Luke 1:39-80 Sharing the Joyful News
I’m not sure exactly when or why it happened, but somehow since the time I was young an overarching societal attitude has changed. So many people today have a feeling of entitlement. I deserve…. Neither Mary nor Elizabeth felt that way. Both wondered why God had chosen them to fulfill such an important part of His plan. (Luke 1:43, Luke 1:52) They wondered what they had done to deserve such blessing, and they both came to the same conclusion. They had done nothing to deserve the honour that God was giving to them. It was all a gift of His grace.
When the angel Gabriel came to Mary to give her the news that she would give birth to God’s son, he also told her that her relative Elizabeth was going to give birth in her old age. (Luke 1:36) So Mary’s first priority became to go and see Elizabeth. We are told that she went hurriedly. She was doing the journey on foot though, and we know that she was going into the hill country, so it wouldn’t have been an easy stroll. It has been estimated to have taken three days. We are not given the reason why Mary went to Elizabeth right away, but I suspect that she was bursting to talk to someone about all that had just happened to her, and since she got news about Elizabeth from Gabriel, she knew that Elizabeth would understand and would share in her joy. Keep in mind that once Mary’s condition was obvious, there would be a lot of unjoyful reactions towards her. Talking things over with Elizabeth would certainly be a much more pleasant experience.
Not only did Elizabeth rejoice with Mary, but the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy when Mary arrived. Elizabeth and her baby were both filled with the Holy Spirit, and therefore knew that the baby that had been conceived by the Holy Spirit had just entered. Elizabeth, whose husband Zechariah had had a lapse of faith, (Luke 1:18) blessed Mary for believing the Lord. (Luke 1:45) And Mary praised God. (Luke 1:46-55)
When the time came for John to be born, the joy was shared even further. For Elizabeth’s family and neighbours heard the news and rejoiced with her. (Luke 1:58) Rejoicing continued as the naming of the baby resulted in Zechariah getting his voice back. (Luke 1:63-64) And Zechariah praised God. (Luke 1:67-75)
Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah were not joyful because they had received blessings that they felt they deserved, and were getting what they were rightfully due. They were joyful because God had kept His promises, blessed them, and made them each an integral part of His plan. That’s joy worth sharing!
Proverbs 29:18 Guidance System
Do you have a dream? Something you really want to do? A plan? A course of action to follow that will lead you to a better life? Perhaps you don’t. Perhaps you are just taking one day at a time, working, trying to make ends meet. I know of people who have been given a terminal diagnosis by their doctors. They aren’t doing much planning for the future; they are just living each day to the fullest and being thankful for every moment. Some people use Proverbs 29:18, which in the King James Version reads, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…”, to suggest that if you don’t have a dream, a plan for the future, your life is worthless, or at least not meeting its potential. If you’re not the type to plan ahead, this might be quite discouraging.
Here’s the good news. That is not what this verse means. Other versions, including the New King James, more clearly translate the Hebrew word “hazon” as revelation. The NET Bible and the English Standard Version clarify it by specifying that it is a prophetic vision. In other words, where there is no guidance from God, transmitted through someone on the Earth, the people… well, “perish” isn’t the best translation there either. Most versions now say “cast off restraint”, but what it generally means is to live in chaos. They are living without structure. There are other verses in Proverbs 29 that say very similar things. (e.g. Proverbs 29:2, 6, 8, 11, 16) The overriding theme is that there is much more benefit when we live according to God’s mandates than according to our own selfish desires.
There is some debate among Bible scholars as to whether the “law” in the second half of the verse, refers to the written law only, the Torah, or whether it includes prophetic revelation. As I see it, either way, following God’s principles is required. We have so much more revelation than the people did when this proverb was written. We have Jesus and His teachings to guide us as well. Having the revelation is not enough. Following the revelation is what will bring blessing and help us to avoid chaos.
Numbers 6:24-26 When Forgiveness Doesn’t Work
Today's post was written by Donna L. Watkins.
With forgiveness being recommended now even by the medical world, many are looking for specific steps to be used in forgiveness. There are many "techniques" out there and many people have been through all they've read, and faithfully followed through with the suggestions, but still have this burning sting from words that were hurled at them at some time in their life -- or for actions that spoke much louder than words -- and they don't know how to get beyond what "that person did."
Recently I had a family member choose to dump our relationship because I made a one sentence statement in a gentle tone against listening to him rant about another family member. After instantly hanging up on me, he wrote me a note to cancel plans we had to meet on a future date, and then stopped all communication.
I had decided to take a stand against listening to "evil reports" of other family members and that was grounds for termination in his mind. It seems life holds nothing else for him but to repeat the worst of the tv news, weather or family issues. I didn't see that it was a relationship at all if the only function I was to have in his life was to listen to the ranting and reviling.
Then I also heard he'd already begun talking about it to other family members. I certainly wasn't surprised that he did, but I was very surprised that it bothered me. I was actually relieved that I took the stand and said that I didn't want to be in the middle of it. Admittedly I was initially delighted that he would no longer be calling 3-4 times a week for those downgrading conversations. The more I would try to add positive comments to these conversations, while trying to honor his position in the family, the more useless I felt about it all. He seemed to think I was a Pollyanna and it was exhausting to find enough Light to cover the Darkness that he chose to talk about.
So, why would I feel bad about this with so many obvious benefits for me? My wonderful husband is never lacking with resources on Spiritual issues, so he handed me a booklet called, "Rewards of Being Reviled," by Bill Gothard.
The book says that "reviling comes from a heart of scorn and contempt. It is the spewing out of anger and hatred. It is a verbal attack upon another person, given with deep emotional fervor. Its purpose is to vilify, to defame, to bring shame upon, to discredit, and to attribute evil and sinister motives to what that person says and does. It is to engage in ridicule. To ridicule is to cause others to laugh at a person or his ideas. It is to sneer, scoff, and belittle him. Ridicule is an expression of disdain."
It talks about all the ridicule and reviling that David experienced and I have always loved Psalms in times of trouble. His enemies provided opportunity for him to be able to write with deep emotion and insight.
The cool part of the deal is that the books says, "Notwithstanding the serious nature of reviling and the severe consequences for those who engage in it, there are great rewards for those who endure reviling and understand God's purposes for allowing it to occur. Matthew 5:12 tells us to "Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven."
It gave a story of a little girl that had been stung by a bark scorpion, the most poisonous scorpion found in Arizona, which results in excruciating pain and numbness, then swelling, physical weakness, dizziness, tightening of the throat, and tingling of limbs.
Since this had happened before to the mother, they now had a small device that produced a high-voltage, low-current electrical charge. When electrodes from this unit are placed in the area of the sting or bite, they send a positive electrical charge into the victim's bloodstream. This, in turn, neutralizes the venom, which has a negative charge, and renders it harmless. This leaves only a mild soreness for a short time and a small mark of where the scorpion struck.
Proverbs 18:21 says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." Reviling is using the power of the tongue for death, and blessing is using the power of the tongue for life. A curse is like a negative charge, and a blessing is the positive charge that neutralizes the destructive nature of the negative charge.
A verbal blessing is more powerful than a verbal curse because good is more powerful than evil. God is more powerful than Satan, and light is more powerful than darkness.
On a mission trip, a student was reviled by the leader during a heated conversation. The incident hurt and shocked her and weeks later she was still emotionally involved in the incident while continuing to rehearse the reviler's words in her mind and feeling the pain each time she did.
She had forgiven this leader, but her emotions were rooted deeper than her words and her forgiveness was hollow and insincere. As time passed, her wound only became more infected. Her forgiveness was a surface response that she knew was Biblical and right, but it did not reach the venom that was surging through her emotional veins. The venom of reviling is long-lasting.
One day she heard a message on the power of verbal blessings and why it is essential for us to bless those who curse us. She understood this concept, and that night she could not fall asleep until she verbally blessed the leader who had reviled her.
Since then, she has continued to have freedom in her spirit from the hurts of this past event. She also has a deeper walk with the Lord as a result of this experience.
How do we do this?
Scripture provides words that can be used: Numbers 6:24-26: "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make His face to shine up on thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace."
When we ask God to bring His benefits to the lives of revilers, we are blessing them. I have often looked back at some of the genetic options of my family tree and can easily say, "There but for the grace of God, go I." It certainly makes it easier to have mercy and grace on others who have not chosen to walk out of circumstances and generational curses.
My prayer for blessing my enemies is that those blessings will overcome the darkness of the curses that have caused them to be so angry. If you will look back on the situation you struggle with, you will find ways that God blessed you because of it.
Let me give you a personal example that Bill Gothard shared in his booklet mentioned above. He writes, "When attendance at the Basic Youth Conflicts Seminar first began to multiply, it was something of a phenomenon and was certainly a surprise to me. I could not explain it and was therefore hesitant to talk about it to reporters. They assumed that this constituted secrecy, and two Christian magazines published articles of a defamatory nature.
" I called the writer of the first article and tried to explain what I thought he had misunderstood. He reacted, and matters became worse. When the second article was published, God prompted me to have a different response. I called the writer. When he learned that I was on the phone, he cautiously answered. I then said, 'I have called to tell you how God has used your articles to benefit my life and ministry." He was totally surprised and said, 'Oh?' I continued and explained that God had used his article to do a work in my life, and in the ministry in three very positive ways.
" First, I was forced to reexamine what I was teaching and how people perceived what I was saying. Second, it unified the people who had been to the seminar and knew that the article reflected a misunderstanding of what was being taught. Third, as a result of this reviling, people had sent in thousands of dollars to encourage me and to support the seminar ministry.
" I'm sure the writer was not expecting this response. He became warm and friendly, and thanked me for my call. God has blessed both of our ministries since that day .... and today I consider him a friend."
My prayer is that this will allow you to give some thought to another approach to your memories and wounds. Ask God to first show you good that has come from it. Ask him to let you see how He has used it for good in your life as Romans 8 promises. Then, take the above suggestion from Scripture and choose to bless the person every time the memory returns.
Donna L. Watkins lives in Central Virginia with her wonderful husband enjoying birds, wildlife, gardening, forests, nature travel and her cat, Squeek. More articles can be found at TheHerbsPlace.com and a free subscription to her mailing, A Healing Moment. http://www.theherbsplace.com/ahm.html
Isaiah 45:2-3 Treasures of Darkness
Do you ever wonder if God really does have a plan for your life? Maybe you thought that God had a plan once, but it’s been so long that you are sure now that you were mistaken. Isaiah 44:24-28 tells us that God had a plan to release the people of Israel from exile in Babylon, and that it would be fulfilled by Cyrus, King of Persia, who would not be born until more than a hundred years later.
Isaiah 45:2-3 records God’s words to Cyrus. God assures Cyrus that He will make his path clear and remove all the obstacles that get in his way. God will provide Cyrus with treasures that are currently hidden away. In the context in which this passage was written, these words were meant literally. The Israelites would need someone to overcome all of these obstacles to rescue them from captivity, and there really were treasures that had been hidden away, typically in subterranean places. History books will tell you that Cyrus came away from his conquests with many thousands of pounds of gold and silver.
I think that we, however, can look at this passage figuratively. Although we will all face obstacles if we are following God’s plan for our lives, we can trust Him to clear the way for us. Look back at Isaiah 44:24; our God has the power to accomplish His plans. It doesn’t depend on our strength or ability. But that doesn’t mean that our days will always be easy. There will still be hurts, and things will probably take longer than we want them to. In many translations Isaiah 45:3 says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness…”. That has always symbolized for me that even in the darkest, hardest times of our lives, we will find blessing. That is the treasure. Through those hard times is when we will turn to God, and we will learn to rely on Him. We will learn that God is God, and that He calls us by name. No matter what we have to go through, God has the power to get us through it, and He loves us. What a source of hope that is!
Acts 20:35 The Heart of Christmas
'Tis the season of cookie exchanges, and I'm listening to Christmas carols as I get ready for one. I have a lot of Christmas CDs, but this year I have a new one--The Heart of Christmas by Matthew West. There are some traditional Christmas songs on it, but also some that he has written. One of them is called "One Last Christmas" which is a sad story about the loss of a child. The parents however have turned it into a story of hope for others who are facing similar situations by raising money for the hospital that treated their son. We celebrate so many blessings at this time of year, whether consciously or unconsciously, that we really need to consider giving to those who are hurting or are less fortunate. Acts 20:35 reminds us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Please listen to Matthew West's song and consider giving to St. Jude's or a hospital in your area or any other charity that helps people in need. You can purchase his CD at his website or, particularly if you are in Canada, by giving a donation to another worthy cause at FullCircleTV.com
Fair Disclosure: I receive no payment of any kind for this recommendation.
Galatians 3:6-9 Father Abraham has many sons.
Today's post was written by David Plaunt.
One Monday afternoon I called up my wife and said to her, "We are leaving for a vacation in France on Wednesday." What I did that afternoon to my wife makes me think of God telling Abraham to pack up and head out (Genesis 12:1-2) and what Abraham had to say to Sarah. "Honey we need to move; I think we are going to head east." Off they went, family in tow, on an adventure of faith.
Abraham is referred to throughout the Bible, including at least 74 times in the New Testament. It seems to me there is one point that is hammered home whenever Abraham is mentioned, and that is faith.
It was through this faith that Abraham was justified, (Genesis 15:6) and through the same faith that we, both brothers and sisters, are all called sons of Abraham. (Galatians 3:6-9) Being called a son of Abraham is not the same as being Jewish; rather it is having faith that makes us a son of Abraham. (Galatians 3:8, Genesis 12:3, Genesis 18:18) Why would we want to be called sons of Abraham? As sons of Abraham, those who trust in the promises of God just as Abraham did, we inherit the blessings promised to Abraham. (Galatians 3:9) The inheritance our faith brings us is justification. That is the acquittal of our sins so that we need not fear meeting a righteous God. This is the basis of any other blessing we may receive. It is only through this justification that we can receive the promise of the Spirit (Galatians 3:14) that leads to eternal life.
Of all the references to Abraham in the New Testament there is only
one thing we are instructed to do as Abraham did, and that is to have
faith. Because we share this same faith with Abraham we receive
the blessings he received as well.
Isaiah 55:8-9 What’s the plan?
I have said many times in my blog posts that God has a plan for our lives. Many verses in the Bible confirm this. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that His plans are to prosper us and not to harm us; they are to give us a future and a hope. John 10:10 says that Jesus came to give us abundant life. Ephesians 3:20 promises more than we could ask or imagine. Philippians 4:19 tells us that our needs will be supplied according to His glorious riches. So, God’s plan for us is a good plan, but that doesn’t mean that it will be one that we understand.
I have often tried to figure out God’s plan for my life, and then tried to make it happen. Although I think it is a wise thing to obey God’s Word, and to try to live a life that is pleasing to Him, trying to figure out His plans can be an exercise in frustration. Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us that His plans are not like our plans, and His deeds are not like our deeds. Just as the sky is higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than ours. They are beyond our comprehension because He is God, and we are not.
What we need to do is to give ourselves over to Him. Ask Him to lead us in the path that He wants for us, and trust Him to keep His promises. Earlier in Isaiah 55, we are invited to come to God to receive His blessing without cost. This is referring to salvation and the promise of eternal blessings, but by giving our lives over to Him we can also depend on all of the other promises of an abundant life now. He really does have a better plan for our lives than we could make for ourselves. It won’t necessarily be easier, but it will be better, and it will be for eternity.
What a reassuring promise! Philippians 4:19 tells us that God will supply our every need, but notice that this verse comes after discussion of the support that the Philippians gave to Paul. (Philippians 4:15-19) We cannot take this verse out of the context of the rest of the Bible; we must look at it in light of other scriptures.
Throughout the Bible we are told to give generously. The ancient wisdom of Proverbs tells us that those who are generous will be blessed, but those who withhold their wealth will come to poverty. (Proverbs 11:24-25, Proverbs 22:9) In Malachi 3:10 we are encouraged to bring the whole tithe into God’s house. This is one circumstance in which God invites us to test Him, and He promises to pour out a blessing upon us from the windows of heaven. Some people believe, or perhaps just use as an excuse, that this was an Old Testament law, and no longer applies to those of us living under the grace of the New Testament. However, this is essentially the same thing that Paul says in Philippians 4:19, God will supply your need according to His riches. Luke echoes this in Luke 6:38: Give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. I always think of baking when I read this verse. When you fill a measuring cup with flour, then press it down and shake the cup a bit, it creates room for more. This is the way that God gives; He presses down the blessings, shakes the air bubbles out and keeps on giving past the point where there is room to hold any more. But our giving has to come first.
When Paul thanked the Philippians for giving to him, he emphasized that it was not because he needed more (though it certainly was a blessing to him), but so that they would be acknowledged for their gift. Their generosity was an indication of their hearts toward God, as they were really giving to Him. (Matthew 25:40) God is pleased with such sacrifice (Hebrews 13:16), and He loves a cheerful giver. (II Corinthians 9:6-8) If you give generously, you will be blessed, and both the giver and receiver will experience joy in the gift.
Friends of mine recently had a blessing party for their sixteen year old daughter. I have heard of people blessing their children before, at certain milestones in their lives, but this is the first I’ve heard of a blessing party. I think it’s great. At this party, friends and family came prepared with a letter of blessing that was read aloud and then given to the person being blessed, so that she could re-read them in the days to come. The letters would include words of acknowledgement, encouragement, wisdom, advice and the Word of God.
In Numbers 6:22-27, God instructed the priests to bless the people, and God provided the words of the blessing, so that the people would know that it was from Him. This passage follows a description of Nazirite laws and dedication which involved adherence to several rules that they would follow in order to separate themselves from the world and devote themselves to God. But the blessing in Numbers 6:24-26 was not only given to the Nazirites as a reward for their sacrifice; it was given to all of the people. The word “you” is singular in the Hebrew indicating that it applied to each individual. God wants to bless each of His people, not because of their devotion to Him, but because of His great mercy and love.
Many people seem to think that people lived under the law in the Old Testament, and grace was not given until the time of the New Testament. Although laws were given to the people to live by in Old Testament times, this did not indicate a lack of God’s love. This passage tells us that God wanted His people to be blessed, protected and recipients of His acceptance, grace and peace. In that time, it was not usual for a monarch to give audience to just anyone, but by shining His face upon you, the King of Kings welcomes you into His presence. He wants to bless you, so that you may be a blessing to others. Freely you have received; freely give. (Genesis 12:1-3, Matthew 10:8b) Take the time to bless your children, your grandchildren, your friends and your family.