O Holy Night #2 – A New Hope…

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story is the account of the birth of John the Baptist. His parents, Zechariah & Elizabeth, were childless; they’d been unable to have kids their entire married life together, & now they both were way, way beyond childbearing years (Luke 1:7). At this point in their lives, the dream of having a child, an heir, had moved off of their collective radar, & now most likely just existed as one of life’s greatest disappointments & unfulfilled dreams. And then God intervenes, declaring a new hope, not only for their lives, but for the whole world.

God sent Gabriel the angel to proclaim to Zechariah that he & Elizabeth would conceive, & she would give birth to a son. And the best part was that he wouldn’t just be a ‘miracle’ child… no, their son John was to be the one promised by the Scriptures who would “prepare the way” for the Messiah, the Christ, God’s promised Anointed One. (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; Matthew 3:3).

You’d think such a jubilant angelic declaration would be received with shouts of joy… but instead, Zechariah’s response was one of skepticism, negativity, & doubt. This is one of the reasons I love this story – not because I like Zechariah’s displayed lack of faith, but rather because I GET it. After years of hoping for a child, years of disappointment, & years of attempting to comfort his wife in the midst of her/their grief, the message of HOPE hit Zechariah’s ears (& heart) in such a way that revealed that he was “done,” & couldn’t grasp, let alone believe that God was on the verge of a miracle in their lives.

I love the angel’s response to Zechariah’s unbelief: “I am Gabriel, & I stand in the presence of God, & I was sent to speak to you & to bring you this good news. Now, you will be silent & unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which WILL BE fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19,20 ESV). He basically tells him – “C’mon, man! This is good news! What I told you came direct from the throne of God – so because of your lack of belief, I’m going to shut you up so you can’t spread the doubt to your wife & others.”


Every time I revisit this story, I feel the Holy Spirit doing a heart-check on me – & I find myself examining where I am… am I open to God’s new hope for my life? Am I open to it even if it is in an area I have given up on? Do I really believe all things are possible for God, if I believe?

During this Christmas season, I’m praying that my heart will be prepped for God’s miraculous new hope for me & those my life connects with.

O Holy Night #1 – Where is God in the silence…?

In preparation for our Christmas series, “O Holy Night,” I’ve been studying the Inter-Testamental period (a.k.a. the 400 years of time between the book of Malachi & the Gospels) leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. Part of the reason I’m wrestling through this is that I love exploring the history & context of Scripture; another reason is that this time period is often referred to as “God’s Silence.” That grabbed me. WHY is it called that?

Well, there was no prophetic literature added to the Scriptures during this time; no insights, visions, or directions recorded from God to His people. Israel had been scattered from the Promised Land in 583 B.C. (see 2Chronicles 36 for the story,) & had experienced oppression & persecution from Babylon, the Medo-Persians, various Greek empires, & finally, Rome. Throughout the 400+ years, Israel suffered, attempted to rebel to gain their freedom, were put under occupation & dominion over & over, & at no time is there a record of God addressing His peoples’ plight, let alone stepping into the situation to bring deliverance & redemption.

Was God really silent during these years? Was He just letting Israel twist in the wind as a payback for their hundreds of years of disobedience, unbelief, grumbling, & serving idols & other gods?

I say, “No.” Here’s why.

Even though there wasn’t any prophetic messages added to the Bible during this time, & even though Israel endured terrible persecution & unmentionable ordeals at the hands of their enemies, the LORD God’s “mighty hand” & “outstretched arm” were very clearly & powerfully at work:

  • Throughout centuries of bloody & terrible war between ruthless rival empires, wars over possessions, resources, & strategic territories, God protected His people, keeping them from repeated attempts to annihilate them (read the book of Esther for one such account.)
  • God used the evil of Alexander the Great’s greed & quest for world domination for good as Alexander brought the known world together, from the East to the West, under a common culture, Hellenism, & a common language, Greek.
  • This common culture & language, coupled with a dictator’s desire to create the greatest library with the best books on the planet led to the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (called the Septuagint) at Alexandria, thereby making God’s Word readable & accessible to all Greek speakers/readers on the planet. The Septuagint Greek Scriptures were what was used when the Old/First Testament was quoted in the New Testament by the apostles & disciples.
  • God used Augustus Caesar, the murderous & tyrannical self-proclaimed “Prince of peace” to bring about the “Pax Romana” a period of relative peace (enforced by soldiers & the Roman war machine) which helped create the relatively stable time period into which Christ was born.
  • And there’s much, much more.

I hope you can begin to see where God is at work, behind the scenes, between the lines, in the activities of the pagan nations, in the middle of the oppression of His people, in order to bring ultimate deliverance to humanity: relationship with God, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God & man through Christ Jesus our Lord.

During this coming Christmas season, especially in the areas of difficulty & throughout the  times of silence, be on the lookout for God at work in, through, & around our lives. Because He’s always at work.

Even in the silence.

home for Christmas & other musings…

My Pasty Gangster will not be home for Christmas this year. It will be the 1st Christmas in 19 years without him… as he is headed to Cookeville, Tennessee to spend the holidays (& then some,) with his girl Alex & her family. For me, it isn’t hard to deal with him being gone; it’s just… different. I am very happy for him being able to have special time, & even happier that he gets to be with the one person in the whole world he’d want to be with.

What I’m pondering is the most visible acknowledgment of the very real transition that he is in… really, for me, this is much more of a transition than his high-school graduation ceremony was. He’s making many (most? All?) of his own choices. TheBean & I have & continue to trust our #1 son to Christ. Believing that as he makes his own choices, & lives his life, he will live in a manner honoring to Christ. It reminds me of when we dedicated him as a baby. And in retrospect, I see that we didn’t just have a fun ceremony, but instead we were making a lifelong declaration of faith, trust, & purpose: He is Yours, LORD. Now we’re getting to see him live it.

So, it’s new & its different. Most notably, theWeez is already missing her brother, the protector; as is iDoey missing the one that he’s consciously or unconsciously measured himself against.

In 20 minutes we’re heading to get “Christmas Picture 2010” taken – quite possibly the last Christmas picture of us with our nuclear family all living at home, all looking this way.

Sigh.


Pondering 1Timothy 4:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life & also for the life to come. This saying is trustworthy & deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil & strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

Training up in godliness – what’s does this mean? What’s it look like, lived out?

I’m confronted by areas where I’ve shied away from a ‘strict spiritual regimen’ – maybe because it seemed that the focus was on the ‘performing’ of the regimen or workout, & not on the desired results of the workout.

Hmm. I’m confronted & convicted… there’s a bad heart attitude lurking in there… in the name of not falling into a rut, or a stale routine, instead I fell into something worse: a hit & miss haphazardness.

There’s a picture in my head – me & my kettlebells. The focus & goal of the workout isn’t to be able to brag that I did 25 minutes & 7 different exercises – its to increase strength, flexibility, stamina, cardio, & overall physical condition; that’s only going to happen if I regularly exercise, & simply do the workout faithfully – whether anyone knows about it or notices.

Read. Study. Pray. Repeat.


Hard to believe theBean & I are celebrating our 22nd Christmas season together – when I look at her, I can’t believe that she isn’t 22. And I’m blown away that after 21.5 years of marriage, 3 kids, & living with me, she is even more beautiful than she was when we met.

And those legs. Oh goodness.