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.”


Elizabeth’s Blessing

I often think of Elizabeth during the Christmas Season. As the mother of John the Baptist, she takes a backseat to Mary. I don’t believe that position bothered her at all. Like his mother, John the Baptist did the same for Jesus. Each were a confirmation and preparation for Christ, our Lord; and John the Baptist and Elizabeth played their parts well.

Can you imagine when Zechariah came home from the temple that day. Oh the thoughts that must have entered Elizabeth’s mind? Probably, the story of Abraham and Sarah flowed through her heart. Scripture tells us, “Abraham fell face down; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?'” Elizabeth did not doubt the possibility because she knew of God’s miracle in Isaac, the son of Sarah and Abraham. She knew what God had done before, and she willingly accepted the miracle.

Luke 1:23-25 says, “When his time of service was completed, he (Zachariah) returned home. After this, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days He has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.'”

It is God’s love “in action” which enabled Elizabeth to believe. She had suffered disgrace and ridicule because she was unable to give Zachariah a child. I don’t know, but I can imagine, Zachariah’s family criticized him for even keeping her as a wife. A man’s family name was extremely important. His lineage would not stand because of this barren woman. And the women of the village, the emptiness Elizabeth must have felt as they carried water with a baby on one hip, toddlers behind them, and Elizabeth worked alone. Nothing to show. No visible signs of her womanhood.

But when she realized the news, she saw it for what it was. A blessing from the Lord. A visible, outward expression of the Lord’s love for her. Elizabeth could have spent time guarding her heart, protesting the pain of an empty nest for so long. No one would have condemned her for such. The lines on her face, the gray in her hair, the lost time, all gave her a right to feel rejected; yet, she rejoiced.

How many of us do not realize the blessing because we are so caught up in the pain of the past?

It is obvious why God gave the fulfillment of Elijah’s Old Testament prophecy to Elizabeth, a woman of grace and faith, to raise the man who would prepare the way of the Lord.

Recognizing God’s favor in our lives is an outward expression of His love and our faith. Today, we need to do some counting – of our blessings – that is. And like Elizabeth, we need to express gratefully, ‘He has shown His favor.'”

The Start of Christmas

I remember as a boy receiving the Sears Roebuck catalog in the mail.  The thicker it was, the more excited we all became. The arrival of the catalog for me marked the starting of the Christmas season. I loved sitting on the sofa with pencil in hand and flipping through the pages. “I want this…oh! I want that… Wow! Look at this… look at that…” My sister and I used to fight over whose turn it was to gaze upon the many items and wish and dream of the possibilities.

Sometimes, our prayer life can be the same. It’s like we are giving God a check list of catalog items to make our lives better. “God, I need this. Its found on page 920 of the Sears Roebuck catalog.” Some of you may not even know what the Sears Roebuck catalog is! It was the “booster chair” of the 60’s when you visited grandma’s and couldn’t reach the table.

Prayer is not intended for a litany of desires. Prayer is intended to communicate with God; to get to know God better and learn His ways; and to change us inside to out. Most answers to prayer actually start with a change in us. Either God changes the way we see our situation or He changes our direction or He changes our circumstance.

Prayer is a means to praise and thank God for all that He is allowing us to use of His. The house you live in – His; the car you drive – His; the clothes you wear – His; the money in your pocket – His. It is all on loan to us. Shouldn’t we thank Him repeatedly for the use of it? Think about it, if you didn’t have a car to drive, and your neighbor said, “Drive my car,” not only would you be grateful, you’d probably take extremely good care of it, and thank your neighbor regularly for its use.

Prayer gives us redemption. We go to God to renew ourselves. We seek forgiveness for the mistakes we make. We ask for guidance and direction to prevent us from committing the same error again. Prayer keeps us “right” with God.

As you pray today, consider what you are asking of God. Is He like Santa Claus to you? Or are your prayers an instrument to allow God to change YOU so that God can change the circumstances around you. He is looking for willingness, faithfulness, and obedience. Will His eyes fall upon you?

Mary’s Prayer

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.”

Join us December 4th at The Torch!

Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

I was probably ten the first time I heard Handel’s Messiah, at least that is when I remember it. I was visiting a friend’s church and his dad promised to take us out for pizza after the concert. There are few works to compare to the spiritual power resonated by Messiah. Even for a ten year old boy, the overwhelming feeling when the Hallelujah Chorus begins is indescribable.

On the way to the local pizza restaurant, my friend’s dad asked us how we liked the performance. He told us about the man who had written Handel’s Messiah and then he asked us what we thought it must have been like to be the shepherds, when a host of Heavenly voices sang to them.

The other day Connie and I were doing some Christmas shopping. As I walked around the mall with her, I thought about what it would be like to hear angels sing. I wondered if they practiced in Heaven. I can almost imagine the announcements, “Choir practice today in the east cloud room! Please bring your Handel’s Messiah book.”

One day we will hear the choir of angels singing but until then, we have the next best thing. I want to encourage you to take your children to Christmas concerts. Make it a family affair. Our local churches have many Christmas cantatas advertised. Take a friend or your spouse to enjoy the music of Christmas. Play Christmas songs in your car and home. Enjoy the music of the season. This Sunday at The Torch, we will have at our 9:30am and 11:15am services a Christmas Production. I hope you will join us.

One of the families’ in our church makes it a rule to only listen to Christmas music from Thanksgiving until after Christmas. Whatever you choose to do to celebrate the season, make sure you take time to hear the sounds of Christmas.

And December Begins…

Luke 1:5-7 reads, “5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.”

While the story of Jesus’ birth actually begins at the creation of the world, fast forward with me to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah was 1 of 7000 priests in Israel. The job of the priest was to serve the temple twice a year, and by casting of lots, on this particular day, Zechariah was chosen to do the job. Only the priests were allowed in the inner chamber of the temple, the Holy Place, to burn incense on behalf of the people in Jerusalem.

For years, Zechariah had prayed for a child; however, his wife Elizabeth remained barren. After Elizabeth reach an age beyond childbearing years, Zechariah must have been desperately discouraged.

How long have you prayed for something you desire? Something that is terribly important for you? Maybe it is a child, yet month-after-month, there isn’t one. Maybe it is a spouse, yet you can’t seem to meet the right one. Maybe it is for healing, yet visit-after-visit to the doctor reveals your miracle hasn’t come. Maybe it is for the salvation of a loved one, yet day-after-day you watch and nothing. Have your prayers seemingly fallen on deaf ears?

As Zechariah entered the Holy Place to light the incense, the angel of the Lord appeared before him standing at the right side of the altar of incense. “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.’

Can you imagine his delight? His surprise? And yet, when Zechariah hears the news, he actually argues with the angel. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Some of you might read his words and think, “What a nut! This angel is standing right in front of him! How could he doubt?” But some of us understand. There are times in our lives when we desperately long for something. We hope for it; pray for it; believe for it; and the disappointment, the heartache, the anguish overpowers our heart to the point that we just can’t allow ourselves to hurt again. We can’t allow ourselves to believe.

Zechariah is no different from you and me. It really didn’t matter if the angel was standing right in front of him. His human nature forced him to protect his heart from the pain of possible rejection and disappointment yet again. I’ve been there. Some of you have as well.

Doubt, fear, anxiety, and disappointment can be crippling. God wants us to know, His plan is better. He wants us to believe our answer is on the way!

Today, take your desires to Him. Believe in His ability to deliver you in His way, His time, and with His plan.

Clean Slate

1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

One of the toughest concepts to accept is the reality of the forgiveness of God. There was a time in my life when I wondered if God could forgive me. I spent a great time feeling sorry for myself and my stupidity. But, even when we have made a serious mistake; even when we have hurt someone; even when we have lied; even when we have betrayed; we have a new beginning – a “do over.” in Christ.

When the kids were little and would act up, Connie gave them a chance to “do over” what they messed up. Sometimes I wish I could hit the rewind button and rephrase my words or redirect my actions. With Christ, we get a fresh start, a clean slate. He keeps no record of wrong. When we come before Him, asking for forgiveness, no matter how bad we messed up, Christ redeems us. He wipes the slate clean.

Some of you may have sin in your life that you have not confessed to God.  Maybe you think it is too awful; maybe you are too ashamed to admit it; maybe you don’t want to face God. Today, go to Him in prayer so that you can begin fresh and new today. Ask Him to cleanse you of your sin. Thank Him that you can be forgiven. Then, with your fresh start, leave the sin behind you and move forward a new and better person.