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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Today’s Scripture – June 10, 2017

Luke 1:46-55 (NIV) And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.”

If a person only read the first four verses of Mary’s inspired poem, they might come to the conclusion that Mary’s focus was all on herself. But the fact is, it was her recognition of the miracle that God was including her in that inspired the whole chain of thought. When someone sees the miracles that God is doing in their own lives for what they are, they can suddenly see beyond that to other ways and other places that God has worked and is currently working.

In Mary’s case, she recognized fully that she wasn’t anyone special that God should have chosen her. Instead, His selection of her to bear His Son was an act of grace, enabled by her wholehearted devotion to Him. In this one act, God had pulled her of the obscurity in which 99.99% of the people in the world live and die, and had given her a key role to play in His redemptive plan.

But in the midst of this realization, she also realized that God had always worked His plan of redemption through the lives, not of the rich and powerful, but of the non-descript and ordinary who had given their hearts to Him. Often He raised these devoted people from obscurity to high position, like Joseph the son of Israel and King David. But at the time that His call was placed on their lives, they were just normal people living out normal lives.

Mary could see that, through both her own pregnancy and that of Elizabeth, God was remembering and fulfilling the promises He had made to His people to restore them and to bless them. The two of them were not only living in the times of fulfillment, they, as humble and unassuming as they were, had been given key roles to play in that fulfillment.

Even today God is at work in the world setting people free. And even today He tends to work,  not through the rich and powerful, whose lives are often full of thier own agendas, but through the lowly and meek, the nobodys, who are humble and completely devoted to Him. Through them, God is currently changing the shape of people’s lives around the world, transforming not only their own personal futures, but actively transforming whole societies through their lives.

Father, Your ways are so different than ours, but Your ways result in transformation, while ours are so much less powerful and effective in making the positive changes we want to see. Help me, as one of Your people, to yield myself entirely to You, to never seek out the world’s approval, but only Yours; to never follow the world’s path to success, but to be willing and open to whatever You call on me to be and to do. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 9, 2017

Luke 1:39-45 (NIV) At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

While Mary sorted all of this out, she decided that she would make the journey to the hill country of Judea near Jerusalem to see Elizabeth, and to witness for herself what God was doing. This was no lack of faith on her part, but a simple desire to see for herself the miracle that Gabriel had told her about. And Mary hoped to find in Elizabeth, as one who had experienced God’s power in her own body to do something impossible, someone with whom she could openly discuss her own experience.

As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, the baby jumped in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit, instantly seeing things that were invisible to other eyes, able to understand things that were hidden, and given clear words to speak God’s truth boldly.

For example, Elizabeth knew that Mary was pregnant, and that the baby she was even then carrying was the Lord, the promised Messiah. Because of that, Mary, as the one whom God had selected for this role, was truly the most blessed woman who had ever lived. And she also knew that there had been a moment when Mary had had to trust in God’s word, and to say agree to His plan for her life. She knew that when that moment had come, Mary had trusted and agreed.

Elizabeth was surprised at Mary’s unexpected arrival, but she was glad that she had come for the same reasons that Mary had decided to make the trip. Here now was a woman who could relate to what she herself was experiencing; a woman with whom she could compare notes and with whom she could talk about things that no one else would really understand.

Father, by putting the urge in Mary’s heart to take the long journey south, You provided support and encouragement for both women during critical phases of their supernatural pregnancies. For Elizabeth, that support and encouragement came at the end of her pregnancy, when there would be fear that something might still go wrong. For Mary, it came at the beginning, when she most needed assurance that she had chosen the right path, in spite of the complications that she knew lay in front of her. Such great love and compassion You have for Your people! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 8, 2017

Luke 1:34-38 (NIV) “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Some point to a similarity between Mary’s question of Gabriel and that of Zechariah (1:18). They then try to explain the disparate treatment that the two of them received. But the questions are not actually that similar. Zechariah wanted proof, some sign that would overpower his doubts that God could accomplish what He was promising to do, while Mary was simply asking about the “how”: How was God going to accomplish this pregnancy, since she was a virgin.

That was a reasonable question. In the history of the world it had always taken the union of a man and a woman to produce another human being. Even in miraculous births like Isaac, Samson, Samuel, and even John, the miracle was that God enable the natural methods of conception to work for those who were sterile, past the age of child bearing, or both. Mary was expecting Gabriel to tell her that either she needed to move her marriage to Joseph up – awkward and suspicious-looking to the rest of the village, or that the Messiah would be conceived later, after the marriage took place. The latter seemed less likely based on the urgency and immediacy of the angel’s announcement.

But there was a third option that no one would ever have considered. God was doing a completely new thing. The child to be born, Jesus, the Messiah, would be a real human being, hence the need for a human mother. But He would also be fully divine. Therefore, Mary’s pregnancy would be initiated supernaturally, through the power of the Holy Spirit, not by the uniting of sperm and egg.

Even though Mary said nothing at first, Gabriel knew that her mind had been thrown into confusion by this whole scenario. It seemed to impossible, even for God to do (and it had never been done that way before!). So he laid out the evidence of Elizabeth’s miraculously enabled pregnancy, something that no one would have believed possible at her advanced age. For Mary, this was like a Bible story come to life and, even though Elizabeth’s pregnancy had not been initiated like her own would be, it settled in her heart an assurance that it really could be done as Gabriel was promising.

As said before, Mary was a righteous devout young woman, completely devoted to God. As such, she would never consider saying no to something that was so clearly His will for her. Even though she knew that this whole thing would undoubtedly cause complications for her, even in her relationship with Joseph, she trusted that God would protect her, and the He would be able to make everything work out right.

So she said yes. And, at that moment, Gabriel vanished, and the work was done in her body. The reality of the Messiah had begun!

Father, it is much easier to trust and believe Your promises, and even Your callings on our lives, when we can see or reason out how You could make it happen. It’s harder to trust when Your promise or calling seems impossible to our finite minds, when the way ahead seems dark. Help me to take Mary as my model in those times – to be someone who cannot ever imagine saying no to Your will, so who simply says yes, trusting You implicitly to work out all of the details and to provide every necessary thing on the way. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 7, 2017

Luke 1:26-33 (NIV) In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Luke is always quite precise about his dates. He can be, because he researched carefully everything that he included in his gospel. Six months after Elizabeth conceived John, Gabriel appeared again, this time to Mary to announce the conception of Jesus.

Luke is careful to point out that Mary was both a virgin and engaged, which would make the guarding of her virginity even more vital, since her wedding night was approaching, and there would be strong negative consequences if Joseph did not find her to be a virgin.

Joseph was a descendant of King David, as well as being a completely righteous man (Matthew 1:19). Mary herself was a devout and righteous young woman and, just like God had chosen Zechariah and Elizabeth to be the parents of John, He chose Mary to give birth to Jesus, and Joseph to be His earthly father, tasked with guiding Him, teaching Him, and protecting Him.

Gabriel’s greeting, which made Mary wonder what exactly was going on, was actually very straight forward. Mary was indeed highly favored, because she had been chosen to be the instrument through which the Son of God would come into the world. And as such, God really was with her, present in her life and in the events that would soon take place in a unique and unprecedented way.

The description of the child that Mary would bear left no doubt as to who He would be. Even His name, Jesus, or Yehoshua in Aramaic, meaning “the Lord is the Savior,” painted a clear picture of what He would accomplish (outlined even more clearly in Matthew 1:21: “You are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”) The child would also be called the Son of the Most High, which clearly identified His divine origins. He would rule over God’s people, His rule being symbolized by David’s throne, even though Jesus’ kingdom would ultimately extend over the whole world, something that neither David nor any of his successors ever imagined. And finally, Jesus would not be the beginning of a dynasty; He Himself would reign over God’s people forever.

All of these element combined to form a very clear picture in Mary’s mind: the baby that she was going to give birth to was going to be the long-awaited Messiah! People had been waiting for Him for centuries, and the time had finally come. And she was going to be His mother!

Father, the way You do things is amazing. You continually work the plan You have designed until every single element falls into place. You choose exactly the right people to be the key players in Your plan based on their hearts, not on the externals. And those You choose, You bless with Your presence. I praise You today for who You are, and for what You are doing, even now! Amen.

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