Friday, December 23, 2016

(7) Last Words

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38

(Please read devotionals 1-6 first.)

After receiving her commissioning and being reassured that God was at work, Mary responded with three beautiful last words.

Behold (which we don't use these days) means "See! Look! Here I am!" The closest thing we have to this in our context is someone responding to a classroom roll call. 
          Suzi, Eva, Mary? Here!
I am the servant of the Lord is like saying, "I will do whatever you wish" or "Lord, I present myself to you." This is a continual prayer of openness to God. This is the living sacrifice found in Romans 12:1:
Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship.

And lastly, Let it be to me is a voluntary wish that is done to me. Mary was saying, "This is a my wish. I sign up for this heart and soul".

I believe Mary was fulfilling Eph 2:10 For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God had favored her for a good work. She merely accepted.

I wonder at times how I can do the job God has given me. I am in a small missions organization and there are many out there doing bigger and better jobs than I am. I don't have a formal counseling degree. I am a woman trying to influence men.

But I look at Mary. She did not let any of the normal excuses hold her back. And she didn't even have the Scriptures and the resurrection of Jesus to bolster her faith. She simply said, "Let it be...." I want that courage, that surrendered heart, that faith.

What task is God asking you to do?
How have you responded? 
How can you respond more like Mary did?

Lord, I present myself to you. Here I am for whatever you would wish.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

(6) Reassurance and Sign

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”  
Luke 1:35-36

(Please read devotionals 1-5 first.)

The angel reassured Mary that what was about to happen in her was a Holy Spirit thing. God was at work and he was about to do the impossible. And then to prove it, he gave her a sign.

Her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant. Elizabeth, the one who had never been able to have children, was now pregnant. And she was old. This too was a God thing. Miraculous pregnancies were part of the history of Mary's people. Women past childbearing age and infertile women had born children, but never before had a virgin born a child.

Nothing will be impossible with God. Other translations say, "For no word from God will ever fail." This literally means that "not any word from God is without power". Every word, every promise God speaks has power, enough power behind it to bring it to pass. Other scriptures verify this:
When the disciples were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:25-26
The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. I Thessalonians 5:24
God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? Numbers 23:19

I have seen God do some miracles. I know some dear women who despaired of ever having children and now they hold little ones in their arms. But I forget this when I look at the impossible situations in my life that need a God-sized miracle. I need the reassurance God gave to Mary. Today, I will remember that the Holy Spirit is in me and he is at work.
What impossible situation are you trusting God for?
What sign has God given you that his word will not fail?

Precious Lord, I adore you for being a God who does the impossible, whose words do not fail, who has power to fulfill his promises. You are worthy of my worship. Teach me more about you so that I can believe and trust that you will work in my impossible situations.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

(5) Question

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, 
“since I am a virgin?” 
Luke 1:34

(Please read devotionals 1-4 first.)

Good question Mary! Yeah, angel, please tell us how will this be?

Mary needed more information. After all, she was being asked to believe and participate in something that was beyond human experience. I don't think she was being belligerent. She was simply seeking to understand. She asked a clarifying question. 

Clarifying questions are questions that seek more information and "ensure that the listener's understanding of what the speaker has said is correct, reducing misunderstanding. They reassure the speaker that the listener is genuinely interested in them and is attempting to understand what they are saying." Clarifying questions are non-judgmental and keep the speaker talking while helping the listener understand.

Some examples of clarifying questions are:
I'm not quite sure I understand what you are saying.
I don't feel clear about the main issue here.
When you said ........ what did you mean?
I am learning to be a better listener. In my journey, I am asking more clarifying questions and less curiosity questions. Curiosity questions are about me, not the speaker. They are details I want to hear. They usually send the speaker off on tangents that might not be what they really want to talk about. Instead, I want to hear what the speaker needs to share and not just fish for what I want to hear.

Like Mary, I am also trying to apply this principle in my listening to the Lord. I want to understand what he is saying to me, to make our conversations about him and not me and to allow him to tell me what he wants to say, not just get him to say what I want to hear.

What kind of questions do you ask? 
When you listen to a friend, do you seek only the information you want to hear or do you allow them to share as they desire?
What do your conversations with God look like? Are you a good listener?

Father God, teach me to listen to you, to make our conversations about you, to hear what you are trying to say to me. Teach me the art of good question asking so that I can be a better friend and listener to my loved ones.

Monday, December 12, 2016

(4) Commissioning

You have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth 
to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great 
and will be called the Son of the Most High. 
The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 
and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; 
his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33

(Please read devotionals 1-3 first.)

Favor. Favor with God. In Greek, favor is charis, which means grace, the loving kindness of the merciful God.

The discovery of the meaning of this word startled me. I have always read this story thinking that God selected Mary because she was specialgodly, humble, modest, perfect. But after studying the word "favor", I believe I had it all wrong. Mary was chosen solely by grace. The same grace that chooses you and me.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:3-6 NKJV
Ephesians 2:10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 
"Despite all her qualities, God's choice of Mary to bear his child springs from his grace, not from any inherent merit she possesses. She is the object of God's unmerited, graciously provided goodness. God acted on her behalf and not because of her." IVP NT Commentary

I used to believe that I just needed to follow Mary's example and God would choose me for some very special purpose. Now I see it's all grace. I have found favor with God because I am his child. The same goes for you. Our good or bad behavior doesn't determine God's favor. Christ's death gave us grace/favor. Our task then, is to be ready and willing to obey the commission when it comes.

Do you seek to live as a model disciple? 
If you do, then do you expect God to favor you with special assignments?
Do you think God has done you a favor and now you have to do him a favor?
Or do you do God a favor and then expect him to repay you with a favor?
Or maybe you think you are too undeserving of any favor from God?

Gracious Savior, thank you for saving me by grace, accepting me and choosing me to do good works for you. Thank you for the reminder that I don't deserve your assignments based on my behavior but rather based on your grace. I repent of my pride that thinks I am deserving of your favor.

(3) Command & Promise

But the angel said to her, 
“Do not be afraid, Mary. 
Luke 1:30

(Please read devotionals 1 and 2 first.)

The angel's preface to his commissioning, "Do not be afraid", is the most commonly repeated command in the Bible. There is good reason for this for we are people of fear. 

Mary was afraid of what the angel was going to ask her to do. I too am often afraid of my tasks, the unknown, the future, the risks - life in general. 

Fear is the root behind all sorts of things. Fear causes us to make poor decisions, react wrongly, shy away from obedience, and keeps us from taking necessary risks.

I think it is very significant that the angel first told Mary in verse 28, "The Lord is with you." This promise very often accompanies the injunction to not be afraid.
To the Israelites in Deuteronomy 31:6 "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
To Joshua in Joshua 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
From David in Psalm 23:4 "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."
To Isaiah in Isaiah 41:10 "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
And then to Mary, God repeated his promised that He would be with her no matter what she would face and thus she did not need to fear.

And now to me and you, God says in Hebrews 13:5b-6 “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

What are you afraid of? What is fear keeping you from? Do you believe the Lord is with you?

Stop for a moment and tell God about it. Remember that God's nearness and presence overshadows fear.

Father God, I am afraid about ______. I draw near to you right now. I press into your presence, becoming aware that you are with me. May your nearness overshadow my fear.

(2) Angelic Greeting

The angel went to her and said, 
“Greetings, you who are highly favored!
The Lord is with you.” 
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and 
wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 
Luke 1:28-29

(Please read #No. 1 of this devotional first.)

Mary was troubled, agitated, disturbed - greatly. Yeah! Sounds about right! It's not often that a heavenly being speaks to you. 

But surprisingly, she wondered - reasoned, deliberated, considered - about his message, rather than the appearance of a talking angel himself. She wondered at the meaning of the greeting. What kind of greeting was this?

I know I'm speculating, but I imagine her thoughts may have (mine would have) raced along these lines:

Who am I to be favored? Surely you have the wrong person.
Why pick me? I'm just an ordinary girl.
I've heard the stories and I know it's not always so great to be favored or singled out. 
I'd rather just remain anonymous. 
What am I going to have to do?
What awaits me that I need God's presence?

These thoughts remind me of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice who responds to her sister Lydia's offer to find her a husband with, "I thank you for my share of the favor, but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands". (For those who don't know, Lydia had eloped with a scoundrel.)

Or like the proverbial call to missions - whenever God calls, of course he's is going to send me to the farthest reaches of Africa!

Why do we always think the worst? That God's call means something horrible, difficult or the worst possible thing we could imagine?

When God calls, is your mind immediately troubled? 
Do you assume his call means hardship and sacrifice? 
Are you unwilling to accept God's call because you don't like his way of favoring you?

I thank you, Lord for my share of the favor because you always have my good in mind and you know what you're doing. Help me to trust you when you call by not assuming the worst right away.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

(1) Divine Encounter

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 
Luke 1:26-27

Two thousand years ago, a young girl had a divine encounter that changed the course of human history. God had not directly spoken to his people in over 400 years. But at this moment in time, when her cousin was six months pregnant, an angel appeared to Mary.

Mary, which means exalted, was from a small town that bordered Gentile territory. It was nothing special with no reputation for learning or for producing any important people.

She was a virgin (she had not yet had sexual relations) but she was engaged to a man named Joseph. In Mary's day, engagement was taken very seriously. It was legal and binding and could only be dissolved through divorce. In other words Mary was considered officially married even though she and Joseph were not yet living together. That would happen after the marriage, one year later. And she was probably between 12 and 16 years as girls were typically married at that age.

Mary and Joseph were both descendants of King David. In Hebrew terms, this meant they were equal royalty, but in the current day, they were but common peasants. Their lineage had lost its significance because of all the years of captivity and foreign domination. Mary was not a princess, she was a poor peasant. She was a young, unmarried female. 

In a time period in which a woman's value was determined by who her father was, who her husband was and how many sons she had, Mary was a nobody in the eyes of her world. An ordinary little girl.

And yet Mary was the fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. God knew her, saw her and sent his angel to commission her.

How about you? What are your credentials? Where do you come from? What makes you unique?

Don't let your location, small town, race, gender, financial status, family background, lack of education, or marital status or anything else cause you to feel disqualified to be called or used of God.

Lord, thank you that you used a lowly peasant girl. Thank you that my credentials do not disqualify me from encountering you and being used by you. I trust that you will be faithful to fulfill your Word through me.