Fruits from sufferings

Luke 2:6 tells us, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Corrie Ten Boom is the author of The Hiding Place and survivor of Ravensbruck concentration camp where over 90,000 women and children died at the hands of the Nazis. She and her sister Betsy lived there for a period of time. It was classified as the worst prison camp in all of Germany. A prayer found in the pocket of a dead child from Corrie’s prison area read:

“O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.”

Corrie and Betsy lived in an area infested by fleas. Corrie writes that one day she and Betsy were studying 1 Thessalonians and were reminded “to be thankful in all things, to pray constantly, and  rejoice in all things.” When Corrie insisted to her sister that she would not be thankful for the fleas, Betsy persisted. Corrie eventually agreed to rejoice for even the fleas. Months later Corrie learned the reason the soldiers did not bother them or harm them was because the soldiers were afraid of the fleas. She writes:

“During the months spent at that camp, we were surprised to find how openly we could hold Bible study and prayer meetings in our barrack without guard interference. Several months later we learned that the guards would not enter the barracks because of the fleas.”

Have you ever wondered why Jesus was born in such a lowly state? If He had come as He deserved, could He have influenced so many lives? Could He have professed “I am the Savior of everyone, not just the Jews and not just the wealthy. I have come to save the world!” Wouldn’t His birth have been more apparent to Herod and those who wanted to harm Him if he had been born into royalty?

Sometimes the discomforts of our lives are unwanted and undesirable by us. But just like the fleas, we must realize that even in suffering, God can turn it and use it for good. I have never given birth, but I have been there with my wife. Even in the most luxurious of places, it is no easy task for a woman. Imagine Mary, a young girl, giving birth in a stable with livestock and no one familiar to her but Joseph. But while they were there, our Savior was born.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”


What God has entrusted to you

Luke 1: 76, from Zechariah’s Song, “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.”

Don’t you know Zechariah was proud the day his son, John, was born? He and Elizabeth probably spent hours staring at the bundle of joy envisioning his life. God had such plans for their John! He would be a man of honor walking before the King of kings! He was to be a man robed in glory, preparing the way for the Savior of the world. As Elizabeth pulled John to her breast to nurse, I can imagine her thoughts for this little boy. She may have seen him living with riches in fine clothing, mingling among important people; yet, their vision for John and God’s were quite different.

Perhaps one reason John grew up simply in the desert was to avoid being tortured or killed by Herod. Whatever the reason, he grew up apart from his father, Zechariah. Finally, he died a criminal’s death. The daughter of Herod requested the head of John the Baptist as a gift when John was only 30 years old.

We all have dreams for our children but very few include a sacrificial life such as John’s. Sometimes the plans we have for our children are not the plans God has for them. We want good things, safe things, financially stable things, prosperous things for our kids; yet, God may need to use them in a different way. Perhaps you, like me, find that a tough pill to swallow.

What Mary and Elizabeth knew, many of us must realize.  Their boys were the property of God, given to them for a season so that they could care for and raise these boys until such time as God used them to fulfill His purpose. That is how Mary could stand at the cross as her son was tortured. That is how Elizabeth could interrupt proper family order and raise John in the desert. Their sacrifice and love for the boys God entrusted to them is the example we must follow in raising our children.

Consider today the lives of children around you. Whether you are their parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, relative, or Sunday school teacher, how are you helping raise them? All of us are responsible for the children of God. Find ways that you can be a role model for the children He has entrusted to your care.  Choose to be a steward of each child you are given the opportunity to influence.


Totally dependent

Time spent with Elizabeth strengthened Mary. In Luke 1:46-56 we learn that Mary stayed with her relative Elizabeth for three months before returning to her home to face Joseph, her family, and her community pregnant. In “her song,’ as the writer Luke presents it, Mary declares to her Lord, “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…”

Have you ever been in a humble state as Mary? Totally dependent on the Lord for every step? Unaware of what the future holds, but knowing full reliance is on Him?

What happens as Mary visits with Elizabeth?  She is fed spiritually and rejuvenated for what is to come. God knows how to give us the strength we need to overcome, but we have to put our faith in Him.

There is a movie from 1978 about a skater who leaves her home town and the people she knows to train for the Olympics. She becomes so lost in “the big time” that she changes who she is, suffers a horrific accident, and finds herself blind from a head injury. Back at home, brutally discouraged and defeated, she lays in the bed day-after-day longing for the past. An old friend and former hockey player teaches her to skate again. The final scene of the movie is a triumphant, perfect skate at the Nationals Competition. What moves me about the movie is when she is skating no one knows she is blind until the end when she falls on the flowers that are thrown at her feet.

Sometimes situations leave us frightened and seemingly alone. Yet, God calls us to be over-comers. He wants us to build our strength in Him and in the people who truly love us.  He wants us to rebuild and come back fighting for Him. Mary could  have stayed with Elizabeth until the baby was born. She probably could have stayed with Elizabeth and raised the child hidden from controversy and anguish. But God equipped her to fulfill the life of Jesus His way.

Gather your strength in the Word of our Lord and in people you can trust. Believe in His ability to move you forward with His plan. Remove the doubt, fear, and anxiety by speaking His Words of assurance. Overcome that which holds you back.


The Mother of my Lord

Luke 1:39-43 reads, “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!'”

Elizabeth must have been a welcomed sight for Mary. Someone who understood. Someone who did not have doubt in their eyes. Someone who approved of her. I can almost feel the release in Mary’s body and mind as Elizabeth shouts out this welcome to her and the approval she extended to Mary in her pregnancy.

I do not know with certainty who accepted Mary in her community and family and who did not. The Bible does not go into detail because it wasn’t important to God. He protected and provided coverage for Mary. He didn’t need the approval of those around her. She was overshadowed by Him. The opinion of others was irrelevant to the Creator of the Universe coming to earth in human form. I can imagine the glares from other women though and the looks of disgust from men. The doubt in her parent’s eyes probably tore at her soul; and yet, she remained consistent in her faith.

I do smile at her visit to Elizabeth. The angel had told her about Elizabeth, her relative becoming pregnant in her old age. Maybe Mary needed a boost; a shot of proof; reassurance; a spiritual lift. Elizabeth’s recognition of Mary’s pregnancy and the movement of John must have made Mary smile.

Where are we in all this? How often are we a support to people who are moving for God? How often do we shake our heads in disbelief at the prospects of someone’s desire to please God because we doubt his or her abilities to do it?

We need to be Elizabeth’s in God’s Kingdom – motivators, encouragers, and believers. I often consider where I would be if I were Mary’s neighbor or maybe Joseph’s childhood buddy. Would I have supported them or turned my head? Would I have included Joseph in my circle of friends or criticized him for being a honorless man?

Today, take time to stimulate spiritually and enhearten others who are doing God’s work. Maybe she runs the local soup kitchen. Maybe he is the children’s choir director. Maybe it is your minister or a missionary or a Bible study leader. Connect with the people in your life who are striving to carry God’s word to others.

Be an Elizabeth to someone you know today.


It is well with my soul

Luke 1:38 reads, “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered, ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.”

What impossibility are you facing today? The Christmas season can be joyful but it can also be stressful. The gifts, the parties, the demands, the absence of loved ones, the emotional turmoil of divided families can cause us to want to stay in bed and pull the covers over our heads. For some of us, every day of December is a challenge. How do we put one foot in front of the other? For many of us, December is overwhelmingly fun and exciting but meeting the time restraints of a busy schedule can tax our spirits. Which are you?

What impossibilities lurk in your future? By human nature we mistrust; we doubt; we insist on control; we rarely jump without a security net. In the Christian faith, we learn to pray, “Thy will be done.” But do we mean it?

Mary didn’t have “the rest of the story,” as the infamous Paul Harvey used to conclude his radio address. And neither do we. How can we learn to respond to God as Mary? How can we learn to say, “…as you have said.”?

Have you ever heard of The Spafford Children’s Center? It is an organization that cares for thousands of children in East Jerusalem and the West Bank by providing for medical needs, good nutrition, educational needs, and therapy. In an area of upheaval and conflict, help is given to anyone in need, regardless of race, religion or cultural background. The Center is unusual because its staff consists of different faiths working together for a common cause – “the benefit of deprived and sick children.” Founded by the daughter of Anna and Horatio Spafford and now run by their granddaughter, the Center thrives today because of a man’s reliance on God’s vision for his life.

Horatio Spafford is the author of the beautiful hymn It is Well with My Soul, written as he came upon the area in the Atlantic Ocean where his four daughters drowned on a ship traveling to Europe with their mom, Anna.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

He had lost his only son at the age of four, two years prior to his daughters’ deaths; the great Chicago Fire had destroyed him financially. He sent his family ahead of him by ship to Europe hoping to start their lives over. The ship sank, and his wife was the sole survivor. Her chilling words by telegraph to him read, “Saved alone…”

Afterwards, the Spafford’s had three more children. One died in infancy in 1881, a son. Horatio and Anna moved to Jerusalem with their daughters Bertha and Grace and founded an organization called the American Colony. The purpose was to help the poor. Today, The Spafford Children’s Center replaces the American Colony.

So what is my point? In the midst of tragedy, Horatio Spafford looked up to God and said, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.” Over 2000 years ago, Mary stood before the angel Gabriel and proclaimed to God, “May it be to me as you have said.”

How precious those words must be to God who wants an abundant life for us.  All we must do is trust His plan. Make Mary’s prayer your daily stance with God. Proclaim to Him your reliance and joy in being His servant.

“…as you have said, Oh God, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”


Why would God want to use me?

Luke 1:34 tells us Mary’s response to the angel when she is told she will carry the Son of God, “‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?'”

Doubt, a tinge of hesitation, apprehension, suspicion, and mistrust, can cripple us if we allow it. “I can’t pass this test.” “They would never accept me as a friend.” “I could never be elected.” “They’ll never hire me.” “Why would God want to use me!”

We all do it. We all experience doubt. Often, when I read the words, “Do not fear…” in the scriptures, I replace the word fear and substitute the word doubt.

Really, when Mary questions the angel, she is asking, “Do I qualify?”

Doubt makes us believe we are unqualified to do what God is asking us to do. We tell ourselves we could never go on a mission trip to a third world country – we aren’t qualified. We could never go back to school and earn a degree – we aren’t smart enough. We could never tithe 10% of our income – we can’t pay the bills as it is. On and on, doubt, doubt, doubt…

In Luke 1:30 the angel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” Let’s change the words for the sake of perspective, “Do not doubt, Mary, you have found favor with God.”

It isn’t so much at times being nail-biting afraid as it is a lack of confidence that we are capable. But if we aren’t able to do it, why would God ask us? Moses worried that he couldn’t measure up because he stuttered. Gideon felt he was the least of the tribes. He didn’t qualify for battle! Abraham questioned God because he was an old man. Zechariah questioned Him as well. Realizing the incredible impact these people made for God, I wonder, how could they worry about qualifying? The fact that they did lets us know they are just like you and me.

Do not doubt, Mary, you have found favor with God.”

Remember Isaiah 66:9, “‘Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?’ says the Lord. ‘Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?’ says your God.” 

Our Father asks us with confidence. We need to answer with confidence as well.


For nothing is impossible with God

Luke 1:35-37, “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.'”

Several years ago, I walked into a hospital room to hear the news that my son David would not be able to play college baseball. The doctor, a renown shoulder specialist, gave no options. His athletic career was over.

It wasn’t the first time. It’s happened to me before. As a pastor, I’ve heard many announcements over the years. Announcements that come with no options. I’ve held the hand of a grieving mother when the police officer delivers the news that her child has been killed.

I’ve heard announcements like :

“You are no longer needed for this job.”

“The cancer is inoperable.”

“We were finally having a baby!”

“Your home is destroyed by fire.”

“My son is leaving for Afghanistan.”

“I’m getting married.”

Announcements come to us in many ways, but none in such a way as Mary. There wasn’t a diagram. No explanation as to how God would impregnate her. No details of the road ahead. Simply, you will be overshadowed

As for me, I like options. At any given time, I usually have a Plan A and a Plan B. Sometimes I add a Plan C. If it rains, we will take the concert inside. If the parking lot is too full, we will park across the street. If the kids don’t come home for Christmas, we’ll take a cruise. I also like questions that I can answer. “Mike, are you good with this decision?” “Mike, what do you want to do?”

But not for Mary.

Gabriel didn’t ask her how she felt about becoming a mother. He didn’t ask how Joseph would take the news. He didn’t even offer to chat with her folks about it and smooth things over.

Most of the time, life’s announcements leave little room for explanation or options. It is these times in life that we must believe God will overshadow us.

Psalm 36:7, “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

Isaiah 49:2, “He made my mouth like a sharp sword, and in the shadow of His hand, He hid me…”

Psalm 57:1, “And in the shadow of your wings, I will take refuge.”

Psalm 91:4, “And under his wings you may seek refuge. His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.”

Time after time, God reminds us of His shadow of protection; yet, when the announcements come, how many of us run for the refuge, the shadow, the protection God offers freely?

No matter what you face today, God will protect you. He only asks that we step into the shadow of His protection.

For nothing is impossible with God.”

 


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