Monthly Archives: June 2017

Today’s Scripture – June 22, 2017

Luke 2:25-35 (NIV) Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Even in the darkest times in Israel’s history, God always preserved for Himself a remnant, a faithful few who kept the light of whole-hearted devotion burning. And He kept those faithful, righteous and devout people in the loop as to what He was doing.

Many in the days when Jesus was born were waiting for the Messiah, and believed that the day was drawing near. But a few, like Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Anna, and Simeon and Anna were waiting with a different kind of expectancy, because God was able to speak directly to their hearts and show them what He was doing. Simeon did not know the exact day that he would lay eyes on the Messiah, but he knew that it would be soon, before he died.

That morning, God spoke to his heart through the Holy Spirit and told him that the day was finally here. He rushed into the temple courts, his eyes sweeping continually from side to side, looking for some sign as to which of the hundreds of people gathered there was the One.

Finally he saw a man with a woman who was holding a child close in her arms, and the Holy Spirit said, “That’s Him; that’s the Messiah!” Simeon approached the family with tears rolling down his wrinkled cheeks. He had waited so long, and now here was the proof that God was still working His plan for His people. He held out his arms expectantly and, after only a brief hesitation, Mary handed the child to this stranger. He held the child securely, and caressed his tiny, smooth cheek. Then a sing-song chant of praise burst through his lips: “Sovereign Lord, You promised that I wouldn’t die until I had seen Your Messiah, Your Savior. Today I have seen Him, so now I can die in peace! This tiny child is the One! He will not only save Your people, Israel, and draw them into Your glory; He will even draw Gentiles to know You!”

The man seemed lost in a trance of ecstasy. But suddenly his eyes cleared and lowered to meet those of Jesus’ astounded parents. His voice was low but intense as he predicted that, in the course of His life, this child would not just be a beneficent religious figure, but would shake up the entire Jewish society and religion, and would end up on the hit list of some pretty powerful people, who would show what they really were by their intense opposition to Him.

But it was his final sentence, “And a sword will pierce you own soul, too.” that turned Mary’s blood cold and dimmed the joy of the day. Any mother has the potential to be crushed by tragedy that strikes her child. But few live with the certainty that that day will come.

Father, I am amazed at how many people You bright into the loop so that they knew who Jesus was, even as an infant. Some in the vicinity were likely skeptical of what they were hearing, and some were likely oblivious, so caught up in their own agendas that they didn’t even notice all of the buzz. But those with eyes to see and ears to hear got to experience the joy of hope realized, the exhilaration of knowing that You were on the move. And You are still moving today! Help me to stay tuned in to Your voice so that I can share the good news of all that You are up to with everyone around. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 21, 2017

Luke 2:21-24 (NIV) On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.
When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

As previously noted, Joseph and Mary were both righteous and completely obedient to God’s commandments. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after His birth in exact conformity to the law (Genes 17:12, Leviticus 12:3). And at that time He was given the name Jesus in exact obedience to the angel’s command (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:31).

Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Mary completed the days of her purification (Leviticus 12:2-4), so they went up to the temple in Jerusalem to both make the purification sacrifice for Mary (Leviticus 12:5-8), and to pay the redemption price for Jesus as the firstborn son (Exodus 13:12). The sacrifice they brought, two young pigeons, was reserved for those who couldn’t afford a lamb for the burnt offering, a testimony to their low estate. (It also shows that the wise men had not yet come with their gift of gold!)

Such elaborate and expensive rituals may seem odd to people living today, but all of them spoke to very specific points of history and holiness.

  • Circumcision was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant, when God officially inaugurated him as the root of the nation that He would own as His people, and through whom He would bless all of the people of the world. When a Jewish boy was circumcised, it was a sign in his flesh that he was a part of that covenant, and identified him as belonging specifically to God.
  • The days of impurity after giving birth had to do with the blood that accompanied the birth process. Blood is a precious substance, the very stuff of life, spilled out in the sacrifices that atoned for sin. For that reason, God taught His people to treat it with awe and respect. It was never to be consumed as the pagans did (Leviticus 7:26-27, 17:13-14), but only offered to God. And the blood of another was never to be contacted. God taught His people that such contact with the blood of someone else would cause them to become unclean in His sight. Even those who were involved in war had to undergo cleansing rituals before they could come back into the camp (Numbers 31:19-20). And menstrual blood was to be avoided for the same reason (Leviticus 15:19-24).

Joseph and Mary never questioned the need for such rituals and sacrifices, or rationalized away the need for compliance with them. They simply obeyed, desiring with all of their heats to keep themselves, body, mind, soul, and spirit, blameless and holy in God’s sight.

Father, Mary and Joseph were completely obedient to all of Your commands without the slightest aroma of legalism about them. They didn’t obey to get something from You, they had already received so much, but simply out of their wholehearted love and devotion. Help my obedience to be just as complete, just as pure, just as untainted by any false motives as theirs was. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 20, 2017

Luke 2:15-20 (NIV) When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

After all of the light, the loud singing and chanting of praises to God, the night now seemed more than just empty. It seemed vacant, hollow. The shepherds, still breathless from their encounter with a whole sky full of angels, spent only a few moments looking at each other before one of them spoke up: “We should go to Bethlehem and see for ourselves the things that the angel told us about.” And it was decided.

It was easy to find the house in which a birth had occurred that night, because Bethlehem was a small village of only a few hundred people, and everybody knew everybody’s business. When they got to the house, they were directed to Mary and Joseph, and there, swaddled in a manger, just like they had been told, was the baby.

The thing that struck them the most about the baby was the fact that He looked just like a normal baby. They weren’t sure what they expected Him to look like. Maybe bigger than normal, or with some kind of glow about Him. Or maybe they thought that He would have eyes that shone with supernatural wisdom and power. But this child looked just like a normal, tiny, helpless baby – one you would never have picked out of a crowd.

They started to tell the people there about what they had seen and heard out in the fields, timidly at first, but with increasing enthusiasm as the people began to hang on their words with ever-increasing interest. As they spoke, from time to time, the people’s eyes broke away from the earnest faces of these simple shepherds to the faces of Mary and Joseph, who were listening with as much interest as anyone. And then they would look over at the small form lying quietly in the manger and just ponder.

The word Messiah was used frequently by many of these people, always in the hope that God would send Him soon. But now the word seemed to strike with fresh import. Was this baby really the long-awaited Messiah? Was this really happening right now in front of their own eyes? They, like the shepherds, searched for some sing in the face of the child Himself, but found nothing but the innocence of a newborn baby. But  there was something in the faces of Mary and Joseph, a strange sparkle in their eyes, the deep looks that passed between them as they listened to the shepherds unpack their story, that made the people think that this wasn’t’ the first time that they had heard these things.

As the shepherds left, still excitedly reliving their experience with each other, an awed hush fell over the house. Such strange events! Such hope! This child was going to bear watching!

Father, even though Jesus looked to earthly eyes like just a normal newborn, for those with eyes to see, the glory of heaven itself was hidden just below the surface. But it does remind me that, in moving Your kingdom forward, You don’t choose superheroes or mutants with strange powers. You choose regular, ordinary people who are surrendered to Your will. A Mary, or a Joseph, or even a group of ordinary shepherds. Thank You for allowing even a plain person like me to play a role, even a small one, in Your plan. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 18, 2017

Luke 2:1-7 (NIV) In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

God continued to move the people into appropriate places through actions and events in order to make everything turn out just as He intended. He could have simply commanded Joseph to take Mary to Bethlehem for the birth of the baby, but He chose instead to put it into the mind of Caesar Augustus to hold a tax census, in order to demonstrate His ability to move the movers, even the great Caesar himself.

When the decree was issued, it caused quite a stir, as every male had to go to his ancestral inheritance to be registered. That meant the wholesale, albeit temporary, relocation of pretty much everyone in the north part of the country to the south, plus a more limited shuffling of the people who already lived in the south. The reason for this was that the vast majority of those whose ancestral holdings were in the north had been taken into captivity into Assyria more than 700 years before, and had never come back. During the tumultuous years after the southern tribes had come back from Babylon, some had chosen to vacate their more populated family properties in the south to settle in the largely vacated country around the Sea of Galilee, leaving alone a swath in the middle of the country inhabited by the pagan Samaritans.

Even though Joseph was a common man, a carpenter by trade, the blood of kings pulsed through his veins. In fact, he was a direct descendant of King David, so his ancestral inheritance lay to the south, in David’s hometown of Bethlehem. Of course, that was where God had predicted that the Messiah would be born (Micah 5:2). Even though Mary was getting close to her delivery date, Joseph took her along. Most of the people for their town of Nazareth were heading south, too. Plus, on trips like this opportunities for craftsmen like Joseph arose, making it advantageous to extend one’s stay, and it didn’t make sense to leave his wife behind if that were to happen.

As was noted, most of Nazareth was heading south at the same time, so Mary and Joseph didn’t have to make the trip alone, making the journey safe. And, despite popular imagery, Mary did not go into labor while they were still on the road. Luke carefully recorded Mary’s recollection that the time for the baby to be born came “while they were there.” The houses were crowded with all of the relocation, so in the house where Mary and Joseph were staying the guest rooms (the best translation of the Greek word often translated “inn,” and used also by Luke in 22:11) were full. So Mary gave birth in the regular living quarters of the house. The baby was snugly wrapped in swaddling cloths, and a manger was pressed into service as a makeshift cradle.

So was born the Son of God, right on time, and in exactly the place to which God had pointed in the Scriptures.

Father, sometimes we think that You just patiently sit and watch while we unfold our stories here on earth. But one thing that is clearly taught all through Scripture is that You are moving history somewhere, and You are continually at work moving people, events, whole societies to make sure it all happens just the way You planned. Help me, like Mary and Joseph, to fit myself into the flow of Your plan and flow along with it, instead of trying to fight it, and thus break myself on it. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 14, 2017

Luke 1:76-80 (NIV) And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.

When Zechariah had thought of having a son, he dreamed of a son who would take up the “family business’ and succeed him as a priest of God. But ever since the angel Gabriel had announced John’s conception and birth, his mind was filled with a different vision: John would become a prophet, like the priests Isaiah and Jeremiah. Zechariah knew that a prophet, one whom God used to speak to His people, was an even higher calling than that of priest, and rejoiced that his son would be someone who would be that important in God’s plans.

He could already see that John would go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of the prophecy in Micah 4:5-6, to prepare the hearts of the people for the soon-to-follow Messiah. This was essential, but would be challenging because too many of God’s people were content with the status quo. They were comfortable living out lives that included Him in theory, but in which He was only really a factor on the holy days, or when they were in trouble.

John’s job would be to hold up the mirror of God’s standards, of His word, to their lives, helping them to see that, instead of being at the center of their lives, God had become a bit player, an add-on, and that without a vital, ongoing, 24/7 relationship with Him, they were just as lost as the pagans at whom they sneered.

But it was not just a message of condemnation that John would bring. It would also be a message of hope laced with warning. Hope because the Messiah was coming to show them the way of salvation. And warning because if the people refused to repent and get ready for Him, they would find themselves under His judgment instead of His blessing.

Zechariah knew that all of this was happening because God was keeping the promises He had made to His people centuries before. The time had finally come.

As John grew into strong, early adulthood, God drew him out into the wilderness to spend quality time with Him, to teach him complete dependence on Him for his every need, and to teach him all that he would need to know when the time came for him to begin his mission.

Father, Your plans are always perfect, always perfectly designed to accomplish what You intend for them, including the people whom You choose to play pivotal roles. Help me to faithfully do what You, in Your wisdom, have laid out as my role in Your plan, so that I never become a blockage that You need to work around to accomplish what You want to do. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 13, 2017

Luke 1:67-75 (NIV)

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us–to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

Zechariah’s being filled with the Holy Spirit did not enable him to do signs and wonders (these had already been accomplished in Elizabeth and Mary), but it enabled him to give the Lord appropriate praise, and even to get a glimpse of His larger plan.

First of all, he realized that God was beginning to act right then to begin the process of redeeming His people. In the past He had redeemed Adam and Eve from death, Noah from the flood, and the whole nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt and captivity in Babylon. But two huge oppressors still held God’s people, indeed all people, captive: sin and death. Zechariah could clearly see that the child Mary was carrying would be the long promised horn of the house of David, a powerful ruler who would not only rule over all of those who would become God’s people, but who would actually save them from both the penalty and the power of sin.

Zechariah could see clearly that the sending of the Messiah was way more than merely a promise kept. It was an act of unbridled mercy. God’s people had a long, long history (about 1500 years at that point) of rebelling against Him and His commands, from the days of the Exodus, all that way to the day in which Zechariah was living. Many times God had allowed them to be oppressed, conquered, and even exiled to punish them and to help them to repent of their rebellion. But He had always stopped short of allowing them to be destroyed because of the love that He had for them, and because of His faithfulness to His covenant promises.

But now God was poised to do a new thing among His people, and Zechariah was among the very first to see it clearly. Now He was not only going to save them from their most powerful enemies, sin and death. He was going to purify His people with the fire of the Holy Spirit, and enable them to serve Him in genuine holiness and righteousness in His presence for all of their days.

Father, this is a great and wonderful promise, foretold from the days of the prophets, and still available to all of Your people today. But so few of us are willing to believe that it is true. Instead, we see ourselves as vile sinners, for whom true righteousness and holiness is only a pipe dream, or a promise for the age to come. But, Father, You make it clear even in the words of good Zechariah that this promise is for us, it is for now, and You are powerful enough to pull it off in our lives. Help us, help me, to believe this promise, and to receive its fulfillment from Your hands. Make it real in my own life today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 12, 2017

Luke 1:56-66 (NIV) Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
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 was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. The neighbors were all 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.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth until after the birth and circumcision of John, so she was able to give Luke a play-by-play of all that happened. John was born right on time, and was a strong and healthy baby. Zechariah still had not regained his voice. The pregnancy was not enough to complete the sign; the child had to be born, and be given the name of John.

The ability to name him John, however, was more complicated than it seems like it should have been. Jewish sons were usually named at the time of their circumcision, and firstborn sons were frequently named after the father, or after another close relative. Since Zechariah couldn’t speak, the consensus of the gathered family and friends was that the baby should be named Zechariah, after his father.

Elizabeth spoke right up. She knew what the angel had said to Zechariah, and that the baby’s name was to be John. Remember that both she and Zechariah were “upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” (Luke 1:6) And there was no way that either of them was going to start disobeying God now in the face of this amazing miracle He had brought them.

It was highly irregular for the mother to have any part in the naming of a child, and some of the gathered family and friends rebelled against the idea of not naming the child for a relative. But Zechariah had the final say. Even though he had to write it out instead of speaking it, his words were simple and eloquent: “His name is John.” As far as Zechariah could see, no one got to have a say in naming the boy, since God had already given him the name that He wanted him to have.

That final act of obedience, of faith made real by action, opened Zechariah’s lips and fully restored his voice. It is significant that his first words were pure praise. It had all been bottled up inside of him for nearly ten months with no way to get out. Now that he had been given back his voice, he used it to praise the God who had done so much for him and his wife.

The people had never experienced anything like this. Now that Zechariah could talk, he poured out the story of his encounter with the angel in the temple, making all of them wonder what the Lord was doing. He had been silent and largely invisible for four long centuries, but now it seemed that he was on the move again. And, if that was the case, practically anything could happen.

Father, You are always 100% faithful, and You always keep every promise You make to those who honor You and who obey Your commandments. Help me to be as faithful as Zechariah, Elizabeth, and even Mary, so that You can do amazing things through me as well. Amen.

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