah’s inability to speak. Believe me, after just two days of not being able to speak, I have acute empathy for people who cannot speak.  But we are not going there again. Let’s talk about something else entirely. Lets’ talk about hope.

When I was working for a corporation, annual planning and forecasting for the New Year was finalized in August of the current year. That’s not how it works for individuals and families, at least not most of the time. We might plan vacations more than a year in advance, but it’s November or December when we start thinking about what we want to accomplish once the page of the new calendar displays January. How often do you hear a conversation that starts out “After the first of the year …”? What happens after the first of the year? What do we hope will happen? According to USA.gov, the top ranking New Year’s Resolutions are no surprise: Lose Weight, Get a better job, Get Fit, Quit Smoking, Get a better education.  There are others, but do any of those look familiar?

Before you are tempted to tar and feather me, let me qualify that there is nothing wrong with New Year’s Resolutions. My ideas, I realize, make no logical sense to the majority of people. In fact, sometimes they make no sense to me either. How many times have I asked myself, “Jane, what were you thinking?” and the answer returns, “I wasn’t!” I have been thinking about the coming year though and have decided that for the third year in a row I’m going to choose a word to live by. Year one (2013) was Integrity, year two (2014) Discernment, and 2015 is – is – is yet to be determined. Making New Years’ resolutions never worked for me. It was a pathway to self-inflicted heartache. Instead of a bunch of resolutions I choose one goal based on Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” I’m far from perfect at being a light, but that is my prayer every morning. “Lord whatever I do today, let me be a light for you, not a burned out stub.”

There’s a hashtag #word365 popular on social media, where people post what their word for the year is. My word, discernment, is there but where that word is most effective is when I pray about it often many times a day. Deciding is complicated when faced with a dilemma, but discernment isn’t put in a closet until problems come up. Discernment is as simple as choosing my attitude. “Will I be bitter or will I be better?” Discernment is present even when I don’t acknowledge it. “What will I do this moment to choose the right reaction?”

Choosing one word out of thousands is difficult and nothing says I have to choose one. It’s one way to focus on what I can do to live the way God wants me to live.

I’ve been thinking about the word hope for this year. I have 16 days, if I make the choice before 2015, but what if I don’t? My hope is not in the calendar. My hope is in God, like these verses in Lamentations 3:21-26 “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Tomorrow I’ll be back on track with the advent readings. Today, I hope your day is filled with the wonders of this season and that as you plan for 2015, you make God your first priority because He will make all things fall into place when we place our heart, faith, and hope in him.  Psalm 20:4 May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.

Advent Week 3 Theme: Joy – Unspeakable Joy! Literally unspeakable.

Have you ever been speechless?  I mean really speechless? Zechariah was. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were old and childless. In their day, it was a sign that you were inferior and had missed God’s blessing if you grew old and never had children. Imagine how Zechariah felt when an angel came to him and told him he and Elizabeth were going to have a baby. Zechariah had just been chosen to be the priest which was a blessing in itself, but he was also given the inside scoop about the Savior coming to Earth. Zechariah seemed to be more in shock about his ability to start a family at his age than he was about God coming to Earth. Because of his doubt, he was unable to speak the entire time Elizabeth was pregnant.

What I love most about the Advent scripture today is that it talks about reconciliation, peace, and waiting on the Lord. But it also reminds us to recognize the power of God to do the impossible. We have to believe He who has all power to do great things, uses people who have unremarkable lives, but have unshakable faith.

Luke 1:14-25 (NIV)

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. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel 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 parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”  The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple.  When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

When his time of service was completed, he returned home.  After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.  “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.”

Everyone thought this was a “Strange Way to Save the World” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBCVIJBB7o4  by 4Him