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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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Unexpected Blessings?

Gabriel & Mary

Our personal prayers are often answered by God in unexpected ways. The expectations with which we begin the Christian walk may often be disappointed. God, however, has His own timing and plans for your life. Dr. M. Craig Barnes offers us his perspective below:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:42-45 ESV)

Just as Jesus Christ was born of Mary 2,000 years ago, so by his Spirit does he continue to be born within each of us. Receiving this new life will be as wonderful and painful for you as it was for Mary.

Elizabeth and Mary were quite a pair. Elizabeth was not a young woman. After years and years of praying for a child, after becoming used to not having a child, and after getting to the age where giving birth to a child was not a good idea, she gets pregnant with a baby she and her husband will name John who will prepare the way for Christ. By contrast, Mary was a very young woman. She too hoped for a child someday, when it would be appropriate. But not now. Not before she was married. Not while she was still a virgin. So we meet two women who are pregnant. One of them is too old to be a mother and the other is too young. But both are in the hands of God.

As the Bible constantly illustrates, God’s timing usually takes us by surprise. Sometimes, as with Elizabeth, God moves too slowly. Sometimes, as with Mary, he moves too quickly. Like Elizabeth, some of you in church today have been praying for a long time for something to happen. You think now that it may never happen. Obviously you can’t make it happen, because if you could have, you would have. Clearly, you are not in control. Like Mary, others of you find that your lives are all disheveled this year. God has conceived something in your life that you didn’t ask for. It doesn’t make any sense. . . .

The new life God creates in you may give you a calling that scares you. It may give you gifts, passions, dreams you never expected to have. It may take loved ones away you would rather keep or give you new loved ones you would rather not have. Don’t be surprised if you don¹t understand it. You’re not the Creator. You’re not supposed to be. You’re supposed to simply receive it, and wait while it develops.

Waiting is one of the most important elements in receiving new life. . . . Maybe you are waiting today on a relationship that is slowly changing, or a new job offer, or for word about healing that just won’t come. The longer you wait, the harder it becomes. That is only because each day God has continued to move you closer to a new life. . . . Eventually, you get to a point of saying, “God, stop teaching me about patience. I can¹t handle any more lessons on that.” “God, stop teaching me how to love difficult people. It was easier being mean.” “God, stop teaching me to depend only on you. I’ve given you all there is to give.” “God, please stop breaking my heart with the needs of other people. I can’t keep caring so much!” When you say things like this, it is only because the new creation within you has almost matured to full term. You’re almost there. . . .

God has conceived something in all of our lives. Maybe it is something like an old hope that has come back to life. Or something that we didn’t really even want, but it is back in front of us again. Or maybe it is a new mission or restlessness about where you are. This time of year, when we hear about the arrival of Christ, the thing that God has conceived within us comes alive. It jumps for joy, reminding us that God is still at work within us. At Christmas it is hard to ignore the holy thing God is doing in our lives. . . .

We are a people who want to make sense of our lives, and to find cause and effect explanations for why life turns out the way it does. The hardest things to understand are not the tragedies, but the blessings that have come to us without reason. “Why me,” we ask. The explanations are not there. That is because to try to explain life is only another way of trying to control it. One of the central messages of Christmas is that you are not in control of the blessings. There is no logic to a blessing, only gratitude.

Why you? Why has God chosen to bring something creative and life changing to you? It is not a bad question, but it is not exactly the right one either. The only pressing question is will you receive this new life that is coming and give thanks? (“Why Me?”)

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The Angelic World

Dr. Sam Storms

Quoting Sam Storms:

Jesus believed in and experienced the ministry of angels:

1. His conception was announced by an angel (Gabriel).

2. His birth was announced by angels.

3. He was tempted by a fallen angel.

4. He was ministered to by angels subsequent to the temptation.

5. His teaching is filled with references to angelic beings.

6. He experienced the ministry of angels in Gethsemane.

7. He could have appealed to twelve legions of angels (Mt. 26:53).

8. [Angels] were present at His tomb following the resurrection.

9. [Angels] were present at His ascension.

The point is that angels were an integral part of Christ’s birth, life, ministry, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension, and will accompany Him at his second advent. To deny the reality of the angelic world is to undermine the integrity of Jesus himself. (Angels, November 8, 2006, www.enjoyinggodministries.com)

The Man God Speaks Through

Martin Luther

Over the years, I have seen Christians run to and fro from one part of the nation to another part and from one church to another seeking to follow the “movement” of the Holy Spirit or to hear some new revelation of God’s Word as preached by the “anointed” man of the hour. People are constantly looking to find the man who is speaking for God. Quite often, however, I get the feeling that Christians are looking for a preacher who resembles closely a character who might be the product of a movie by Cecil B. DeMille. How are we to find the man who speaks for God? Martin Luther offers us some wise advice:

Would to God that we could gradually train our hearts to believe that the preacher’s words are God’s Word and that the man addressing us is a scholar and a king. . . .

If someone announced: “I know of a place in the world where God speaks and anyone can hear God there”; if I had gone there and seen and heard a poor pastor baptizing and preaching, and if I had been assured: “This is the place; here God is speaking through the voice of the preacher who brings God’s Word”–I would have said: “Well, I have been duped! I see only a pastor. . . .

In fact, we do not enjoy listening to any preacher unless he is gifted with a good and clear voice. If you look more at the pastor than at God; if you do not see God’s person but merely gape to see whether the pastor is learned and skilled . . . then you have already become half a Jacob. For a poor speaker may speak the Word of God just as well as he who is endowed with eloquence. A father speaks the Word of God as well as God does, and your neighbor speaks it as well as the angel Gabriel. There is no difference between the Word when uttered by a schoolboy and when uttered by the angel Gabriel; they vary only in rhetorical ability. It matters not that dishes are made of different material. . . . The same food may be prepared in silver as in dishes of tin. Venison, properly seasoned and prepared, tastes just as good in a wooden dish as in one of silver. . . .

People, however, do not recognize the person of God but only stare at the person of man. This is like a tired and hungry man who would refuse to eat unless the food is served on a silver platter. Such is the attitude that motivates many preachers today. Many, on the other hand, are forced to quit their office, are driven out and expelled.

That is done by those who do not know this gift, who assume that it is a mere man speaking to them, although, as a matter of fact, it is even more than an angel, namely, your dear God. (Martin Luther, preaching on John 4:10, in Luther’s Works, 44:526-29)

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