treasure seeker

always looking below the surface

The Christmas Story with the Spotlight on Gabriel December 16, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Christmas,Devotional — rjfleming @ 3:39 am

Today I want to share a devotional I wrote a few years ago. It’s about the angel Gabriel and his part in the Christmas story.

Enjoy and I’ll be back next week with a Christmas devotional about Joseph’s role in the Christmas story.

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Gabriel and the Two How’s

Gabriel really racked up the air miles in the first chapter of Luke. He was sent to Earth twice to share special birth announcements. Well, they were actually conception announcements. Both were pretty unusual. And the recipients’ responses to the announcements seem very similar. But Gabriel’s reactions to their responses were very different. Let me explain what I’m talking about.

The first announcement is to Zechariah. Zechariah was a priest who was married to Elizabeth. According to Luke, they both followed all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They were an upstanding Jewish couple. But that was the problem. They were just a couple. No kids. And they were OLD.

One day when Zechariah’s priest division was on duty, he was chosen to go into the temple to burn incense. That’s where things got interesting. An angel appeared to Zechariah and scared him half to death. The angel told him not to be afraid. But more importantly he told him that his prayer had been heard. That his wife Elizabeth was going to become pregnant and have a son!

The angel then goes into detail about what they’re to name him and how they’re to raise him and the role he would play in God’s plan.

Zechariah’s response to all this is a question. A ‘how’ question. He asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Something about Zechariah’s question doesn’t sit well with the angel. He replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.” He goes on to explain that because Zechariah didn’t believe him, Zechariah wouldn’t be able to speak until everything Gabriel had told him came true.

When he left the temple, Zechariah couldn’t even explain to the other priests what had just happened.

Zechariah went home and sure enough, Elizabeth became pregnant.

Just like Gabriel said.

And Zechariah still couldn’t speak.

Just like Gabriel said.

Now for Gabriel’s conversation with Mary.

Six months after the Zechariah trip, God sends Gabriel back to Earth. This time to Nazareth, to carry a message to a girl named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph.

Gabriel appears to Mary and says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

I think it’s interesting that Mary isn’t startled by Gabriel’s sudden appearance like Zechariah was. However, she was confused by how he greeted her. So he explained it to her. He told her his greeting was a good thing. He told her that God had chosen her for a special assignment. That she was going to become pregnant, have a son, and name him Jesus. And that Jesus would be called the Son of the Most High and that his kingdom would never end.

And just like Zechariah, Mary responds to Gabriel with a ‘how’ question. “How will this be since I am a virgin?”

But Gabriel’s response to Mary is very different than his response to Zechariah. Gabriel actually explains to Mary ‘how’ things are going to happen. ‘How’ she is going to become pregnant even though she’s a virgin. He even goes on to tell her that Elizabeth, who is Mary’s relative, is pregnant.

And then Gabriel makes one of my favorite statements in the entire Bible. He says, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

I have a feeling it became one of Mary’s favorites, too.

Okay. Those are the two stories. And the two ‘how’ questions. And Gabriel’s absolutely opposite responses.

Now I just have one question.

Why?

Why did Gabriel silence Zechariah for nine months for asking ‘how’? But six months later when Mary asks ‘how’, why did he explain everything to her?

Gabriel hasn’t appeared to me recently [or ever!] so I haven’t been able to ask him. But after looking closely at these two scenarios and the two questions, I came up with an answer to my ‘why’ that satisfies my curiosity. At least for now.

I took a closer look at Zechariah’s question. Zechariah wasn’t really asking how he and Elizabeth were going to have a son after all these years. Zechariah was asking for a sign. I think he was saying: an angel appearing to me and telling me that God has heard the prayer I’ve been praying for decades and that He is now going to answer it, isn’t quite enough for me. Telling me that my wife is going to have a boy and that we’re to name him John and explaining the role he will play in God’s plan, doesn’t exactly convince me that it’s really going to happen. I need something more.

Whoa. I think Zechariah had lost sight of something very important.

Faith.

And I think he had forgotten how important faith is to God.

Zechariah was very good at following the rules, but somewhere along the way, he had forgotten that what pleases God is faith—believing without seeing any evidence. And apparently asking for more evidence right after God sends an angel direct from His throne to share good news with you, isn’t a real smart move.

I don’t need to criticize Zechariah. I’m pretty sure I’ve been exactly where he was.

I think Zechariah’s . . . and Elizabeth’s . . . hearts had been broken several times over the years. Probably several times a year . . . for many years. Their dreams of having a family had been crushed. They had lived for decades with the shame of being childless. This upstanding Jewish couple, who followed every command and regulation God had given, lived in disgrace among their friends and relatives because they couldn’t get pregnant.

I wonder how many calluses were on their hearts. Is it even possible to keep a tender heart while living for decades in their situation?

When Zechariah doesn’t immediately jump on the baby bandwagon with Gabriel, it may have been out of self-protection. I don’t think Zechariah wanted to get his hopes up again . . . and run the risk of having them crushed again.

And I really don’t think Zechariah wanted to get Elizabeth’s hopes up again. I’m sure he had watched his wife’s heart break more times than he could count. So before he went home and told Elizabeth what Gabriel said, Zechariah wanted to be sure Gabriel knew what he was talking about. And as it turned out, he couldn’t tell Elizabeth anyway. Because Zechariah had been given the sign he requested.

Now to Mary’s question.

I think Gabriel answered Mary’s question because her question was a real ‘how’ question: How is this going to happen?

In fact, I wonder if Mary was asking an even bigger question.

A question I need to ask.

A question you may want to ask, too.

I wonder if Mary was saying:

  • I understand what’s going to happen—I’m going to get pregnant and have a very special baby.
  • Here is my current situation—I’m a virgin and not planning to get married immediately.
  • So, what is my role in this scenario? What, if anything, do I need to do differently in order for God’s plan to be accomplished in my life?

I wonder if that’s what Mary was really asking, because that seems to be the question Gabriel answered.

Gabriel told her how God was going to do something miraculous with her life.

But he didn’t tell her that she needed to do anything differently. Apparently she just needed to keep doing what she was doing. She didn’t need to go ahead and marry Joseph in order to get pregnant. She just needed to keep living her life, believing God, and remaining open to whatever adventure God brought her.

Mary’s role was to continue doing the possible part of the plan. God would take care of the impossible part.

And He did!

And He still does.

I think I need to spend some time with God and ask Him Mary’s question: What, if anything, do I need to do differently in order for Your plan to be accomplished in my life?

And then I need to listen.

And then I need to do my part—the possible part. And watch God do the rest.

For nothing is impossible with God!

© Rhonda Fleming, 2011

 

Meek or Weak December 9, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:31 am

Today’s verse in the Sermon on the Mount says that those who are “meek” will inherit the earth. “Meek” isn’t a word that’s used much anymore. And when it is, it typically means timid and spineless. But that’s not what it means when it’s used in the Bible.

 

I remember a pastor once saying that meekness does not equal weakness. He said that meek means “power under control.” I like that definition.

 

Jesus’s life is a great example of meekness. That’s how He lived. Powerfully. Under control.

 

Jesus didn’t live His life in reaction to circumstances or other people’s drama. He lived life on purpose and on His terms.

 

Jesus had “power” but He didn’t use it to promote Himself. He used His “power” to fulfill His life’s mission.

 

Jesus shared His mission at the onset of His ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown. His words can be found in Luke 4, but also in Isaiah 61, which is the scripture Jesus was reading from that day.

 

Essentially Jesus’s mission was to preach the good news that He was bringing heaven’s kingdom to earth and to heal and restore whatever needed healing and restoring. And that’s what He did.

 

There are some very good examples of meekness in Scripture. Jesus’s crucifixion and the hours leading up to it probably best illustrate “power under control.”

 

But I think there are also other examples that may help you and me with situations we face in our own personal lives.

 

And there’s a particular example that I think can really help us in our interpersonal relationships.

 

I’m talking about when Jesus forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery.

 

Think about the situation and what Jesus could have done and what He could have said. To ALL of those who had a role in this drama.

 

Jesus had a captive audience and He could have preached them all a sermon. Instead he bent down and started writing in the sand.

 

He was meek. He was powerful–the crowd’s focus was on Him. And He was under control–He didn’t react to their drama.

 

Jesus didn’t degrade the woman any further, but He did acknowledge her sin. And He stopped the religious leaders from continuing to exploit the situation but He didn’t let them leave without facing their own sins.

 

Jesus restored the woman’s dignity instead of declaring His superiority.

 

And He saved the religious leaders a lot of embarrassment by NOT naming their individual indiscretions.

 

Through His meekness, Jesus provided the woman and her accusers GRACE.

 

How well do you do when you face this type of situation?

How do you treat a person who you know for a fact has done something wrong?

How do they feel in your presence?

How do you feel in theirs?

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Matthew 5:5 Amplified Bible (AMP)

Blessed (happy, blithesome, joyous, spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the meek (the mild, patient, long-suffering), for they shall inherit the earth!

 

What Have You Lost? December 2, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:22 am

Matthew 5:4 Amplified Bible  (AMP)

4 Blessed and enviably happy [with a happiness produced by the experience of God’s favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His matchless grace] are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!

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This is definitely an upside-down principle.

 

Why would Jesus say that those who mourn are blessed? And not just “blessed” as in “have a blessed day” but “enviably happy!”

 

I can think of a couple of possible meanings.

 

I believe this verse can be applied to our salvation experience. When we mourn our sin condition and the price Jesus paid on the cross to redeem us, it results in a VERY blessed life . . . as in eternal, abundant life!

That makes sense to me.

 

The other thing that comes to my mind is a different way of looking at this verse. And it may not make sense to anyone but me. But keep reading because it might make sense to both of us.

 

The other principle I think you could extract from this verse is that you actually have to ‘let go’ before you can be comforted and enjoy the ‘blessed’ life this verse is talking about.

 

What I mean is that you have to give up. You have to accept the fact that you’ve lost something.

 

It may be a relationship. A job. A pet. A friend or family member. Your reputation. Your money. Your car. Your house. Control over a habit or substance or situation. Someone’s trust. Your business. Your health. Your youth. Your freedom. Your ability to take care of yourself. Your dreams for the future.

 

Whatever it is you’ve lost . . . life as you once knew it is gone. And it won’t be back.

 

And as bad as that may seem at the moment, one thing that’s worse is not admitting it. Not accepting it. Continuing to work to try to get it back. Or worse, pretending it’s not gone.

 

I’ve done that before. Many years ago, I prolonged the agony of a dying relationship because I couldn’t face my own failure. Denying the loss was no fun for me or anyone around me. And the longer I took to accept it and mourn it, the longer it took to experience God’s comfort and the blessings that followed.

 

The other side of the coin was modeled for me just last week. I had dinner with a couple that I’ve been friends with for decades. However, we haven’t lived close to each other for several years so I don’t see them often.

 

Eight years ago, a car accident shattered their world, changing their lives drastically. Life as they once knew it was gone and will never be back.

 

But they have embraced their “new normal” and are bright lights shining in this dark world. The wife told me a couple of times during our time together that she wouldn’t change a thing. That it has been worth it. That the closeness they have as a couple and as a family is worth all they’ve been through and will go through.

 

They have accepted what the accident took from them. They have mourned it. And they have allowed God to comfort them and bless them with His presence and provision in their new normal. And boy has He BLESSED them! Their joy is evident and contagious. They’re “enviably happy.” And He’s now using them to minister to others who are going through the same type of loss.

 

What have you lost that you need to mourn? What loss do you need to accept and admit so God can comfort you?

 

Whatever it is, do it–so you can enjoy the BLESSED life God has for you.

 

They Get the Kingdom November 25, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:50 am

Today we’re looking at the first of the “beatitudes” that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.

 

We talked last week about what the word “blessed” means in these verses . . . and it’s a lot more than you would think.

 

In today’s passage we learn about one group of people who, according to Jesus, are not only REALLY blessed . . . but the kingdom of heaven is given to them.

 

It sounds like they won the lottery! But before you head out to buy one of those tickets, you may want to hear what they did to be so blessed.

 

They became poor in spirit.

 

That’s not how you’re typically told to get ahead in today’s culture, right? I know in today’s business world you’re told to stand out from the crowd, make connections with the right people, and make sure everyone knows what you do and how well you do it. You’re taught that if you don’t promote yourself first, no one else will.

 

But in this Upside-Down Kingdom that Jesus is training his disciples for, He takes a different angle.

 

The Amplified Bible says that “poor in spirit” means “the humble” and those “who rate themselves insignificant.”

 

I think “humble” in this context means not feeling superior to any other person, willingly putting other people ahead of yourself.

 

I don’t think whose “who rate themselves insignificant” have self-esteem issues or a self-image problem. I believe they view the King’s mission as more important than their individual life. In other words, they are willing to lay down their preferences in life to help fulfill the King’s mission. As a result, they don’t live small lives. They live LARGE. Because they have a compelling purpose that focuses on the King and the expansion of His Kingdom on earth–our life’s purpose that goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

 

I think we can look at this principle of “poor in spirit” from two aspects.

 

1. I believe recognizing that you are poor in spirit is the first criteria for salvation. You have to realize that your soul is bankrupt. That you are in need of a savior.

2. And after we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, I believe it’s talking about purposefully not focusing on yourself, but instead recognizing that without God as the central focus of your life, you will still be poor in spirit–that HE is the one who gives your life value, meaning, and purpose.

 

Recognizing your desperate need for God and then focusing on Him and His mission sets you up for EXTREME BLESSINGS.

 

And that’s even BETTER than winning the lottery!

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Matthew 5:1-3 / Amplified Bible

Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and when He was seated, His disciples came to Him.

Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the poor in spirit (the humble, who rate themselves insignificant), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!

 

How Blessed! November 18, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:37 am

Matthew 5 is the beginning of what is commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount. It’s one of Jesus’s most famous teachings and is very well known. I’m sure you’ve heard parts of it quoted in multiple sermons and talks.

 

It’s also been the basis for several books . . . one title calls these principles the Be Happy Attitudes.

 

When I started reading and meditating on the first several verses, there was one thing that caught my attention.

 

I typically read the Amplified Version because it gives the expanded meaning of words instead of the typical one word to one word translation. And that really comes into play in this passage of scripture.

 

The word that is translated “blessed,” “happy,” or “fortunate” in other translations is also translated as “blessed” in the Amplified Version, but with a lot of expanded meanings. Here are a few:

- happy

- to be envied

- spiritually prosperous

- with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions

- enviably happy

- with a happiness produced by the experience of God’s favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His matchless grace

- blithesome

- joyous

- fortunate

- in that state in which the born-again child of God enjoys His favor and salvation

- possessing the happiness produced by the experience of God’s favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His grace, regardless of their outward conditions

- enjoying enviable happiness

 

I don’t know about you but that’s the kind of “blessed” life I would like to experience! It goes beyond being happy or feeling “blessed” when things are going your way or when someone says, “Have a blessed day!”

 

This kind of “blessed” life is knowing way down deep inside your soul that you have something that everybody desperately needs and no one can attain–it’s a “grace” gift. You are loved unconditionally. You are accepted just as you are. You are forgiven. You are a spiritual ka-jillionaire. You lack nothing.

 

But this kind of “blessed” life isn’t enjoyed by every believer. It’s experienced based on your heart attitudes.

 

And some of those necessary attitudes seem to be the exact opposite of the “blessed” life you’re trying to attain.

 

Which is one of the reasons it’s called the “upside-down kingdom!”

 

Good News for Galilee November 11, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:18 am

In these few verses (Matthew 4:23-25), we clearly see Jesus’s priorities. Teaching and preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease. That’s what He spent His ministry years doing.

 

I love that it says He proclaimed the good news of the kingdom. It’s not bad news. Jesus’s message THEN AND NOW is GOOD NEWS! It’s not another 10 commandments we can’t keep. It’s not more rules to try to remember and follow. It’s not another law we’ll be punished for breaking. It’s not another tithe we have to pay.

 

The message of the Kingdom is GOOD. According to Jesus in Luke 4:18-21:

- It’s captives being set free.

- It’s the blind receiving their sight.

- It’s the oppressed being delivered.

- It’s salvation and God’s favor in abundance.

 

And Jesus doesn’t just talk about it in church. He goes into the streets and carries it out . . . literally!

 

Jesus came to earth on a love mission. Yes, He was here to live a perfect life so He could die a sacrificial death for our sins. Yes, He was here to show us how life is SUPPOSED to be lived. Yes, He was here to die and then rise from the dead and go back to the Father.

 

But it was all because of LOVE. It was all because of how much the Holy Trinity LOVES each and every one of us.

 

It was because of His love for the people in Galilee that He hated seeing them weighed down by the hundreds of laws religion had imposed on them. It was because of His love for them that He hated seeing them living oppressed and depressed and broken lives. It was because of His love for them that He wanted them whole and He wanted them free.

 

Because that’s how He created them to live.

 

So He offered wholeness and freedom to the people who came to Him in Galilee. That’s what they needed. And that’s what they got.

 

He feels the same way about you. He loves you and wants you to be whole and free.

 

And He has provided everything you need to live the life He created you to live.

 

What are you going to do with it?

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Matthew 4:23-25 /  Amplified Bible

23 And He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news (Gospel) of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every weakness and infirmity among the people.

24 So the report of Him spread throughout all Syria, and they brought Him all who were sick, those afflicted with various diseases and torments, those under the power of demons, and epileptics, and paralyzed people, and He healed them.

25 And great crowds joined and accompanied Him about, coming from Galilee and Decapolis [the district of the ten cities east of the Sea of Galilee] and Jerusalem and Judea and from the other [the east] side of the Jordan.

 

First Disciples November 4, 2014

Filed under: Bible Study,Devotional,Matthew — rjfleming @ 3:59 am

Jesus has begun his earthly ministry and in today’s passage He chooses His first four disciples.

The first two are Simon and his brother Andrew. They’re casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee as Jesus walks by.

Jesus uses the phrase, “Come, follow me,” the phrase used in that time when a rabbi selects the students he has chosen to be his disciples. But in that culture, the rabbi’s disciples weren’t ordinary students learning from an ordinary teacher. The disciples practically lived with the rabbi, following him everywhere, learning every detail they could, emulating everything he did. They didn’t just want to learn everything he knew. They wanted to BE him.

So that’s the life these brothers are expecting when they make the decision to follow Jesus.

- How much of your life are you willing to spend with the Teacher?

- How committed are you to the lifestyle of a true disciple?

I love it that Jesus relates what they’re doing now to what He will teach them to do. Now they fish for fish. Jesus says He will teach them to fish for men. This reinforces for me that Jesus doesn’t waste any of our experience. And He wants to use all our talents and gifts in the Kingdom work He calls us to.

- What experience do you have that you’re not sure Jesus can use?

- What gifts and talents do you possess that aren’t being used for the Kingdom?

And I love that Simon and Andrew were hungry for something more than status quo. They weren’t willing to settle for what they had always done. They responded immediately when this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was offered.

- In what ways are you satisfied with status quo?

- In what areas of your life have you settled?

- What is Jesus offering you now?

- How long is it taking you to accept His offer?

As Jesus continues walking on the shore (joined now by Simon and Andrew), He comes up on a father (Zebedee) and his two sons (James and John) sitting in their boat preparing their nets for their next fishing expedition. Jesus calls these two brothers and they also respond immediately, leaving their father, their boat, their nets, their lives . . . just like that . . . to follow Jesus.

- What all have you given up to follow Jesus?

- Who have you had to leave behind in order to be a true disciple?

- How long did it take you to decide to drop everything and go?

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Matthew 4:18-22 (NIV)

Jesus Calls His First Disciples

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

 

 
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