The year, and especially the past nine months, had seen more twist, turns, ups and downs than a roller-coaster. It was more than they could have ever imagined. The announcement of their engagement had filled their lives with celebration, travel, gifts and preparation for marriage. Nowhere in their engagement script was a pregnancy. They were virtuous and God-fearing people. Their family had taught them the law with passion and they loved God with all their heart. But a visit of an angel to Mary brought news beyond comprehension. She was stunned and speechless, filled with joy but at the same time feeling the sting of the overwhelming challenges. To be the one chosen to be overshadowed by the Spirit and bring God to earth was the greatest of honor. To explain it to her family and soon to be groom was nearly an impossible task. Joseph’s angelic dream brings some strength and hope to the moment, but still there are doubts. Those doubts would visit often; the thought of divorce would surface in his mind almost daily. Resolve moves into both of their hearts and they decide they will believe in the words from Heaven. That the pregnancy was supernatural and that God was truly growing inside of a teenager from Nazareth. Though they believed, others didn’t. There were endless questions from their parents. Friends strayed and foes judged. There are whispers, innuendo and downright rude gazes. That an angel visited a young couple from Nazareth with a prophetic word, and teenagers at that, was just too much. May we suggest that there was even mockery. There is an incredible moment when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth; her baby leaps with joy inside her womb. There came flashes of hope when Joseph and Mary were alone and realized, it’s God in her womb. The end of the pregnancy brings yet another challenge. Herod has called for a tax, one that required families to return to the home of their birth. So, nine months pregnant, they begin a pilgrimage. It too is filled with challenges. Dangerous travel, poor weather and challenging terrain are all a part of the journey. Mary, days from birthing a child, must keep up with the caravan. For nearly two weeks, through rain, cold and wind they walk. Down mountain paths, across deserts and then a fifteen-mile ascent through rocky cliffs. When it seems as though it can’t get any more overbearing, it does. Bethlehem, a wide gap in the road on the journey to Jerusalem is their destination. They arrive in the small village only to find the family house already filled with relatives. No room in the house, they are relegated to the stable behind the house. Cold, damp, smelly; what place could be lowlier for the birth of any child, much less God in flesh. A stable, a place for animals now houses God. In the midst of all the hardship and difficulty, when no one could see the possibility, Joseph and Mary likely feeling hurt, lost and forgotten have no idea that the world changed. That night would be end of so much and the beginning of so much more. No one knew that in that moment the dateline would change from B.C. to A.D. No one knew that night that the sheep He laid among would never again have to die for the sins of a man. It was just a rough nine months for two obscure teenagers who believed the impossible could happen through them. Who could have imagined? Probably not Joseph and Mary. Whatever this year has held, whether hills and valleys, twist and turns you’ve walked through, know three things. First, the journey can be hard but you will make it. Second, regardless of how it looks in the moment, the impossible may be taking place in the midst of the most difficult situation. Finally, like Joseph and Mary, God has been with you, is with you and will always be with you. Christmas. The celebration of change!
Weeds. You don’t have to plant them, water them or care for them in any way. They just grow; anywhere, anytime, anyplace. I planted a garden and now I’m attempting to grow a garden. I’ve pulled weeds, tilled soil, bought garden soil, planted plants and kept them watered. This week I walked out to my garden and in just a few days the weeds had grown larger than my plants. What I’ve come to understand is that I have to be intentional about my garden. I have to regularly water it, pull the weeds and protect from insects and animals. What’s true in the natural is also true in the spiritual. It takes nothing for the cares of life, temptation and sins take over our life. They just show up. To have a spiritual life we must be as meticulous as we are with a garden. The soil of our soul must be enriched with the atmosphere of prayer and praise. We must plant the Word of God in our heart and keep it in our heart. David said, thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you. We must be committed to staying filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the power that fuels our spiritual growth and brings out the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit. Be intentional, as Paul said in Ephesians 5:18, “be filled with the Spirit.”
The calendar says it’s still spring. The activities and heat say it’s summer. Heat and humidity are here and plants and grass are already gasping for water. What we need is a storm. A gully washer. A downpour. Though we enjoy the fun of the sun, we need the storms. Without storms we don’t get the necessary rain. Storms slow us down. Storms bring clouds to shade us from the sun, breezes that purge the dead limbs, and water to the areas that are in drought. What is true in nature is true in the spiritual. We enjoy the good times, when troubles are few and life is light. But then God sends a storm. Something that rocks our world, slows us down and brings us to our knees. Not always what we want, but often what we need. Without storms we can burn ourselves out. Without storms, areas in our lives that need a purge, would never be cleaned out. Without storms, the refreshing of God’s Spirit that brings our hearts back to life, wouldn’t come. Going through a storm? Be thankful. He see’s something in our lives that is dying. Something in our heart or soul that needs watered. He allows a spiritual rain, disguised as a storm, to come into our lives. He sees we need a pause. A rest. A time of refreshing. He’s the God in the storm and when it’s time He’ll say, “peace be still.”
Winter, we sense it coming; for many it is with dread, but there’ nothing we can do to stop it. There’s a chill in the air, leaves are falling and soon there will be a blanket of snow covering the ground. A quick look at the landscape and it would appear that many trees and plants have died, but in reality, they are very much alive. Life is no longer visible, but know, growth is happening. While many hate it, Winter is important to life. The best time to plant trees and plants, is the end of Fall and the beginning of Winter. While we love the spectacle of Spring with the flowering trees and shrubs, love the spade in the Summer and marvel at the fireworks of color in the Fall without Winter none of it would happen. It’s what happens in Winter, that makes every other season possible. Roots grow deeper, wider and stronger, stamina for the heat of Summer is developed and the eventual growth of the trunk and branches all happen in the Winter. While we see nothing, in reality everything is happening.
May I suggest that each of us need “Winter” in our lives, times when it may appear that we are dormant but in reality, great growth is happening. Maybe you sense a Winter coming or you’re going through a Winter right now, often it doesn’t make sense and others may misjudge your season. It’s the “Winter times” of life when it may appear that we are dying, that nothing is happening in our life or that we are “just existing.” In reality, your likely in one of the greatest seasons of your life; your growing deeper in faith, stronger in your relationship with God and developing spiritual energy that will bring an explosion of growth when the Spring of life returns. It’s in the Winter when we lose the old, grow deep and prepare for a new season. Let me encourage you to embrace the Winter times in your life. Kings had Winter homes where they retreated, Paul paused his evangelism for Winter and scripture even records that Jesus dealt with Winter. Are you in a Winter? Settle in. Build a fire, grab a blanket and get a good book. Enjoy the pause, embrace the rest and take time to grow deeper in God’s Word, prayer and your walk with God. No need to worry and fret, Spring will come, but only when God says your Winter is over.
As the drought has taken over here in central Indiana I’ve watched how trees responded to the lack of water. Basically, there has been four responses. Some have dropped their leaves to protect the leaves that remain, others have held their leaves but reserved more water for the base causing the top leaves to begin the change color, then there are those who have held water in reserve and have been able to protect all their foliage; no leaves lost, no color change. Finally, there are trees who didn’t have any moisture reserved, they lost their color, lost their leaves, became brittle and died. What made the difference? All had ample rain through most of the year and all enjoyed a very mild August. If the trees didn’t have someone watering them it came down to two major factors, preparation and location. Some trees absorbed enough water for the dry times and some trees were planted close to a water source. If those two factors weren’t in place then leaves fell, color changed and sadly, in some cases, some died.
In many ways, our Christian life mirrors the seasons of life. There will be times of extreme heat and cold, there will be times where there is plenty of rain and times of drought. How we survive those seasons is largely dependent on two issues; our preparation and where we have planted ourselves. Recalling the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins in Matthew 25, it’s important to remember that they all were virgins, they all had lamps and they all had oil. The difference was preparation, five anticipated and prepared for the potential of a delay or problems and the others didn’t. Often the difference between those who survive spiritual droughts and those who don’t is simply being prepared. The second great issue to surviving spiritual drought is staying near the life source. In John 6, when things got hard for the followers of Jesus, many stopped following him, after they departed Jesus turned and asked His 12 Disciples, will you also go away? I love Simon Peter’s response, “to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” We must understand that regardless of how bad or difficult life gets or how dry our faith becomes; Jesus is still our life source.
Feeling dry, burnt out and weak in faith? Every storm has its end; every battle comes to a close. Be prepared for the whole journey and remember it often doesn’t go the way we have it planned Stay close to Jesus, He provided mana to the children of Israel for forty years in the wilderness, bread to Elijah, oil that continued to a poor widow and food for 5000 men plus women and children with one little boys lunch. He is your life source! You will survive!
The action of one person often changes the direction and destiny for many. This is exemplified by God coming to earth robed in flesh, living with the humanity He created, going to the cross and resurrecting. That courageous act changed everything about what we do, who we are and and our eternal destination. The Bible is filled with examples of people who have breakthrough moments that impact cities, nations and generations. Moses breaks through his past failure to lead a nation out of Egypt and changes the destiny of a nation. David breaks through the fear of his brothers and army to lead them to a victory over the Philistines. The three Hebrew children break through the intimidation of idolatry to bring a heathen nation to say, “the Lord, He is God.” Simon Peter breaks through his denial of Christ to preach the message that still lives today and Paul breaks through his theology, experiences the power of the Spirit and establishes churches throughout the world and writes 13 books of the Bible.
These stories are there to give us hope and courage to have our own breakthroughs. What if a wall you’re dealing with comes down, how might it impact you and others? Could it change your entire life? Could it change the destination of future generations in your family? Could a breakthrough in your life change the destiny of Life Connections? We have no idea of what a breakthrough in our life might do for our life, home, church and future generations. We serve the God of the breakthrough! I was inspired by a song I recently heard by Eddie James called “Breakthrough” which is quickly becoming my theme song for 2017. The words say, “walls fall down when I shout through, strongholds break when I pray through, I’m going to praise you, you are the God of the Breakthrough!” The bridge say, “You are the God of the breakthrough of my heart, mind, spirit, soul, weakness, struggle, worship, praise, when I lift and glorify His name, dance and shout.” What a powerful song and testimony. If Moses, David, the Hebrew children, Simon Peter, Paul and a host of witnesses can have breakthrough moments, why can’t we? We serve the God of the breakthrough! Let me encourage someone with barriers, walls, past failures, fear and discouragements; you are one day away from a breakthrough. What do you need to do? Pray, worship, be faithful, be obedient, yield and I absolutely believe that 2017 can be the year of breakthrough for you! You serve the God of the breakthrough!
For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
Watching the pageantry, splendor and parade of ancient mythological Greek gods at the opening of the 2004 Olympics brought the above verse to my mind. While the ceremony was beautiful to watch, it was sad reminder of a society that once was great but lost its morals, direction and worshiped any god a mind could imagine. Paul steps on Mars Hill 2000 years ago to a lost people and proclaims, “Him declare I unto you.”
Today, we live in a society that mirrors that of the ancient Greeks; great emphasis on sports, worshipping god of all type and pleasure is our highest purpose. Now, like then, we need Christians to proclaim, “I know the God you desire.” His name is Jesus. Jesus, not made of stone but able to be touched by your every burden is the answer. Lets give them Jesus!