Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BSF Matthew, Lesson 1, Day 6

12.  What truth about Jesus and truth about yourself challenged you this week, and how may your group pray for you about this?
I see abuse.  I see sickness and disease and suffering.  I see anguish and torment of all kinds.  I see hunger and poverty and lack.  I see loneliness and estrangement and depression.  There is so much longing, so much ache, so much brokenness, so much that is not right in this world.  The pain weighs heavy on my heart and soul.  BUT, there is a deeper, greater truth than that which my eyes behold.  I cannot view Jesus through the prism of this world; I must view this world through the prism of Jesus!  The truth of who He is and what He has promised allows me to see the hard things in the light of His goodness and know that it is His goodness that will have the final say.
Please pray that I would have my eyes fixed on Jesus this week: high, holy, lifted up, seated on His throne, victorious, conquering King Jesus.  He still reigns, and for this reason, I can rejoice!!!

BSF Matthew, Lesson 1, Day 5

9a.  Give at least one fact from each of the following prophecies that was fulfilled in the birth of Christ.
Genesis 3:15--God promised a descendant who would crush the enemy's head.  This promised deliverer would come through the woman.  With the birth of Jesus, that promised offspring has finally arrived!
Genesis 49:8-12--Jacob blessed Judah and prophesied that Messiah would come through Judah's line.  Verse 2 tells us that Jesus came in the flesh as a descendant of Judah.
Psalm 2:7--"I will proclaim the decree of the Lord:  He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become Your Father."  This baby, Jesus, is the only begotten Son of the Most High God.
Isaiah 7:14--The virgin became pregnant.  She bore a son, and he was given the name Immanuel.
Isaiah 9:6-7--The prophesied child is born!  The given Son has arrived!  The faith of many (like Simeon and Anna) has become sight.

9b.  Which one of these prophecies does Matthew quote?  Give verse in Matthew 1.
Verse 23 of Matthew 1 quotes Isaiah 7:14, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means "God with us").

10a.  How did Joseph prove his faith in God's word?
by action--When he woke up, Joseph DID what the angel had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

10b.  Can you share with your group how you proved your faith in God's word at a time when your plan was not the same as God's plan?
I won't share the whole story here because it's rather long, but my trip to Honduras was the first thing that came to mind.  I had recently entered the workforce after years of being a stay at home mom.  Around that same time, my church was promoting their short term mission trips for the upcoming year.  God stirred in my heart, and I knew it was His Spirit inviting me to say "yes" and take His love to the poorest of the poor in another country.  I was so excited!  But when I shared my heart with my husband, he forbid me from going.  I was angry!  Who is he to stand in the way of what God is asking me to do?  Aren't I the one earning the money?  Why shouldn't I put a little aside each paycheck to fulfill a dream and answer a call?  I was not prepared to accept his "no."  But as I prayed, I knew God was asking me to submit to my husband's "no."  Finally, I gave in.  I surrendered my will to God's and accepted that I would not be going on a mission trip anytime soon.  But I was confused.  Why would God give me the desire only to shut the door?  It didn't make any sense.  Still, I bent my knee.  I prayed God would remove the desire, but He didn't.  "Ok, God, you clearly have a plan.  I don't understand it, but I'll play my part.  I will carry this desire.  I will be pregnant with this dream.  I trust that in Your perfect timing, this yearning will be fulfilled....but I do want it to be Your will and Your way."  I put the dream on the back burner and went about my daily life.  Long story short, several months later, there was an opportunity through my employer to apply for a spot on a work-sponsored humanitarian mission to Honduras.  I prayed, submitted my essay and waited.  A short time later, I found out I had been selected to travel to Honduras and spend a week volunteering with a wonderful organization called Casa de Luz.  Better yet, the trip was all expenses paid AND I was paid my regular salary for the week I was gone!  Not only did I not have to pay, but they paid me!  It was an amazing trip; I so knew God had gone before and orchestrated every single detail.  When I returned home and checked my church's website, none of their short term mission trips traveled to Honduras.  God knew what He was doing; Honduras is the country that has my heart, the people I fell in love with, the land that is my prayer burden.  I am so thankful I waited on God's perfect plan and timing because He proved His greatness and faithfulness beyond anything I could ask, dream or imagine!

11.  Try to put yourself in Mary's place and in Joseph's place.
a.   How do you think their faith caused them to suffer?
I'm sure most people did not believe that Mary's child was the result of an Immaculate Conception.  Logical, rational, thinking people would have had their doubts.  I'm sure Mary and Joseph were the objects of gossip and scorn, looked down upon, judged harshly and unfairly, perhaps outright ostracized by some.

b.  What do you think they gained through their faith?
Immediately, Matthew 5:10 came to mind.  "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."  What did they gain?  Jesus became theirs.  They received the incomparable riches of a personal, up-close relationship with God Incarnate... intimacy with the Divine.  I just want to shout "Grace!  Grace!  Beautiful!  Beautiful!" because the same invitation exists for me (and you) today.  By grace through faith, God makes His home with me!  God makes himself incarnate (not a flesh and blood incarnation, but "manifest" or "comprehensible") to me!  This is great mystery, that the unknowable makes Himself knowable, and it's no less a miracle than the fact that God once walked our planet as a toddler!

c.  How do their rewards encourage you to suffer for your faith?
My faith is not always rewarded in this life (at least not in tangible ways), but I can guarantee you that no one in Heaven is complaining about the raw deal they received here on earth.  The glory that awaits us is such an all-surpassing glory that no earthly hardship can compare.  Galatians 6:9 comes to mind:  "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  I know that when I suffer for my faith, I am only trading temporary comfort for eternal reward.  I want to store my treasure up in Heaven, not on earth, for what I see (this world) is quickly perishing, but what I cannot see (the world to come) will never end!

BSF Matthew, Lesson 1, Day 4

7a.  What five things did Gabriel say about Mary's son?
1. He will be great.  2.  He will be called the Son of the Most High.  3.  The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father, David.  4.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.  5.  His kingdom will never end.

7b. (Challenge)  Of whom do both Matthew and Luke state that Jesus was born besides Mary?  How do you connect this truth with Genesis 1:2, Job 33:4 and John 3:6?
Both Matthew and Luke point to the Holy Spirit being intimately involved in the conception of Jesus.  Connecting these verses with the other three struck me in a powerful way.  I see the Holy Spirit hovering over the water at Creation, empowering the words of the Father, and bringing the world into being.  All life is God breathed, and it was His Spirit that brought my spirit to life at the moment of my salvation.  I, too, have experienced what Mary experienced!  The Holy Spirit came upon ME, and the power of the Most High overpowered ME, and I was born into God's family!  What an incredible truth!!!

7c.  How do these truths about Jesus' identity help or encourage you?
There is so much encouragement in the truth that forever Jesus reigns.  That reality brings a supernatural infusion of strength and courage.  Whatever darkness falls on the face of this earth, whatever shadows fall across my own life and heart, even if the very foundations of this world are shaken, no matter what trouble comes, Jesus is still enthroned!  My hope is in Him and His Kingdom that will never end!  In every circumstance, every rise and every fall, my Jesus reigns, and nothing and no one can dethrone Him!

8a.  How did Mary's words show her faith?
"I am the Lord's servant.  May it be to me as you have said."  She believed that He was and is capable of doing the impossible!  She believed that the word of the Lord does not return void; it accomplishes the purpose for which it is sent.  Mary showed her faith through her submission (her "yes").  God's ways are higher than our ways.  His thoughts are higher than our own.  Mary knew this, and it motivated her surrender.  Knowing the greatness of Yahweh, she could say, "Lord, have Your way in me!"

8b.  What lesson do you learn from Mary's response and how can you apply this lesson to your life this week?  
Is God less involved in the circumstances of my life because I am not the mother of the Messiah?  No!  My body is the very temple of the Most High God.  I, too, house His Son.  I am no more or less important to Him than Mary was.  His eyes are on me just as they were on her.  Therefore, my circumstances are no less God-ordained or God-orchestrated.  Every single thing that comes my way has first been sifted through His hands of love.  So because of my confidence in God and His Sovereignty, I can say, "yes."  I can practice surrender and submission.  All the days of my life were written in His book before one of them came to be.  Because of this rock-solid assurance in the character and absolute authority of my God, I can say like Mary, "I am Your servant, Lord.  May it be unto me as You have written, as You have ordained."  My faith grows as I choose to trust that the universe and my life have not spun out of control, but are unfolding according to plan, for my Jesus still reigns and my God is still on the throne!  Though I haven't seen His blueprints and I rarely understand His ways,  I trust my Papa.  I know Abba's plans are beyond anything I could possibly ask, dream or imagine!  When all is said and done, I know I will never regret surrendering my will to His!

BSF Matthew Study, Lesson 1, Day 3

5a.  Give the two names given to Mary's son and what each name means.  Give verses.
Matthew 1:21, Jesus (which means "the Lord saves"), and Matthew 1:23, Immanuel (which means "God with us")

5b.  What difference has each of these names made to your life?
He has saved me from SO much!  I've been saved from emptiness and meaninglessness, saved from the wrath of God, saved from the dark prison of shame and guilt and condemnation that kept me in solitary confinement, isolated and alone.  My Savior has changed my very nature and identity, from "dead (wo)man walking" to "alive in Christ!"
And Immanuel....His Presence is everything to me and has given me the strength I've needed to face the darkest of nights and the fiercest of storms with a peace that defies explanation.  My heart echoes the heart of Moses in Exodus 33:15, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here."  How thankful I am to live on this side of the finished work of Jesus!  His very Spirit indwells me, and nothing and no one has the power to separate us!

6a.  What do you learn about the word "saved" from each of the following verses?
John 3:17, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him."  This verse tells me that salvation is God's heartbeat.  God's very heart beats with the rhythm of salvation.  The purpose for Jesus arriving on earth in flesh was and is salvation. It's why He came; it's the POINT of the Incarnation.  I'm also struck by the object of that verb "saved."  The object is the world.  No exceptions.  No exclusions.  God desires that "the world" (all who live in it) would be saved.  I have never met a person whom God does not love and desire to adopt into His own family.
John 8:24, He has saved me from the terrible fate of "dying in my sins."
John 10:14-16,  I have been saved from wandering.  I now have a Good Shepherd and a place to belong in His flock.
Acts 4:12,  There is only ONE who can save; His Name is Jesus (and He saves to the uttermost).
Romans 10:9, There is an internal and an external component of salvation.  external=>confession, internal=>belief in your heart
Ephesians 2:5,8,  Salvation is God's work, to His credit alone, not ours.  "It is by grace you have been saved...."

6b.  What positive and/or negative thoughts does the word "saved" bring to you?  Why?
To those who feel satisfied and strong and believe they are self-made successes, with hearts full of pride, salvation is an affront, an insult.  "Who me?  Need a Savior?  I need nothing!"
But to me, it is a priceless treasure.  I know myself to be a sinner.  I know brokenness and mess and need.  I know I cannot do it on my own.  My only hope is in the salvation of my Lord!  How very grateful I am for the saving grace of my Redeemer, King Jesus!

BSF Matthew Study, Lesson 1, Second Day

3a For each woman in Jesus's genealogy, give facts from the background passage.
Tamar--Genesis 38--She was Judah's daughter-in-law, widowed by both of Judah's older sons.  When Judah failed to keep his promise and marry her to the third son, Tamar disguised herself as a temple prostitute and had sexual relations with her father-in-law.  She became pregnant by Judah, giving birth to twin boys, Perez and Zerah.  I'm not sure about Jewish customs at the time, but it seems to me that this would have been an incestuous relationship.
Rahab--Joshua 2; 6:17--A prostitute from Jericho, Rahab believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  She proved this both in word ("for the Lord your God is God in Heaven above and on the earth below") and deed (by risking her own life to help God's people, hiding the spies of Israel).
Ruth--1; 4:13-17--As a Moabite woman, she was not one of God's "chosen people," but she chose Him, and God honored that choice.  She became the great grandmother of King David, and her romance with Boaz is a picture of our sacred romance with our own Kinsman Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Wife of Uriah"--2 Samuel 11, 12:15, 18, 24--She had an adulterous affair with King David (possibly forced, for the text clearly states that she grieved when her husband, Uriah, died).  Her first son died as a consequence of that sin, but their second son is named in the genealogy of Christ.  I am just stunned by the greatness of our God, that He is a God of fresh starts, second chances and new beginnings.
Mary--Luke 1:26-56--young, virgin, poor (the "humble state of His servant")

b. (Challenge)  Why do you think God included each of these women with a place in this genealogy?  For the answer to this question, see my post on 9/11, "A Whosoever Like Me."  I continue to marvel at the ways in which God uses imperfect people to accomplish His perfect plans.

c. Which of the women do you consider expressed their faith in action?  I think they all did, but I chose to write about Rahab and her actions in hiding the Israelite spies.  I'm sure she helped them at great risk to her own life and the lives of her family members.  Her actions proved that she believed (and trusted) in God more than she feared man.  I think that's pretty incredible faith for a pagan prostitute!

d.  Can you tell about a recent time you expressed your faith in action?  I met a friend for breakfast Sunday.  She is facing some "giants" in her life.  Before I knew God, I probably would not have met with her at "such a time as this" because I don't have any answers.  What do I say?  How can I "fix" it?  What wisdom do I have to offer?  But with God, I no longer fear these encounters.  I listen, and then I express my faith in action....I pray with and for her.  I know there is nothing in me that can meet her need right now, but I know the One who is THE Need-Meet-er.

4. (Challenge) a. Why is it important that Jesus is the son of David and the son of Abraham?
to fulfill prophecy; Abraham and David were both given specific promises that Messiah would come through their line of descendants.  Both had to be true of Jesus if He was, indeed, the King of the Jews.
4b. For what other reasons do you think Christ's genealogy is important?  It shows that He came as a real baby through real people.  He came to us as one of us, not some extraterrestrial being or an alien.  God could have sent Jesus to earth as an other-worldly man with no history, no past, no lineage.  But, instead, Jesus experienced all that we experience.  He came to earth just as every one of us since Adam and Eve have arrived.  He grew in a womb.  He experienced childbirth.  He entered the world covered in blood and mucus and fluids.  He had a "soft spot."  His baby eyes were still fuzzy and unfocused.  He was not immune from cold or heat or the scratchiness of straw animal bedding on the delicate softness of newborn skin.  What an incredible act of love!  I will never be able to fully comprehend the extent of that humbling this side of Heaven!

BSF Matthew Study, Lesson 1, Day 1 questions

I've been debating whether or not to turn this into a BSF blog, but I've decided to post my answers here weekly.  I just get so excited about the truths I'm learning/re-learning/meditating on, but I don't really have anyone with whom to share.  I am in a discussion group, of course, but it's the Leader's Circle (I'm a preschool children's leader this year) so it's a fairly large circle.  There's so much wisdom in that group; I want to be listening and learning way more than I'm sharing.  I think sharing my answers on the blog will be a nice way to feel like I'm not just shouting "Hallelujah!" by myself as the Lord reveals Himself and gives insight.

So, without further ado, let's dive right in:
Question 1.  What did you apply to your life from the lecture?
One of the things our TL shared in lecture was Proverbs 30:5, "Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him."  She then connected that verse to Jesus Christ because He IS the Word, the Word become flesh, the Word by Name; He is the flawless One.  I just really fixed my eyes on the flawlessness of Christ this week and just beheld Him in the fullness of His beauty,  His utter Holiness and His complete righteousness.  When my vision fills with His unmarred perfection, all else fades.  He becomes the prism through which I view all things (self, others, circumstances, etc).  Captivated by Jesus and the totality of who He is, nothing else matters.  I don't always fix my eyes on Jesus, and that's when I start to drown in the storms of life.  But this week, meditating on this truth, I metaphorically "walked on water!"

Question 2.  Which thoughts in the notes did you find particularly helpful or interesting?
This goes along with my question to answer one, but at the end of page 6, there's a paragraph that talks about the vital importance of recognizing Jesus in His "infinite majesty and divine power.  Only then do we begin to understand His grace in taking our sins upon Himself."  In renewing my mind by fixing my eyes on Christ, I focused on God Himself, Wisdom personified, that perfect Lamb without spot or wrinkle or blemish who is also the Lion of Judah, full of grace and truth, the Godhead in bodily form, this One, the incomparable and all-surpassing Glorious One becoming sin on my behalf to destroy the power of sin in my life and clothe me in His righteous!  It's almost too much!  It's overwhelming!  I feel like my heart could just burst from the goodness of my God and Savior!  It's the simple message of the gospel, but it never grows old or stale.  It is the message of salvation, and I will always be so very grateful for the cross of Christ!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A "Whosoever" Like Me

Who would have thought I'd be moved to tears reading a geneology?  But when it comes to the geneology of our Lord Jesus Christ, seeing names like Tamar and Rahab and Ruth and the "wife of Uriah" and Mary, how could I not be overcome?  The inclusion of these women shows that God is no respecter of persons.  He does not play favorites.  The way to get into God's family is not by having the right pedigree or a killer resume.  No, God is interested in the heart; the only qualifier is genuine faith in a sincere heart.

I am so incredibly thankful God is like this!  How I love Him for His goodness and kindness and generosity towards us all!  The world draws lines:  those who are "in" and those who are "out," the "somebodies" and the "nobodies."  I've felt the sting of being pronounced a "nobody."  I think that's why it melts my heart that God says "yes" to everyone who will have Him!  Not a begrudging "yes."  Not an "if I have to" weary "yes" with a long sigh that lets you know He would really rather not.  NO!  My God delights in grafting us--"losers," "have-nots," "untouchables," "ragamuffins," stained and sullied sinners with no redeeming qualities of our own--US, into His very own family.  He jumps up and down with joy and does cartwheels to open the gates of Heaven to the "least of these!"  Who is like the Lord our God?!?!?!

As I meditate on this truth, Acts 10:34-35 fills my mind.  Listen to these words of Peter:  "I know realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right."

The Message captures the emotion that I feel:  "Peter fairly EXPLODED with his Good News:  "It's God's own truth, nothing could be plainer:  GOD plays no favorites!  It makes no difference WHO you are or WHERE you're from--if you want God and are ready to do what He says, THE DOOR IS OPEN!  The message He sent to the children of Israel--that through Jesus Christ EVERYTHING is being put together again--well, He's doing it EVERYWHERE, among EVERYONE!"

Perhaps the most beautiful word in John 3:16 is "whosoever,"  who. so. ever.  Whatever person, no matter who, if you are a "whosoever," God is for you, He loves you, and He longs to save you.

Thank You, Jesus, that You came for a "whosoever" like me!!!