Z is for Zacharias

Photo by Luigi Morante

Photo by Luigi Morante

You’re joking, right? Says Zacharias with a hearty laugh.

Now, you may think he is responding to a joke….but it’s anything but a joke. Zacharias is one of the temple priests in Jerusalem. As one of 7,000 priests, he travels to Jerusalem a few times a year and takes his turn living in the temple, carrying out his priestly duties.

One day, as he is burning incense in the inner chamber, the archangel, Gabriel appears beside the alter. Not really a common occurrence while serving in the temple, so Zacharias is caught a bit off-guard.

Gabriel had a message from God for Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth. They have longed for children but life had not been kind to them in this area. Now they are older….well past child bearing years. Gabriel’s speaks and tells Zacharias they will have a son.

So now you can understand why Zach LOLed at Gabriel’s message. He has forgotten the story of Abraham and Sarah; forgotten that God tends to come in when everything looks hopeless; forgotten that God always makes good on His promises one way or another.

For a temple priest, this behavior is simply not acceptable. Because of his very vocal doubt, Gabriel strikes him deaf and mute, unable to hear and speak until after the baby is born. And that is a promise God keeps as well.

After Zacharias returns home, Elizabeth does conceive just as Gabriel said she would. Elizabeth and Mary, Jesus’s mother, are cousins and when the two pregger women get together to compare nursery room themes, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumps when in the presence of Mary’s unborn son.

Three months later a baby boy is born to Elizabeth and Zacharias, and Liz decides (with Gabriel’s prompting) to name him……John.

John? The neighbors and relatives are confused. John isn’t a recorded name in their family. What is she thinking? This son should be named after his father. Puzzled, they look to Zacharias for answers, who immediately grabs his writing tablet and tells everyone, His name is John. The meaning behind the name John is, the Lord is gracious.

Immediately, upon completion of the prophesied baby’s birth and dedication, Zacharias’ voice and hearing is restored.

We know this baby as John the Baptist…a cousin of Jesus who lived in the wilderness and prophesied about the coming Messiah.

Now back to Zacharias. Zach was obviously a man of God. He prayed and tried his best to be a good Jewish  man. With his and Elizabeth’s inability to have a child, he brought their petition to God. He continued to pray even as they aged and the idea of having a son began to look completely hopeless. In his heart, he may have simply given up…thinking God simply didn’t care or want him to have a son. His faith had been weakened by year after year of disappointment. This is when Gabriel shows up…to prove that nothing is impossible with God. That in the face of impossible and improbably odds, great things can happen.

But our situations are different, right?
Our situations are impossible to fix.
Our disappointments are too much to overcome.
Our lives are too messy to be straightened out.

Right?

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And with this entry, my ABC-bible style collection is completed.
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Photo attribution: Photo by Luigi Morante, from IM Free photo site. Some rights reserved by Creative Commons license. Orignal photo was cropped and retouched for purposes of this post.

 

 

 

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Y is for YOU!

In the beginning….God spoke to mankind. He used the pronoun YOU in his first communication with his human creation. He made it personal.

So sets the tone for how the relationship between God and us is suppose to be. Personal.

Likewise, the New Testament ends with mankind’s communication with God with the plea, Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

Between the first and last pages of the Christian bible are poetry, stories, history and parables about YOU…about me…and our personal relationship with God. It’s the story of US! With the first word that spoke the world into existence to the predictions of the end of the age, the words of the bible are carefully chosen, God-inspired messages to us. Messages to remind YOU…and me that our lives are designed for something bigger than ourselves.

Sometimes it may seem like God’s a gazillion miles away and not vested in our happiness. But that is never the case. Most of the time if we feel God is far away from us, it’s because we’ve moved away from him.

We’ve made it impersonal.

The truth is, God is crazy about YOU. It’s not a concept that is truly understood on our end. Who really understands unconditional love and forgiveness? By most of our actions, we certainly don’t. But over and over in the bible are examples of God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness for his creation…for me….for YOU.

From JC’s parables about lost sheep, to lost coins, to the prodigal son, God’s message is clear. His love for YOU…and me is extravagant, unexplainable and almost impossible to understand.

For him, it’s personal.

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X is for eXpectations

imperfectYou therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ~Matthew 5:48 (Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount)

Whoa. Whaaaat?

We’re eXpected to be perfect?  With eXpectations like that, no wonder people take issue with Christianity.

So what exactly does God expect from us? Since he is a holy, perfect God, imperfection cannot be tolerated in his presence.

But here’s the rub….God doesn’t demand perfection from us…yet he wants a relationship with us. He knows there is a hugs gap between his perfect law and our inability to measure up to it. We tend to want to close that gap by our own means. Sometimes we do it by lowering the bar and telling ourselves that God couldn’t have really meant (fill in the blank). That lets us off the hook for bad behavior or attitudes. Other times, we try and overcompensate by trying to become Christian overachievers. Both methods fall short of the goal.

We don’t have to perform for God. Constantly dwelling on living up to impossible, perfect, expectations robs us of the joy of having that special relationship between Creator and Creation. But sometimes we still tend to think that in order to be a *good Christian* we need to up our game so we’re more worthy in God’s eyes. The harder we try to live up to all those eXpectations and rules, the more frustrated we get…thinking we’ll never be good enough…thinking we’re nothing but failures.

So what’s a Christian to do? It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking God operates on a reward system and the better you are, the more blessed your life. The truth is, the only expectation God has for us is to rely on him to work through us. We need to ask God to work in our lives and by doing so, we fulfill all the expectations he has for us. Rely on God as we make our feeble attempts to live up to his laws…leaning on his grace and guidance.

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. ~Ephesians 2:8-10

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death…For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. ~Romans 8:1-2, 14

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W is for Woman at the Well

luigi morante-3407766662_woman at well

Photo by Luigi Morante

We don’t know the details of her past. Five husbands later (perhaps due to divorce, war, illness or accident) she now finds herself single…again. She thirsts for a loving, stable, unconditional love relationship, but it eludes her. Now, she’s living with a man who is not her husband. She may or may not love him…but for the foreseeable future, it’s what a woman in first century Samaria needs in order to survive. She knows the people in the village question her morals. She avoids them when possible.

It’s noon on the hottest day of the year. In this god-forsaken desert area, the other women have already been to the well in the cool of the morning to catch up on the village gossip and get their water. But she chooses this time of day in order to avoid them. Maybe she can get her water and leave before anyone sees her. She wonders if the man at home will still be there when she returns. Her future is anything but certain.

But wait, there’s another person at the well. Why is someone at the well this time of day in the scorching sun? And it appears to be a Jewish man…perhaps a rabbi. With downcast eyes, her muscles tense and she is careful not to make eye contact as she approaches the well. The man breaks protocol and speaks to her.

Whoa. Didn’t see that one coming.

Didn’t he know the rules? Number one, Jewish men were never to address a woman without her hubby present. Second, they were to absolutely never speak to a Samaritan woman. And third, Jewish rabbis, especially, were not allowed to interact with women looked upon as a bit shady. But, today, Jewish law will be completely ignored.

I doubt if the woman woke up that hot day anticipating a conversation with her Maker. But the man at the well was Jesus. And it was no coincidence he stayed behind at this exact location to rest while his disciples traveled ahead to the village of Sychar for food.

The woman needed an intervention and was about to get one of epic, divine proportions. Jesus throws out Jewish protocol…as he so often did….and strikes up a conversation with her. BTW, this is the longest conversation recorded in the bible between Jesus and another person. And, here’s the rub….it’s with a woman…a non-Jew…and between two ethnicities (Jew and Samaritan) that held deep hostility towards each other. It was the trifecta of political incorrectness.

Dangling a carrot in front of her he offers the possibility of living water. He further surprises her with a very candid conversation about her past….five husbands and a sixth man living with her who is not her husband. All of a sudden he has her attention. Who was this stranger who knew so much about her? And what is all this nonsense about living water?

After discussing what would be needed to obtain this living water, she tries to avoid further embarrassment by dismissing the subject with, “I know the Messiah is coming, he will explain everything to us” (John 4:25). Jesus answers, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:26).

Double Woah. Definitely didn’t see that one coming.

JC’s disciples return and, after their shock of seeing him speaking with a Samaritan woman, confirm his credentials. Her eyes are opened and she realizes that, despite her past and present situation, she can have the living water of eternal life, grace and forgiveness today and forever if she will confess her sins and change her life.

The setting of this encounter by the village well is significant in this story. In this arid region, a well is a vital, life-giving force. Without the water it provides, people die. Our girl went to the well for essential, life-giving water to quench her thirst. She went to the well for water to cleanse her body.

She got both.

Although not in the way she expected.

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Photo attribution: Photo by Luigi Morante, from IM Free photo site. Some rights reserved by Creative Commons license. Orignal photo was cropped and retouched for purposes of this post.

V is for Valued

money in hand 100sDo you ever feel worthless?
Do you believe you haven’t achieved anything?
Do you see failures in life and believe they reflect who you are?
Do your mistakes ever overwhelm you to the point that you feel useless and unloved?

When we’ve royally screwed up and feel unloved and undervalued by others, there is one who is always willing to take us back and reinforce our worth. And NO, it’s not our moms…although that was a very good guess. 🙂

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which You have set in place,
what is man that You are mindful of him,
the son of man that You care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor. ~Psalm 8:3-5

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

~Psalm 139:13

God never tires of showing his love for his creation. He can’t help it. It’s how he rolls. 

But never think he does this because we are all that lovable or that we somehow deserve his love. We are not entitled to the grace of a perfect, holy God by anything we’ve done…or not done. God loves us because God’s nature is love. He loves his creations and constantly tries to remind us of it.

God is love. ~1 John 4:8

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.
And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. ~Matthew 10:29-31

He even loves us when we rebel against him…even when we think we have a much, much better plan for our happiness. Don’t believe us? Just ask and we’ll tell you exactly what we think we need as well as what God needs to do in order for us to have it.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. ~Jeremiah 29:11

And he continues to value us even when we act more like the pot metal standard than the gold standard.

I will make a man more precious than fine gold. ~Isaiah 13:12

The price we’re willing pay for something indicates how much we value we place on it. The more it costs us, the greater we perceive it’s worth. Don’t believe me? Just attend any auction and see how much people will bid on the items. The sacrifices we make with our time, money and willingness to change will show what we value in our lives.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. ~John 15:13

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~Romans 5:8

I believe this should put to rest the question of how much God values us. Now, if we would simply mirror that value for each other……..

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U is for Unforgiveness

It’s just not fair. I’m the injured party here. I’m the one who has suffered. Not them. What they did was simply….

Unforgivable.

Forgiveness: to excuse a fault, absolve from payment, pardon, send away, cancel the debt; to stop feeling angry or resentful towards someone for an offense, flaw, or mistake.

Forgiveness is an intentional decision to release the feelings of anger, bitterness or resentment….and catch this part….regardless of whether they deserve it or not. But let’s be clear, forgiveness is NOT forgetting the offense or condoning the actions that led to the hurt. Real, authentic forgiveness brings peace to both mind and soul. It’s divine healing of the heart, absorbing and dissolving the caustic anger that eats away at any possibility of future happiness.

Unforgiveness: poison to the soul.

Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. ~Margaret Stunt

Unforgiveness can destroy both our physical and mental health. When we harbor resentment towards anther person of group of people for a wrong they’ve committed, we’re only hurting ourselves. To have angry, hateful feelings towards another will forever torture our soul until we can release it and let it go. If we don’t, we replay the original scenario over and over and over in our minds until it consumes and corrupts everything we do, say and think.

If we’re waiting until we get an apology, or see some sign of change or simply waiting until we’re good and ready, it will never happen. There will always be some excuse to not forgive. They aren’t really sorry; they didn’t meet all my criteria for apologizing; I don’t believe they really meant their apology; the list goes on and on and on and on…….The point is, if we wait until some required checklist is fulfilled, we’ll wait forever.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe we really don’t want to forgive the other person. After all, if we forgive and release that anger, bitterness and resentment, we won’t have it anymore to use when needed. We won’t have those things to drape over ourselves and wear like medals of valor. Deep down, we prefer the poison of carrying unforgiveness around in our hearts and minds.

Forgiveness is best served quickly. The longer we wait, the harder it is to do it. Forgiveness allows us to acknowledge the pain without letting that pain define us…and enabling us to heal quickly and completely. Forgiveness makes us happier, healthier and stabilizes relationships. It makes us feel less depressed, less stressed and more grateful for what we do have in our lives.

Unforgiveness is spiritual filthiness, so get washed in the water of God’s Word to forgive and stay clean. ~Joyce Meyer

forgiveness daisy 72

Forgive.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. ~Matthew 6:14-15

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. ~Luke 6:37

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ~Colossians 3:1

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. ~1 Corinthians 13:4-6 

Forgive other people when they hurt us. Forgive ourselves of mistakes we’ve made. Forgive God if you think your life isn’t turning out the way you want. God is always fair. There will always be things that happen in our lives we won’t understand. We all make serious mistakes. There’s no need to poison ourselves with unforgiveness because of it.

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T is for Ten Commandments

Or are they merely the Ten Suggestions?

I think people get uncomfortable with the word, commandment. In this age of moral relativism, most people simply don’t like being told what they can and can’t do.

What most people don’t realize is that the Big Ten from God were meant for those of the Jewish faith that were rescued out of Egypt by God’s hand. For the Christian, they take on yet another meaning. They’re not a rule book by which we tick off the boxes in order to receive salvation and grace. They are an outward sign of our willingness to live according to God’s will because we’ve been accepted and saved. For an authentic Christian, this is not a buffet-style offering where we take what we like and leave the rest. Authentic faith takes these as a compete package, knowing we’ll probably fail more than one of them at any given point in time…over and over again. But that doesn’t mean we don’t at least try to follow them..and when we fail, asking for forgiveness and that second, third or a hundredth chance.

But if you’re going to the mat on where you think they should appear, you probably need to know them.

Lynn Westmoreland, Georgia’s representative for the 8th district, found that out the hard way. While I absolutely do not endorse Stephen Colbert as a credible journalist in any way, shape or form, this clip is a wonderful example of a bad case of putting your foot in your mouth (fast forward to five minutes into the interview) http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/tlf8t3/better-know-a-district—georgia-s-8th—lynn-westmoreland

For Lynn’s benefit, let’s review them:

The first four focus on the vertical relationship we have with our Creator.

1. You shall have no other gods before Me. This is a commandment about loyalty. We should love, honor and realize the supreme authority of the god who created the universe and everything in it .

2. You shall not make idols. This one is about what we worship in our lives. It tell us we should not put anything of higher importance over the god who created us in his own image.

3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. This one is about respect. How we treat God’s name in our communications reveal what we really think about him and what place he has in our lives.

4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. This one reminds us to set aside time during our week to pause and reflect on God’s importance in our lives. A time to reflect on what sort of relationship we have with Him and to take time to restore and rejuvenate our spiritual health.

The rest focus on horizontal relationships we have with each other.

5. Honor your father and your mother. This commandment focuses on the importance of family relationships. When families are dysfunctional, relationships of all kinds tend to break down. It drives home the importance of parental authority….provided the parents are operating from an ethical and moral compass. But, like it or not, they are our parents and are, as the people who gave us the blessing of life, deserving of respect.

6. You shall not murder. This one reminds us of the sanctity of human life. God wants us to treat others with respect and not willfully or maliciously harm them with our actions….or…wait for it….our words. He wants us to control our tempers even with those who choose to hate us. Very hard to do among countries with different theologies or opposing political parties.

7. You shall not commit adultery. God instituted marriage for a reason. Its purpose is to have someone in which to intimately share life’s successes….and failures, joys….and sorrows. The love and support of a spouse during both the fantastic and horrible times is a divine blessing. It’s a special relationship based not on what that person can do to fulfill our expectations, but rather what we can do for them. Marriage is the framework for a stable family, demonstrating to the next generation how unconditional love is supposed to work. When there is a break in that union, demonstrating that concept and achieving that goal becomes difficult at best.

8. You shall not steal. Obviously a directive on honesty and not taking things that belong to another person. We should respect the property of another and not think we’re entitled to it. God provides what we need, when we need it and doesn’t want material possessions to become the focus of our happiness.

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. A commandment on the importance of not being deceitful and lying or slandering another person. In biblical days, a persons testimony weighed heavily on the court and being truthful many times was the only determining factor in deciding the guilt or innocence of the person accused of a crime. Today, our words can also determine the fate of another. Slanderous comments and outright lies about another can destroy reputations and credibility. The way we conduct our lives should be anchored in truth.

10.You shall not covet. This commandment is about contentment with our lives and to not always be looking at what other people have compared to what we have…or don’t have. That larger house, that prettier wife, that more courteous husband, those perfect children, that ideal career….If we’re content with our lives and where we are in that journey, we’re less likely to break a number of the previous commandments in order to get what we think is our heart’s desire at that moment.

When asked by the Pharisees which commandment was the most important, Jesus summed it up perfectly when he said, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-38

After all, how many of us willingly disrespect ourselves, lie or slander our own name or treat ourselves maliciously?

The original Big Ten were designed to provide God’s people, the Israelites, with a way to live a healthy and safe life amidst corrupt, pagan cultures. Today, they can provide the same for those who see them not as *kill joy* rules and regulations but as the means to living a content and fulfilling life.

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