Friday, 19 December 2014

Anna, who lived in the temple...

Anna. A prophetess who lived in the temple. Words of wisdom from Joy at Love God Greatly.

"These verses really get me. I am in awe of Anna. I want her to be my mentor, but since I don’t have a time travel machine just yet, I will have to settle for her life speaking to me via these verses. There isn’t much similar between me and Anna. She was advanced in years, a widow, and had copious amounts of free time to spend fasting and praying in the temple. I, on the other hand, am nearing middle age, still have my husband, a mama to 6, living in Uganda. I have very little free time, and quiet moments are scarce to non-existent. 
So it’s here that I’m tempted to send sweet Anna on her merry way and assume that her life has nothing to do with mine. BUT. She is a woman caught up in the Grand Story of the Redemption. She couldn’t get enough. It flowed out of her life. She spoke of it to all. And this is beautiful to me. I find this irresistible. Oh, how I want this to be true of me!
What if I took her situation, her devotion, her commitment to giving thanks and talking about redemption and translated it into my everyday? What would it look like?
What if I make my home a temple and spend my days worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day? 
Can I take my moments, the ones filled with laundry and trying to convince a teenage boy of the benefits of showers, and turn these mundane moments into acts of worship? Can I? Can I turn my words to thankfulness to God and speak of His redemption to all?
What would this look like? Here are some thoughts on how to start:
  • Turn my eyes upon Jesus. Bask in His redemption. Gaze at His glory.There is no substitute and no checklist. The Gospel is where it starts and ends.
  • Turn down the noise and to be quiet. {Getting up early, afternoon quiet time for the whole house, turning down TV watching in the evening, turning off the Internet}
  • Turn from my idols. Rinse, Repent, Repeat. Daily, hourly, minutely {!}, I find myself running to idols in my heart. Things that tempt me away from gazing. I have to continually return to the Lord and repent and ask the Holy Spirit to help me turn from these things. {Internet, appearance, pride, reputation, to name just a few.}
  • Turn up the message I need to hear. {Turning on the worship music, turning my eyes to Scripture, turning to those people in my life that challenge my heart to follow the Lord}
  • Turn each mundane moment into an act of worship, no matter how small, from cooking to cleaning, showering to scrubbing.
  • Turn my words into words of praise and thankfulness, declaring the redemption to all. 
Let’s take these moments, in our days leading up to Christmas, to turn our homes into temples. Thank you, Anna, for leading us on the road. The Road to Jesus. The Road to Christmas. "

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Ruth and Anna. Wanting: to serve and glorify

Ruth. (As a digression, my first encounter with the name Ruth was in Swallows and Amazons, where the character Nancy was actually called Ruth but had been renamed by her uncle as Nancy, because Nancy was an Amazon and a pirate - and pirates are ruthless...).

Her name means friend, companion. She was a true friend to - of all unlikely people - her mother-in-law, Naomi.

Naomi (whose name means 'pleasantness'), together with her husband Elimelech (whose name means 'My God is King') was from Bethlehem - the town which was to become known as the city of (King) David. There was famine in Israel, so Elimelech took his wife and two sons to Moab, where they settled. (It has been suggested that understanding the meaning of the names in the book of Ruth point to the book being an allegory for God's saving grace towards us. Read more here.)

Moab became home.

But then Elimelech - Naomi's strength and protector - died. Naomi was left with her two sons Mahlon and Kilion, whose very names mean sickly and failing or unsuccessful. The sons married: not Hebrew girls, as Naomi might have preferred, but Moabite women.

Perhaps, initially, this was acceptable to Naomi. She was, after all, far from home though there must have been other Hebrew refugees, fleeing from famine. But ten years went by, with no children appearing in either marriage. No grandchildren to gladden Naomi's heart and bring meaning to her widowhood.

Then her sons, living up to their names, took ill and died.

She was alone in a foreign land.

This was now too much for Naomi. Hearing that famine in Israel had ended, she decided to leave and go back home.

Life was not turning out for Naomi as she would have hoped. Losing her husband was bad enough, but now her sons too? Yet she didn't just stay and sink into decline, but made a proactive decision to return to where she came from.

One of many lessons Naomi teaches: not just to stay and wallow in depressing thoughts when disaster and misfortune arrive in life, but to be proactive and return to where I come from. To the place where I have history, connections, where I am known. To return to Jesus, where I can be at home because I am totally known, loved and accepted.

Naomi teaches me courage, too. Because, after only a short while on the journey to Bethlehem, Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to leave her to go on alone:
 “Go back. Go home and live with your mothers. And may God treat you as graciously as you treated your deceased husbands and me. May God give each of you a new home and a new husband!”

She kissed them and they cried openly.

They didn't want to leave her, but she insisted, even though she would be making the journey alone.

"But Naomi was firm: “Go back, my dear daughters. Why would you come with me? Do you suppose I still have sons in my womb who can become your future husbands? Go back, dear daughters—on your way, please! I’m too old to get a husband. Why, even if I said, ‘There’s still hope!’ and this very night got a man and had sons, can you imagine being satisfied to wait until they were grown? Would you wait that long to get married again? No, dear daughters; this is a bitter pill for me to swallow—more bitter for me than for you. God has dealt me a hard blow.”
Again they cried openly. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye;"

But this story is not so much about Naomi, but about Ruth: "but Ruth embraced her and held on."

Ruth's devotion. Ruth's faithfulness. Ruth's love.

"Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is going back home to live with her own people and gods; go with her.”
But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!”
When Naomi saw that Ruth had her heart set on going with her, she gave in. And so the two of them traveled on together to Bethlehem."

And then they settled there. The bitter woman and her foreign daughter-in-law - which must, in itself, have been strange: for what girl would not prefer to stay with her own mother?

And so we see Ruth's humility, going out almost as a beggar to gather grain for bread; then expressing humble thanks to Boaz.
And we see the beginning of this romantic love story:
"It so happened that Naomi had a relative by marriage, a man prominent and rich, connected with Elimelech’s family. His name was Boaz.

One day Ruth, the Moabite foreigner, said to Naomi, “I’m going to work; I’m going out to glean among the sheaves, following after some harvester who will treat me kindly.”

Naomi said, “Go ahead, dear daughter.”

And so she set out. She went and started gleaning in a field, following in the wake of the harvesters. Eventually she ended up in the part of the field owned by Boaz, her father-in-law Elimelech’s relative. A little later Boaz came out from Bethlehem, greeting his harvesters, “God be with you!” They replied, “And Godbless you!”

Boaz asked his young servant who was foreman over the farm hands, “Who is this young woman? Where did she come from?”

The foreman said, “Why, that’s the Moabite girl, the one who came with Naomi from the country of Moab. She asked permission. ‘Let me glean,’ she said, ‘and gather among the sheaves following after your harvesters.’ She’s been at it steady ever since, from early morning until now, without so much as a break.”

Then Boaz spoke to Ruth: “Listen, my daughter. From now on don’t go to any other field to glean—stay right here in this one. And stay close to my young women. Watch where they are harvesting and follow them. And don’t worry about a thing; I’ve given orders to my servants not to harass you. When you get thirsty, feel free to go and drink from the water buckets that the servants have filled.”

10 She dropped to her knees, then bowed her face to the ground. “How does this happen that you should pick me out and treat me so kindly—me, a foreigner?”

Boaz answered her, “I’ve heard all about you—heard about the way you treated your mother-in-law after the death of her husband, and how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and have come to live among a bunch of total strangers. God reward you well for what you’ve done—and with a generous bonus besides from God, to whom you’ve come seeking protection under his wings.”

She said, “Oh sir, such grace, such kindness—I don’t deserve it. You’ve touched my heart, treated me like one of your own. And I don’t even belong here!”


At the lunch break, Boaz said to her, “Come over here; eat some bread. Dip it in the wine.”

So she joined the harvesters. Boaz passed the roasted grain to her. She ate her fill and even had some left over.

When she got up to go back to work, Boaz ordered his servants: “Let her glean where there’s still plenty of grain on the ground—make it easy for her. Better yet, pull some of the good stuff out and leave it for her to glean. Give her special treatment.”
Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. When she threshed out what she had gathered, she ended up with nearly a full sack of barley! She gathered up her gleanings, went back to town, and showed her mother-in-law the results of her day’s work; she also gave her the leftovers from her lunch.

Naomi asked her, “So where did you glean today? Whose field? God bless whoever it was who took such good care of you!”

Ruth told her mother-in-law, “The man with whom I worked today? His name is Boaz.”
Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Why, God bless that man! God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!”

Naomi went on, “That man, Ruth, is one of our circle of covenant redeemers, a close relative of ours!”

Ruth the Moabitess said, “Well, listen to this: He also told me, ‘Stick with my workers until my harvesting is finished.’”

Naomi said to Ruth, “That’s wonderful, dear daughter! Do that! You’ll be safe in the company of his young women; no danger now of being raped in some stranger’s field.”

So Ruth did it—she stuck close to Boaz’s young women, gleaning in the fields daily until both the barley and wheat harvesting were finished. And she continued living with her mother-in-law.
 
Did Ruth dream of this kind man, who had offered her protection and looked after her? Did she go gladly to spend those days in back-breaking labour, in the hope of glimpsing her benefactor? Did she secretly study him, memorising his features to treasure inside her heart?
 
One day her mother-in-law Naomi said to Ruth, “My dear daughter, isn’t it about time I arranged a good home for you so you can have a happy life? And isn’t Boaz our close relative, the one with whose young women you’ve been working? Maybe it’s time to make our move. Tonight is the night of Boaz’s barley harvest at the threshing floor.

“Take a bath. Put on some perfume. Get all dressed up and go to the threshing floor. But don’t let him know you’re there until the party is well under way and he’s had plenty of food and drink. When you see him slipping off to sleep, watch where he lies down and then go there. Lie at his feet to let him know that you are available to him for marriage. Then wait and see what he says. He’ll tell you what to do.”

Ruth said, “If you say so, I’ll do it, just as you’ve told me.”
She went down to the threshing floor and put her mother-in-law’s plan into action.

And was she glad? Resigned? Needful of a husband - any husband? Was she sure of his heart, because she had seen him watching her when he thought no one was looking, and she knew him for his integrity and compassion? Or was she afraid: afraid of making herself vulnerable, afraid of the shame she risked, afraid of others' scorn and enmity? And, perhaps, even afraid that he would, under the influence of alcohol, betray her trust and take yoof her? A tiny voice inside her which would say: "He's due some payment for his kindness... you are, after all, a widow and no young maiden."

She was a foreigner, a poor widow, subsisting on the generosity of others.

Boaz had a good time, eating and drinking his fill—he felt great. Then he went off to get some sleep, lying down at the end of a stack of barley. Ruth quietly followed; she lay down to signal her availability for marriage.

In the middle of the night the man was suddenly startled and sat up. Surprise! This woman asleep at his feet!

He said, “And who are you?”
She said, “I am Ruth, your maiden; take me under your protecting wing. You’re my close relative, you know, in the circle of covenant redeemers—you do have the right to marry me.”

He said, “God bless you, my dear daughter! What a splendid expression of love! And when you could have had your pick of any of the young men around. And now, my dear daughter, don’t you worry about a thing; I’ll do all you could want or ask. Everybody in town knows what a courageous woman you are—a real prize! You’re right, I am a close relative to you, but there is one even closer than I am. So stay the rest of the night. In the morning, if he wants to exercise his customary rights and responsibilities as the closest covenant redeemer, he’ll have his chance; but if he isn’t interested, as God lives, I’ll do it. Now go back to sleep until morning.”

Ruth slept at his feet until dawn, but she got up while it was still dark and wouldn’t be recognized. Then Boaz said to himself, “No one must know that Ruth came to the threshing floor.”

So Boaz said, “Bring the shawl you’re wearing and spread it out.”

She spread it out and he poured it full of barley, six measures, and put it on her shoulders. Then she went back to town.

When she came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “And how did things go, my dear daughter?”

Ruth told her everything that the man had done for her, adding, “And he gave me all this barley besides—six quarts! He told me, ‘You can’t go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law!’”

Naomi said, “Sit back and relax, my dear daughter, until we find out how things turn out; that man isn’t going to fool around. Mark my words, he’s going to get everything wrapped up today.”

 

Focus: a digression from Ruth

Reading in Advent about Ruth in the story of Jesus, I stop short at verse 6 in the first chapter.
When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.

Yesterday, I didn't notice that the Lord had ended the famine and blessed his people with food. How often do I neglect to see Him at work in my life and in the lives of others?

Psalm 35 reminds that God does indeed come to our aid against our enemies: against those who wish us harm or gloat over our misfortune.

Keep focused on HIM.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Breakfast in Advent

As I make gingerbread men people, I am reminded of the women whose stories are part of The Big Story. The God Story. The Jesus Story.

I shape hair for the head, and I think of a woman who covered her face so she could not be recognised: Tamar. Tamar, who was Judah's daughter-in-law. Judah, the son of Jacob who had merely sold his brother Joseph into slavery, rather than acquiesce to his killing by the jealous brothers. Tamar, widowed once, rejected by the second brother who should have married her. Tamar, so desperate for children, that she covered her face and disguised herself as a prostitute, enticing her father in law to sleep with her and so ensure that she would not be killed and that her child would be born.
That child was Perez, in Jesus' family tree as a son of Judah.

Are as desperate for God as Tamar was for a child? Are we more desperate for things other than God? How can we do this, when busyness crowds our lives?

The hands of Rahab, letting down a scarlet cord from her window as a sign that she and her household were to be spared by the invading Israelites. Rahab, who risked disgrace, alienation and death to save two foreign men who had visited her brothel. Rahab, who recognised God at work in the Israelites and wanted to be part of that.

How do we recognise God at work? What do we risk, if we 'join in with what God is doing' as Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury) has said?

The feet of Boaz, Ruth's husband. Ruth, who risked scorn, humiliation and disgrace to throw herself at a man's feet, tantamount to begging him to marry her. " Boaz had a good time, eating and drinking his fill—he felt great. Then he went off to get some sleep, lying down at the end of a stack of barley. Ruth quietly followed; she lay down to signal her availability for marriage."

The body of Christ. All working together in unison. "The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything."

And I think of the parts of the body to be careful of. The tongue, which can be so divisive. The eyes, which can be haughty. The hands, which should not lie idle. The feet, ready to take the good news of the Gospel to wherever God wants them to go.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Advent:Being Willing

Rahab and Mary. Willing: Social outcasts. #willingsocialoutcasts

Rahab. Great great grandmother of David. Not a Hebrew, but a foreigner.  Rahab, who became immortalised in the stories of Jewish history for saving the spies who were scoping out Jericho before the attack. "Rahab the prostitute ... was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road." Rahab, who James considered a great example of showing her faith by her actions, as did the author of the book Hebrews: "By an act of faith, Rahab, the Jericho harlot, welcomed the spies and escaped the destruction that came on those who refused to trust God."

And then, right at the end of the family history - HIS story - we find Mary: "Joseph, the husband of Mary,and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah."

And I think of words I read in Woman Alive magazine recently, in a study by Anne Le Tissier: "We are called to be faithful stewards of all that God has given us, making each day count...consider your mindset, your desires, your deeds, your lifestyle, your use of time, money, talents and resources. Where is your focus, who or what is the treasure of your heart, what is your goal in life, how does your lifestyle compare with Christ's, and what are you doing with the life He gave you?'

What am I doing, indeed? She says: "Whatever our role, if we seek daily to express God's loving care, then we shall be rewarded." 

What did Rahab and Mary do, before they chose obedience to God? Two opposites.  Rahab hardly lived a righteous life - she was a prostitute. But then, as she heard the rumours of this strange nomadic people who were taking the country with supernatural power, she recognised that this power was of God.

This changed her life. Ultimately, saved her life, yet she faced huge dangers before that would happen. She hid two foreign spies at great personal risk to herself and her family; lied; risked alienation and death, then bet her life that this people would indeed, with God's power, invade and defeat the city in which she lived.

And then she had her reward, as she asked: "Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you." And so she - and all her family - were saved from death.

Mary, the opposite. Mary, "Beautiful inside and out!". Mary, who had lived a quiet life, growing up a good girl, about to be married to a good man. Mary, who only needed the news of Elizabeth's unexpected pregnancy to convince her of her own future. Mary, who didn't then doubt God's word.

YET. Yet....with this unexpected pregnancy, Mary faced alienation from her family and community, exile and shame, prostitution her only hope of supporting herself; At worst,, she faced a mob lynching, pelting her with stones until she died. (As Anne Atkins, in December 11th's Thought for the Day says.) 'A woman of extraordinary learning, championing the rights of the poor...' What a role model!

Mary, magnificent in her praises. I never realised she was a prophet, but prophesy is exactly what she and Elizabeth did:
"I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten, (From now on all generations will call me blessed.)
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now."


And Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking out as soon as she heard Mary's voice in greeting: "You’re so blessed among women,
and the babe in your womb, also blessed!

And why am I so blessed that
the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said, BELIEVED EVERY WORD WOULD COME TRUE"

Humble Mary, who accepted shame and disgrace, believing God, in faith.

What did Rahab and Mary have in common? They were both WILLING. Willing to be obedient. Willing to embrace the unexpected. Willing to give up control of their lives, as Whitney talks about so well:

"But God doesn’t call the qualified.
________________________________
I already know it, so why do I so often need reminded? I’m frustrated in my own lack of faith that in the unexpected, God knows better than me. Listen, He always knows better than me.
But Mary.
Mary’s young, trusting hands were unclasped. She wasn’t paralyzed by fear when Gabriel told her she’d give birth to the Messiah. Oh, in human terms, it was shocking, unexpected, surprising, unplanned news to be sure.
But she didn’t hesitate.
She didn’t fall to the ground in a weeping, doubting mess.
She didn’t ask a million questions or raise her voice in anger, and she definitely didn’t fire back with, “Lord I can’t do this.”
No, she accepted her calling and lifted her humble voice in praise – not because she was confident in her abilities – but because she KNEW the One who had called her.
When the unexpected comes, we have two choices: we can either become paralyzed, or we can praise.
But listen, God always, always knows better than me....
Unexpected roads can paralyze, or cause us to praise.
The great thing? You don’t need confidence in your ability to walk your unexpected road well. You just need to KNOW the One who calls you – and then with unclasped hands – place your full confidence in Him.
"God doesn’t call the qualified, but He qualifies the called."
Embracing the unexpected on {The Road to Christmas} sounds a whole lot like this:
“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” ~ Luke 1:38
Can you say it?
Father I praise You, because the unexpected road is also a road that leads to unmerited grace. You are worthy… have your way in me."
Giving control of my life over to God. Ah, there's the thing...


Monday, 1 December 2014

Advent begins


Waiting: overcoming shame...

In these first days of our Advent season, I read of the origins of Jesus Christ, of how he was
"David’s son, Abraham’s son:Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Jacob, Jacob had Judah and his brothers, Judah had Perez and Zerah (the mother was Tamar), Perez had Hezron, Hezron had Aram..."

All the way down to "Joseph, Mary’s husband, the Mary who gave birth to Jesus, the Jesus who was called Christ."

All the way down to Joseph. Who was not Jesus' father.

So, as scholars pored the genealogies, the generations upon generations, looking at David's progeny, did it ever cross their minds that the coming King would not be kingly, as they imagined? Did they look at abilities and prowess, at connection and dedication, wondering who would be that King to succeed their own king David?

Did any of them ever have an inkling?

As I consider Jesus's 'noble' birth, traced all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I see something less savoury in Jacob's sons. Judah.

Judah, who collaborated and connived with his brothers to eliminate his younger brother Joseph.
Judah, who wanted his brother dead and gone from the family.
Judah, who, even so, set great store by family and sold his brother rather than killing him.
Judah, who set great store by family and sold his brother into the living death of slavery.
Judah, who set great store by family, and wanted his widowed daughter-in-law to sleep with her brother-in-law and so have children 'for' his dead son.
Judah, who slept with a prostitute - or so he thought. Was he married? Was it only this one time? I wouldn't think so. The woman was covered with a veil, disguised, so he could hardly have been overwhelmed by her beauty.
Judah, who slept with his own widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, after neglecting to provide another husband for her.
Judah, the man who wouldn't even pay for his favours directly, but got a friend to do it for him.
Judah, the callous and judgemental, who wanted his pregnant daughter-in-law burned to death for her adultery.
Judah, who fathered twins with Tamar, the second of whom was born first and who took the kingly line down to Jesus.

And what of Tamar? A woman given first to one man, then, when he died, his brother. A woman who took desperate measures to become a mother. A cunning woman, who engineered sex with her father-in-law so that her child/children would remain in the family. A clever woman who, in this way, protected herself from punishment and death.

God took the jealous, the callous, the harsh, the immoral, the judgemental Judah and included him in Jesus' ancestors.
God took the broken, the powerless, the rejected, the neglected, the shamed, the desperate Tamar and included her in Jesus' ancestors.

And this was not all. We are influenced by genes and upbringing, influenced (but not defined) by our ancestry. We read, in great men's obituaries, of wonderfully gifted and great ancestors whose inheritance has helped shape their progeny. When we look at the genealogy of Jesus, he turns this upside down.  Jesus' family story shouts of immorality, depravity, selfishness and shame.

Jesse, who ignored and neglected his best son, David.
David - wonderful man of God, yet a murderer and adulterer also.
Solomon - a wise yet licentious king who squandered his inheritance on good living and left a divided kingdom as his legacy.
Jehoiachin (Jeconiah), who was king of Israel for only three months before he was deposed by King Nebuchadnezzar, captured and taken in abject slavery like an animal, to a foreign country. He ended his days there, 'freed' from prison only after 37 years, spending the rest of his life under the king's eye.

The rest of the list in Matthew 1, regardless of whether kings are included,  shouts of obscurity.

Jesus brings us morality, righteous living, unselfishness and GRACE.

God INCLUDES us, in our shame and disgrace, in his glorious family. Perhaps, this Christmas, it is time to give ourselves a gift.  The gift of giving ourselves "a life no longer controlled by the shame of the past.", 
Jesus has redeemed us, given us great worth and value. We can accept that gift in accepting freedom for ourselves.

One such woman who did this was Elizabeth. She is the first woman we read about in Luke's account of the birth of Jesus. She derived great honour from HER ancestry - she was descended from one of Aaron's daughters - yet she was childless. Barren. This was the ultimate disgrace. Childlessness was considered a curse from God for guilt and wrongdoing, a punishment for unfaithfulness. Luke tells us that Elizabeth could never conceive and could not have children. Surely Elizabeth should have been a bitter, angry woman who cursed her fate, always craving for that which she could not have.

Yet she was not. Elizabeth and Zechariah, a temple priest, (also descended from the priestly line) lived "honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God."

The name Zechariah means "he who remembers Jehovah,” or, perhaps, “he whom Jehovah remembers,” Elisabeth means "my god is my oath" or "devoted to God".

Indeed. These wonderful, godly people were to become parents of John the Baptist, he in turn so devoted to God that he became a prophet, living of God's sustenance in the desert, prophesying and preaching repentance to prepare the heart of God's people for the coming Messiah. The contrast of these quiet, good lives in the midst of corrupt, evil times - 'the time of Herod' - shines out. History has shown how pivotal they were; but it would not have felt like that to them. They could not have dreamed, in the middle of their humdrum daily devotion, of the events that would come. Least of all a miraculous - because it was, indeed, a miracle that Elisabeth became pregnant - conception.

Advent. Christmas.

Looking forward, in Advent to studying God's word about the coming of his son. There is an inspirational blog with links to other great devotional studies, including one based on Handel's Messiah, but I am beginning with the Love God Greatly plan: 

Love God Greatly Reading plan

Week One ~ Tamar & Elizabeth: Waiting: Overcoming Shame

Matthew 1:1, 3
Genesis 38:1-30
Genesis 38:13-15, 26-27
Luke 1:5-25, 57-58
Luke 1:6-7, 24-25

Week Two ~ Rahab & Mary - Willing: Social Outcasts

Matthew 1:5a, 16
Joshua 2
Joshua 6:17, 22-23, 25
Luke 1:26-56
Luke 1:34-38

Week Three ~ Ruth Anna - Wanting: to Serve and Glorify

Matthew 1:5b
Ruth 1, 2
Ruth 4:11-13
Ruth 3, 4
Luke 2:36-38
Week Four ~ Bathsheba & the Word - Wishing: to see the Glory of God

Matthew 1:6
2 Samuel 11, 12:24-25
2 Samuel 11:2-5, 26-27
John 1:1-17
John 1:1, 14

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Thanksgiving: underpins everything

Hebrews 12:28 says, in the NIV:"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,"
In the King James version , it is: "let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:"
As for The Message: "Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!"

Thankfulness leads to grace and WORSHIP.  And so: "Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father EVERY STEP OF THE WAY." Colossians 3:16

And I thank God for my lovely, faithful small group of ten years. TEN YEARS! Ten years of knowing each other intimately, sharing deepest joys, struggles and longings. Ten years of faithfulness.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Thanksgiving: more than a holiday


Sometimes, struggling, it's tempting to ask 'Why me, God?'

But it's better to ask 'Why NOT me, God?' Because "thanksgiving is more than just a holiday, but a crucial spiritual discipline that we must cultivate daily. Our selfish sinful nature takes an open-ended question like “Why me?” but only asks it as a means to question God and to count all that we lack in life. But thanksgiving stands as a bulwark against this tendency. Gratitude brings balance to our lives, reminding us to always look for blessings, even when we find ourselves in what we think is a barren wasteland. And as we give thanks, we inevitably come to the realization that we are undeservedly, richly, and bewilderingly blessed."

Thanksgiving: thoughts today, the American holiday

I have followed Bonnie Gray - the Faith Barista - for several years and enjoy her writing, particularly in her book Spiritual Whitespace.

Today she has blessed me with her thoughts on being thankful, which is also published in Relevant magazine.

Here are 10 ways to redefine gratitude.

And it's not just about 'be thankful because it could be worse'. Cold comfort, at times:
"Here are 10 Ways God Redefines Gratitude
I'm thankful ..
1. I can be in need, so I can go on a new journey to find comfort. “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13).
2. I can feel sadness, so I don't have to live separated from my heart. I can cry and feel afraid because God loves all parts of my story. “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book”( Psalm 56:8).
3. I don't have to want suffering, but I can choose to embrace it. Because God doesn't see it as shameful. "Do not be afraid. I have reclaimed you. I have called you by name; you are mine”( Psalm 43:1).
4. I can fall apart, because Jesus carries me when I’ve gone as far as I can go. “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you”( Isaiah 46:4).
5. For God's promises: I’ll never abandon you. I’m never going to leave you. “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in” (Psalm 27:10).
6. I can finally stop to look at my wounds and investigate how they got there.
7. I'm learning to say no in ways I've never dared—to say yes to me and yes to God.
8. I can remember the dreams I've given up, so I can ask God if any can be made new again.
9. I can ask God, "Is it too late?" and still doubt, because God is faithful even when I'm not. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” ( 2 Timothy 2:13).
10. I am finding new friends who understand that both sadness and joy can co-exist, who aren't trying to fix me. Friends who trust that love is greater than any resolution, who can be honest about their own stories.
We can go on because beautiful things can be found among the devastation of letting go. We can be broken and real, because Jesus still chooses you and me.
If God’s brought you on a journey through a season of brokenness, step out to give thanks. Not because you’re strong. Not because everything is picture perfect. But because you are loved."

Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/10-ways-redefine-gratitude#jQcJTHpl6DuZG93U.99

I find this really useful. Struggling with a MAJOR decision - yes, really - I have been waking at night, fearful, and trying to remember to thank God in my fearfulness. Not with a 'cold comfort' idea but because being thankful turns my heart from fear to gratitude.

 And, while thinking of decision making, I noticed another little article on the same page in Relevant entitled "When Risking it All for God Means Staying Where You Are Why 'taking a risk for God' often means opening our eyes to confront the uncomfortable realities right where we are....
...
So how do you know whether taking a risk for God means staying or going? In my experience, it helps to consider a few things:

1. Scripture: Is leaving it all behind detrimental to the things God holds precious—marriage, promises, responsibility, etc? Or is fear ALONE keeping you where you are?

2. History: Did you just take a risk to go somewhere or do something new last week? Are you running away from something or someone?

3. Wise Counsel: What are trusted mentors, teachers, elders, your spouse or best friend saying to you? Has God revealed to them that the risk He wants you to take is to go, or to stay?

4. Peace: Can you have peace where you are or is there peace that comes with making a change? Has God revealed to you any hidden motives? Are you assured that you are already loved and that doing something “risky for God” is not going to make Him love you more?

As I’m reading Scripture, I see countless stories of men and women whose biggest challenge is not stepping out to go and follow God but continuing to follow Him. The biggest risk is often continuing to live in a God-honoring way, day in and day out, when it doesn’t feel like much of an adventure. It seems that many of us are in the same boat—where Jesus might be calling us to step out and walk on water, but He also might want us to just keep paddling.
"

So...step out of the boat: or keep on paddling? That is a very big question indeed.