Advent: Unlikely Messengers

Bethlehem isn’t far at all from Jerusalem if you measure the distance in miles.

But it was a world apart if you measure the difference in circumstance.

Like our world today, there was a huge gap between the richest of the rich (King Herod and his cronies, the religious elite) and the poorest of the poor (Mary, Joseph, shepherds and others like them).

Hearts full to overflowing with pride, self-reliance, love of power and money can’t find room for a message that suggests they might need saving.

Empty hearts, hopeless hearts, worn, weary and desperate hearts are hungry to hear that help is on the way.

Maybe that’s why God sent a most spectacular birth announcement to shepherds who were considered the lowest of the low.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

Luke 2:8-18 NIV

If you do a little digging you will discover that large flocks were kept in Bethlehem to facilitate worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Since many of the faithful came from quite a distance, instead of bringing a sacrifice they would purchase a suitable animal once they made the trek.

But shepherds rarely got to mix and mingle at the Temple because they were stinky and dirty. It was tough to try to clean up without running water and washing machines. They smelled of sheep, goats and smoke. Not a welcome addition to worshiping crowds.

Yet God deemed these lowly, (probably) uneducated folks worthy of the most spectacular display of His approval and the dawn of a new age of grace. The outcasts became the “in” crowd.

The first messengers of the Good News weren’t priests or royalty, they were regular people.

I know many days I wonder if plodding along in my everyday duties makes a whit of difference in the world. I tire of routine and repeated, ordinary tasks.

But in the Kingdom there is no such thing as meaningless work or unrewarded obedience.

The shepherds were perfectly positioned to receive God’s message and to deliver it to a waiting world.

God has placed me right here right now for His purposes.

I’m not responsible for results.

I’m only responsible for waiting patiently for His direction.

QUESTIONS:

  • When you’ve heard the Christmas story over and over it’s easy to miss historical context and the significance of certain details. But Luke specifically set out to give an account of the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that revealed His deity and God’s purposes. Have you ever thought about how odd it was that shepherds got such special attention and treatment from Almighty God?
  • The shepherds apparently discussed what they had seen and heard among themselves. Can you imagine what that sounded like? Do you think you would have second guessed the experience if you had been there? Why or why not?
  • Once they saw the Baby they could not contain themselves. Do you remember the joy of salvation when (perhaps) you were compelled to tell everyone the Good News of Jesus? Have you lost that urgency? If you have, how might you regain it?
  • People were amazed at the shepherds’ message. I imagine it was partly due to the nature of the story and partly due to the ones who were telling it. Have you ever experienced a time when you were certain the message was from God but the messenger didn’t fit your idea of what he or she should look like? Did you dismiss the message or look past your preconceived notions?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You are no respecter of persons. All are in need of your mercy and grace. You reach out and reach down and reach across divides and prejudices and preconceived notions of who should be “in” and who should be “out”.

Salvation is available to every single heart who chooses to believe in the finished work of Christ. Sometimes I can draw circles around who I think is deserving and who is not. When people don’t look like me, talk like me or think like me I can look down my nose at them and expect You to do the same.

Rescue me from the prison of prejudice!

It’s the worn out and weary who long for a Savior. It’s the breathless and broken who need fresh wind and healing hope.

Thank You for opening my eyes to the truth of the Good News. Help me hold onto the joy of my salvation. May I feel the same urgency as those shepherds long ago to run first to Jesus and then to share Him with everyone I meet.

Amen

Bereaved Parents Month 2020: Is God Punishing Me?


I’ve heard it from more than one bereaved parent.  

I’ve thought it myself.  

“Is God punishing me?”  

Have I done something so terrible that it falls outside the grace and mercy of the God Who sent His Son and so I must pay for it with my own child?

Read the rest here: Is God Punishing Me?

Repost: Suicide and Child Loss-Christ’s Blood is Sufficient

I have always, always felt a special duty to tread lightly with respect to those parents in particular.  I want to honor them and never suggest I speak for them.  I’ve started and discarded at least a dozen posts on child loss and suicide.

So when a mom who lost a child to suicide shared this in one of our closed groups, I messaged her and asked permission to publish her comment here. 

So here are HER words, precisely as she shared them:  

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/04/29/suicide-and-child-loss-christs-blood-is-sufficient/

Repost: Love The Broken


I definitely don’t have a solo quality voice.

I can carry a tune but it’s best carried mixed in with others in a choir so the occasional missed note is barely noticeable. 

But if I was granted the ability to belt out a single song and have it broadcast far and wide, this would be it:  “Love the Broken”.

Not, “Love the Lovely” or “Love the Sexy” or even “Love the One Who Loves You Back”.

Nope. 

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/09/08/if-i-could-sing-one-song-this-would-be-it-love-the-broken/

Scripture Journal Challenge: Unshaken and Unshakeable

If there is one phrase that describes child loss it’s this: Utter destruction.

When that deputy showed up at my door and the words he spoke sank into my brain, my world imploded and exploded at the same time.

There was nothing left that made sense except the hands of the two children who happened to be home that night.

I held on for all I was worth because I was certain if I let go I’d float away into nothingness like an astronaut whose spacesuit tether is cut in two.

Living this side of 2000 plus years of Christianity, it’s easy to forget that Paul probably felt much the same way when the religion he had embraced, had vigorously defended (to the point of putting “heretics” to death) and had trusted to frame his life and understanding of the world was swept away on the Damascus road.

Not only did he endure three days of blindness, he endured three years in the desert as the Lord helped him connect the dots between what the Scriptures (remember-there was no New Testament yet) said and what He was doing in the world through Jesus, His Son.

Then as he took this Gospel-the Good News- to others, he was subjected to prison, beatings and more. Often he despaired even of life ( 2 Corinthians 1:8).

Yet Paul kept on going. He clung to the promises of God that no matter how much he suffered, the comfort of Christ was enough to help his heart hold onto hope.

All praise goes to God, Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. He is the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort. He consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles. For even as His suffering continues to flood over us, through the Anointed we experience the wealth of His comfort just the same. If we are afflicted with such trouble and pain, then know it is so that you might ultimately experience comfort and salvation. If we experience comfort, it is to encourage you so that you can hold up while you endure the same sufferings we all share. Remember that our hope for you stands firm, unshaken and unshakable. That’s because we know that as you share in our sufferings, so you will also share in our comfort. 

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 VOICE

Paul doesn’t simply receive the comfort God offers and hoard it. He doesn’t pile it up in a corner and keep it to himself. No! He declares that the comfort he receives is meant for sharing!

A pastor friend says, “Your misery is your ministry.”

I think he’s right.

Child loss has been my greatest challenge, my deepest pain and my most profound misery.

But is has also been the very place God has met me with the greatest comfort, the deepest compassion and the most profound revelation of Who He is.

So it is with suffering; it never leaves you the same. You run into the traps of temptation that greet every sufferer and are left with a cruel harvest in your heart and relationships, or you run toward the comforts of grace, which shine most brightly in the darkness of suffering, and reap a harvest of blessing. Yes, you may continue to suffer, or its effects may remain, but you now live with a changed heart, a sturdier faith, and a joy that suffering cannot take away.

Paul David Tripp, Suffering

The comfort I have received is now mine to give to others.

In spite of everything I’ve endured, my hope remains unshaken and unshakeable.

QUESTIONS:

  • What specific comfort have you received that you could share with others?
  • Is God placing people in your path who need that comfort?
  • How might you do that? Where can you share your story?
  • If you are already sharing, do you edit yourself so that the hard places don’t seem so hard? Why or why not?
  • Are you afraid to share the darkness you felt/feel because you think it undermines God’s reputation?

PRAYER:

Father God, open the eyes of my heart so that even in the darkest place, the most desolate path, I see Your light and feel Your Presence.

You don’t ask me to deny pain or to pretend that things are “just fine” when they aren’t. You only ask that I bring all my broken bits and heartache to You. When I choose to do that, You are faithful to minister love, grace, mercy and comfort to my spirit and renew my strength.

Help me hold onto hope. Help me to lean into love. Teach me to trust Your truth even when it’s hard.

Take my life and turn it into a testimony of Your faithfulness. Make my misery a ministry to others. Give me beauty for ashes.

Amen

Repost: My Cup Overflows

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

~Psalm 23:5b

I remember standing in our field with my husband at sundown one day, thankfulness and grace and mercy and wonder flooding my heart-and I whispered, “surely my cup overflows!”

Surely, God’s hand is in this, is on our lives-He has brought us to this place of blessing.

And that’s how I used to always think of that verse-the cup overflowing with goodness and blessing.

But what about when the cup overflows with sorrow?  

Read the rest here:  My Cup Overflows

HOLY WEEK 2019: Resurrection, Reality and Reassurance

“The worst conceivable thing has happened, and it has been mended…All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” ~Julian of Norwich

I’m not sure when I first read this quote, but it came to my mind that awful morning.   And I played it over and over in my head, reassuring my broken heart that indeed, the worst had already happened, and been mended.

Death had died.

Christ was risen-the firstfruits of many brethren.

Read the rest here:  Resurrection: Reality and Reassurance

HOLY WEEK 2019: Living Between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection

It is tempting to forget that there were three long days and nights between the crucifixion and the resurrection beause the way we observe this season rushes us past the pain to embrace the promise.

But it’s not hard for me to imagine how the disciples felt when they saw Jesus was dead.  It was neither what they expected nor what they prayed for.

There were many points in the story when things could have gone a different way:

  • When taken by the religious leaders-surely, they thought, He will explain Himself, they will let Him go.
  • When taken before Pilate-Rome will refuse to get involved with our spiritual squabbles, Pilate won’t authorize His death.
  • When presented to the crowd-no Jew would rather have a wicked murderer released instead of a humble, healing Rabbi.

At every turn, every expectation they had for a “happy ending” was dashed to the ground.

Read the rest here:  Living Between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection

HOLY WEEK 2019: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

“On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.
On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.” It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.”

~C.S. Lewis,  Miracles

Bury a child and suddenly the death of Christ becomes oh, so personal. The image of Mary at the foot of the cross is too hard to bear.

Read the rest here:  Remember: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

Holy Week 2019: Maundy Thursday

Today is the day on the church calendar when we pause and reflect on the Last Supper, and the last words of Jesus to His disciples.

A year’s worth of sermons is contained in John 13-17 but this week I have been drawn to just one verse:

[Jesus said] “Now I am giving you a new command—love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another.”

John 13:34 PHILLIPS

Read the rest here:  Maundy Thursday