Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Getting What You Deserve

By Allen White

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Micah 5:2 (NIV) 

God delights in the obscure and the humble. Bethlehem wasn’t the big city. In fact, for Joseph and his family, Bethlehem was a good place to be from. The town was important for Joseph’s ancestral heritage. But, that’s about where Bethlehem’s importance ended for them.

Lowly Bethlehem was much like its most famous resident: King David (Luke 2:4). When Samuel, the prophet, approached Jesse’s family to anoint the new king of Israel, Jesse lined up all of his sons. Well, almost all of them. Jesse presented the top seven of his sons anyway, but “Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has not chosen these.’” (1 Samuel 16:10).

“So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’

“‘There is still the youngest, Jesse answered, "but he is tending the sheep’" (1 Samuel 16:11).
David wasn’t his father’s choice for king. In fact, David wasn’t even considered a possibility in his father’s mind. David was tending the sheep. Yet, this humble shepherd became the king of Israel and the great, great, great, great…grandfather of the King of kings.

Jesus was born in humble circumstances. Not only was his birthplace in a small town, he was born in a stable in a small town. Jesus was born into a working class family that didn’t have a lot of money. We don’t even know that Jesus received a formal education. From a worldly point of view, Jesus really wasn’t set up for success. These were humble circumstances for the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

God’s power doesn’t need a “leg up” from our social standing, education, wealth or pride. In fact, God’s power is clearly demonstrated in weakness, not in high stature. When we see God use a person who we might not expect Him to use, then we can see God’s hand very clearly. When we humbly submit ourselves to Him, and He allows opportunities or gives insights into situations we wouldn’t have on our own, we know that God is working in us.

How is your heart inclined today? Are you working hard to promote yourself or to humble yourself? A clear indicator is what you feel that you deserve right now. The less deserving we feel, the more humble we are becoming.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Choosing Between Salvation and Anger

By Allen White

Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.
For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3, 9-11(NLT)

Our oldest son tried to come seven weeks early. In fact, we were at our annual small group retreat in Pacific Grove, California. My wife was completely miserable all weekend. This was our first pregnancy. She still had nearly two months to go. I felt for her discomfort, but we didn’t expect an arrival any time soon. Thankfully, with good doctors, we delayed the arrival for a couple more weeks.

God is with us, yes, but Jesus is also returning for us. What started with His birth will culminate with His return. But, even that will be just the beginning, if you will, of eternity.

According to this passage, God made a choice between salvation and anger. Salvation won out. He chose to save us through His Son and to one day collect us from this planet. What we face on this earth won’t last forever. Even by virtue of the fact that this earth won’t last forever.

In light of this, Paul directs us to “encourage each other and build each other up.” What we have is not all that there is. There is far more beyond this life.

Who do you need to encourage today?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

When Obedience to God Doesn't Make Sense

By Allen White

As [Joseph] considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
Matthew 1:20-24 (NLT) 

Put yourself in Joseph’s situation. The woman, girl really, who he is betrothed to has become pregnant. This isn’t just his girlfriend or fiancĂ©. Betrothal was equivalent to a marriage relationship in the year prior to marriage. This was a binding, permanent commitment. This was also an abstinent relationship. Now, she is pregnant, and he knows the baby is not his.

Imagine the public humiliation. Imagine the pressure from his family. Imagine the pressure from Almighty God. What was going on in Joseph’s mind? We don’t know. Joseph’s words were never recorded in Scripture. But, we do know what he did.

“When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.” It was as simple as that in a complicated situation. Joseph recognized that something greater was at work here.

In fact, once again, we read the Lord’s words through the prophet Isaiah that were spoken to Ahaz, “The virgin will conceive a child!”

Joseph found himself obeying God and entering the center of a potential scandal. Why? It was God’s will for him.

Have you found yourself in a complicated situation? Have you faced a circumstance that you never asked for or even caused? It’s easy to relegate the problems of life into the category of “not God’s will.” But, God never promised that everything would always go well for us. He did, however, promise “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5; cf. Deut. 31:6, 8).

God is with you. He hasn’t abandoned you. Where do you need to recognize His presence today?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Who's Beyond God's Help?

By Allen White

Later, the Lord sent this message to King Ahaz: “Ask the Lord your God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want—as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead.”
But the king refused. “No,” he said, “I will not test the Lord like that.”
Then Isaiah said, “Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
Isaiah 7:10-14 (NLT)

What if God made this offer to you? What would you ask God to show you? Think about it. This would be a golden opportunity to relieve any doubt and maybe even convince others.

Why do you think Ahaz didn’t want a sign from God? Others, like Gideon, had tested God and received a sign. God made the offer to Ahaz, yet Ahaz didn’t want it. Why?

In 2 Chronicles 28, Ahaz was punished because “he had encouraged his people to sin and had been utterly unfaithful to the Lord” (2 Chronicles 28:19). The truth of God conflicted with Ahaz’s beliefs and practices. If God gave Ahaz incontrovertible evidence, then Ahaz would have to deal with what he had chosen to ignore.

What did God do? God gave Ahaz a sign anyway. This sign, in fact, was a double prophecy. A child was born in the royal family as a sign to Ahaz during his lifetime (Isaiah 8:3-4), and of course, the more significant fulfillment was in the birth of Jesus. Despite Ahaz’s wickedness, God didn’t give up on Ahaz. And, despite our wickedness, God doesn’t give up on us. He sent Immanuel, “God with us.”

No matter who you are. No matter what you have ever done. As long as there is breath in your body, God wants you to let Him love you.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Gift of an Understanding Friend

By Allen White

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
 Luke 1:34-38 (NLT)

The angel announced to Mary that she had “found favor with God.” I’m not sure that Mary at this point thought that God was doing her any favors. This is an interesting phrase that we read again in Luke 2:52 referring to Jesus “finding favor with God and all the people.” The word favor, if you remember from the Living a Balanced Life study, is rooted in the word for “grace.” This may simply imply that she was in God’s good graces. But, I see something more.

God had chosen Mary for a mission that in all practical ways would wreck the course of her life. Her reputation, her betrothal to Joseph, and her future were at stake here. But, Mary had God’s favor. His grace helped her to accept this mission.

Mary’s biggest fear was rejection. Who would understand this circumstance? A young, pregnant, unmarried virgin – who would accept such a tale? God, in His grace, provided a companion to Mary in Elizabeth, who also received a miraculous pregnancy. Though not an immaculate one, it was certainly explainable apart from God. While everyone else might have regarded Mary with suspicion, Elizabeth could relate to the fact that “nothing is impossible with God.”

What rare experiences have you had? More likely than not there is someone who needs you to walk alongside them. That person needs your understanding. Even the painful or embarrassing parts of our lives can be used to comfort another. Ask God who you can serve, then pay attention to who crosses your path.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Power of Christmas

And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He will delight in obeying the Lord. He will not judge by appearance nor make a decision based on hearsay. He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited. Isaiah 11:2-4 (NLT)

Here we catch a glimpse of the Savior’s coming nearly 2000 years ago and His soon return. Isaiah saw the whole thing all at once. We haven’t seen leopards napping with baby goats or lions sharing a meal of hay with cows. That day is yet to come.

Jesus ushered in the start of this new era. We still experience it today. Jesus showed us a new way to be human. He showed us what it means to have a life empowered by the Spirit.

Isaiah prophesied that “the Spirit of the Lord would rest upon Him.” Doesn’t it seem unusual that the “second” member of the Trinity would need to depend on the “third”? Jesus is fully God and fully man. Why would the Almighty Son of God who created the Universe need to depend on Someone else to do His work? Because He came to save us and to show us the life that God intended for His followers to live. A life empowered.

We read in Philippians 2 that Jesus humbled Himself in order to fulfill His mission on the earth. He didn’t act on His own. He only did the things that He saw the Father doing. And, He performed these acts through the power of the Spirit. Then, Jesus tells His disciples, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen” Matthew 21:21 (NLT).

What do you need to trust God for today? Maybe you have been exhausting yourself over solving a problem. Have you asked God what He can do? Are you facing a great challenge or a great adventure (or a great challenge leading to a great adventure?) Ask God what adventure He has in store for you.