Faithful to His Promise (Luke 1:39–56)

Advent 2018

Is blessing simply material? We sit down to a scrumptious meal in a warm home with wonderful people and declare, “We are so blessed.” But what if the meal isn’t great, the home is cold, and the people are…just okay? Are we still blessed? When we look at the life of Mary, she was a poor, pregnant, young…and blessed. Blessing is not always seen and is not only in the breakthrough. The blessing can be in the waiting. But what do we do while we are waiting? Are we still blessed when we don’t yet see the breakthrough? In Luke 1:26–38, Mary sees that God’s blessing abounds as we believe the promise, magnify the promise-maker, and see by faith what is not yet.

            First, blessing abounds as we believe the promise (Luke 1:39–45). As soon as Elizabeth sees Mary, the baby in her womb leaps, and she is filled with the Holy Spirit. So much favor rests on Mary that she spills that favor on everyone that she meets simply by her greeting! Why? The angel goes on to say that she is blessed because “she…believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (1:45). Similarly, all of God’s promises are yes and Amen for us in Christ. As we believe we transfer what is in our account (all the promises of God) into our possession so that we operate by its power. Mary is not blessed because she is Mary; Mary is blessed because she receives and believes God’s promise. Indeed, when a woman later blesses Mary’s womb for bearing Jesus, Jesus replies, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27–28). Blessing abounds as we believe the promises of God’s Word.

Also blessing abounds as we magnify the promise-maker (Luke 1:46–50). Mary magnifies the Lord and rejoices in God (her) Savior (1:46–47). Often our souls focus like microscopes, worrying and fretting about small things, making little things big. Yet our souls ought to be more like telescopes, magnifying and focusing on what is truly Big. Our God is the promise-maker who sees the humble estate of his servant and gives mercy from generation to generation. To abound in blessing, we must train our souls to be more like telescopes than microscopes, focusing our hearts on what is truly worthy of our attention.

Finally, blessing abounds as we see by faith what is not yet (Luke 1:51–56). Mary declares that the Lord has shown strength with his arm…scattered the proud…brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate (1:51–52). Really? When Mary said that, Rome still had power, Herod still controlled the priesthood, and Mary was still a poor, pregnant girl. Yet Mary is strengthened as she looks to God’s past, present, and future faithfulness.

So what? As we step into this season of Advent, we are waiting and longing for the coming of our Savior. He came the first time at the first Christmas. He comes in power through His Spirit to break through into our circumstances. And He will come again in glory to wipe every tear away. Even as we wait with eager longing for His coming, we do not wait passively. Instead we believe the promise, magnify the promise-maker, and see by faith what is not yet.

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Undeserved Promise (Luke 1:26-38)

Advent 2018

Christmas nativities are often sentimental, focusing on cooing babies and mooing cows in a picture perfect stable, but the first Christmas was actual far from picture perfect. Yet Christmas is more subversive than sentimental. The birth of a King in a stable introduces a power that would usher in a new kingdom. And this subversive story brings hope to people tired of sentimentality. Our broken world will see the power of hope break through, and God will do something about this mess. Luke 1:26–28 shows how the Father gives undeserved grace to begin an unending kingdom through His Son by the unexpected power of the Spirit.

            The Father gives undeserved grace (Luke 1:26–31). God gives grace to nobodies like Mary. Unlike the priest Zechariah and  the king Herod in Luke 1:5, we are introduced to Mary, a virgin with no title, whose greatest claim to fame is that she was engaged to be married to Joseph. She is a nobody in the eyes of the world. Yet God’s grace is lavished on nobodies; Mary is a “favored one” (1:29). Mary could not believe that God would appear to her, yet the angel assures her of God’s favor. God’s plan to fix the big, systemic evil in the world begins with undeserved grace to a nobody. Similarly we don’t do anything to earn grace. But when God lavishes grace, it is not only for us.

The Father gives undeserved grace to begin an unending kingdom through His Son (Luke 1:32–33). This child who would be born would be great, the Son of the Most High, and he would receive the throne of David to reign forever in a kingdom without end. Indeed Jesus came to ransom captive Israel. While the Roman empire lasted for hundreds of years, the Kingdom of the Son has continued for millennia and will continue forevermore. This is the unending Kingdom of the Son. Now the empire of Rome was established by the power of the sword; by what power will the Kingdom of the Son be established?

The Father gives undeserved grace to begin an unending kingdom through His Son by the unexpected power of the Spirit (Luke 1:34–38). Mary could not conceive a child by her own power, but the power of the Holy Spirit is promised to bring the promise to fruition. It is not a natural ability to conceive that would make this possible; it is only the supernatural power of the Spirit. But how do we access that power? It is only as we believe the promises of God; Mary says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1:38).

What was true of Mary is true of us today. The Father continues to lavish undeserved grace on nobodies like us to continue to expand his unending Kingdom through His Son Jesus by the unexpected power of His Spirit. How do we access that power? As we long for the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, we must nourish our souls on the promises of God’s Word. He has begun it; he will do it.

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Waiting and Advent

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Waiting is inefficient…and profoundly counter-cultural. Why get something tomorrow when we can get it today? One click on the computer can bring something to our doorstep in an hour. No need to fight for parking, wait in line, or even see people. Wonderfully efficient. But… there is something profoundly inefficient about God. He took six days to create the heavens and earth when he could have done it in a moment. Why? Why waiting? Why process? Advent reminds us of the value of waiting.

This Sunday begins the season of Advent, the four Sundays leading up to the celebration of our Savior’s birth on Christmas. And this is a season of anticipation and promise. We light candles. We remember promises. We look forward to fulfillment. We wait. Why? Waiting prepares people for the coming of Jesus. Over these next four Sundays we will explore how waiting prepared Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary for the coming of Jesus. This waiting did something in them that could not have happened without it. 

And every Advent not only looks backward to the first coming of Jesus but also forward to the second coming of Jesus. We are still waiting. Breakthrough is not yet. Yet God is doing something in us through the waiting. In this season let us learn to wait expectantly, leaning into all that God has for us. 

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Doubt and Promise (Luke 1:5-25)

Advent 2018

Advent is here! Once again we celebrate the story of God bringing about a monumental step forward in his grand rescue plan for humanity by sending his Son to become a man, Jesus. Everything was about to change! A new covenant would be established. Salvation for all people by grace through faith in Jesus was about to arrive. And yet these monumental shifts in salvation history begin through teeny tiny miracles, starting with the answer to the long dormant prayers of a nice elderly couple. In Luke 1:5-25 we see how praying through our problems with faithfulness reveals God’s larger purposes so that we might nourish our hearts on those promises in private.

First, we pray through our problems with faithfulness (Luke 1:5-10). Zechariah and Elizabeth had both wholeheartedly followed God (1:6), and yet the desires of their heart escaped them (1:7). God seemed to reject their prayers for a child. But though they didn’t see God providing for them, they remained steadfast in their obedience to the Lord, serving him personally and corporately (1:8-10). Similarly, we too must continue steadfastly in our prayers and obedience to the Lord even as we struggle sometimes to see his provision and action in our lives.

Though Zechariah and Elizabeth had passed what they thought was the timeframe where God could provide them a child, God’s response to their faithful prayers reveals God’s larger purposes  (Luke 1:11-17). The circumstances of this birth announcement echo many of God’s most significant acts of rescue including God’s promise of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18:1-15); God’s provision of Joseph to Rachel and Isaac (Gen. 30:22-24); the provision of Samuel to Hannah (1 Sam. 1:1-28); and the annunciation of Samson (Judges 13:1-25). What’s more, the angel Gabriel declares that John will fulfill significant prophecies about the coming of the Day of the Lord (Luke 1:17; Malachi 4:5-6). God is coming, and John will be the one to help people get ready for him. The seemingly small miracle of helping one barren couple will have ramifications for the salvation of all people. Likewise, we should never underestimate God’s wider purposes in the way he shows up in seemingly smaller ways today.

In response to the angel’s promise, Zechariah and Elizabeth enter into a time where they nourish their hearts on those promises in private (Luke 1:18-25). Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a child (Luke 1:13), and Zechariah was in the middle of leading a prayer meeting for God’s people (Luke 1:8-10), and yet he wasn’t ready to hear the voice of God; he didn’t believe what the angel said (Luke 1:18-20). Yet God, as a wise father, corrects Zechariah in such a way that he will later erupt in praise and confident expectation of God’s work (Luke 1:66-79). Likewise, Elizabeth hides herself away as she meditates on God’s goodness to her and his promises wrapped up in the child growing inside her. Her quiet hidden reflection prepares her to be filled with the Holy Spirit and greet her unborn savior (Luke 1:41-45). So also may we nourish God’s promises in our hearts in private that we may expect his work with hope and proclaim his promises with confidence.

So this Advent season, may we faithfully pray through our problems when we can’t see God answering, be encouraged by God’s larger purposes in the smaller works we see him doing around us and in us, and reflect on his promises in private so we can share them boldly with others.

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A Youth Pastor’s Manifesto for Thanksgiving

The bible commands us to be thankful, and not just once a year. I’m reminded of Psalm 107, that starts with,

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,

For his steadfast love endures forever!”

I’m a youth pastor, so I’m always thinking youth-pastorly. I wonder, how do we get young people to be Bible-following, especially in thankfulness?

Here are just a couple of thoughts around that. And please always remember, it takes a village to raise kids. That means that parents aren’t the only parental figures in young people’s lives…everyone should chip in, so everyone should read this closely!

 

  1. Allow youth to express thankfulness In their own way.

 

I remember so often sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table, and a parent asks all of us, “what are you thankful for.” I would roll my eyes, and when my turn came up, respond with the typical, “I don’t know…food.” My parents would sigh, and move on, frustrated that their teen is entitled, spoiled, and not thankful. But that just wasn’t true. I was thankful, but I wasn’t able to express is it my own way. Authenticity is incredibly important to young people, and if they are asked to do something in what they deem as an “inauthentic” manner, they shut down. But shutting down isn’t the absence of thankfulness, it’s just a de facto mechanism against inauthenticity.

Authentic expression might mean letting them work through it with their peers. It’s not what you want, but that’s ok, for now. But what you are doing is making that a value for your family, not just a cliched practice that goes along well with turkey and stuffing.

Maybe let them text it to you. I get it, texting just isn’t as personal or relational as a phone call or a face to face, but it’s this generations preferred method of contact. I’m sure that when phones were first created, people had the thought, “silly new age tech people…what happen to the good ol’ days when a person visited your farm on their horse-drawn buggy?”

 

  1. Cultivate Worship in the home and in public.

 

If you look back at Psalm 107, you’ll see that the direction of thankfulness is “to the Lord.” Additionally, the subject of thankfulness is the Lord, “for He is good.” Worship is a unique expression that achieves both the direction and subject of thankfulness. How do you cultivate worship in the home?

Don’t just whip out a guitar and start playing your newly learned chords, struggling through a stripped-down version of the newest Hillsong hit. Young people will think that’s cheesy, inauthentic, and disengage. Start off with playing your favorite worship album in the car or in the kitchen (youth are always drawn to the kitchen). Play an album enough and you can start singing it. You may feel alone at first. Young people may even ridicule your singing. But just because young people ridicule something doesn’t mean that they are disregarding it. They are taking mental notes that it’s ok to sing worship, even if you’re not a professional vocalist.

Sing, and sing regularly. Sing when you are vacuuming. Sing when you are walking around the foyer in the church. Sing you see a young person walking by you on the sidewalk (do young people walk anymore?). Worshipping frequently and unprovoked cultivates a culture of worship.

 

  1. Model thankfulness

 

Do you model thankfulness or criticism? Have you expressed thankfulness to YOUR parents, your neighbors, your bosses, your kids, even your pastors? Young people may not look like they are paying attention. Often, they will look like they are totally zoned in on watching Ninja’s Fortnight twitch account. But they are watching you. They are watching adults in the church, at the grocery store, and in traffic. They hear every frustrated exhale you have when something bothers you. They are learning every social cue from you. They are watching you worship, and they are watching you pray. And if you don’t model thankfulness, then they won’t either.

 

 

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Sacrifice of Thanksgiving (Psalm 50:14–15)

This Sunday, we will open the mic to give you an opportunity to express your thankfulness to God for what He is doing. But what if you don’t know what to say? A few years ago, one of my girls asked a perceptive question, “How do you say thank you when you don’t like the gift?” Sometimes we feel that way toward God. Life brings challenges, and we struggle to express  gratitude. How do we respond? What type of thanksgiving ought we to give to God when we don’t like his gifts? Psalm 50:14–15 show us that we offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, perform our vows of obedience, and call out with expectancy.

First, we offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving (Ps 50:14a).  When life goes well, we overflow with thanksgiving. A sacrifice of thanksgiving is not the overflow of thanksgiving; it is costly. Yet a sacrifice of thanksgiving is offered in faith because of who God is, trusting that He is good even when life doesn’t feel good. Recently somebody who had gone through significant loss was struggling with their responsibility to lead worship. As we met together, though, we realized that we could give a sacrifice of thanksgiving even when we lack an overflow of thanksgiving. And this is a gift that we can offer only on this side of eternity.

Also, we perform our vows of obedience (Ps 50:14b). We get to obey even when things don’t feel great. Going through the motions isn’t always all bad. As we offer our sacrifices of thanksgiving, we continue to perform our vows to the Most High — simply because He is the Most High. Huge seasons of breakthrough are preceded by little acts of obedience.

Finally, we call out with expectancy (Ps 50:15). God promises that when we call upon him in the day of trouble, that he will deliver us so that we might glorify him. Especially in the darkness when we don’t see Him clearly, we call out with expectancy. We know that a breakthrough is imminent where we will see his deliverance and glorify him.

So how did I answer my daughter about gratitude for a gift that we don’t like? We decided that telling our true feelings about the gift was not wise and that lying was not right. We settled on, “Thank you for your thoughtfulness in giving us the gift.” We should focus on the giver not the gift. Similarly, when our hearts do not naturally burst with thankfulness in the difficulty of our season, we focus on the Giver not the gift. How? This Thanksgiving, let us offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, perform our vows of obedience, and call out to Him with expectancy.

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Remembering

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Memory makes a people. When I was a child I remember my father trotting out a thick book in Korean and saying with grave solemnity, “Boys, this is your family.” As the oldest son of an oldest son, my father was entrusted with the family tree. This book was a genealogy of our family stretching back for generations.As we approach Thanksgiving, I want to invite you to pause to remember what God has done. Just like we make prayer lists of needs of people around us, would you make a thanksgiving list of things that the Lord has done?  

We are to remember how the Lord’s provision. In Moses’ parting words to God’s people, he urges, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life” (Deut 4:9). We must remember. Our lives as individuals, as a family, as a church, and as the people of God are marked by our encounters with God’s provision and breakthrough. The entire Bible is our family genealogy!  It reminds us of how God has provided for us, and we do well to meditate on the truths of what He has done

Yet we are also to remember the pain. We are to remember the period of bondage in Egypt (Deut 15:15), the tribulations of the wilderness (Deut 8:2), and slavery in Egypt (Deut 24:18). We are defined not only by our good memories but also our painful ones. When we fail to remember our painful past, we are left with “faceless responsibility and faceless grief” and limp with hidden memories. When we look at our painful past, then we can find healing. As Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien looks at his past, he concludes, “I can look at things I never looked at. I can attach faces to grief and  love and pity and God. I can be brave. I can make myself feel again.” 

As we approach Thanksgiving, let us take time to remember. My kids love it when I tell stories of my past. And they want to hear not only about the great stories of the good times but also the struggles. The pain defines me as much as the stories of God’s provision. As we look forward to spending time with people we care about deeply this Thanksgiving, let us remember together all that the Lord our God has done, both the pain and the provision. 

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