Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pondering the Things of God

"But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart."
(Luke 2:19)

This verse has intrigued me for a few days now. It is written immediately following the description of the nativity scene: the birth of Jesus in the manger, the heralding angels, the adoring shepherds.

The birth of Jesus is what Mary is pondering.
These thoughts are what she is keeping in her heart.

Later in the same chapter, Jesus has grown into a young boy of 12. He and Mary and Joseph have returned to Jerusalem where Jesus finds His way to the temple. There, He amazed the rabbinical teachers with His understanding and wisdom.

For three days Jesus stayed in the temple.
For three days Mary and Joseph searched for their son.

Jesus' response to their questions was, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" (verse 49). Of course, Mary and Joseph did not understand what He was saying.

Luke 2:51 reads, "Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart."

Did you catch that? Again, Mary pondered what God had spoken to her and kept these things in her heart. Have you ever wondered why? Why isn't Mary running throughout Bethlehem and, later, Jerusalem, telling the world that she has given birth to the Savior of the world? Why isn't she shouting it from the mountaintops?

I have tried to put myself in Mary's shoes. Can you imagine when the angel first appeared to her and told her that she would bear the Savior of the world and that He would be conceived by the Holy Spirit? Can you just imagine?!! Mary had to accept this news on blind faith. She chose to walk in obedience which was bathed in childlike faith and illuminated by her love for her God. That was it. That was all Mary had to go on.

So she did.

And as the promises of God began to unfold around her, I believe she watched in amazement at the marvelous faithfulness of her Lord.
And she tried to understand.
And she tried to stay out of the way.

So Mary kept these things in her heart and pondered them. She knew that this was not about her - it was about Him. She was only a vessel for God to work through.

Has God ever asked you to step out in faith to fulfill His purposes? If you are His child and if you take time to sit at His feet and listen, then the answer to this question is yes. Yes, He has asked you to be a vessel for His honor. When He speaks something to you, I encourage you to keep it quietly in your heart and allow Him to bring it to pass. Continue to bathe it in prayer. Talk to Him about it, not the entire community. Seek Godly counsel (surely Mary spoke to Joseph about these events; we know she spoke to Elizabeth), but choose wisely whom you should speak with. If it is of God, He will confirm your steps; you don't have to make it happen. God's ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts and His timing is definitely different than ours. Remember, Isaiah's prophecies concerning the Messiah occurred 700 years before Jesus was born!

Mary provides a beautiful example of what it means to have an obedient heart and to live out a life as a vessel of honor for God. Let's ponder the behavior of this Godly woman and learn from her.

"And Mary said: 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.'"

Father, I desire so much to be a vessel of honor for You - to be available at all times to be used by You for Your glory and Your purposes. I want to learn to stay out of the way and to keep Your Word deep in my heart as I watch You work. You are an amazing God. I love You so very much. Thank you for revealing Your heart to us as we study Your Word. Praise You, Father.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

They Shall Call His Name Immanuel

"But while he (Joseph) thought about these things, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.' So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 'Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, 'God with us.'"
(Matthew 1:20-23)

Does this amaze you as much as it does me? Seven hundred years before Joseph would struggle with trusting the fidelity of Mary, his betrothed love - SEVEN HUNDRED YEARS(!) - Isaiah prophesied these very same words which the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph in an effort to subdue his fears. To me, witnessing the fulfillment of God's plan of salvation like this strengthens and fortifies my faith. God's Word is what calmed Joseph down and gave him the faith to believe the impossible.

Oh, that it would do the same for us.

We cherish our Christmas traditions.
We cherish our Christmas stories that stir up childhood memories of wonder and awe.

But, once again, our tendency is to put these sweet little stories in that proverbial golden box of religion.

Yikes! The magnitude of what happened in that lowly stable so long ago can easily be swept under the rug of familiarity, IF we only consider our precious memories and traditions. I know I am guilty of this.

As I thought about this scripture out of Matthew, the Lord reminded me of one of my favorite verses: "So shall My Word be that goes forth from My mouth. It shall not return to Me void (empty, without fruit), but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11)

Do you see what God is showing us? Christmas is not just a fabulously fun day of family, food and presents. It is more than our pageants of retelling, more than our carols proclaiming. Yes, if I may be so bold, Christmas is even more than our beautiful, solemn Christmas Eve candlelight services. Why? Because these things put Christmas in a container that we can comprehend. They limit the power and majesty and glory of this amazing event which changed the world, UNLESS we consider the details which brought it to pass.

Christmas is the accomplishment of God's Word - His promise of deliverance and redemption!

God spoke His Word, and there was Light.
God spoke His Word, and man was created in His own image.
God spoke His Word, and His only Son came to earth to dwell among us that the love of God might be revealed in us.

Let's pray for one another as we walk through these days of Christmas celebrations. Enjoy the festivities, the celebrations - yes, the traditions. But...but take time to pause and consider the wonder of it all.

Immanuel, God with us.

And they called His name Jesus.

Father, We love You, yes, we adore You. Help us to take steps of maturing our faith by understanding ALL of Your Word, not just the part that someone spoon-feeds us. We want more, Lord. We want to truly understand the height and the depth and the width of Your love. We want to truly understand just how amazing our salvation is and the process with which it came about. Open our eyes that we might see, our ears that we might hear how rich our faith is - how substantial and concrete the Scripture is. Take our hands and walk with us through the celebration of Christmas. Thank You, Lord.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jesus, the Horn of Our Salvation

"Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: 'Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began.'"
(Luke 1:67-70)

"...for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us..."

As I'm writing this I keep thinking of the song, Emmanuel. Sing with me...

Emmanuel, Emmanuel.
His Name is called, Emmanuel.
God with us. Revealed in us.
His Name is called Emmanuel.

If we could only grasp the magnitude of the miracle of our Messiah.

Throughout the Old Testament there are occasions of God's visitation through His Spirit. His Spirit came upon the people at their point of need. (See Exodus 3:16, Exodus 4:31, Genesis 50:24) In today's passage of Scripture, Zacharias understands that once again, the Spirit of the Lord has visited earth and this time the Redeemer has been revealed. Can you imagine the awe and wonder Zacharias must have experienced as he witnessed God's faithfulness to His Word? Wow!

Now, verse 69 thrills me. It reads, "...And has raised up a horn of salvation for us..."

Are you ready?

The Hebrew word for horn is qeren (keh-renn) meaning "strength". This refers to the horn of an animal such as oxen, goats and rams which, in Jewish tradition, symbolizes strength, power and victory. Throughout the Scriptures the word "horn" is used when referring to the strength of Israel, or the strength of a leader.

Why would Jesus be referred to as the "horn of salvation"?
There are probably several reasons for this. Certainly Jesus would come as the Strength of Israel and the world, but there is one reason that fascinates me: the use of horns in the Tabernacle.

While wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, God gave instructions for the Tabernacle - His dwelling place among the people. When entering the gate of the Tabernacle, the first object encountered was the Altar of Burnt Offering where the blood sacrifice of animals was made for the atonement of sin. No one could enter the Presence of a Holy God without this sacrifice.

The Altar of Burnt Offering was a huge bronze structure. Extending from each of its four corners were stone outcroppings overlayed with bronze. These outcroppings were in the shape of animal horns. The sacrificial animals were secured to the altar by these horns. After the slaughter, the priest sprinkled blood on each of the horns so that the sinner who provided the animal could be forgiven for his sins. The priest then washed and entered the Holy of Holies on behalf of the sinner.

Scholars believe that the Altar of Burnt Offering is a type of crucifix for Jesus Christ. HE was the perfect Lamb of God - the sacrificial lamb - secured to the cross. Through His blood we are forgiven of our sins. Through His blood we have been made priests that we might enter the Presence of God! (Revelation 1:6)

"Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us."

Jesus Christ. The horn of our salvation.
Jesus Christ. God's perfect plan of Redemption.

And its fulfillment began in a lowly manger.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Lord God, You never cease to amaze me! When I think of all the details You put in place in order to deliver Your children from the throws of sin...incredible. Thank You for going to so much trouble for us. And thank You for revealing these truths to us so that our faith and knowledge might increase. We want to spend this Christmas season with You, Lord. Teach us Your wonderful Word.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Calling Upon the Name of the Lord

"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His Name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
(Isaiah 9:6)

I love, love, LOVE when the Lord shows me something new. Don't you?

Isaiah 9:6 is a familiar verse during the Christmas season...
Preachers preach it.
Christmas cards proclaim it.
And children recite it.

And this is the fresh insight God has given me concerning it:

"And His Name will be CALLED Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." In the past I thought this meant that Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God and the other names that follow were the different names given to Jesus. And yes, this is true. Each of these names represent the different attributes of our Redeemer. Amazing.

But consider this. The Hebrew word for call is qara' (kah-rah) which "describes the ACT OF CALLING out loudly in an attempt to get someone's attention."

Imagine at the moment of your need, CALLING upon the Name of the Lord:

JESUS, my Counselor, what should I do?
JESUS, Prince of Peace, set me free from my anxious thoughts.
JESUS, Mighty God, deliver me with Your power.

Do you see the difference? Rather than these precious names being the names God called His Son, they are, in fact, the names that WE are to call out - shout loudly in order to get His attention - at our point of need.

It's a whole different perspective, isn't it?

"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His Name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

God is good.

Thank You, Lord. This is so wonderful. Just a little tweak of a word and greater understanding is gained. I am so thankful that You are all we ever need. You are the Great I AM, the Counselor and Prince of Peace. As the earth calls out Your Name, I, too, call upon my Lord. Thank You for that privilege. I love You, Lord.