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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A "Timeless" Christmas Lesson

I was reading old journals a few weeks ago and found two whole weeks of old Christmas-time lessons. Four years old and largely forgotten, I dusted one off to share at a Christmas Party. Maybe some of you will find encouragement here.....

Just as a note, ALL the quotes are taken from the Study Notes in my ESV Study Bible. When I first studied this, my Bible was new and I was mildly obsessed with the notes - I'm still quite attached. If you don't have an ESV Study Bible, add it to your Christmas's not too late....there's still one week before Christmas!

Read Isaiah 9:1-7
What I learned as I studied is that God's people are approaching a very VERY dark time. When we read this chapter it's usually in the context of Christmas pageants or family readings and we miss the context. The people are living through or seeing on the horizon a terrifying inescapable darkness. So when Isaiah starts jacking with the time frame, we don't notice because it's ALL history to us, but they would've heard. Think about your most difficult dark place right now. Now imagine sharing that with someone who then says, "Well, way back when you went through that..." Absurd? I guess it depends on what else they say. That's what Isaiah does here: 
“In the former time” – “Isaiah’s vision projects his thoughts out of the tragic present as if it were already past.” (ESV Study Bible) “In the latter time He has made glorious” – “a past-tense verb, because the prophetic eye sees the future…”(ESV Study Bible)

Our present reality is already the past in God's view. And the future we fear is "latter time" to Him. He's bigger and stronger than the clock ticking in our ears. Can you trust God who sees beyond your tragic present?

Here is my journal entry from December 14, 2009. 
“How often do I believe God’s promise when my present is dark? He calls the present a “former time.” All the more reason to rest and TRUST even today!

Moving on in Isaiah 9. "On them the light has shined…” I learned that this is “not subjective wishful thinking but an objective, surprising joy breaking upon sinners through the grace of Christ.” (ESV Study Bible) 
When was the last time that something struck you as both objective and surprising? The best thing about an objective surprise is that you can see and measure and believe it! Here are some more treasures about Light.

Isaiah 42:6
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.”

Isaiah 49:6
He says: 
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

John 1:5
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

After reading all of that, here's my journal entry for December 15, 2009:
“What joy – that you would shine your light across this world to bring the nations to salvation. I love that this is not wishful thinking but an objective, surprising joy breaking out over us! This is Christmas, that the God who graces us with light out of darkness gives us the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus – in Him, Sweet Baby Boy.”

And then we see that there is Overflowing Joy in Three “Fors"
FOR - He breaks human oppression (4).
FOR - He ends war (5) - See Psalm 46:9 and Isaiah 2:4.
FOR - He gives Jesus (6-7).

Remember that amazing way God speaks outside of time? How He calls things that aren't yet as if they already are? In those days through Isaiah He spoke about Jesus Messiah with an already true certainty that ushers in complete and total assurance. As you read the list below, can you stamp these things over your dark places? Can you let the Truth of these names and the character they can barely contain drip down into your "Not Yets"? 

He IS Wonderful Counselor
  • Isaiah 11:2

He IS Everlasting Father (also ideal King who takes care of His people)
  • Isaiah 63:16
  • Isaiah 64:8
  • Psalm 103:13

He IS Prince of Peace
  • Ephesians 2:14
  • Psalm 72:7

And peace means = health, security, tranquility, a satisfied condition, an unconcerned state of peacefulness, completeness, harmony, fulfillment.

Here's my final journal entry for Isaiah 9; December 16, 2009:
“You are a miracle - able to advise and direct. You are mighty God Himself. You are forever and forever faithful and protective. You are our Redeemer and my Father. You are royal yet full of peace; peace that brings health, security, wholeness, and satisfaction. You are all of these things, and you shine them into the darkness of my life and bring me joy - full and amazing." 

For additional study on your own this season:
  • Isaiah 8:11-22, study the context and reason behind the “gloom” of 9:1.
  • Look up and study all the cross-references for the names of Jesus listed above.
  • Study John 1, and learn about Immanuel – God WITH US.

All notes for this handout came from the Study Notes in the ESV Study Bible.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bethlehem Tour

Christmas is different for me this year.
I was able to visit Bethlehem in February, and Christmas is forever changed.

As we are heading into the busiest time of the Christmas season, I thought you might like to slow down and see what it was like there.

This is where it happened...

I don't completely understand all of the politics, but Bethlehem was the only place we visited that was Palestinian controlled. We had to switch tour guides and our bus went through a checkpoint {which was no big deal for me as I'm sure I was on my phone - the bus was the only place with wi-fi you see}. We ate lunch and shopped for the famous olive wood nativities.....

Then we got to see the sites.

Shepherd's Field is located on the hillside where the shepherds might've been when they heard the angelic announcement. Our tour group stood together while one of the men in our group quoted Luke 2. We sang Christmas Carols and looked out over the side of the hills. It's not hard to imagine the sky lighting up.

This is the entrance to Shepherd's Field.

I stood next to this church in a little plaza and looked up. Even if this isn't the exact spot, I could imagine the star being visible. I could imagine the sky, this sky; being bright and full of angels.

This is the view down from where we stood together as a group. Can't you imagine sheep and shepherds out here?

Earlier in the week we stopped at a beautiful site called Megiddo. There are lots (LOTS) of amazing things about this place {Deborah, Gideon, Revelation}. 

It has layers and layers of history in the stone and dirt. One of the most interesting places was the ruins of a second palace built by Solomon. As our tour guide was telling us about this section he explained that we were standing in the stables. Then he pointed to this stone structure (pic below) and asked what we thought it might be. 

It's a manger, found in Solomon's stables. According to him, the mangers in the caves in Bethlehem would've been very similar. 

Be-still my Christmas heart.
{I almost made this picture our Christmas card this year}...

Next is the Church of the Nativity. Honestly, it was one of my least favorite visits. It was our longest wait (although not as long as usual), and the least real feeling place. I had wanted to walk into a nativity scene, and this is not that way. All the natural parts have been covered up with this ancient church built in the early 4th century. It still likely is close and similar to the cave where Jesus was born. Some ancient church fathers say this is the actual site of Jesus' birth.

We walked down the steps and sat at a little memorial that commemorates the birthplace of Jesus. Our tour guide took our picture and then we were hustled out.

I did find this jewel before we were hurried out. I asked if there was anything original to the time of Jesus' birth and was directed to this cave ceiling. I took this picture looking up from a little alcove in the cave.

  • These rocks might've been overlooking my precious terrified Mary as she labored. 
  • They might've offered protection while Joseph struggled to help her. 
  • They might've surrounded her while she dressed her baby and laid him in the manger.
  • They might've connected with the hands of the shepherds as they rushed in and then slowed down at the sight of a sacred baby.
So I had to touch them too...I probably worried the sweet nun sitting beneath, but I had to touch these stones. If only these rocks could cry out.

This is the outside of the Church of Nativity (behind me as I took the picture), notice the mosque on the right side.

The Bethlehem Countdown to Christmas Clock....this cracked me up {I don't know why}.

"1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was pregnant.
6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!" 
Luke 2:1-20, The Message

Merry Christmas from Bethlehem!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Christmas Post List

Merry Christmas!

I do have a couple of recipes in mind to share this month, and I am working on a trip post with pictures of all our Christmas stops in Israel {including what the manger would've most likely looked like}.

But today I'm posting a list of all my Christmas posts since I started this blog three years ago. I teach often about the discipline of remembering. It's no accident that we are instructed over and over to "remember" in Scripture. Nothing clears my mind of confusion like rehearsing the Truth of His goodness. If nothing else is gained from my writing this blog, I am thankful for the way it chronicles my own journey. I only write about what I've learned....and so reading old posts reminds me of my most Faithful Teacher.

  • One of my first ever posts, Christmas Favorites shares the stories behind my favorite Christmas decorations.
  • Mary was the last of the five women I studied last year, Mary's Treasures came from those precious lessons.
  • An Advent Lesson was a surprise Christmas marriage lesson.
  • I love word studies, two of my favorites are in this short post; Joy and Peace.
  • A conversation with my daughter about my favorite Christmas carol sparked Christmas Dawn

And then there are the recipes.....

May this December find you rehearsing old lessons and learning new ones! More soon.....

Monday, November 25, 2013

Selfish Attachments and Temptation

This is the ninth lesson in a series on 1 Corinthians. Please read all about it in the Introduction. I’ve broken the post into sections with journal prompts at the end of each part. These would be great stopping points. I’ve also linked the Scripture references to; click the blue font references. I’d love to hear what you’re learning in the comments!

Week 8: Selfish Attachments and Temptation (1 Corinthians 10)

I laughed out loud when last week on the morning I was to teach about chapter 9’s lessons on NOT demanding my rights, I had the opportunity to dig my heels in with a brother at church. In the grand scheme of things it was a no big deal minor issue….
-EXCEPT in my own attitude.
-EXCEPT in the way I heard God’s warning to seek Kingdom Growth FIRST in ALL situations!

I probably freaked him out a little, because I got kinda guilty-giddy-giggly as I recognized the lesson. Studying 1 Corinthians is changing me. You too?

This week we will see a famous verse on temptation in context, self-led pride before and dangerous attachments after. It’s miraculous to see that when we let go of pride and idolatry, temptation becomes much easier to handle….stay tuned.

In one of my Bibles this next section is titled, “Warnings from Israel’s History” which will prove to tempt some to snooze. But don’t do it! We haven’t just hit a random time warp. We’ve been knee (sometimes neck) deep in the messy nature of trying to get our ‘lil strong-willed natures tamed down from self-seeking to Kingdom-seeking. Chapter 10 is taking all of us back down Sunday School Lane to remember some stories and glean insight from the examples of real people.

Spiritual Snubs

Now, even though Paul is writing to a mostly Gentile church, he brings up Jewish stories. These are God’s stories, and so they are our own. As you read the examples does your mind wander back to Sunday School paintings of the parting of the Red Sea? Can you see Moses’ white hair and beard flowing in the wind? For many of us these stories have become so familiar that we highlight the heroic parts and miss the dark places. Read these five verses again and see if one word pops out to you.

Did you see it? “spiritual” This word describes the supernatural way God led and provided for His people. These verses connect the Bible-wide truth that Jesus is God’s provision. The warning? Don’t snub God’s presence or His provision.

Journal Prompt: How do you snub God’s presence or His provision?

Spiritual Examples

Now we are getting down and dirty. Specific stories that really happened. They happened and were tragic, but not wasted. We can study these people and their stories and learn! This is more than just learning from another’s experience. This is seeing God’s intentional hand working in and out of their experiences, leading and disciplining them and providing for them AS HE HAS AND CONTINUES TO DO for us.

When I read these verses I see another phrase repeated. “As some of them did…” comes through five times. Here’s the list of what “some of them did…” that we are to avoid.
  • They desired evil.
  • They became idolaters.
  • They engaged in sexual immorality.
  • They put Christ to the test.
  • They grumbled.

{Sarcasm Alert} Don’t you love these Bible lists? There’s always something in there that snags even the most pristinely pure one of us {hello grumble}. Why? Because doing right isn’t really the point. By the end of this chapter God will have confronted us with the Truth that the secret and strong attachments of our heart and soul are where our life truly gets its breath. So what will it be? Life or death? He will confront idolatry (our false attachments) and pride (our self-focus and unwillingness to submit to Him), just like He did in these examples in verses 1-11. He doesn’t change.

And so we see pride take its first blow in verse 12 with, “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Romans 11:20 and 2 Peter 3:17 share similar warnings. From everything we’ve studied in our Introduction and through our journey into and through the last 9½ chapters, the Corinthian church is struggling here on this issue. They want to control their church and beliefs and interaction with their culture. They want to understand and manage life. Some of that comes from a good place, but much of it comes from pride. They are Us.

Journal Prompt: From what you’ve studied so far, consider the struggle of the Corinthian church to break free from pride. What personal connections can you make to your own life and faith struggle?

Spiritual Temptation
I’ve linked it to different translations, be sure and read them all.

The first thing that I MUST point out, is that the context of this verse is temptation. This verse cannot be applied to every single difficulty you face. When people use this verse to tritely lay “God never gives us more than we can handle” over ANY situation you face, it’s not wholly true. God does allow more into your life than you can handle sometimes – but never temptation to sin. If you feel crushed by the weight of difficult circumstances, His purposes are always that you will lean into Him for strength and provision and abandon your foolish notions that you ever have enough spiritual resource in yourself to endure without Him. This is an important lesson I’ve taught using texts in 2 Corinthians that are more appropriately taught in another post. {Maybe someday we will get there!} The point here in verse 13 is that a push to sin never comes into your life without being met with the faithful Presence of God to overcome it. You just have to choose which direction you will lean…into Jesus or into sin.

Now, back to temptation in verse 13. Brainstorm with me some of the excuses that we use to rationalize our desire to give in to temptation. {Our excuses are the italicized panicky ones! God’s Words are the bold calm ones}.

I don’t know what happened, it just grabbed hold of me so fast!no temptation has seized you…
No one understands how hard this is! –except what is common to man…
I asked You to help me, You’ve abandoned me in this struggle! –I Am faithful…
It’s too much, I can’t say no! – I will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear…
I’m trapped, I can’t see any way out from this temptation. –I will provide a way out…
I’m done, it’s crushed me.
Even when I say no it’s still right here torturing me. –Stand up…

Do you see the progression from confusion to panic? God wants us to understand the nature of temptation. It’s always from the Enemy and it’s always for our destruction. John 10:10 and James 1:13-15 come to mind on this subject.

I hope that you can break free from the familiarity of 1 Corinthians 10:13 and see the hope there. He is the solid, compassionate, calm answer to every wave of panic-stricken confusion temptation blows over us. He doesn't always remove the temptation with some easy little "poof." He gives vision to see the way out and strength to stand up under the burden. You are never alone and you are never without resource. Please see with me the context of the two closest surrounding verses.  Verse 12 is a warning against pride. Verse 14 is a warning against idolatry. Our self-reliance and our secret attachments create a perfect atmosphere for temptation to do its damage.

Before we move on to the specific instructions Paul gives in this section let’s spend a few minutes on verse 14, tying it in to what we’ve learned. So far in this chapter we’ve been warned to consider the danger of snubbing God as He provides for us. We’ve been warned not to think too highly of our ability to withstand temptation on our own.  Now, in verse 14 we are warned to flee from idolatry. What is idolatry? It isn’t a contemporary concept, although it is most definitely a contemporary practice. We do it all the time. When I was studying and writing about the book of Hosea, I came upon this definition of idolatry from the Holman Bible Dictionary, “a physical or material image or form representing a reality or being considered divine and thus an object of worship.” (Fisher, 10). Idolatry catches us when we buy a lie and begin to worship something that represents a false reality. “To worship something means I adore it, I am aware of its presence when it’s close and miss it when its far way. I long to have it with me and spend time invested deeply in understanding and knowing how it operates…..We worship people, things, ourselves, achievements; both good and bad.” (Fisher, 12)

Any attachment in your life that overtakes your attachment to God is idolatry.
Run away.
If it’s a relationship or a responsibility that you cannot or should not escape, get it back in its proper place with the same “flee-like” urgency. Do it as if your life depends on it.

Journal Prompt: What fresh insight did you learn about the temptation verse? How does the warning to flee idolatry in verse 14 connect to teaching on temptation in verse 13?

Spiritual Living

So now we are back to the list of questions Paul is answering. Remember the meat issue from chapter 8? He starts right in on this topic declaring first the beauty of the church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It’s a celebration of Jesus. The pagan meat sacrifice is not a celebration of Jesus. And as such it is actually a sacrifice offered to demons. In verse 16, the bread and the wine is called a “participation.” Maybe you’ve heard this word before. Koinonia. It means “fellowship with or participation in anything.” (Zodhiates, 929). When I looked at this in (here) I saw it’s used 19 times. The verses are all beautiful examples of sharing and agreement. When it comes to the actual walking out of this boundary (especially in light of the teaching of chapter 8 and 9) the consideration of “koinonia” is the key. Where am I sharing and giving agreement? In verses 27-29 the instruction is clear….Don’t make the meat an issue, when you are invited into the home of an unbeliever to eat, just eat. Say a silent prayer and eat; making the most of any opportunity to share and find common ground so that you may have the chance to share Jesus Truth with them. 

How strange would it be for me to accept an invitation into the home of a friend, then demand that we eat our meal together the same way I would honor the Lord’s Supper at church? {Answer – super weird}. BUT, if that same person presents the meal to me as an intentional extension of the way it was first offered to an idol - that's where I draw the line. 

The challenge for us to it lay the BUT down in the right place. {Yes, I realize that statement is pushing it, but it's memorable, right?} Don’t be shackled by rules that alienate, BUT don’t live in a way that agrees, participates, or shows brotherhood with an idol.

Journal Prompt: Keeping the idea of agreement in mind. Where are some places that your lifestyle “agrees” with the things of demons instead of the things of God? Are there places where you are refusing fellowship where Kingdom opportunities could be found?

I'm hopeful that studying a familiar verse in context this week was eye-opening for you. I know that I learned so much!  I will post the rest of our lesson on chapter 10, and the very first verse of chapter 11 next week, as well as a summary review of what we've learned so far. THEN, we will be taking a big long break from 1 Corinthians while my college girls are home for Christmas Break and J-term. 

Blessings as you learn,