Advent: Surprised By God’s Answer

We left Zechariah yesterday just stepping up to the Altar of Incense.

I like to put myself in the story and imagine him slightly trembling at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to creep closer than all but a handful of Israelites to the Holy Presence of God Almighty.

Perhaps he was already a little afraid.

Maybe his heart was racing and his palms sweaty. He most certainly recognized the privilege and responsibility as he offered the fragrant smoke and many prayers.

And how like a human heart to hand up its desires in the midst of corporate pleas for mercy, justice and grace!

But it seems Zechariah didn’t expect an answer. Certainly not the one he received.

11 All at once an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing just to the right of the altar of incense.

12 Zechariah was startled and overwhelmed with fear. 13 But the angel reassured him, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God is showing grace to you. For I have come to tell you that your prayer[c] for a child has been answered. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son and you are to name him John. 14 His birth will bring you much joy and gladness. Many will rejoice because of him. 15 He will be one of the great ones in the sight of God. He will drink no wine or strong drink, but he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even while still in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will persuade many in Israel to convert and turn back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go before the Lord as a forerunner, with the same power and anointing as Elijah the prophet. He will be instrumental in turning the hearts of the fathers in tenderness back to their children and the hearts of the disobedient back to the wisdom of their righteous fathers. And he will prepare a united people[f] who are ready for the Lord’s appearing.”

Luke 1: 11-17 TPT

I can imagine the years and years Zechariah and Elizabeth fell asleep praying God would grant them a child. I can just picture Elizabeth outside in the Temple courtyard adding her longing and hoping, hoping, hoping Zechariah would dare to bring their personal plea before the Most Holy God.

The angel not only promised Zechariah a child, he promised him a child OF promise-one whose birth had been foretold. This would be no ordinary son. He was to be the forerunner and path-maker for the Christ!

No wonder Zechariah had a few questions.

I’ve had questions too.

Prayer after child loss has been hard for me.

Before Dom ran ahead to Heaven, I was a seriously praying woman. I kept prayer journals, wrote individual prayer cards for people I loved and knew and was a fervent believer in God’s faithful answers-even if they were long in coming. I had personally experienced the power of earnest prayer to make way in the heavenlies.

I never asked for a life of ease, only life and the grace to greet each day.

So when one of my most oft-repeated and (what I felt was very basic) prayers went unanswered, it shook me to the core. Why was my son not kept safe?

It’s taken a long time for my heart to rest again in what seem like straightforward promises of Scripture and to venture tentatively toward the Throne of Grace expecting any favors.

God does answer.

But like Zechariah, long years of waiting and disappointment have made me more than a little surprised when He does.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you pray? Why or why not?
  • Do you expect God to answer when you pray? (Not audibly but through circumstances, people, His word.)
  • How has loss changed your prayer life (if it has changed it)?
  • How do you feel when it feels like God doesn’t hear your heart?
  • Have you ever waited long only to be surprised by God’s ultimate intervention or answer to your prayer?
  • What are you longing for that you need to bring before the Throne of Grace today?
  • Does Zechariah’s story encourage you?

PRAYER:

Lord, You are the Most High God. You know the beginning from the end and hold time in Your hands.

It is so, so hard for me to wait patiently for answers. And, frankly, some of the answers are not blessings but heartache.

I’m wary about bringing my requests to You because while I know You have the power to grant them, You also have the power to delay or deny them. So I am sometimes surprised when You answer. I’m often amazed at how You weave together the ordinary with the extraordinary and how Your eternal plans are always being worked out.

Help my heart lean in and take hold of Your hand. Help me trust in Your unfailing love and abundant grace. And give me bold courage to step forward with open hands, bringing my requests to You, resting in the fact that whether the answer is “yes”, “no” or “wait” it is for my ultimate good and Your glory.

Amen

Advent: The Righteous Branch

One of the recurring themes in Scripture is redemption, rescue and renewal.

Over and over, just when it seems things can only get worse, God steps in and crafts an unexpected and beautiful story from the broken bits.

The challenge for we who are trapped in time is to remain patient and hope-filled in the waiting.

Israel had plenty of practice.

I do too.

But God doesn’t leave us without promises to hold onto while we wait.

Jeremiah is often called “The Weeping Prophet” because the messages God have him were full of gloom. Judgement and destruction were on the way. There was no escape and Jeremiah had been commissioned by the Lord to tell folks all about it.

Yet woven throughout the verses detailing all the awful, God spoke hope to the heart of His people:

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it  will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’ “

Jeremiah 33: 14-16 NIV

These words speak hope to my heart too.

Dominic’s death is the most devastating thing I’ve ever endured. It was not only the earthly end of him, it was the earthly end of me in many ways. All the things I anticipated for him, our family and the future were cut down in one fell swoop.

So when Jeremiah promises that even though all that’s left of David’s progeny is a pitiful stump, God will raise up a glorious and most Righteous King, I hear that redemption is possible.

And because Jesus DID come, I know that redemption is guaranteed.

Advent reminds me that even when waiting is long and in the dark, God is working.

Just as He raised up life from a (humanly) lifeless bit of wood in the ground, He will raise my son and redeem my pain.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever thought a plant was dead only to have it sprout fresh some time later? How might that experience help you cling to hope while waiting on the Lord?
  • What do the words “The Lord Our Righteous Savior” mean to you?
  • The literal translation of those words is “Jehovah Tsidkenu” or The Lord My Righteousness. There is no righteousness apart from Christ. No way for me to clean up enough to stand in the presence of God. Have you embraced and received the gift of God’s grace and mercy through Jesus? Is HE your righteousness?
  • God has never hidden from His people the fact that life in this fallen world is hard. Are you encouraged or discouraged by His honesty?
  • Do you have favorite promises your heart clings to in times of discouragement? Consider typing or writing them out in a journal or small booklet to review often.

PRAYER:

Father God,

It is so, so easy to be discouraged and disheartened. Truth is, life is hard and often seems headed in the direction of becoming harder.

I’m tired and sometimes I want to give up and give in. Not only is there no end in sight, I can’t even imagine an end that would be worth waiting for.

But I will choose to trust in Your unfailing word. I will rest in Your everlasting love. And I will take hold of every single promise You have made. Help me trust that You are working-even when I can’t see it-to redeem, restore, rescue and rewrite my story.

Let me remember that You are the God of new things, the God who transforms death into life.

Amen

Advent Invitation

We’re all waiting this year, aren’t we?

Waiting for the pandemic to be over (or at least managed somehow), waiting for things to get back to normal (whatever that is), waiting to see extended family without masks and social distancing.

Waiting, waiting, waiting!

That makes this moment ripe for we who live on the back side of Christ’s first coming to fully embrace the season of Advent-perhaps as never before.

All Israel was waiting with bated breath for redemption that first Christmas morning. Not looking for presents but longing for Presence.

A Messiah had been promised but was (by human standards) long in coming.

May I invite you to allow God to use this intense season of helpless and perhaps, sometimes hopeless waiting to turn your heart toward His?

Here is an Advent Scripture Reading list I’ll be using for devotional posts starting tomorrow.

May I ask you to come with me on a walk through Scripture as we walk together toward Jesus?

Our Faithful Father doesn’t waste a thing! He will use our sorrow, sadness, fearful moments, impatient waiting and even this pandemic to make us more like Christ.

A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes – and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

We can lean in and take hold of His truth while we rest in His grace and goodness.

And the light of His love will fill our hearts with hope-just like that first Christmas.

Sea Of Love And Goodness

Life is full of storms.

Some are outside myself and others start in the secret corners of my own heart.

All of them make me wish for quiet and calm, peaceful waters where I can sail the ship of life and not worry about sinking beneath the waves.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the  world gives... - SermonQuotes

When I’m afraid I remind myself that Jesus is the Peace Speaker.

He calmed the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee and He will calm the wind and waves of my heart.

He is the unchangeable, faithful God and I am always safe in the sea of His love and goodness.

Dear Lord,

Today I thought of the words of Vincent van Gogh: “It is true there is ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea.” You are the sea. Although I experience many ups and downs in my emotions and often feel great shifts and changes in my inner life, You remain the same.

Your sameness is not the sameness of a rock, but the sameness of a faithful lover. Out of Your love I came to life, by Your love I am sustained, and to Your love I am always called back. There are days of sadness and days of joy; there are feelings of guilt and feelings of gratitude; there are moments of failure and moments of success; but all of them are embraced by Your unwavering love….

O Lord, sea of love and goodness, let me not fear too much the storms and winds of my daily life, and let me know there is ebb and flow but the sea remains the sea.

Amen

Henri J. M. Nouwen

There’s Hope in Every Scar

Sometimes people ask, “How can you cling to Jesus when He could have saved your son, but didn’t?”

I give the same answer Peter gave, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

He is light and life in the Valley and on the hilltop, in the fire and in the flood.

He will redeem every tear and restore every thing the enemy has stolen.

My scars tell a story: Yes, I’m wounded but I’m still walking. I’ve been hurt but I’m healing.

There’s hope in every scar.

Suffering is but a moment.

This is not forever.

Jesus is.

Hallelujah!

Prisoner Of Hope

When Jesus claimed me as His child, I was liberated from darkness and made a prisoner of hope.

No matter how black the night, there is a pinhole of light. No matter how crushing the despair, there is a sliver of strength. When I want to stay under the covers, He beckons me to come out and I cannot resist.

I am a slave to the promise of Heaven.

I am bound by hope to the One who makes the rain, the One who spoke the mountains, the One who breathed the stars, the One who gives and takes.

And in that hope I find perfect freedom.

Glory.

My fears were drowned in perfect love

You rescued me

And I will stand and sing

I am a child of God

No Longer Slaves by Joel Case / Jonathan David Helser / Brian Mark Johnson

The music reminds me of the Glory to come, and I know Dominic would approve.

Music was his passion.

I like to think of him surrounded by songs and sounds of unimaginable beauty. So I count the days, and I count it joy that I will see him again.

I can hear him saying, “Do you really believe, Mom?”

Yes, sweet boy.

I do.

Scripture Journal Challenge 2020: Week Four

Last year during the month of August I joined with others and participated in a Scripture Writing Challenge.

We committed together to read and write out short passages on grief every day.

I wrote companion posts and shared them.

Circumstances have prevented me from doing another in-depth study again this year but I thought it would be nice to collect the entries from last August in a weekly bundle and put them out there for anyone who might want to revisit them or try it for the first time.

So here’s the fourth week’s links (including how to set up a journal):

Setting up your journal and link to all the verses: August Scripture Journal Challenge: Verses on Grief

Day 22: Scripture Journal Challenge: In The Very Presence of God

Day 23: Scripture Journal Challenge: Your Word Revives Me

Day 24: Scripture Journal Challenge: Everything Sad Will Come Untrue

Day 25: Scripture Journal Challenge: Incomparable Glory

Day 26: Scripture Journal Challenge: I’m Not The Only One Waiting

Day 27: Scripture Journal Challenge: Not Everything IS Good

Day 28: Scripture Journal Challenge: Closing Argument

Day 29: Scripture Journal Challenge: NOTHING Can Separate Us From the Love of Christ

Day 30: Scripture Journal Challenge: Grieving With Hope

It takes a bit of work and commitment to do this so I understand some hearts may not be in a place where that is possible.

But if you’ve missed feeding your soul with the Word of God this is an easy way to get back into the habit.

Scripture Journal Challenge 2020: Week Three

Last year during the month of August I joined with others and participated in a Scripture Writing Challenge.

We committed together to read and write out short passages on grief every day.

I wrote companion posts and shared them.

Circumstances have prevented me from doing another in-depth study again this year but I thought it would be nice to collect the entries from last August in a weekly bundle and put them out there for anyone who might want to revisit them or try it for the first time.

So here’s the third week’s links (including how to set up a journal):

Setting up your journal and link to all the verses: August Scripture Journal Challenge: Verses on Grief

Day 15: http://Scripture Journal Challenge: Distant Music

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Day 16: Scripture Journal Challenge: God Sees You. You Are Not Alone.

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Day 17: Scripture Journal Challenge: My Good Shepherd

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Day 18: Scripture Journal Challenge: Keep Me Near

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Day 19: Scripture Journal Challenge: Tears Won’t Last Forever

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Day 20: Scripture Journal Challenge: The God Who Comes Near

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Day 21: Scripture Journal Challenge: Perfect Peace

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It takes a bit of work and commitment to do this so I understand some hearts may not be in a place where that is possible.

But if you’ve missed feeding your soul with the Word of God this is an easy way to get back into the habit.

Day 15:

Where The Problem Lies

God’s promises.

He said it, I believe it.

Simple, right?

Not so simple when a plain reading of plain words seems to guarantee one outcome and life delivers another.

As a Christian, you are to honor your parents, and you are to show ...

Not so simple when pain obliterates hope and tears blind my eyes to a future that’s anything other than dark.

But is the problem with God and His promises or me and my expectations?

Before my lifestorm I could have worked up a lovely devotional on God’s promises and given good reasons why we should not doubt them. But God’s promises were no longer devotional material; they were real-life issues. I knew I could not go that class and tell those who gathered there how God keeps his promises, but I could assure them I was learning that he does. Even as I questioned his promises because of the pain that wouldn’t go away, I knew I was learning that the problem is not with God’s promises but with our bringing twentieth-century expectations and personal wish-fulfillment to those promises. The problem lies with our expectations of what God should do and how he should do it when life hurts. I was learning that I had to quit just looking at the promises of God and look to the God of the promises.

Verdell Davis, Riches Stored In Secret Places

I’ve written before about how easy it is to put God in a Box.

So often I interact with Scripture based on false assumptions, wishful thinking and my own idea of how God should work in the world. I want a God I can understand or (if I’m honest!) manipulate or cajole into doing what makes me most satisfied and most comfortable. I pick and choose among the promises and tend to focus on the ones that seem to guarantee health, wealth and happiness and I gloss over the ones that plainly describe the painful process of being conformed to the likeness of Christ.

Pruned by God is PAINFUL! | RoadTrip Parenting

I cannot answer all the questions my heart can conjure up and I don’t think God will answer them for me this side of Heaven.

But God doesn’t lie.

His promises stand.

How and when He chooses to fulfill them is not for me to say.

I am learning to lean into His faithful love, trust His heart and live in the mysterious space between what I understand and what I find incomprehensible.

Battling Anxiety/Seeking Peace: The End From The Beginning

Some people insist on reading the end of a book first.

They want to know if the characters they may grow to love end up well and happy.

Me? I start at the front and work my way through letting things unfold as the author intended.

I will admit though there are times when I’d kinda sorta like to have a heads up in real life.

PSYCHIC ATTACKS in CONFUSING TIMES | Fortune teller, Statue ...

Of course there’s no crystal ball, lines in my palm or deck of cards (in spite of Madam What’s-Her-Name’s claim) that can see into the future.

But there is One who KNOWS every little thing the future holds and Who holds that future in His hands.

From the beginning I told you what would happen in the end. A long time ago I told you things that have not yet happened. When I plan something, it happens. I do the things I want to do.

Isaiah 46:10 ICB

When Dominic left us suddenly, unexpectedly and instantly in a motorcycle accident, it was a shocking surprise to our hearts. But as I wrote in the service program for his funeral, it was NO surprise to God.

I don’t believe for one minute that my loving Heavenly Father put His finger on my son and declared that night it was his “time” to die. I DO believe that my omniscient and omnipotent Lord, who is outside time and sees the end from the beginning, KNEW that Dominic would drive too fast, lose control and enter Heaven at 1:10 am on April 12, 2014.

I believe that while He could have miraculously saved my son, He chose not to and Dominic suffered the natural consequences of a series of physical and biological forces that operate without His supernatural intervention every single day in this world.

I am confident that God worked His purposes in and through Dominic all the days of his life and I am certain God has been and continues to work His purposes in me and through me even in child loss.

My heart is often disturbed and even frightened by what’s going on around me.

In these especially unsettled times, if I focus on what I don’t know, what I can’t predict and the limitations of the humans in charge, I will melt into despair.

So I remind myself that God’s purposes will stand. His rule and reign is sure. Nothing-NOTHING-can stand separate me from His love, His grace and His mercy.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews ...

Jesus Christ is [eternally changeless, always] the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8 AMP

QUESTIONS:

  1. One of the oldest “proofs” non-believers like to toss at those who follow Jesus is this: If God is all-knowing AND all-powerful, then why do bad things still happen? How might you answer that question? Have you ever wrestled with it yourself? Here’s a link to my thoughts on the matter: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/06/10/did-god-take-my-child/
  2. While God may rarely give an individual foreknowledge, He gave Israel prophet after prophet to tell them what He was going to do. How often did they take His warnings to heart? How often do we?
  3. In the passage from Isaiah above, God declares His purposes and plans will stand. That comforts my heart and echoes Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39 that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Write down three other verses (using a concordance) that reinforce this biblical principle about the character and purposes of God. Make them personal-how do those verses confirm hope in your own heart?
  4. “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever” is a powerful concept! Unlike the times in which we live where human leaders say and do one thing one day and say and do another the next, we can rest firm and secure that what God has declared in Christ is absolutely, positively rock solid! “Every promise of God in Christ is ‘yes’ and ‘amen'”! (2 Corinthians 1:20). What promises of God in Christ bring you the most comfort? Write a list and post it where you can see it.
  5. If you have children or grandchildren at home, how might you help their hearts cling to the truth that no matter what, God is in control? How might your own confident, consistent love and support model our Heavenly Father’s unfailing love toward us?

PRAYER:

Lord,

These times are trying my soul. It feels like everything is out of control and there’s no sure way through this valley of confusion and potential disaster. Help my heart take hold of the truth that NONE of this is a surprise to You.

Your purpose will stand. Your plan will unfold. No one and nothing can prevent it.

Make Your Presence real to me today. Open my eyes to the ways You continue to prove Yourself faithful. Sing courage to my soul when I’m afraid. Remind me by Your Spirit of every promise.

Thank You for Jesus. Thank You for the assurance that no matter what, my eternal security is assured.

Amen