TAKING OUT THE GARBAGE (part 2)

We don’t focus on garbage. We focus on Jesus.  Garbage is not beautiful. It is not something to concentrate on. As a high school student I thought it must be holy to look at my sins, to say how bad I was, which only drew attention to the garbage. We become what we behold (2 Corinthians 3:18). Looking at Jesus brings healing and the power to overcome the garbage in our lives. Unconfessed sin that has been allowed to stay in our soul is gross, like the spaghetti in the back of the fridge that we forgot about–a month ago! Confessing sin and focusing on it are two different matters. Focusing on sin does not change us. The garbage is hidden in containers while in the house and placed in trash bins with a cover on them.

Take the upper hand. Don’t call yourself a sinner. You are a saint who sins. Identity drives behavior. My dad used to say to me often, “Remember who you are.” He said it long before Mufasa ever spoke it to Simba. He was establishing our identity so we could walk into our destiny. A skewed identity produces distorted behavior and an inferior destiny. We behave our beliefs, as my friend Kevin McClure says. We are what we think we are. The cross deals with the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin, but not all at once. Most of us know about how Jesus dealt with the penalty of sin on the cross–suffering and death. But He also dealt with its power, so Paul was able to write, “Sin shall have no power over you, because you are not under the law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Romans 5-8 says nothing about forgiveness but a whole lot about freedom from sin. Believe it. However, sin is still present with us until the King returns. Then sin, death and the devil will be done with forever! Good riddance!

We have two big bins at our house, one for recycling, the other for garbage. We recycle things like cardboard and empty bottles and cans. We do not recycle food particles or used Kleenex or crumbs we sweep up from the floor. Not a lot of use for the spaghetti that is turning colors. Some people are recycling sin. They are dumping it on so-called friends rather than getting rid of it as James commands. Don’t treat your friends this way. Don’t pretend to be sharing important personal information, then dump a load of garbage on them. If you happen to have a compost pile, the month-old spaghetti can go there. 

Unattended garbage is not pretty. I helped Israel clean out a duplex he owned. The people had left quickly without cleaning up. Food was left out. You could smell the chemistry as soon as you walked in the front door. We had the fun job of cleaning up after them. You may think that you want to take your time to forgive someone, like you don’t have to do it right away. Be careful: you will start smelling like that abandoned duplex. You are not realizing what lack of attention to forgiveness is doing to your insides. It is putrid.

The Gospel is the best way to handle garbage. We deal with two systems–mercy or merit, law or gospel, old covenant or new covenant. If you are saying, “I can’t just forgive them; that is letting them off the hook,” you need to know that you are operating under the law, not the gospel. Fairness is “an eye for an eye.” The gospel is Jesus from the cross saying, “Father, forgive them.” Jesus brought in a new culture. He said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” That was radical. It is a totally different way of dealing with sin than under the old system, the system that most people in the world operate with–but not Christians, at least not those who want to live in the freedom of the gospel. We are not overcome by evil. We overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). 

Forgiveness is power! Learn to use it to keep your insides clean and to transform others.

TAKING OUT THE GARBAGE (part 1)

 I had taken daily trips to the garbage bin and the recycle bin.I had filled the garbage container to the brim–and then some. Had to jump on it to get everything in. Two hours later the garbage truck pulled up. A feeling of joy came over me as I watched it being emptied. I know–strange!  I do the same thing every week. And the same feeling of well-being comes over me when I see it gone. Someone tell me I am not weird!  

May we experience a similar relief when we take out the garbage that accumulates in our souls. We can forget it is there, until our soul begins to smell putrid. I take my garbage on during my time of morning prayer. I do the acrostic “PRAY.” After I have spent time praising God for who He is and what He has done, I turn to repentance. I have a long list of sins of the heart–a critical spirit, jealousy, a victim mentality, and many more. I look over the list, sensitive to the Spirit to see if He highlights any that I need to confess. It becomes my time to take out the garbage, anything inside that doesn’t belong there, that needs to be removed so it doesn’t grow putrid. Here are some truths about taking out the garbage:

Sin is garbage. Don’t try to make it sound nice. When I am carrying the garbage out and a sack breaks, cleaning it up is gross. No getting around it–Satan makes sin look beautiful.  Movies often highlight affairs. Ugly and putrid just became attractive. Sin carries disease and is deadly. Deal with it. Garbage can hide behind a victim mentality. Someone sinned against us, and we feel the need to hold that person accountable, so we keep our garbage rather than eliminating it. Bad idea. It festers. We may even feel it is important to share with a friend. So we dump the garbage on them rather than in the garbage bin, and they commiserate with us. An interesting word. They share our misery. Do we call that fellowship? It is walking in the darkness, not the light. Far better to deal appropriately with garbage.

Confession is part of a Christian’s routine. As Cornelius Planting wrote, “Recalling and confessing our sin is like taking out the garbage; once is not enough.” Garbage that hangs around gets exponentially more putrid. Ours turned into maggots while we enjoyed our vacation once. We came home to garbage that had multiplied. Confession is a part of my regular prayer time, so I hopefully don’t take up an offense or respond in a reactionary way. If I ignore sins, I start smelling like the garbage outside by the garage.

The longer you wait, the more putrid the smell. You don’t realize it, but you are smelling up the atmosphere with the toxic poison of bitterness, resentment, and hostility. That is why James, the brother of Jesus, writes, “”Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness…” (James 1:19-21). Garbage that goes in the truck is not typically recycled; it is dumped and used for landfill. Dump yours–don’t hold onto it. (Part 2 coming).

LET’S HEAR FROM 2 SUPER SENIOR SAINTS (part 2)

So Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms. Then after blessing God in his revelatory prayer, he blesses the holy couple and speaks prophetically about the pain coming to Mary: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (34,35). Joseph and Mary are going to return to Nazareth to experience ridicule throughout their lives. How merciful of God to give them these glorious encounters to let them know beyond any doubt that all the suffering they will go through does not erase the truth that Mary was singly blessed beyond any woman who has ever lived and that they are going to be raising the Messiah who will bring salvation to the world, not just the Jews.

It was not easy raising the Son of God. By the time Jesus began his public ministry, Joseph was out of the picture. The brothers of Jesus mocked him and did not believe in him. They along with Mary tried to get him to come home and stop embarrassing the family as the oldest son with an itinerant ministry, living at the lowest of the poverty level. The good news is that Jesus appeared to his brother James after the resurrection, and that was what James needed to believe. He became the strongest leader of the Jerusalem church and wrote the letter that bears his name. And brother Jude also became a leader and wrote a letter as well.

And as if the prophetic pronouncement of Simeon was not enough, an elderly lady joined the gathering. Luke writes that “there was a prophetess, Anna…She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour, she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38). As if to say, “Dear people, here is your Redeemer!” It sounds like the action of Simeon drew perhaps a small crowd of people who were at the temple grounds at the time. Some no doubt heard the prayer and prophecy of Simeon. Now even more are listening as Anna prays and prophesies, and not just to the powerfully blessed parents, but Luke says ”to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (38). What a holy moment!  They had never heard words like this before in the temple court, clearly an unforgettable time for the parents of Jesus. 

Think about it. Suppose Anna got married at the age of seventeen, common in those days. Her husband dies when she is twenty-four. She could have gone into serious depression. What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with God? She did the opposite. She used her life situation to become a woman of prayer and prophecy, and millions read about her two thousand years later.

God has likewise given us destinies, plans He wants us to walk into in the year 2022. If we listen like Simeon and Anna did, we will hear the voice of the Spirit, who not only speaks clearly but fills and empowers us to carry out the holy will of God in our lives!  Blessed New Year!!

LET’S HEAR FROM 2 SUPER SENIOR SAINTS!

Anything you would really like to do before you meet up with the Lord? Luke introduces us to  Simeon and tells us four things about him:  he “was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:25,26). Scripture doesn’t say he was old. We assume so because he said he had only one more matter to fulfill before he would depart.  He proved his ability to be guided by the Spirit when he came to the temple exactly when Joseph and Mary also showed up. Having waited perhaps for years or even decades, the Spirit said, “Now!” And he met up with the Messiah. Flawless timing!

It turned into one of the three remarkable early experiences of the couple. The first was the visit from the shepherds. The birth hadn’t seemed the way one would expect of a Messiah-King, out back in a stable. Might they have wondered a bit? Not when the shepherds came and told them that an angel announced the birth, followed by a mighty multitude of them in the heavens. We are told that “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). The visit of Simeon and Anna was the second amazing experience. The third was the visit of the wisemen, months later. The infant is now called a child.  Each encounter put the strength into Joseph and Mary they would need to face hostility all their life, from an illegitimate birth to an illegitimate claim as King of the Jews three decades later.

Leviticus 12 prescribed that when an Israelite woman gave birth to a son, she would be unclean for seven days. On the eighth day the boy would be circumcised. Then she would continue the process of purification for thirty-three more days, after which she would go to the temple and bring to the priest a lamb a year old. If she could not afford a lamb, she could bring two turtledoves or two pigeons. This fit the situation of the couple. A lamb was not in their budget.  But a lamb would be sacrificed thirty-three years later, costly indeed!

We don’t know if Simeon was a priest. It appears that he was not. What we know is that “he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him in his arms and blessed God” (Luke 2:25-28). Now again God is giving Joseph and Mary two powerful messages concerning the future of their baby. He said powerfully, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (2:29-32). An absolutely staggering and accurate prophetic word! This Jewish couple probably looked at each other, stunned and encouraged deep in their hearts. Simeon’s prayer has become a common liturgical benediction at funerals, uttered literally millions of times down through the centuries! (Part 2 next). 

6 STIRRING TRUTHS ABOUT THE WISE MEN!

1 THEY SERVED THE KING.

“We three kings from Orient are…” Wrong! We hear about wise men in the book of Daniel. He and his friends went to school for three years in Babylon to become “magi.”  Kings surrounded themselves with wise people, who advised them by interpreting dreams and unlocking mysteries. Daniel had an advantage–revelation from God, and he rose to the top of the food chain. He explained Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and even gave him his dream when he forgot it–wisdom of a different sort. 

2 THEY CAME FROM THE EAST, 

maybe Persia (Iran), Babylon, or Arabia. Since they were familiar with some of the Hebrew Scriptures that spoke about a star (“we saw his star in the east”–Matt. 2:2), they might have been from Babylon, since 20,000 Jews were exiled there in 586 B.C. It eventually had a center for Jewish Studies. We don’t know how many made the trip. Three gifts don’t mean three wise men.

3 THEY CAME TO WORSHIP,  

not do research. To take an 800-mile trip (if from Babylon) required more than curiosity. God was stirring in the hearts of these pre-converts to the Hebrew faith. They told Herod, “We have come to worship him” (2)  They acted on what they knew, and God gave them more. Same for you.

4 THEY CAME BY DIVINE ACTIVITY.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” and it gave them the supernatural direction needed to proceed. They were led by a star to the holy family, a miracle! By the time they got to Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary were in a house (2:11), not a stable, which might have simply been the other end of a cave. Maybe Joseph, who “was of the house and lineage of David,” had relatives in Bethlehem. They might have received him and given him the best they had at the moment, or they might have rejected him because of a questionable marriage. The wise men possibly arrived many months after the birth. The infant (“brephos”) is now called a child (“paidion”–2:8,11). 

5 THEY WERE SEEKERS, NOT SITTERS. 

The scribes gave the wise men the guidance they needed (2:5,6), yet without budging. They were five miles from the King of kings. Those who seek find; those who don’t won’t. Perhaps the wise men knew the writings of Daniel 9:24-27, which give a prophetic timeline regarding the Messiah and might have drawn them to seek more. God declares, “If with all your hearts you truly seek me, you shall surely find me” (Jeremiah 29:13). “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (2:10). Sounds like children discovering truth. Because they followed what they knew, God kept giving. We don’t need the whole truth, just the next step. They asked questions and got answers. We read about them in God’s Book!

6 THEY GAVE EXTRAVAGANT GIFTS. 

“Then opening their treasures, they offered him gifts…” (2:11). They were moved so much that they gave lavishly. God was silently involved in their story from beginning to end–leading, revealing, bringing joy. May He do the same for you–in 2022! And may you give it all you’ve got!

5 “PROOFS” THE WISE MEN WERE KIDS!

The story portrays people remarkably like children—in their passion for truth, their extravagance, their worship, their open faith.  Want to be more childlike? Check them out! 

THEY WENT ON A SEARCH.

That’s a kid thing. Why did the Magi go looking for Jesus?  Something moved their hearts enough to make them leave their homeland. Do you think friends tried to dissuade them?  “Following a star—to find a baby?  You’re not even Jewish.” 

They were probably students of the stars from Persia or southern Arabia, hundreds of miles east of Israel, most likely Gentiles, because they said, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”   Why would Gentiles pursue a Jewish king? It does not make sense, not to an adult.  Think it over—and you’ll decide to stay home. If you’re searching for more of Jesus, you’re childlike.

THEY ASKED QUESTIONS. 

Adults make statements. On the day of Pentecost, there were two kinds of responses. One was adult-like, a verdict:  “They have had too much wine”  (Acts 2:13).   The second was childlike:  “What does this mean?”

The wise men came to Jerusalem asking the “where” question?  The chief priests weren’t asking questions; they were giving answers.  “In Bethlehem of Judea…” Easy as that.  They were researchers, not searchers. They had the facts but not the faith.  

THEY WORSHIPED A CHILD. 

Adults hope to be praised. Think disciples. What do you do when your search ends with finding Jesus? You worship. You get down real low, because you realize that you are not the center. Not as easy for an adult as for a child. Herod wasn’t about to bow. Bad mistake. He’s already found that out! 

THEY WERE EXTRAVAGANT WITH GIFTS.

Passion goes beyond the limits, giving permission for extravagance. The wise men were not calculating in their giving.  They gave a little child gold, incense, and myrrh. Mary’s perfumed and poured-out gift was off the charts. Are you holding back or letting go?

THEY WERE BELIEVERS, NOT SKEPTICS. 

They believed in the guidance of a star, in a word of scripture, in a dream.  They were willing to be led, dependent rather than independent.  Adults have felt enough pain for a little cynicism to rub off.  It can make them independent rather than trusting.  Not so the wise men.  

ARE YOU A CHILD?  Answer true or false:

1.  I am more into release than control.

2.  I am good at asking questions.  

3.  I have not quit learning.  

4.  I am light-hearted. 

5.  I am not a worrier.   

6.  I am slow to label people.

If you answered false to at least three of these statements, here’s my advice:

CONFESS.  People in Alcoholics Anonymous introduce themselves by saying, “Hi, I’m Jerry, and I’m an alcoholic.”   I need to say, “Hi, I’m Paul, and I’m an adult.”  

DO WHAT A CHILD WOULD DO.  If you carried out Matthew 18:3, what would change? Your worship?  Your giving?  Your relationships?  As you step into 2022, trust God to change your heart and make you more childlike.  You are a child—for all eternity.  

8 GLORIOUS TRUTHS ABOUT CHRISTMAS!

1  THE FIRST ADVENT SET JESUS UP FOR THE SECOND.

Jesus had to come in humility to die, so the marriage supper of the Lamb would have plenty of guests. Jesus had to redeem us in order for us to be with him forever. We deserved to die, but he died in our place. Talk about love!! Round two–he comes in glory!

2  JESUS WAS THE POOREST OF THE POOR–AND A REJECT. 

He owned nothing but the tunic he wore. In his words, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).  We would not have expected God’s Son to operate in this way. He gave up the glory of heaven to be a no-name on earth. As Isaiah wrote, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces; he was despised and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).

3  GOD IS AT WORK WHEN IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE IT.

If we looked at the cross like people did who saw Jesus die, we would say that he was losing, not winning. In fact, at the cross Jesus thoroughly decimated Satan and his ranks. Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15)

4  JESUS WAS WILLING TO COME TO EARTH SO WE COULD GO TO HEAVEN.

There is only one way in, to have the righteousness of Jesus applied to our lives by faith. There is no way that we can earn a place in heaven. What we have earned is separation from God for our sin. Faith links us up with a holy God and we are given a right standing with Him.

5  GOD IS OFTEN SILENTLY AT WORK.

Most people had no idea that the incarnation just happened out back from a crowded inn. God announced it–to a few shepherds. God was powerfully at work. His Son was taking on flesh and blood, being born in the likeness of man in order to bring salvation to those who would put their trust in him.

6  CHRISTMAS IS REALLY GOOD NEWS.

Christmas is about a tree, not the one decorated with lights but the one on which he died.

7  GOD’S WAY IS SO DIFFERENT FROM THE WAY WE WOULD HAVE PLANNED.

No one who hears the gospel ever says, “Of course. I should have thought of that.” It does not make sense to the natural mind. It is counter-intuitive. It is shocking that we who deserve to die are given an eternity of bliss by accepting the work of Christ on our behalf. Is that fair? It is the only way we can be saved from eternal destruction.

8  THE RETURN TRIP OF JESUS WILL LOOK NOTHING LIKE THE FIRST.

He came the first time in humility. Only a few shepherds saw him. When he returns, “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” (Rev. 1:7). He will come not to die but to reign!

BEHOLD A HOST! (part 2)

Angels do not originate any plans; they carry out God’s. They do not marry, nor do they procreate. The Apostle Paul says, “In him (Christ) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities…” (Col. 1:16). God’s creation includes a realm on earth where visible beings exist and a heavenly sphere invisible to us. Angels appear to have ranks, just as armies do. The book of Daniel tells us that the archangel Michael serves as the prince of Israel, overseeing its affairs and standing in defiance of powers arrayed against it. 

Satan, formerly Lucifer, apparently chief-of-staff in Yahweh’s army, imitated God’s pattern of government when he was thrown out of heaven. Michael, on the way to answer Daniel’s prayers, was interrupted by the prince of Persia, who battled with him for twenty-one days. Satan is one of a multitude of demons, but he has more authority than any of them, just as in heaven he exercised more power. This might explain why Michael, when fighting with the devil over the body of Moses, did not personally confront him but said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9).

There exists, then, a great ongoing cosmic conflict, not star wars, but angel wars, not World War III but a titanic struggle of far greater magnitude and with much more at stake—the army of God and Satan in constant battle over the lives of people on earth, the planet visited by a Babe. St. Paul tells us mortals that “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Destinies of nations are not settled in legislative assemblies, or on thrones, or in an oval office, but in heavenly places. I wonder if 9-1-1 prayers are often answered by angels.

Heaven was never more excited than with the birth of God’s Son. Now they wait for the next big day, the marriage of that Son, the desire of the ages, the Beloved. They are not given the full picture. They love probing the depths of the Gospel to find further clues of God’s outrageous love for humans (I Pet. 1:12). They will never call God “Father” as the redeemed are privileged to do. Jesus did not become an angel. He was born into the race of humans to rescue us from the clutches of an angel once called Lucifer. The Child came, according to John, “to destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8). The birth of Jesus was an act of aggression.

Gabriel appeared to Mary in Nazareth to announce how God was going to use her to give birth to the Messiah. This visit proved more pleasant than the one five months before in Judea with a doubting priest. An unnamed angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to give him the go-ahead with his betrothed. The star that led the wise men to the Child could have been an angel (Jude 13, Rev. 1:16, Rev. 9:1, 12:4). When they left, “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream” to save Jesus from the slaughter of infants by Herod. When he died, an angel guided the family back to Israel. And, yet, another dream (and perhaps an angel) warned Joseph not to live in Judea. How remarkable are these servants of God, who figure often in stories surrounding births, and especially in the birth of the ages. How reverently they carry out the will of the Most High God. 

Births are critical times, new beginnings, when important breakthroughs take place—for individuals, families and nations. Could it be that when angels proclaimed the birth of heaven’s hero, God emptied out the place? Some believe that His army includes as many angels as there are stars. So if 17 trillion members of God’s Air Force filled the atmosphere surrounding Bethlehem one night, we can understand why “the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Luke 2:9). And if “all the angels shouted for joy” at the creation of the world (Job 38:7), we can only imagine the deafening cataclysmic roar at the birth of God’s Son.

The mysterious invisible realm is no less real than the visible realm. Ceaseless activity of good and evil surrounds us and is only apprehended through eyes of faith. But we easily over-spiritualize that realm. We have re-crafted them so mellow as to tame them out of sacred terror. And yet we cannot focus for long on them or we might worship them. They are here momentarily, then gone as quickly. We focus on what they focus on–the God of glory and the Lamb! Worship is central in heaven, and angels are non-stop worshippers. These holy creatures, strong, swift, and subtle as wind, obey God implicitly. “Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word” (Ps. 103:20). 

May we join them this beautiful Christmas season in giving praise to the Child of Bethlehem, the Savior of the world, and may we, like these ministering spirits, serve as dutifully and as accurately as they. And maybe you, like the servant of Elisha, will sometime have your eyes opened to see one of these mighty ones! 

BEHOLD A HOST! (part 1)

“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound…” Who? Superman? No, angels!

They show up at Christmastime in our songs, hanging from trees or announcing concerts on billboards. Our first encounter with these heavenly creatures often comes in the annual Sunday School Christmas pageant. Angels are usually between four and eight years old, always girls, and about three feet tall. Or we are introduced to the cutie in the baby stroller appearing radiantly innocent, and we hear her called a little angel. Our vocabulary is sprinkled with angel talk: angel food cake, angel’s hair, angel’s dust, angel fish, the City of the Angels, the Anaheim Angels. But that only hinders a true understanding of their nature and purpose. If they are as important to our welfare and to God’s ongoing program as 275 Bible references suggest, we ought to brush up on our angelology!

Who are these superhuman beings, glorious and terrible, who share God’s joy when sinners repent and who wipe out a third of the earth’s population near the end of time; who gather as a 100,000,000-voice choir singing to the Lamb in the Apocalypse, and who join with the archangel Michael in warring with the dragon and his angels?

Who are these heavenly messengers, not bound by time or space as earthbound creatures, one moment before the throne, the next moment announcing the birth of God’s Son, traveling much faster than the speed of light? Are they omnipresent? No, but they can get from here to there a lot quicker than we can. Are they all-knowing? No, but they know many things we don’t. They are the army of God, the militia of the Ancient of Days. Scripture says that when the announcement to the shepherds was finished, “a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel” in a chorus of praise (Luke 2:13). The word “host” means “army.” The “Lord of hosts” is the Lord of the army. 

If heaven includes an innumerable company of these warriors, any one of which could clean up the United States Marines in seconds, you begin to appreciate the awesome power of these amazing creatures—hardly the Christmas pageant variety. One can appreciate why people felt like worshipping them; they appeared like gods. One can also understand that when an angel appeared unannounced to Zechariah in the temple, he didn’t respond, “You little cutie.” Instead “he was startled and was gripped with fear” (Luke 1:12). We have effectively emasculated these glorious creatures who are genderless but far from powerless. Try saying to Brian, “Heh, guess what? You get to play an angel in the Christmas play.” The angels we envision could not take out one fifth grader, let alone an entire army. Boys should be begging, “Please, let me be one of those warrior angels.”

These immortal beings serve God and help in the administration of His universe. They figure prominently in the Old Testament, often as instruments of God’s judgment. They destroyed Sodom and rescued Lot. An angel led Israel through the wilderness and gave them the law. One angel smote the entire Assyrian army of 185,000 soldiers, and an angel saved Daniel from the lions. God allowed Elisha to see a mighty host of these invisible fighters. They often appear unannounced. They paid a visit to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Elijah, Zechariah, Joseph, Mary and Peter. 

God allows some on earth to see God’s secret service agents. One such fortunate person, the special needs daughter of a pastor friend in Norway, sees angels regularly—and thought everyone did. Once when she was traveling with a young adult group from her church, they found themselves hopelessly lost. They decided to ask her if she, perhaps, knew the way. She said, “Go left at that corner. Now go right, then go left down there.” She could see angels at these streets. This went on for some time and they wondered but kept following her directions. Then they asked her, “Are we near the building?” She said, “It’s right there.” She saw an angel sitting on top of the building. And it was the place where they were going. In heaven we will meet the beings who have been silently serving us all our lives, usually without our seeing them, like when the angels kept our loaded car from a serious accident when we began fishtailing in a snowstorm on Interstate 35-W. Angels are good at that—and in heaven we will join their ongoing celebration.

Angels appeared to Jesus at important points in His life. He spoke a good deal about them, indicating that little children have guardian angels (maybe adults do, too), that angels cannot die, and that they will separate the righteous from the wicked on the final day. They play a prominent role in the last book of the Bible. They dictated the letter to John. An angel is used in answering the prayers of the saints. An angel will bind Satan near the end of history. These servants of God will return with Jesus in flaming fire. Hell will be populated to a large extent by the devil and his angels. (Part 2 coming).

THE MOST REMARKABLE MEETING OF 2 WOMEN–EVER!

Two visits by one angel, five month apart. Two people, an old man and a young woman, both devout. Two angelic proclamations about two sons. Good news, miraculous, unbelievable—a child past child-bearing years and a baby without a husband. Never happened before or since. Two opposite responses to the incredible news.

Two sons destined for greatness, one the greatest of the Old Covenant and the other the greatest of the New Covenant, both named by heaven, bypassing traditional names: John (“the Lord is gracious”) and Jesus (“the Lord saves”). Two regions, Judea and Galilee. The priest needed to live near the temple at Jerusalem. Galilee would light up in thirty years like never before: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus was born in the south and ministered in the north.

Two women, one barren, one a virgin. For the first, the news would lift the shame she felt her whole adult life. For the second, the shame would commence when she began carrying a child.

Two impossible pregnancies facilitated by the moving of the Holy Spirit on their bodies, both including prophetic words by the mothers when the sons met in Judea—still in the womb. Both sons would change history, the one serving the other as a forerunner, yet knowing Jesus came before. 

During Mary’s angelic visitation, she found out her relative was miraculous carrying a child. She told Joseph she was going to pay her a visit. She needed strength from a motherly figure who would understand. Mary could be stoned for what appeared like adultery. God’s miracles can masquerade behind mistakes. They also hide behind impossibilities. Both women were graced by heaven but disgraced on earth, one before the baby came, the other during and after.

Important truths: 

  • SUFFERING NEEDS TO BE STEWARDED WELL. It will shape our character and release the gifts of the Spirit if we do not allow resentment to color our perception of God. Elizabeth said, “Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” only beginning to grow in Mary’s womb. Elizabeth’s remarkable recognition of Mary’s baby came out of the fires of affliction.
  • HUMILITY RELEASES GRACE that invites the activity of the Spirit. Elizabeth recognized that her task was dwarfed by a far greater assignment of being the mother of the Messiah. Her humility gave her revelation of the purposes of God. She could have made the moment about herself. If you want to prophesy well, suffer well and stay low.
  • GOD HAS CHARGE OF THE WOMB. He works His divine will without checking probabilities. “Against all hope Abraham in hope believed…” With God, it is not as it appears. 
  • WE GIVE IT ALL TO JESUS. Mary said, “I am the Lord’s bondservant. Let it be to me according to your word,” another way of saying, “Jesus can use my body. A man who owned a donkey said, “Jesus can use my colt.” A woman said, “He can use my alabaster box.” Another said, “Jesus can use my grave.” What can we offer Jesus? Our car, our home, our gifting, our position? Use us, Jesus!