In a Sunshine State

78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, 79 to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Luke 1:78–79 (NAS)

In January in my neck of the woods, in the Sunshine State, we enjoy what I call some high sun days. Clear blue skies and radiant sunlight, hopefully accompanied by—finally—some crisp cool temperatures. If it were possible, you’d just like to peer right into the light and bathe in it.

So it is with the Lord’s tender mercy, but it is possible to fixate and thrive on it. This mercy helps us to rise up and navigate through dark and dreadful times, and it leads us to peace. And each day the sun rises and hangs in a clear blue sky, because his mercy, or compassion, is new every morning. Lamentations 3:23

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The Perfect Choice

48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. 50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. 51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.

Luke 1:49–52

Mary was indeed correct in her prediction that people in the future would count her “blessed.” She would not have tolerated the extreme veneration though, as she was truly humble. From her testimony she warned the exalted proud and the oppressive rulers of their impending doom. One gets the impression that in her mind to accept or even share the worship of people for her role in the coming of the Lord would issue forth divine judgment on her and them.

One of my favorite references to the Creator outside of the Creator is the Lord God Almighty. In Mary’s Magnificat he’s the Mighty One who’s done mighty deeds, for the “small-cased” future mother of Jesus, for Israel, and for all his humble servants. What’s more, he would be the dispenser of mercy from generation to generation to all who would fear him.

We would say today that Mary got it right from the beginning, the perfect choice to serve as the conduit through which the Savior of all humankind would come.

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Taking it at Face Value

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

Luke 1:34 (NAS)

From Zacharias, Gabriel’s next stop was to deliver a message to Elizabeth’s relative Mary, a young virgin betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph. In her case, the Holy Spirit would come upon her and she would be “with child,” the son of the most high God.

Whereas Zacharias questioned the angel on the improbability of he and his wife conceiving, Mary’s question was appropriate, in that she would need to know a man first, and such a thing would be unconscionable out of the bond of marriage. Her response was not incredulous but “amen,”

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38

The difference was a keen understanding that with God all things are possible. What turns out more often than not is that we consider most things as impossible. Our default position should be that of Mary’s. We know that in later years she would “goad” her son to act at a wedding celebration when the supply of wine ran short. (John 2:1-5) He’d not performed a miracle yet, but she was confident he could do something. May we all possess this presupposition!

Mary immediately traveled the hilly 50 miles or so to see Elizabeth, having been advised of her condition by the angel. Upon hearing Mary’s greeting the baby John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. Then filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth said this.

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”

Luke 1:45

We should read the promises in God’s word and react the same way Mary did. In doing so, according to her spirit-filled relative, we will be blessed!

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Time and Time Again

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.
14 “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 18 Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”

Luke 1:13–14, 18 (NAS)

Why is it so hard to believe God? Maybe not for salvation, but for almost every prayer-worthy challenge we face here on earth. No sooner then we might desperately plead with God to handle our issue, one he’s likely resolved for us before, we revert to hand-wringing. Here, face to face with Gabriel, standing in the Holy of Holies no less by luck of the draw, after God’s principal spokesman delivers amazing news, Zacharias foolishly asks the question “how will I know this for certain” and sets long odds.

We may sing “God will make a way when there is no other way,” but do we really mean it? We are reminded that Jesus said to Martha on the passing of her beloved brother Lazarus, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40 In this case, God forced the issue on Zacharias by giving him nine months in silence to learn his lesson. Maybe the Lord also wanted to eliminate any vocalized skepticism that he might be inclined to voice in the interim.

We all have perennial problems that plague us, each time spawning fears and trepidation. Time and time again we’re delivered. Time and time again we fret. It’s about time to adopt a zero tolerance posture and believe God from the start, present company included.

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Nothing But the Truth—Gospel of Luke

3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;
4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:3–4 (NAS)

Luke tells us that from the beginning many undertook the task of documenting the story of Jesus in order to pass it down and on. Those interviewed were eyewitnesses to and custodians of the gospel. There was a common understanding that something world-changing had happened that everyone should know. Luke was a medical doctor and therefore a scientist. What appeared lacking was a comprehensive investigation from beginning, and in this case, to the beginning. Now I would say Matthew did this quite well himself, but more for the benefit of the Jews. The good doctor was aiming to relay the “exact truth” to the masses, Gentiles more specifically, and chose the honorable and trusted official Theophilus to get the word out.

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The Powers that Be

31 “For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:31 (NAS) (Read the full chapter for context)

The capacity of man to perpetrate evil on another man appears unrestrained. When Jesus uttered these words he had been beaten to a pulp and was minutes away from hanging on the rugged cross he was now too weak to bear. His point was that if they would do this to him, what will they do to us?

Whatever it will be, he prophesied that we will wish to have a mountain fall on us rather than to have to endure it. With much relief, perhaps of the same kind the criminal beside him felt when he was promised paradise in mere moments, we now know that Jesus completed his mission on our behalf. While he became our savior, he had none. Although the thief beside him paid a severe price for his crimes, his savior hung next to him. The Word says this about the power of another man, et al over us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT

When the powers that be come down on us, we’re going to want and need a savior. Turn to Jesus now and exclaim, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” Luke 23:42

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Worth Every Penny

Despite all the chaos of the past two years, Americans continue to consume, albeit mostly with online purchases. Before most buy they study the benefits of a product and read the reviews. Psalm 103 offers everything you need to know about a relationship with the Lord God Almighty. He gets rave reviews.

King David for one sings his praises in his submittal.

“He pardons all your iniquities. He heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the pit. He crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion. He satisfies your years with good things. He performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed. He’s compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

“He will not always strive with us. He will not keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For those who fear Him, as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Moreover, He has compassion on those who fear Him as a father has compassion on his children.”

All this (and there’s even more to tell) comes in the package, and these mercies are new every morning! (Lamentations 3:23) No wonder David begins his review with this.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits. Psalm 103:1-2

He’s worth every penny He spent to redeem us.

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Two and Two Together

I’ve been alive quite a few years and never have I been exposed to more “science.” Those of us who are both curious and skeptical have feasted off the resources we now have at our fingertips to expand our knowledge. We’re now very familiar with the words randomized, double-blind, placebo, and control group. It’s also quite obvious that there is much to be gained from simple observation, which is a scientific technique. Sometimes there’s enough to go on by putting two and two together.

Great are the works of the Lord; they are studied by all who delight in them. Psalm 111:2

Here we have a simple statement requiring only that we look around. If we study the works of the Lord, we’ll find them to be great, and they’ll bring us delight. Or they’ll scare us, causing us to fear him. Then we’ll have arrived, because “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (111:10)

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Learned His Lesson—Daniel 4

37 “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” Daniel 4:37 (NAS)

There is reason to believe King Nebuchadnezzar experienced spiritual “regeneration” in response to seven years of discipline at the hands of the King of heaven. The three verbs (praise, exalt, honor) in fact denote continuous action. For seven years the most powerful man in the known world was essentially “Baker acted,” relegated to a private grassy field with livestock. There he lived as an animal just as God predicted in his dream, as the prophet Daniel interpreted. The king was given one year of grace to shed his pride, but he refused. As such, the judgement was executed.

In the end, he glorified God. I for one have always been skeptical (for lack of study) of this change of heart, yet we have here recorded by the venerable Daniel who witnessed this transformation one of the most dramatic testimonies of all time. He was quite conscious of his sin and well aware of his salvation from it. It may very well be that I’ll see him in passing on the streets of gold. We’ll probably agree that “God causes all things to work together for good.”

We’ve all been similarly humbled to break us to the point of acknowledging our need of a savior, that is Jesus Christ. True signs of conversion will always be the adoration, exaltation and glorification of the King of heaven. If that is now your normal response to the vicissitudes of this fleeting life, you’re in.

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Slower than Christmas

Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Fire goes before Him and burns up His adversaries round about. His lightnings lit up the world; the earth saw and trembled. Psalm 97:2–4 (NAS)

My uneducated first guess on what the second coming of the Lord will look like was complete and blinding light. As usual, on closer study, my first impression was wrong. He comes clothed in thick darkness, or in a dark cloud. Moses and his people can attest to their exposure to the Almighty.

“You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom. Deuteronomy 4:11

So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Exodus 19:16

As we creep towards another Christmas day, we will be reminded, at least some of us traditionalists will, of the Lord’s humble beginnings, lying in a manger, surrounded by lowing animals. But the next time he comes, he will arrive in a dark cloud of doom and all will tremble.

It might be more useful these days to focus on the second incarnation rather than the first. The real meaning of Christmas is that the only thing left to anticipate is “thick gloom.” Like Christmas, thank goodness the Lord chooses a slow and deliberate pace.

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