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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 20

Scripture: Luke 20:23 [Jesus] saw through their duplicity.

Observation: Luke tells us here that Jesus was fully aware of the tendency of the “teachers of the law” to be duplicitous. In the context of this verse these teachers are trying to appear sincere in their question to Jesus about taxes, but their ulterior motive is to trap Jesus not learn from him. Later in the chapter (vv.46-47), Jesus describes the duplicity of the teachers of the law in more detail. They may appear to be spiritual but they are motivated by pride and greed. They are two-faced, double-lifers who seem more focused on impressing people than glorifying God and helping people.

Application: On my worst days I can be pretty duplicitous. Although I may begin the day or the ministry task with a desire to glorify God, if I am not careful, I can quickly shift toward trying to impress people with who I am. Of course, they are never as impressed with me as they are with GodJ I may start out with pure motives to help someone but if I am not careful, my pure motives can turn into the kind of self-absorption that causes me to consider “what’s in it for me”? Academic achievement and ministerial success can become trophies on our fireplace mantle instead of markers of God’s unfathomable grace. Today, I will aim to be one-willed in my motives to glorify God and love people.

Prayer: Lord, make my life a standing stand of your grace that points to you. Amen

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 19

Scripture: Luke 19:44b Jesus says, “…you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Observation: Jesus says this just after the people praise him upon his entry into Jerusalem. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” (v.38), they say. As I read this chapter it initially seems that the people did recognize “the time of God’s coming” to them in Christ. But upon further exploration it appears the people were expecting Jesus to align with their desires for a political, Roman-annihilating Messiah. Jesus, however, did not fit their messianic mold. And, because of this, these same people just a few days later shouted not praises to Jesus but “crucify him!” The people did not recognize “the time of God’s coming” to them because Jesus did not fit their messianic profile.

Application: While I am tempted to criticize the Jerusalem Jews of Jesus’ day, I am fully aware of my propensity to miss the “time of God’s coming” to me. I find myself waiting for God to show up over here, but he shows up over there. I am waiting for God to show his power this way, but he shows it that way. I am waiting for a powerful, warrior-like Messiah to beat the tar out of the “Romans” in my life, but instead I get a humble, peasant Jew who forgives his enemies and mine. During the season of Advent, a word that means “coming,” I am trying to abandon my preconceived and preferential messianic profile so that I don’t miss Christ when he comes to me in his way and in his time.

Prayer: Lord, I will wait and watch for you to show up in any place and in any way that you decide. Please give me an ability to discern your coming so that it don’t miss the joyful surprise of it. Amen.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 18

Scripture: Luke 18:11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men- robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”

Observation: Pharisees were the religious cream of the crop, and they knew it. Lots of people didn’t tithe, but the Pharisee did. Many people didn’t even try to keep the Torah, but the Pharisee did. The Pharisee was willing to make religious sacrifices that few were willing to make. But at some point Pharisees became motivated, many of them, not by love for God but by arrogant competitiveness. They were notorious for comparing themselves favorably to the sloppy sinners around them, which caused them to believe they were God’s gift to, well, God. Once they started to think they deserved God’s grace and mercy, the life-transforming power of God’s grace and mercy could not invade their lives.    

Application: On my best days, I realize how undeserving I am of God’s grace and mercy.  But, there are those days when I think of myself more highly than I ought. Usually, this arrogance surfaces when I compare myself to those around me who are not as committed or contrite as I am. I may go beyond the standard of robbers, evildoers, adulterers and tax collectors, but do I live up to the standard of Christ? This is the question that haunts and humbles me, bringing me back to the reality of my dependence upon God’s grace and mercy. Today, I will compare myself to the standard of Christ, which will help me avoid the Pharisee complex and keep me humbly dependent upon God.

Prayer: Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner. Remind me today that I am sinner saved by grace and that there but for the grace of God go I. no matter how good I may appear to be I will never ever outgrow my need for you to make up what I lack. Amen.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 17

Scripture: Luke 17:3b Jesus says, “If your brother sins rebuke him, if he repents forgive him.”

Observation: Jesus spoke into a fragmented culture. Jews and Romans hated each other. Pharisaic Jews despised the Jewish Sadducees. Zealots, another Jewish sect, allowed their ethnic pride to become an excuse to kill Romans and Jews who collaborated with the Romans. The rich and poor were divided as well. Into this fragmented world Jesus throws a command that has the power to build a new community of radical accountability and forgiveness. “If your brother sins, rebuke him; if he repents, forgive him.”

Application: We live in a fragmented world too; this fragmentation slips into the church so that even she becomes divided into camps based on age, ethnicity, income, and political affiliation. In other words, the dividing lines among the people of God in Jesus’ day are not all that different from the divisions among people in the church today. If we can just learn to lovingly rebuke each other, instead of gossiping about or avoiding each other, the fragmentation would stop. If we could learn the habit of forgiving those who hurt us, and let go of grudge-holding bitterness, the church would be united not fragmented. The way to foster the kind of intimate community that reflects Christ is to love the people around me enough to lovingly rebuke and graciously forgive them.  

Prayer: God, thank you for loving me enough to rebuke and forgive me…very, very often. May I be willing to do for others what you have done for me so that the world might know that you have sent the Son to be the savior of the world. Amen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 16

Scripture: Luke 16:15b Jesus says, “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”

Observation: This saying from Jesus is contained in a chapter that focuses on the “detestable” things we humans sometimes crave. We often covet, or “highly value,” things and people more than we crave God and his will. Our desires and God’s ways are, at times, extremely incongruent. The things we value can become obstacles to God’s best work in and through us.

Application: Black Friday shopping, which some endured yesterday, in many ways epitomizes how what we value God detests. I understand that Black Friday bargains enable shoppers to get “bigger and better” for less. But there is a dark side to “Black” Friday. We are driven to purchase more than we need, to competitively keep up with the possessions of those around us, and to feed our consumeristic cravings, even if we have to literally trample on others to do so. The desire to “keep up with the Joneses” and to “get mine” could need be more counter to the Gospel of sacrificial love. It seems so odd that the Black Friday “get mine” mentality comes one day after we “give thanks.” These two days, I think, depict how what we highly value is often detestable to God.   

Prayer: Lord, help me to value what you value and to detest what you detest. Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 13

Scripture: Luke 13:12b Jesus said “you are set free from your infirmities.”

Observation: Jesus came to set people free from illness, despair, regrets, sins, and the burdens placed on them by the religious leaders. The ministry of Jesus brought dignity to those who had lost it. The crippled woman was viewed as an outcast and sinner. “Surely she did something against God that brought that illness upon her,” thought the theologians of that day. Yet, Jesus saw past popular opinion to the deep need in this woman to be set free not only from her illness but the hopeless despair it caused her for nearly two decades.   

Application: On the eve of Thanksgiving day I am struck by the power of this verse. This saying from Jesus captures the story of my life. He has set me free from sin and despair by giving me the dignity of discipleship. Jesus saw past the popular opinions about me and loved me in such a potent way that my chains began to fall off. His love is disarming and chain-breaking! Although I am not as free as I can be, I am more free than I ever have been because Christ has set me free!

Prayer: Lord, thank you, thank you, thank you for breaking the chains that had wrapped themselves around my life. May the gratitude that wells up in me toward you lead to even greater freedom and the dignity that comes from a deepening relationship with you. Amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 12

Scripture: Luke 12:35 Jesus says, “Be dressed, ready for service and keep your lamps burning”

Observation: Jesus possessed a sense of urgency about the kingdom of God that drove him. He was a man on a mission to redeem and restore the world. Service to God, the master, is more important than the preservation of our possessions. There is no “union break” or “retirement” from God’s service. Jesus is suggested that we never “clock out.” Jesus was always on mission, even when he sat by a well in Samaria exhausted. He calls us to live with the same kind of urgency- “be dressed, ready for service and keep your lamps burning.”

Application: I have a tendency to coast a bit in my service. I have a propensity to forget the urgency of the Gospel. And when I do forget and begin to coast a bit, my lamp stops burning. I walk past opportunities to serve God’s purposes. I walk right past people in need of hope. As I switched from pastor to professor I wonder if it’s even more tempting for me now to talk about service instead of serving. Today, I will be dressed, ready for the opportunities God brings my way to serve him, and this readiness will keep my lamp of passion burning for God.

Prayer:  Lord, keep me lamp burning. As I draw close to you, open my eyes to see and seize those opportunities to serve your purposes in the world. Amen.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 11

Scripture: Luke 11:34 Jesus says, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good your whole body will be full of light.”

Observation: Jesus says that what we take in through the eyes will impact everything else about us. When we look lustfully at things and people, it will adversely affect the rest of us. When we look compassionately at people in need, it will do our body good. When our response to what we see is jealousy or condescension, life is darkened. When prayers of praise and petition flow in response to what we see, our lives are lit up. Jesus looked at the world and everything in it with holy, selfless, and compassionate eyes. And he is “the light of the world.”

Application: Perhaps I can’t help what I see, but I can dictate the lens through which I view what I see. Instead of seeing a provocatively dressed woman and lustfully possessing her I will decide to selflessly pray for her. When I see one of my ministry friends experience fruitful success I will not burn with jealousy but celebrate with gratitude.   

Prayer: Lord, when I am content with your love, I don’t need to covet or lust with my eyes. Today, help me to live so in step with your Spirit that my eyes become an avenue through which I seek your kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Friday, November 18, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 8

Scripture: Luke 8:37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear.

Observation: The people of the Gerasenes encounter the power of God in Christ to heal a demon-possessed madman and instead of welcoming Jesus they want him out of their region. Maybe the people are comfortable with the way things are. When a powerful person like Jesus shows up, things change. And who likes change? The people understand one thing- if Jesus stays on the scene of their lives it will necessarily entail change for everyone. People who are sick will get well. Sinners will turn to saints. The greedy will become generous. The status quo will be replaced with status go. I think of Beaver’s description of Aslan, the Christ figure, in Narnia… “of course he isn’t safe, but he is good.” If it is safety we are looking for then we probably don’t want to invite Jesus into the town of our lives.  

Application: As I get older (but not that old since I am still in my 30s for a little longerJ) the more I hunger for safety and status quo. I really have to fight this urge. If I really want Jesus to enter more fully into the “region” of my life I must abandon my quest for safety and ease. Every time I resist the changed Jesus is trying to initiate in my life, it’s like I am asking him to “leave.” Lord, today I invite you to come in and upset the status quo of my life so that I become more fully the person you made me to be.

Prayer: Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee! Amen.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why Are Pastors So Lonely?

Pastors are among the loneliest people in the world. Today, in the Spiritual Formation course I teach at Wesley Seminary, me and my students explored the reasons for this. Feel free to comment and add to the list. The first step toward solving the problem is insightfully analyzing it.

Why are pastors among the loneliest people in the world?
The pastoral role can prevent authenticity
Pastors have been burned before by friends in the church
Pastors don’t have or make time for friends outside of the church
Many pastors struggle with depression which leads to isolation
Pastors don’t want to come across as a clique-ish
Pastors don’t have a right to pick and choose friends when we have to love all
Pastors are afraid people will see the real us beyond the role
Friendship takes energy we pastors don’t seem to have

Why do pastors need friends?
Pastors are prone to self-deception
Pastors need someone who cares for our soul the way we care for our people
Pastors need friends to help us de-robe and not take ourselves so seriously
Pastors need people who commend our strengths and challenge our weaknesses

Unchained Challenge: Luke 7

Scripture: Luke 7:13 When the Lord saw her (the widow) his heart went out to her and he said “don’t cry.”

Observation: A woman has lost her husband and now her only son to death, which means she lost her hope and source of income. She is grieving and wondering how she will provide for herself. Many women in her position would be forced into prostitution or servitude to “make ends meet.” Despite his busyness, going from town to town to preach and heal, Jesus notices the woman. He “saw her and his heart went out to her.” This widow lost the men in her life, but she still had one Man who loved her. Jesus gives the man “back to his mother” (v.15).

Application: I am comforted by Jesus’ ability to see and care for me and others in the midst of grief and pain. But, I am also challenged by Jesus. Do I really see the people around me who are hurting in a way that elicits active compassion in me? Or, do I walk right past people looking at but not really seeing them? Today, I am going to slow down and see the people around me who are hurting. I will allow my heart to feel for them in a manner that leads me to act on their behalf.

Prayer: Lord, give me the eyes and heart of Christ to see the people around me who are grieving and hurting. And please give me the grace to act on their behalf in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 6

Scripture: Luke 6:30b Jesus says, “If anyone takes what belongs to you do not demand it back.”

Observation: The words of Jesus in this chapter are extremely challenging, especially his words above. Let’s remember that Jesus’ audience was primarily Jewish peasants whose land and freedom had been taken by the mighty Romans. What wasn’t taken by the Romans was taken by the Jewish aristocracy which controlled the Temple finances and drained the pockets of the people. These words of Jesus, then, have a bit of a sting when read in the context of first century Palestinian realities. There were Jewish zealots in that day who tried to fight Roman power with power. These rebel Jews tried to take back what Rome and the Jewish elite had taken from them. Jesus says “do not demand it back.”

Application: The American way seems to be “tooth for tooth” or in some cases, “you take my tooth and I will take your teeth.” There are sayings that have been ingrained in me that run counter to Jesus’ command: You got to fight for your rights, claim what is yours, look out for number one. It seems that the American Church, at times, tries to synthesize American values with Jesus’ teaching. However, on many points they are like oil and water; they don’t mix. Sometimes I wonder if my faith is based more on American Churchianity than Biblical Christianity. By the power of God’s Spirit, today I will align with the values of the Christ I claim to follow, the Christ who tells me not to demand back what is mine.    

Prayer: Lord, forgive me for following the values of culture and my own sense of what is right instead of aligning my life with the values of a kingdom not of this world. Please give me the wisdom to differentiate the divergence between your way and the way of the world. And give me the courage to swim upstream and obey your counter-cultural values. Amen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 5

Scripture: Luke 5:b (Peter to Jesus) “But because you say so, I will let down the nets for a catch.”

Observation: Jesus is always asking us to do odd things. He asks the disciples to feed a crowd of thousands with just a small amount of food. He commands us to love not only our friends, which is hard enough, but even our enemies. And in Luke 5 he asks seasoned fisherman who caught nothing all day and who are almost finished cleaning their nets to “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” What could Jesus possibly know about fishing? At any rate, Peter’s response is commendable. He does the ridiculous, seemingly senseless thing Jesus asks him to do. He obeys Jesus’ odd command because Peter trusts him.

Application: Sometimes I am tempted to play life safe within the bounds of my own logic and convenience. What if Christ asks me to put out my fishing nets at a time and in a place that seems unlikely to yield fish? Ten years ago it seemed God was calling me to lead a church that was demoralized and stuck. There were other ministry opportunities that seemed to make more sense, but I knew God was calling me to this problem-infested but potential-filled church. “Because you say so” I went. That church, in time, became the kind of church I always dreamed of leading. And I almost missed it because it didn’t make sense for me to go there. I wonder of God is calling me to do something odd and unlikely today. If he does, will I muster the grace to respond with Peter “because you say so, I will.”?

Prayer: Lord, give me the grace to follow you wherever you lead and to do what you call me to do no matter how odd it may be. Forgive me for playing life safe and, too often, missing out on the boat-load of fish you have for me. Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 4

Scripture: Luke 4:39 So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

Observation: Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with a severe fever. Once Jesus comes on the scene, he heals her. Immediately after being healed, she gets up and serves them. She doesn’t take a nap, sit around and chat, or let people wait on her; she serves! Perhaps she is so overwhelmed with gratitude for being made whole that she can’t help but do something for others. She is served by Jesus and that compels her service to others.

Application: I am challenged by this story. First of all, I am challenged to have more compassion for my mother-in-lawJ Seriously, the question that haunts me is, why do I serve? There are lots of mixed reasons for serving people in Jesus’ name. I confess that sometimes I serve because of how it makes me feel about myself, how it makes me look to others, or how it obligates God to “bless me.” Today, my motivation to serve God will be the same as it was for Peter’s mother-in-law. I will remember how God has healed me and that will motivate my service. He has healed me from addiction, past pain, and debilitating insecurity, inferiority, and inadequacy. I will allow his healing love to motivate me to get up and wait on the people around me.   

Prayer: Lord, when I pause to remember and reflect upon the many ways you have healed me, I can’t help but want to serve others so that they too experience your healing power. Today I will serve you not out of obligation but appreciation. Amen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pastoral Ministry Shifts

I began pastoring a local church as a senior in college at the age of 23. For the next 15 years I served consecutively as a solo pastor, youth pastor, assistant pastor, and lead pastor in a variety of contexts before joining the faculty of Wesley Seminary last year. As I reflect upon my years of pastoral ministry, it seems there are a few God-initiated, ministry-enhancing shifts I stumbled upon along the way. My perspective on pastoral ministry changed significantly since I was a 23 year old “wet behind the ears” pastor in that rural and loving congregation who gathered in a fly-infested, mildew-scented sanctuary. The following shifts fostered the kind of faithfulness that facilitated fruitfulness (alliteration almost always appears arrogantJ):

Methodology to Spirituality: The best way for parents to produce healthy kids is to cultivate a healthy marriage. The same principle applies to the pastor; the best way to produce healthy Christians is for pastoral leaders to cultivate a healthy, intimate relationship with God. Most pastors will respond to this with, “thanks Einstein!” However, many pastors seem more enamored with the work of the Lord than the Lord of the work. We can easily become more infatuated with ministry methodology than authentic spirituality. The people who have had the most positive and profound impact upon my development in Christ were not methodological storm-chasers, but spiritual God-chasers. Don’t get me wrong, we must explore and incorporate best ministry practices and methods into the life of the churches we lead. However, method-rich but Spirit-poor leaders don’t seem to build churches that build God’s kingdom. At some point I began reading more books to enhance my soul than I was reading to increase my effectiveness. Oddly enough, this made me more effective. Go figure!

Programmer to Architect: I used to focus entirely on programming the church. “Get the right programs for children, youth, and adults and you get the right church,” I assumed. The pastor is the programmer who picks from a menu of programming options that are working in other churches and incorporates them into his or her particular church. A good program may provide an immediate boost but rarely any lasting change. A decade into ministry I came to the conclusion that lasting change comes not from programming the church but architecting the culture of the church. I shifted from a focus on finding programs to facilitating a culture that aligns with the values of Christ. Once the church discerned and developed a Christ-aligned culture, which for us entailed significant ministry to the poor and addicted, we sought programs that reinforced that kind of culture. Pastors are called first to architect the culture before they program the church, or we end up putting the cart before the horse.

Church to Community: I used to think that God called me to pastor the people who attended the church. Most of my time, therefore, was spent on the church campus developing campus-based ministries that would bring people to our campus. Then, the incarnation of Christ began to “get under my skin” a bit. God didn’t sit back and wait for us to come to him. Instead, he came to us as one of us. He came to our campus, onto our turf. INCARNATION! I also began to dig into Wesleyan Christianity and discovered John Wesley left the “campus” of the Anglican Church to go onto the turf of the poor, drunk masses of England. He insisted “the world is my parish” and “there is no holiness but social holiness.” It suddenly clicked for me. So, the amount of time I spent outside of the church increased. I began meeting with community leaders on their turf to explore ways to “do good” together. We participated in community service projects. Our budget began to reflect care, not just for our campus, but for our community as we invested more money in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and helping the addicted. In time, some of our most persistent evangelists were unchurched people in the community who said “go to that church, they care about people, they will help you.”

Powerful to Empowering: For some reason I assumed that if anything good happened in the church I led, it would be because of my insight, giftedness, or power. Although I quoted Ephesians 4:12-13 annoyingly, usually arm-twisting people to serve in ministries I decided should be important to them, I wasn’t empowering “the saints” to do what God was calling and equipping them to do; I wasn’t giving them a “voice.” About a decade into ministry I became captivated by the concept of Trinitarian ministry, pastoral ministry that flows out of the implications of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What does it look like for me as a pastor to relate to my people like the Father who honors and elevates the Son, and the Son who submits to the Father, and the Spirit who reminds us of the Son? My role as a pastor is to elevate, honor, and submit to the members of my team. I got the impression that the church is at its best when all the people of God are empowered to do what God has designed and called us to do. And, it made my job a lot less stressful.

Which shifts have you already made? Which shifts do you need to make to more faithfully and fruitfully serve the purposes of God as pastor?

Unchained Challenge: Luke 3

Scripture: Luke 3:4 “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’.”

Observation: Luke uses the quote above from Isaiah to describe John the Baptist’s ministry as a mission of proclamation, aka preaching. John came to preach during a dry desert-like time for the Jews. The Jews were being oppressed by the Roman government. They Jewish race was demoralized and desperate. Many of them were poor and all of them under the thumb of the Roman government, except those who sided with the Romans against their own Jewish people. John’s preaching was primarily aimed at raising people up who have been brought low by life. John was called to preach in a way that would help demoralized Jews see themselves not through the eyes of their Roman oppression but through the lens of the rule and reign of God.

Application: I believe God has called me to preach in a way that elevates those brought low. Good news sets captives free. A preacher is called to be a “voice calling in the desert” that helps hopeless and hurting people to see “God’s salvation” in Christ. I want to preach in a way that causes a hopeless case to become hopeful, a racist to see people as God’s creation, a legalist to find love, an addict to get clean, etc.

Prayer: Lord, when I am tempted to use preaching to bring people low or beat them up, remind me of this verse. When I cry out in the desert of life’s dryness, please empower my voice to set captives free by the power of Christ.   

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 2

Scripture: Luke 2:40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him.

Observation: I am not only struck by this verse, but by the entire section (Luke 2:8-51). There are three words that jump off the page at me throughout this chapter- grace, Spirit, and wisdom. It seems that God graces certain people with the presence of his Spirit which brings wisdom. God favors the shepherds with his grace and they immediately possess a wisdom that enables them to recognize Jesus as the cosmic King. Simeon and Anna, two saintly seniors, experience the grace of God and “get” the identity of Jesus as the promised Messiah. Jesus experiences the gracious favor and Spirit of God so that he grows in “wisdom” (2:40, 52). The bottom line is that God decides to grace certain people with his Spirit of wisdom that gives these graced ones eyes to see what they could never see on their own.

Application: I have some significant decisions to make in the weeks ahead. I am so desperate for God’s gracious Spirit that brings wisdom. I think of James 1:5 and hunger for wisdom from God. Today, and the days to follow, I will express to God my lack of wisdom and need for it consistently. Maybe, he will decide to grace me with the wisdom to see and know, just like he did with some shepherds, seniors, and the Savior!

Prayer: Lord, as I lean into your love, would you give me the grace to discern your “good, pleasing, and perfect will.” I am afraid that my eyes are sometimes blinded to what you are “up to” in the world and in my life. Give me the wisdom to see and the courage to respond to your will. Amen

Friday, November 11, 2011

Unchained Challenge: Luke 1

Scripture: Luke 1:25 Elizabeth said, “The Lord…has taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Observation: Being barren was a disgraceful lot in life for women of Elizabeth’s day. It still has a stigma for women even to this day. People, maybe even Zechariah himself, looked down upon Elizabeth for her inability to conceive children. But she still “walked upright” (v.6) regardless of the bitterness of being barren and the shame it piled on her. She did not abandon the God she might have been tempted to believe abandoned her. But God took away the “disgrace” of Elizabeth and enabled her to conceive a child who would “prepare the way for the Lord.” Not only would she give birth to a boy, that boy she birthed was the “birth” of Pre-Advent! She is excited and she should be. Mary feels some of the same joy for a similar reason. God “has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” (1:48). Two women, one barren and one obscure, have the shame taken away by the one and only God who could remove it! And this is the Gospel, thanks be to God. No more shame, no more disgrace, that was outside of the bounds of her control. I feel some of the same excitement as I reflect upon the shameful circumstances that have disgraced me and how God took it away.

Application: God is challenging me to be grateful and remember how he has removed my disgrace. Today, when I am tempted to feel the shame of my past or the disgrace of not measuring up in the present to the standards of myself or others, I will resist it by the power of the Spirit. I will not allow my mind to play the tricks on me that will lead me back to shameful disgrace.

Prayer: Lord, there were things outside of my control that disgraced me for too long. I felt the sting of shame that sent me into a downward spiral of insecurity, inferiority, and inadequacy. But then You came near and did for me what I could not do for myself- you took away my disgrace! Jesus Christ, you set this captive free! Amen