Fear Not, Joseph

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,
because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:20

 

We are now in our third week of Advent – preparing our hearts and homes for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Joseph is the next Christmas character we will consider who faced fear.

Mary had broken the news to Joseph that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. He had to decide what he was going to do. Being a righteous man, he considered quietly divorcing Mary as his way of getting out of this predicament. God had other plans and He needed to get Joseph’s attention.

God spoke to Joseph a dream.

Let’s think a little more about dreams. The Lord says in Joel 2:28-29, I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.Chronologically, Joseph was a young man. However, I believe his spiritual maturity qualified him as an older man. Joseph’s dream was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. This prophecy was also fulfilled at Pentecost. (See Acts 2:17.) The Holy Spirit still speaks through dreams. Be alert. The Lord may choose to help you overcome fear through a dream.

God gave Joseph instructions through a dream – and he obeyed. Joseph’s obedience is a good example for us. Jesus says in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Since God could trust Joseph to hear and obey, He spoke to him three more times through dreams. Each time the Lord gave Joseph further guidance. There accounts are found in Matthew 2:1-12, Matthew 2:16-18 and Matthew 2:22. Joseph’s encounter with the Spirit of God was not a one time experience. The Holy Spirit also came upon the disciples more than once. Acts 13:62 NASB says, “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit wants to speak to us as well. And, He will speak to us numerous times!

Last week we emphasized that Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. This week we find Joseph was guided and instructed by the Holy Spirit. Both of them listened to the Spirit. Joseph was not fearful because he was not afraid of what God was doing.

Joseph entrusted Mary’s life as well as his own into the hands of God. Joseph felt no reason to fear the Spirit’s work – neither should we. Hebrews 13:5 NLT declares, “So we can say with confidence, ‘The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’”

Jesus tells us in John 14:16, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.Different translations use different words to describe the Holy Spirit – Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Helper. All these terms help us understand the role of the Holy Spirit.

God had a plan for Joseph. Joseph was an integral part of the birth of Jesus. God also has a plan for each of us. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” With this promise, we need not be afraid. We are simply to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Georgio A. Dano has said, “Fear ends where faith begins.”

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Fear Not, Mary

 

Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her,
“for you have found favor with God!
Luke 1:30

Today we continue our Advent study of Christmas characters who were told not to be afraid. May we also be encouraged to discard fear from our lives. We must remember that these are real people who had genuine encounters with God. We are not just reading fictional stories.

Let us look closely at Mary.

One of the first things I notice about the scripture of Luke 1:30 is that the angel addressed Mary by name. God knew her name! He spoke personally to her.

The Lord says in Isaiah 43:1, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” God addressed Isaiah with these words. He spoke similar words to Mary approximately 700 years later. Now over 2000 years later, He still speaks these words. Place your name in the blanks and hear the Lord say, “________, don’t be afraid; I have called you by name. You are mine. ________, do not be afraid.”

What was happening for Mary before she heard God calling her name?

Mary lived in Galilee and was planning her marriage to Joseph. Suddenly there was a change in plans when an angel appeared. The first thing the angel told Mary was to not be afraid. However, being told not to fear, did not mean she would not encounter fear.

The angel gave Mary a revelation as well as a warning. She was told she would conceive a baby by the Holy Spirit. It would be scary for any unwed young woman to find out she was pregnant. But there was more for Mary to learn. Things got even scarier when she found out the conception would take place by the Holy Spirit. She could not comprehend how this could happen.

Mary needed to grasp that although she was in a scary situation, God was with her. She did not need to be afraid. Something good was coming – the birth of the Son of God and Son of man. Emmanuel, God with us, would be born through her body.

Mary did not have the scripture of II Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” These would have been comforting Mary. The are reassuring words for us today.

Although we may be told not to fear, it is not always easy to avoid fear. Fear often leads to worry. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The angel informed Mary that she had found favor with God. This meant He was pleased with her. He loved her. According to gotquestions.org, those who are favored of God know that God is with them and that nothing can happen to them apart from His good purpose. Romans 8:28 says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Those who receive God’s favor also have the assurance that the Lord is attentive when they walk through difficult times. According to Psalm 34:15, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry.” When we have the favor of the Lord, we rest in quiet confidence. Isaiah 30:15 NLT tells us, “In quietness and confidence is your strength.”

When Mary followed the Lord’s plan, His plans were fulfilled. Mary had been preparing for her marriage celebration to Joseph. It didn’t go exactly as she planned. However, she did not walk in fear. Mary set an example for us. We must not become fearful when everything does not go as we have planned. Let us be impregnated with Jesus and His ways. God’s plans may be different from ours. Matthew 6:34 says, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Fear Not, Zechariah

Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer.
Luke 1:13

Do not fear” is a command given by God. Numerous people heard these words throughout scripture. God speaks similarly to us today. We must remember that these words are a command. They are not just a suggestion. It is interesting that God often follows this directive with a further revelation or interaction. When He requires us to do something, He helps us do it.

According to the Christian calendar, Advent will begin Sunday. This is a time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. May we also use this period as a time of preparing our hearts to gain insight of how not to fear.

Between now and Christmas, we are going to look at four Christmas characters who were told to not be afraid. Today we begin with Zechariah.

While Zechariah was in the temple burning incense, an angel appeared to him. Luke 1:12 says, “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear.” I can’t blame him! An angel would startle anyone. There were two reasons for him not to be afraid. First, he was not to be fearful of this heavenly being’s appearance. Secondly, he was not to be afraid that God had not heard his prayers.

The angelic messenger told Zechariah that Elizabeth would finally have a child. According to verse 14, Zech and Liz would experience joy instead of fear.

We can be assured that God will also answer our prayers. Psalm 91:15, “He will call on Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.Calling is praying.

The Lord says in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Zechariah heard things he did not understand. He was not confident about what he was hearing. In Luke 1:18, Zechariah asked, “How can I be sure of this?” After questioning God, Zechariah was not able to speak until his son John was born.

During this time of silence, I assume that Zechariah’s fear was replaced with faith. He had a lot of time for quiet meditation. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” This verse applies to us as well as Zechariah. When we become anxious and fearful, let us be quiet and listen for the Lord. We must allow faith to overpower our fear.

Hebrews 11:1 NLT states, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” I also like the New King James translation which says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A note in the Spirit Filled Life Bible points out that this is not a definition of faith. This is a description of how faith works. Faith is the assurance of what God promises. Faith is being confident that God is constantly working behind the scenes in our lives even when we do not see any tangible evidence.

An anonymous quote says, “Faith allows things to happen. It is the power that comes from a fearless heart. And when a fearless heart believes, miracles happen.This was true for Zechariah. When he replaced the fear in his heart with faith, the miraculous birth of John the Baptist transpired with Zechariah and Elizabeth being the parents. God’s faithfulness was stronger than Zechariah’s fear.

Fear and faith cannot coexist. My Reader, may you not only hear God say to you, “Do not fear.” – also hear Him say, “Have faith.”

Continually Give Thanks


G
ive thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I Thessalonians 5:18

In the United States of America, we will be celebrating our national holiday of Thanksgiving tomorrow. It is an opportunity for us to pause and thank God for His blessings upon our nation and our families.

All of our family will be together. Before we eat, we will pray and thank God for the food set before us. We will ask for His blessing upon our Thanksgiving dinner. While eating, each of us will express gratitude for at least one thing. It is easy to give thanks for situations where we have seen God move. However, can we give thanks for a blessing we have not yet received?

Jesus sets the example for when we should give thanks. Before Lazarus was raised from the grave, Jesus gave thanks for what was about to happen. John 11:41 says, “Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard me.’” However, it is not until verse 43 that Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth. In verse 44, Lazarus came back to life. Jesus thanked His Heavenly Father for what He was confident His Father would do. Jesus gave thanks before He received the answer to His prayer.

In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp explains that eucharisteo – thanksgiving – always precedes the miracle. Ann writes, “Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation our Yes! to His grace.”

Thanking God in advance may not appear to make sense in the natural. However, Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Giving thanks prior to receiving the answer to our prayers reveals our confidence in God’s willingness and ability to answer our prayers.

Psalm 119:90 states, “Your (God;s) faithfulness continues through all generations.” The fact that God is faithful to answer our prayers is a valid reason to give thanks.

Giving thanks before we have received our request is an expression of our faith. Hebrews 11:1 NKJV says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

In I Chronicles 16:34 NIV, we are told,Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.Ephesians 3:20 NKJV says, “(He) is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” God is good and God is able. Two reasons to give Him thanks – even before we have His response.

Psalm 71:14 NLT says, “But I will keep on hoping for Your help; I will praise You more and more.” We thank God for what He has done. We praise Him for who He is. The more we praise God for who He is, the stronger our faith becomes regarding what He will do for us.

Philippians 4:6 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Asking and thanking are both aspects of prayer. God gives us the privilege of asking. We have the responsibility of thanking.

The Thanksgiving holiday gives us the opportunity to focus upon giving thanks. Most of the time, it is easier to ask God for something than it is to thank Him for what we have received. It is even harder to thank Him for what we are still waiting to receive.

I encourage you to take your thankfulness to a deeper level this season by giving thanks in all circumstances. God will bless you in return. He loves to hear you say, “Thanks, God!”

 

A Cart Full of Blessings

Sometimes I grocery shop at a store that keeps it carts chained together. To retrieve a cart, I insert a quarter into a slot that releases a cart. When returning the cart and attaching it to the cart corral, a quarter is released.

Recently as I headed to the carts, a gentleman gave me his unchained cart. I offered him my quarter but he said it had been passed on to him and he wanted to do the same. I responded that I would follow his example. I thanked him for the cart and told him he was a blessing.

As I wheeled the cart up and down the grocery aisles, I thanked the Lord for the cart I had received. I also asked God to help me extend this cart to the right person. I prayed that God would bless my cart – and the next recipient.

When I concluded my shopping, I offered my cart to a lady. She thanked me and said she would pass it on to another person. I do not know what happened next.

Later, I reflected upon this encounter. God showed me something supernatural through this natural experience.

As I thought about the shopping cart corral, I realized that the locked carts could symbolize people in bondage. They were all locked up! A cart could only be set free when someone inserted a quarter in the little lock box. The Lord’s says in Jeremiah 40:4, “But now, behold, I am freeing you today from the chains which are on your hands.”

Our lives are of greater value than shopping carts. Jesus paid the price for our freedom.
I Corinthians 6:20 NLT says, “God bought you with a high price.” And Titus 2:14 NLT says,He gave His life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people.We are not required to stay chained up like carts.

Jesus paid the price of His life – much more than a quarter. If I had not been given a cart, I would have only paid twenty-five cents to receive one. And then, I would have gotten my quarter back when I returned the cart. Jesus does not take back His payment. According to John 8:36, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” He paid the price. The debt is canceled. Jesus will never return us to bondage.

At the beginning of the day, all the grocery carts were chained together. Because of one person’s generosity of a quarter, a chain reaction began. One person gave away one cart. By day’s end, numerous people had received a free cart.

God also gave. According to John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He still offers this gift of eternal life to anyone who will receive it. People did not reject a free grocery cart. How much more valuable is the gift God is extending?

I had the privilege of being part of a chain reaction that offered a free grocery cart to other shoppers. As Christians, we have the privilege of participating in a chain reaction that offers freedom from sin to those chained to the bondage of sin.

My Reader, do you desire to be set free? Ask Jesus into your heart and He will set you free.
II Corinthians 3:17 says,Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

If you are already free, I encourage you to be a part of the chain reaction passing along this freedom to those who are still in chains. Follow the command of Jesus stated in Mark 16:15, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

 

 

 

 

Wreaths across America for our Veterans

To be killed in war is not the worst that can happen.
To be lost is not the worst that can happen…
to be forgotten is the worst.
— Pierre Claeyssens (1909-2003)

May we never forget the men and women of our armed forces! In a few days we will celebrate Veteran’s Day. It is an official United States public holiday that honors US veterans and victims of all wars. It is observed on November 11, the anniversary of the end of World War I. What an honor it is to recognize those who have served and are serving in our military.

I became aware of the highlighted statement when we visited the National Wreaths Across America Headquarters in Columbia Falls, Maine. We learned the history of Wreaths Across America.

Here is the story.

Morrill Worcester was 12 years old when he won a trip to Washington D.C. He never forgot the trip. Arlington National Cemetery made an indelible impression on him. He did not like seeing graves without wreaths. His goal became to someday place a wreath on every grave in Arlington. Over the years, he became a successful businessman. He felt his good fortune was due to this nation’s values and the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.

In 1992, Worcester Wreath Company had a surplus of wreaths near the end of the holiday season. Remembering his earlier experience at Arlington, Morrill realized he now had an opportunity to honor our country’s veterans. With the help of others, wreaths were placed on the graves of an older section of Arlington that seldom had visitors. This tribute quietly continued for several years.

In 2007, Wreaths Across America was formed as a non-profit organization. Fast forward to 2014. That year, Wreaths Across America and its national network of volunteers laid over 700,000 wreaths at 1000 locations in the United States and beyond. The goal of covering Arlington National Cemetery with wreaths was met when 226,525 wreaths were placed on graves. Now, each year wreaths are placed at Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, the Pearl Harbor Memorial, and the sites of the September 11 tragedies as well as in cemeteries.

This wreath-laying event is held annually early December. This year it will be held on December 15, 2018. Not only are wreaths placed in Arlington National Cemetery, but also at more than 1400 additional locations in all 50 states, at sea and abroad.

The mission of Wreaths Across America is to Remember, Honor and Teach. REMEMBER our fallen US veterans. HONOR those who serve. TEACH your children the value of freedom.

As we honor our military personal on November 11, may we help fulfill the mission of Wreaths Across America. May we never forget these men and women who sacrifice their time and safety every day to preserve our freedoms. Forgetting is the worst thing that could happen to them.

 

Dot-to- Dot


Do you remember doing dot-to-dot pictures when you were a child? Following the numbers from 1 to 20 (or higher), I would make a picture of an animal or a flower or whatever else might appear. If I did not follow the number sequence correctly, the picture would not turn out as expected.

I think God may have a big dot-to-dot picture in mind for our lives. The Lord says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Each of us creates a unique picture designed by God. According to Psalm 139:14, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

As a child, I made mistakes in my dot-to-dot books and had to erase improper lines and try again. Most likely, we will make a few mistakes while completing our life pictures because Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Thank God for His holy eraser of forgiveness that allows us to erase and retrace a few of our steps. According to I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” There are times when we draw lines between dots according to our own will rather than those directed by the number sequence. These choices may disfigure the image God originally designed for us. However, He is willing to work with a few of our distortions. Proverbs 16:4 says, “The LORD works out everything to its proper end.”

Like a child who may be required to redraw some of the lines of his picture, we may need to make a few changes in our lives. We do not always get it right the first time. Hebrews 10:36 tells us, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.” The Lord simply requires us to keep trying. Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Within the passage of Ephesians 5:15-18, Paul cautions, “Therefore be careful how you walk. . . . Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. . . . Be filled with the Spirit.” To apply these words to a dot-to-dot picture, maybe we should say, “Be careful how you draw your lines. Don’t be foolish, but follow the correct numerical sequence. Help is available.” My mother would help me if I could not find the next number of my picture. Today, we have the Holy Spirit as our helper when we are making decisions. Jesus says in John 14:26, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Romans 8:26 assures us that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.

Our preference may not always be the way our life picture is to be drawn. We may not like what the dots involve. However, we are reminded in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” Our final life picture will reveal the image of Christ in us. Graham Cooke has said, “You are here for one purpose only and that is to be made in the image of God. Every single situation, oppositional feature, difficult person, everything is designed to make you in the image of God.”  That means every dot! 

We are given guidance in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your hear. And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Although we may not understand why some dots are included in our life’s picture, we need to remember Psalm 33:11, “But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.” God has a whole book of dot-to-dot pictures including the images of all the people of the earth. God’s plan does not begin and end with each of us individually. He has a greater eternal purpose in mind for all of His people.

Let us agree with the words of Job 42:2, “I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” May we remember I Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This includes times of joy and sorrow – times of adversity and prosperity.

No matter what we encounter while connecting our dots, we have the promise of Hebrews 13:21. God will “equip us in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ.”

As a child, I remember sometimes singing while drawing dot-to-dot pictures. This may be a good idea for us today. David says in Psalm 34:1 NLT, “I will praise the LORD at all times. I will constantly speak His praises.” With God’s help, the final picture of each of our lives will reflect the image of God. According to II Corinthians 3:18, we are “being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Our lives are not just a bunch of unconnected dots of happenstance or coincidence. Our lives are God ordained. My Reader, along with Paul, I am “encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory.I Thessalonians 2:12.