Luke 1:26-55

Luke records the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, Elizabeth’s prophesy, and Mary’s song in rich detail. We are introduced to very important details about Jesus’ nature in this passage. Gabriel explains to Mary that He will not be an ordinary human. He will be born of the Holy Spirit—and He, indeed, will BE holy. He will be called the Son of the Most High. God will give Him the throne of David and He will reign over Jacob and His descendants not just for a lifetime…but forever.

The supernatural nature of this pregnancy is affirmed when Mary hastens to see Elizabeth, who is miraculously pregnant herself. Before Mary says a word about the pregnancy, Elizabeth prophesies that Mary is the “the mother of [her] Lord” and says, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!” Mary responds in glorious worship.

You can read the written text of this passage in the New International Version here if you would like to follow along or meditate on the Scripture further after you listen.

Death Made Possible

I was awakened by a dream-boy attacking me, trying to kill me with scissors. [I know, gross. Stick with me. There’s a point here.]

Aren’t you glad that’s how it happens (most of the time)? We wake up before the scene gets too bloody, before our free-falling body hits the sidewalk. Before death.

My dream-boy was dreamy until I asked him, “So, what do you think of Jesus?”

That’s when his eyes filled with hatred. That’s when he pulled the scissors out. That’s when I woke up, not afraid (surprisingly)…but, stunned at the vivid picture, which I had the strong impression was spiritual. This seemed to be confirmed when I unintentionally read John 16:2 the next morning— “The time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” I didn’t read any personal prophesy into this, but took it as a reminder that people either love or hate Jesus. And that often means they will either love or hate His followers.

I thought about a passage I recently spent time with, Acts 17:16-34. Paul goes to Athens and talks about God with Jewish people, God-fearing Greeks, and philosophers. Much has been said and can be learned from this passage, but one thing that especially stood out to me was this: The resurrection of Jesus is where the rubber meets the road. My dream-boy was fine until the mention of Jesus. When Paul speaks about the resurrection of Jesus to the people of Athens, some sneer, some seek, and some are saved there and then.

And no wonder! The gospel hinges on the power and authority of God to defeat sin and death as displayed in the resurrection. Paul says that if Christ did not rise from the dead, our preaching is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14).

Every SOUL hinges on the resurrection of Jesus.

When we accept the death of Jesus on our behalf, when we accept that He rose from the grave, and follow Him as Lord, something miraculous happens: WE are raised from the dead.

And something else peculiarly miraculous happens: we’re able to die. We’re invited to die in a way that’s ONLY POSSIBLE through the resurrection of Jesus. We’re invited to allow the Spirit of God to breathe life that puts to death the death in us— to eradicate the brokenness that prevents us from living lives filled with the love and grace of God— our selfishness, our pride, our lust.

For life’s sake!

Wait, wait, wait. So what about my dream-boy-gone-stab-happy? Sometimes the whole “death to self” thing can seem separate from outward suffering for Christ— whether that looks like battling cancer in faithfulness to Christ, waking up extra early in faithfulness to Christ, or persecution and martyrdom in faithfulness to Christ. But the two are closely connected: If we haven’t died to ourselves, we’ll never be able to truly suffer for Christ or with Christ. We’ll suffer the big and small alright, but when we don’t surrender to God in our suffering, we miss out on intimacy with God and honoring Him with our circumstances.

Two days after my dream, I went searching for verses on prayer. I was looking in Acts and my eyes wandered over to the end of John (chapter 21) and Jesus’ conversation with Peter:

Jesus asks, “Do you love me more that these?”  “Do you love me?”  “Do you love me?”

Peter says yes each time.

Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”

Then, then Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

The tears came loose while I read. I pictured young Peter, in love with Jesus and also heartbroken about his previous failure, aware of his need and yet being commissioned— I pictured Peter, old, bent over from years of feeding the Flock, being dressed by someone else, being led where he does not want to go…to his own crucifixion.

As I saw him, used by God’s grace, surrendered, glorifying God as he was led to another rugged cross….I heard Jesus’ words: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).

One whose life ended so like Jesus’, on a cross— the rock the church is built on.

An old man, dressed by others, his arms outreached…the rock.

My heart was breaking in the pain of it and the glory and the reality of what the church is built on— ultimately THE Rock (the crucified and risen Jesus), but also those crucified and risen with Him. Crucifixion is part of the story of each Christ-follower— of every living stone (1 Peter 2:5) that makes up the church.

Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20a). I wonder if Paul’s heart filled. I wonder if he thought not only about Jesus’ death, but also Peter’s death. I wonder if he thought about the brothers and sisters he ordered to die before he encountered Jesus on the Damascus road or the variety of deaths he might suffer. I wonder if he was overwhelmed by the power of a God who could not only pay for his sins in full, but put to death his flesh and FILL him— a God who could enable him to live and die IN CHRIST.

Paul’s words fill me with wonder at the power of God. They fill me with bravery and confidence. CHRIST lives in me. I’ll proclaim it and proclaim it again with down-to-my-toes gratitude— my flesh is dead and my soul is alive because Jesus lives. I can be led wherever God wants to take me— even to places I do not want to go— because Jesus drank the cup He did not want to drink…and yet drank for the joy set before Him: The wrath of God meant for me.

I can, for the joy set before me, endure the cross because the Son of God defeated death and hell when He rose from the grave. Because He lives, sweet unity awaits me.

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Photo by Alem Sánchez from Pexels

Advent [Expectation, Prophesy, Hope]

During the first week of Advent, we are invited to remember prophesy of Jesus’ birth and the expectation and hope of a Messiah among the people of Israel.
But, that is not all– WE have hope through Jesus’ first coming because He paid for our sins and made a way for us to be reconciled with God. And, the story doesn’t end with His resurrection and ascension. He is not done!

I celebrate Jesus’ birth, but I am also filled with an aching longing paired with a life-giving hope.

One day I will be entirely free from my sins. I will be with my Lord, Savior, Lover, and perfect Friend. I wait for heaven, Jesus’ second coming, and the New Earth with expectant hope…and awe. 

 

“Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
(Philippians 3:20)

 

“We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
(1 John 3:2)

 

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
(Romans 8:22-25)

May you be filled with hope and joy in the gift already given and the gift to come.

Love,

Doni

Just Like Cain [Who am I and Who am I Worshiping?]

[Painting  by Mariotto Albertinelli]

Cain— the first murderer— the guy with anger issues— the sinner of the Bible I have historically identified with the least. In the past, I’ve been quite appalled by Cain— appalled that his jealousy and anger over something seemingly easy to correct could escalate into the act of murdering his brother. He was angry because the Lord received Abel’s gift of meat, but rejected Cain’s “fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3 NKJV). The solution seems easy—get over it and give God some meat, man!

However, in reading Genesis again recently, I was struck by the Cain and Abel situation in a new way. More specifically, the Cain situation.

I used to see Cain’s actions as not only sinful, but horribly rash and idiotic. Now, I see myself and the attitude of our culture in Cain.

Cain was a “tiller of the ground” while “Abel was a keeper of sheep” (Genesis 4:2 NKJV)— both gave to the Lord out of their occupation…but, Cain’s gift was not accepted. Surely it felt unfair—  wasn’t his job just as worthwhile as Abel’s? Didn’t they need to eat grains with their meat?

It seems it would be easy (on a practical level) for Abel to give the Lord a meat offering, sheep were his thing! …but, maybe it was really hard for Cain to sacrifice a sheep— he spent his days tilling the earth. In fact, God probably wanted him to till the earth, it was an important job. But, the Lord did not want or require what came out of Cain’s giftedness for THIS offering…and that must have hurt. We know he became “very angry and his countenance fell” (Genesis 4:5 NKJV).

God sees Cain’s response and addresses it:

“Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?”

This seems like not only a chastisement (and an implication that Cain knew what he was supposed to give God and deliberately disobeyed), but an encouragement, an affirmation that Cain COULD, indeed, be accepted AND that the Lord saw the way Cain felt.

The Lord goes on:

“And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7 NKJV).

Cain wanted to make his worship about himself rather than about God. He thought the Lord “should” accept his offering— after all, didn’t the Lord appreciate how he cultivated the earth? I am sure He did…but Cain failed to see that appreciating and affirming man was not the point of worship. 

Cain did not “do well.”

We do not “do well” when we try to make religion and worship about us— when we say “God made me this way, He can’t ask me give Him such-and-such!” We clothe our self-worship in the pleas of a victim, “Why can’t you just accept me?” or “A loving God wouldn’t make it this hard for me to obey Him.”

Oh, but it was HARD for Cain! It did not feel natural or right or fair for Cain.

Cain’s sin leads to more sin.

Cain kills Abel.

God is obviously very upset about this and punishes Cain— part of Cain’s punishment is that the work he wanted God to accept as his offering, tilling the ground, would no longer produce anything for him. The Lord also said he would be “a fugitive and a vagabond” from then on (Genesis 4:12).

To me, this punishment seems to be an act of grace. It seems like God is about to show Cain how the work he may have thought to be so vital to his identity (tilling the ground) actually wasn’t. Because Cain couldn’t produce from the ground and had to live as a vagabond, he had to change his occupation. Maybe God was pruning Cain.

Though the Lord punishes Cain for murdering Abel, He also shows him mercy. God marks Cain so anyone who kills him will receive vengeance “sevenfold” (Genesis 4:15 NKJV).

Cain isn’t so unlike us. Our sinful tendency is to become self-focused and to make worship what WE want it to be— we can easily make ourselves the focus of worship rather than our great God. Sometimes what is really needed, and what God would have us to do, isn’t necessarily where our giftedness lies.

We can continue in sin that leads to death yelling, “This is just the way I am!” All the while, our good and gracious God longs for us to run into His arms. He is longing to show His strength through our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). He loved us first— and He receives and accepts us when we accept Him. My sin nature, sinful tendencies, personality and even my gifts should not define who I am. I am adopted into Christ’s family. He calls me blameless, pure, His bride. He wants to make me into His likeness.

He desires for us to walk and worship in His ways— the ways that lead to life. Praise the Lord for His mercy. The story of Cain holds hope.

We don’t know if Cain began to live in obedience to God after this. We know he lived for a long time. Genesis 4:20 specifically mentions that some of his descendants were known for raising LIVESTOCK…which seems significant to me. However, he did build a city, which may have been in defiance unless God told him his time of being a vagabond could be over (because part of Cain’s punishment was that he would be a  wanderer).

The state of Cain’s heart after correction is uncertain. I don’t think we’ll know until our earthly lives are over.

What I can seek to understand and change is the state of my own heart in relation to the Lord:

Am I worshiping the Lord and living my life for Him through obedience to His word and His Spirit? In other words, am I worshiping the Lord or myself?

How do I respond to correction?

What do I need to sacrifice?

God is so worthy every bit of my soul, my heart, my mind.

To be in His presence is life, freedom, and peace.

It is only with His help and His grace that we can worship Him the way He deserves to be worshiped.

My soul yearns for His hand physically in mine— for all of my brokenness restored.

For now, with the help of God’s mighty grace, we fight the evil within and without us. We may fall in our weakness, but He picks us up. He says, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

-Donielle

John 3 “Do I lead people to love Jesus or to love me?”

If you are one of the many men and women who are participating in the international, interdenominational Bible study BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), the title of this post probably sounds familiar. This past week we studied the third chapter of John. In this chapter, we read about Nicodemus’ nighttime conversation with Jesus. Then, about John the Baptist’s embrace of the role God gave him. John 3 is packed with such rich truth about the problem man faces and Jesus’ loving solution— in other words, the condemnation of sinful man and salvation through Jesus.

After giving an account of Nicodemus’ interaction with Jesus, which ends with Jesus telling Nicodemus that He will provide salvation from sins and eternal life, the Apostle John further explains:

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:17-21, emphasis added)

When we put our trust in Jesus, we are not condemned! We have eternal life! Such comfort and true freedom from fear can be found in these truths.

And, yet— I live in fear of man. In fear that man will not think I am behaving properly— in fear that man will not love me. (Kind of like Nicodemus, who waited until the cover of night to seek Jesus…Jesus was so gracious to him, and to us!)

The above passage should transform my thinking:

We see clearly that GOD has the power to condemn or acquit.

We see that mankind’s tendency post-fall is to LOVE THE DARKNESS.

Recently I was in a conversation with someone and began to feel guilty about doing something the Lord clearly commands us to do. I felt that I needed to start covering it up…I became so afraid that this person would think poorly of me and of my husband.

This fear and shame is such a deception of the Devil.

But, it’s more than that— the fear and shame is also a symptom of not resting fully in the salvation and authority of Christ…of allowing the opinion of man to have sway over me in areas where only Christ should.

In studying John 3 this week, I was both convicted and comforted. In the BSF notes for this chapter, a question is posed in relation to John the Baptist’s actions: “Do I lead people to love me or to love Jesus?” My undue fear and shame are evidence that I am more concerned about people loving me than loving Jesus.

If we take my actions as an example of what not to do, we can take John the Baptist’s actions as an example of what to do.

If you know the story of John the Baptist, you know we have many examples of John not being swayed by man. Ultimately, John would be beheaded— talk about not being a people pleaser.

When Jesus started baptizing, this meant that fewer people went to John the Baptist to be baptized— if he were concerned with people loving him more than he was concerned with people loving Jesus, he would have been upset by this. And, his disciples were. John explained to them once again that Jesus was the Messiah, not him. John was simply an attendant, meant to help bring the bride to the Bridegroom (Jesus). Now that the Bridegroom had arrived John said his joy was complete and told his disciples “He [Jesus] must become greater and I must become less.”

As Jesus becomes greater and we become less—as we focus on leading people to love Jesus rather than ourselves—our fear of man will diminish and we can live freely in the JOY of salvation.

Sure, men could behead John, but they couldn’t kill his soul.

Sure, we can be judged “guilty” by men, but they cannot condemn our souls.

Remember, Jesus was judged “guilty” by men. Judged a blasphemer. Yet, through him all LIFE and SALVATION has been granted us!

May we boldly and joyfully walk into the light out of love for the Lord and pray that others will as well:

“Whoever loves the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:21).