5 Lessons From 2 Mothers

If you’ve been reading my series of posts on God’s favor, I hope you are becoming more aware of how strongly I want you to know this: God is for you! He’s not looking for opportunities to blast you, but to bless you. (If you want to read some of these previous posts, check out the link at the bottom of this post.) 

In writing his account of the birth of Jesus, Luke is captured with the idea of God’s favor. Luke uses the word favor more than any of the other gospel writers, and he uses the word quite frequently as he relates the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. During his narrative we meet two women—Elizabeth and Mary. Here are five lessons we can learn from these two mothers. 

(1) “Favor” is not the same thing as “favorite.” To say, “I am the one on whom God’s favor rests” is not the same as saying, “I am God’s favorite.” Elizabeth recognized God’s favor on both herself and on Mary (Luke 1:25 & 43), and Mary also recognized God’s favor on herself (Luke 1:28, 30, 48-49). But nowhere did these women think they were God’s favorites. God has no favorites, but instead He showers His abundant, never-ending favor on everyone! 

(2) “Favor” probably didn’t look like what they would have planned for themselves. Elizabeth didn’t get pregnant until the age when she should have been a grandmother, and Mary got pregnant before she was even married. I’m sure neither of them thought their lives would go this way! But God knew what He was doing all along (see Isaiah 45:7-9; Psalm 139:16). 

(3) They needed humility, obedience, and perseverance to remain in the place where they could recognize God’s favor. No one can stop God’s favor, but the devil would love to keep you from recognizing God’s favor. One way satan does this is by trying to get us to appeal to our pride (“I think I can do this better”) because then obedience to God and perseverance through the trying times is very difficult to maintain. 

(4) God’s favor is for God’s glory (not necessarily for our comfort). God is accomplishing HIS plan through us. His favor toward us places us where He needs us, when He needs us there, and with the talents we need to respond correctly when we get to that moment. Mary spoke the words that I’m sure were also in Elizabeth’s heart: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me just as you have said.” 

(5) God’s favor doesn’t necessarily answer all our questions. Even though God’s favor places us in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills, we will still undoubtedly have questions about why God is doing what He’s doing. If you feel that way, you’re not alone—Hebrews 11 is full of people who felt the same way. But hang in there and keep trusting God: He knows what He’s doing! In the meantime remember this: God is able to make ALL grace abound toward you, that you, ALWAYS having ALL sufficiency in ALL things, may have an abundance for EVERY good work (2 Corinthians 9:8). 

Check out this video of the full message I shared on these lessons from the life of Elizabeth and Mary. 

Join me this Sunday as we continue looking at God’s favor. You can join me either in person or on Facebook Live. 

If you’ve missed any of my previous posts on God’s favor, check out: 

An Angel’s Story (book review)

an-angels-storyReader’s of my blog will know that I seldom read fiction books, but Max Lucado tricked me into reading this one! I read the introduction to An Angel’s Story and thought, “Wow, this is going to be an interesting take on the Christmas story,” and I began reading. But before I realized I was reading a fictional account, I was hooked and had to keep on reading.

I’m so glad I did! 

We often think of the night of Christ’s birth being—as the Christmas carols tell us—a silent night of wonder, a holy night of rejoicing, a festive night of an angel choir singing in the skies above Bethlehem. Indeed this is the picture we get in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

However, the book of Revelation tells a different story.

In Revelation, we see the lengths to which the devil and his hoard went to prevent the Advent of Jesus. And we also read about the angels who remain loyal to God battling against the dark forces in the heavens. Max Lucado imagines what this might of have looked like in the unseen spiritual world around Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

If you’ve ever read anything from Max Lucado, you know that he is a first-class storyteller, and An Angel’s Story is no exception. Believe me: this book will grab your attention, keep you riveted until the very end, and give you a perspective of the night of Christ’s birth like you’ve probably never seen before. 

I highly recommend this book to you!

What Child Is This Anyway?!

christ-the-kingA couple of years ago as we were setting up for our Living Nativity, I was wrapping a towel around the doll we were going to use for the infant Jesus. A young boy from the community was carefully watching me and he asked, “Is that baby Santa?”

“No, it’s not Santa,” I said. “See this manger? We’re getting things setup to tell the story about the very first Christmas, long before St. Nick came on the scene. Maybe you’ve heard about Mary and Joseph?”

The young lad’s eyes lit up as he seem to get the answer. “Oh! Is that baby Moses?!”

Clearly, people don’t know all the facts surrounding the first Advent of Jesus. Sometimes things in culture and church get jumbled—what belongs to which? Is Christmas a pagan holiday? Where do Christmas trees come in? Was the birth of Jesus actually on December 25? What does it all matter anyway?

Instead of running from these questions, Christians should use them to point people in the right direction. 

Have you heard the tune called Greensleeves? It’s been around longer than anyone knows. William Shakespeare referenced it in two of his plays and didn’t feel the need to explain it to his audience. The tune has been set to some pretty bawdy words about New Year’s Eve parties, and even as a mocking song to some folks about to go to the gallows. And then in the mid-1800s William Chatterton Dix used this tune to write words about Christ’s birth in What Child Is This?

What an excellent question! Who exactly is this Child? Is Jesus merely a line on the pages of history? Or is His birth something more? Oswald Chambers noted, “The tremendous revelation of Christianity is not the Fatherhood of God, but the Babyhood of God—God became the weakest thing in His own creation, and in flesh and blood He levered it back to where it was intended to be. No one helped Him; it was done absolutely by God manifest in human flesh.”

The first-century historian Luke simply records that Mary is pregnant with “a child.” That is, until Jesus is taken to the temple in Jerusalem eight days later, and we see that a man named Simeon didn’t just see this Child as any baby, but as a fulfillment of prophesy (see Luke 2:25-32; Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6).

This Child is much more than just a historic person. He not only split history into BC and AD, but He has changed my life, and countless others’ lives as well! That’s why the chorus of this Christmas carol joyfully announces, “This, THIS is Christ the King!”

People may be confused about what tradition belongs to culture or Christendom. You may even be confused about what belongs to which. But none of that should stop us from knowing the Child we celebrate this Christmas. None of that should stop us from helping seekers to find Jesus as their own Savior. None of that should stop us from enthroning Jesus Christ as King and giving Him the highest praise He deserves!

Jesus used common, everyday things—farmers, fish, trees, weather, children’s songs—to tell people about a Heaven that was prepared for them. Paul used the cultural idols and poets to point his community to Jesus. Philip used the Scripture a governmental official was reading to point him to Jesus.

So we, too, can use whatever is around us to point people to Jesus this Christmas! What Child is this? This, THIS is Christ MY King! Merry Christmas!!

Peace On Earth! Really?

Craig T. OwensFor some people, “peace on earth” is just a wish. Perhaps all of this talk of peace and goodwill during the buildup to Christmas is doing just the opposite, and you’re feeling a bit stressed out.

How do you think Joseph felt on the night of his first son’s birth? Do you think he was peaceful, or do you think things weren’t going as he had planned, and his stress level was through the roof? We can learn a very valuable lesson from his life.

Please gather your family and friends around to watch this short 10-minute video before you begin your Christmas celebration. This encouraging word may be just what you need to have a peaceful and joyous Christmas.

(If you have any trouble with the above video, here’s another link to try.)

I encourage you to read the Scriptures I mention in this video. They are:

And the quote from Max Lucado I shared:

“You’ve stood where Joseph stood. Caught between what God says and what makes sense. You’ve done what He told you to do only to wonder if it was Him speaking in the first place. You stared into a sky blackened with doubt. And you’ve asked what Joseph asked. You’ve asked if you’re still on the right road. You’ve asked if you were supposed to turn left when you turned right. And you’ve asked if there is a plan behind the scheme. Things haven’t turned out like you thought they would. Each of us knows what it’s like to search the night for light. Not outside a stable, but perhaps outside an emergency room. On the gravel of a roadside. On the manicured grass of the cemetery. We’ve asked our questions. We’ve questioned God’s plan. And we’ve wondered why God does what He does. The Bethlehem sky is not the first to hear the pleading of a confused pilgrim. If you are asking what Joseph asked, let me urge you to do what Joseph did. Obey.”

Merry Christmas!

11 More Quotes From “Our Portrait In Genesis”

The Complete Works Of Oswald ChambersOswald Chambers’ book Our Portrait In Genesis is an excellent companion book when you read the book of Genesis from the Bible. I’ve already shared a few quotes from this book here, and here. Below are a few more I found highlighter-worthy.

“Degeneration and backsliding are by no means one and the same. Degeneration begins in almost imperceptible ways; backsliding in the Scriptural use of the term is a distinct forsaking of what I know of God and a deliberate substitution of something other (cf. Jeremiah 2:13). … If I maintain my right to my natural self I will begin to degenerate and get out of God’s purpose. … If I refuse to sacrifice the natural, the God-life in me is killed.”

“To experience conviction of sin is not a cause for misgiving, but an occasion for understanding the impossible things God has done in the Redemption.”

“All through, a personal crisis ought to serve as an occasion for revealing the fact that God reigns, as well as compelling us to know our own character.”

“We have the notion that it is only when we are pure and holy that God will appear to us; that God’s blessing is a sign that we are right with Him. Neither notion is true. Our Lord took care to say that God makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends His rain on the just and on the unjust. God’s blessings are not to be taken as an indication of the integrity of the character blessed, yet on the other hand the discernment of God’s character is determined entirely by the individual character of the person estimating God. ‘With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful’ (Psalm 18:25). The way I discern God’s character is determined by my own character. God remains true to His character, and as I grow in integrity I discern Him. Jacob’s undeservedness, and the fact that God continually blesses him, are brought out very clearly all through his life.”

“‘I can’t understand why I have no confidence in God’; the reason may be a matter of digestion, not enough fresh air, or sleep, too much tea—something slight. It is the shallow things that put us wrong much more quickly than the big things. The great object of the enemy of our souls is to make us fling away our confidence in God; to do this is nothing less than spiritual suicide. When we experience misgiving because we have sinned there is never any ambiguity as to its clause, the Holy Spirit brings conviction home like a lightning flash.”

“Prayer in distress dredges the soul (cf. Psalm 107). It is a good thing to keep note of the things you prayed about when you were in distress. We remain ignorant of ourselves because we do not keep a spiritual autobiography.”

“That is always the test of the reality of sanctification, not so much that I have received something, but that I have ceased to be my old self.”

“The warrior of God is not the man of muscle and a strong jaw, but the man of un-utterable weakness, the man who knows he has not any power; Jacob is no longer strong in himself, he is strong only in God, his life is no longer marked by striving, but by reliance on God. You cannot imitate reliance on God.”

“Authority never comes from you, but from God through you, therefore let God introduce or withhold as He chooses.”

“Beware of saying, ‘Oh well, it doesn’t matter much what I think about in secret’; it does, for the opportunity will come when what you think about in secret will find expression and spurt out in an act. The Bible always speaks of sin as it appears in its final analysis. Jesus does not say, ‘You must not covet because it will lead to stealing’; He says, ‘You must not covet because it is stealing.’ He does not say, ‘You must not be angry with your brother because it will lead to murder’; He says, ‘You must not be angry with your brother because it is murder.’”

“Four times over in this chapter [Genesis 39] is this statement made, ‘the Lord was with Joseph.’ It is the presence of God that is the secret of victory always. The fear of the Lord creates an atmosphere in which impure thoughts and unholy desires die a natural death.”

You can also read my review of this book by clicking here.

Our Portrait In Genesis (book review)

The Complete Works Of Oswald ChambersI love having Oswald Chambers walk alongside me as I study the Bible. He is like a wise, insightful friend pointing out, “Did you see that? Did you notice what God is doing here? What do you think that means for you?” In Our Portrait In Genesis, Chambers walks with us through the first book of the Bible.

Previously I reviewed Not Knowing Where by Oswald Chambers, which looks specifically at the life of Abraham in Genesis 12-25. In Our Portrait, Chambers turns his attention to the other notable people in Genesis.

As he looks at Adam, Eve, Cain, Able, Noah, and the other patriarchs, Chambers is constantly pointing out the lessons we can learn from their lives and apply to our lives. Because of his training in psychology, Chambers is so skilled at knowing what was going on in the minds of these biblical examples, and then helping us examine our own thinking along the same lines.

Our Portrait and Not Knowing Where are tremendously helpful commentaries to read as you work your way through the book of Genesis. As always, you can’t go wrong picking up an Oswald Chambers book!

Are You Irritated? Good!

Pearl oysterPastor Tom Kaastra shared a whole new way of looking at the irritations we sometimes have, by pointing us to an example in nature. God reveals Himself to us in the Bible and through nature. That’s why Francis DeSales said, “God has signed all created things. We can trace His footsteps through the natural world.”

So take a look at the oyster. God designed it with a heart, a mouth, a digestive system, a reproductive system, a nervous system, and all other things that allow it to survive. But He also gave it a way to thrive.

The oyster can be irritated by a foreign invasion. But… God has put within the oyster the power to turn an irritation into a valuable pearl!

It is the same for Christians. The same power that raised Christ from the dead dwells in us (see Romans 8:11). That power allows us to see that all things are working together for the good of those who love God (see Romans 8:28-29). As Pastor Tom said it, “God wants to Jesus-size us.”

Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” So God designs irritations on purpose to develop a valuable pearl in our lives that will bring Him glory.

Look at Joseph. His brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt (which ranks in my book as a major irritation!). But look how Joseph saw the pearl God developed—

And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not to be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. (Genesis 45:4-8, emphasis added)

So the next time you’re irritated, remind yourself, “Great! God is making a valuable pearl in my life!”

You can watch the video of Pastor Tom’s message below, and be sure to check out his website for other valuable lessons like this one.

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