Mary Did You Know?

Our Christmas sermon was on a song written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene called “Mary did you know?” Mark apparently wrote it as a poem for his church one Christmas and Buddy put it to music several years later. It’s one of Pastor’s favorite songs.

Pastor pondered the questions in that song and asked a few more taking his references from Luke 1:26-37

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[c] the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Two things jumped out for pastor and he wanted to relay them to us. Did Mary really know what it meant to be “highly favored?” and did she really believe that “Nothing is impossible with God?”

When we think of what it means to be “Highly Favored” we think of wealth, health and prosperity, don’t we. Do we think of her reality though? Pastor pointed out some things I’d never thought of.

1. She was a young child herself suddenly with child – and not her fiance’s how would she explain that?
2. Her fiance was planning to quietly divorce her.
3. The leaders of her church and community had authority to stone her to death if they chose.
4. An angel took care of Joseph – this much we know.
5. She traveled for days to Bethlehem and gave birth in a stable
6. They had to flee for their lives soon after

There’s also the rest – she watched her son die. And other things.

Highly favored – at least for Mary doesn’t sound good when compared to our own limited perceptions. She was favored – she gave birth to the Messiah – to Christ. She was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and conceived the Christ Child. With Favor came great responsibility. And yet nothing is impossible with God. She did learn that. But favor does not mean cushie life. Does it?

I thought that was an interesting message for Christmas. I had someone make that statement about me once – calling me “favored of God.” – I’m not so sure I like that now.

I have some new readers – so let me explain that a little bit. I don’t typically make it a habit to talk about myself as much as I have been lately. God is doing a work that I do not know how to explain fully. Part of my personal testimony includes being born in a home for unwed mothers, growing up in all kinds of disfunction and such, being kicked out of church as a child because of my parent’s divorce, being raised by my mom who made less than 10K a year, and other things.

Knowing that I get to facilitate Bible studies now? Blows my mind. Seriously. It surprizes others too who knew me when. (Trust me) I am the woman who busted the binding on my Bible during my very first Precepts (Kay Arthur) class taught by my pastor’s wife 13 years ago and here I am – certified to teach it if I want, facilitating Beth Moore Studies as well as others, teaching Sunday School for women, and serving as a missionary in my own denomination (Ablaze).

I’m not doing any of those things because I’m so great and so smart – trust me. I am a scardy cat coward who cannot believe God actually wants to use me most days. I used to do them to seek his favor – but I’ve learned that Christ already did that for me. I do those things today, out of obediance to God. This path I’m on? Was not my choosing at first.

I’m learning to follow his voice even when it doesn’t make sense. I take the classes today that he tells me to. God has had a lot to teach me in the last few years. Including what I will and will not do as a teacher. (see older posts on Matthew 23).
I’ve argued with him a lot. I know what His word says about teachers, and leaders and it scares me. That’s a lot of responsiblity – I don’t want to let him down. And true to form when I tell him that – I’m reminded that “nothing is impossible with God” and that HE won’t let me down.

So for 2008 – it’s a year of getting over myself yet again – and focusing on him.

I don’t have the right – to write this blog – to teach – to lead – to speak – I am a fellow traveler who gets to share and journey with others.

What a kick that is.

God worked miracles in my life this year as far as courage goes. I took some huge risks following God. Major steps of courage. I chaired a community egg hunt at our mission start – which was a total flop by the way, I planned for 750 and 2,000 showed up, over ran us and beat eachother up over candy filled eggs. I turbo hosted a comedy concert for Chonda Pierce with several other helpers and it sold out. I’ve hostessed some other Christian events as a runner and met some speakers I get to learn from now. I went to a Speak Up class in Mich taught by Carol Kent (by myself mind you with no security blanket come with me friends.), I joined a comedy association and actually speak with some of the comics so that I can learn, I went for and got my Precept teachers certification. I reached out to people in the faith who are farther along than I am and asked them questions – I asked for and found mentors, I’ve gathered materials, I’ve laid myself down as a student whenever possible.

Why am I sharing these things with you? Because 15 years ago I shook in church. 15 years ago, I couldn’t put two words together in front of a crowd. A lot has changed in 15 years.

God and I have come a long way from the days where I was more interested in cloning myself into those I admired, rather than being me. The old me wound up setting my dress on fire as a result. You’d think I would have learned from that, but.. it took a few more years and a few big failures, before that message really sunk in. I don’t want to be the next Kay Arthur or Ken Davis, Beth Moore, or Chonda Pierce nor do I even want to be my with me mentors like Lisa Lessing, Joy Moss, Zeal Beal and Velma Campbell – real life women who have been kind enough to teach me and share with me along the way and be my friend – I just want to learn from them. All of them.

I went three years without a teacher – or mentor of any kind. God brought me to himself, loved on me, and revealed to me his word. I was stripped of all would be idols and learned to desire him alone. Then and only then did he bring new people into my life.

I’ve been writing about some of them because these are the people I get to learn from right now. – with intention and with blessing and with humilty and thankfulness.

I want to honor God with my life like they do theirs, what ever that means. I want to be open to His call on my life – and not my limited vision as I have in the past.

I haven’t taken the time to fast and pray yet for the new year, but I will. I have no clue where he wants me – or what he wants me to do – except the next right thing directly in front of me. Somehow, I know that he will get me where he wants me to be.

I am the Lord’s servant. May it be with me, as he says.

Blessings to you my friends, both old and new. And thank you for walking this path with me. May the Lord our God bless and keep you this new year.

The Habit of Over Explaining

I’m a student of many things these days, not only comedy, teaching and speaking, but writing as well. When I attended Speak Up Communications Seminar in Grand Rapids Michigan this past summer, I learned a lot of things about aim, rapport steps, transitions, and how to make a point in three minutes. Actually, what I learned was I’m a bit on the over achiever-try-too-hard edge where making one point in three minutes isn’t so hard, it’s the 20 extra that I try to cram in that gets me in trouble.

I also learned how to trust God through all of the shaking, doubting, and questionings. The “are you sure God?” doubts and fears. yes, he’s sure, and so he kept telling me every step of the way. Just be willing to learn. I’m still learning, I’m still willing, and I’m still trying.

I want to get better. In order to get better, I have to be out there, and willing to either strike the ball or strike out. But I have to be on deck for a chance at both.

My prayer journal on Matthew 23 is no different. There are many things I believe God showed me, but getting to those points? I’m over achieving in my blogs and not making sense. So.. if I were to make a basic outline, where would I begin?

I’ll find the aim, the point, and the message in time. But rather than slaughter it on my blog, I’ll leave with you with these points for now.

1. – My cup was full of distractions and disguises (Hypocrite is from the Greek – an actor in a play who wears masks.)
2. Therefore (as an adult convert) it should be no surprise that after Christ’s triumphal entry into my life that he would restore the temple (my heart) to a house of prayer.
3. It really helps if you believe his conversion, moving in, is permanent and not a live in lover temporary until you mess up kind of deal like I did.
4. There will be those who sit at the seat of moses, LISTEN TO THEM, just don’t copy them.
5. Don’t confuse Christ with a Pharisee – he won’t add to your burdens and do nothing to help carry the weight.
6. Set up no one as judge over your (my) life. There is only one Christ and it’s not them.
7. If your going to teach (speak, preach, lead, whatever) – do it as a fellow traveler – do not sit at the seat of Moses as Judge or Lord over anyone else.
8. Pay attention to the bones, be yourself, follow Christ,
9 – Don’t argue with a pharisee – but don’t forget that even Christ longed to gather them in his arms like a hen gathers her chicks. He wept over them as well.

10 – Psalm 103:12 “as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Ponder this with me – one who redeems the life from the pit (vs 4) and crowns us with love and compassion says this about our sin “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Do you know what that means? Can you picture this?

Look out your window – and think, if you or I were to walk out our front door and start walking Straight north, sooner or later we would come to the north pole. Right? What happens when we keep walking? Do we keep heading North? no. We start heading south.

If you (or I) were to walk out our front door and start walking East – we will circle the globe and never walk west. THAT’s how far God has removed our transgressions from us.

No dirty cup,
No need for fillers
No need to be a copy cat
or sit in the seat of moses.

Just grace. From the one who knew us first, and knows us best.

I’m still over explaining, I know. but you know what? I’m not going to quit learning how to find my aim and make my points. I’m not going to quit trying to teach, to speak, to laugh, or to sing. Because he has set a new song in my heart that cannot be silenced.

Psalm 103
Of David.
1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-

3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,

5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.

9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children-

18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.

21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.

22 Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.

Are you a HopeLifter, or a Hope Crusher?

I just got back from the most incredible week I’ve had in a long time. For those who don’t know, I took a huge personal risk and went to Grand Rapids Michigan for a speaker’s workshop called Speak Up With Confidence. This class was led in large part by Carol Kent – with a lot of help from her friends let me tell you.

Carol has been teaching this class for about 25 years now. SpeakUP is geared towards enabling and equipping ministry leaders with the skills needed for teaching, speaking, and witnessing Christ with confidence and clarity.

With the loss of my mentors several years back (through geographical moves or death) I have felt lost and a bit alone. I’ve been praying for a learning opportunity like this for the past five years. Once there, I caught myself wondering why God waited until this year to let me know about it. And then it hit me, God waited because this was the first year I was ready for it. I was scared as it was and it took constant prayer just to get me on the plane. Once there I still battled with my own insecurities and fears.

I learned far more than I can blog about today, but I did learn one thing that I do want to write about. Hopelifting. I want to know, am I a HopeLifter or a Hope Crusher? Not only for others, but for myself as well.

The team at SpeakUP is very affirming and gives constructive guidance and feedback. I struggled at times with my own myopic mirror of self doubt and the ability to look around me and encourage others. I love giving encouragment – and I learned that I don’t always know how to receive it.

Throughout the week, I was given affirmations by the leaders at just the right times. One leader called me “beautiful” not once, but twice. Someone else told me she thought I had the friendliest face. Carol wrote after my five minute evaluation “Excellent Communication Skills, very warm and connects with the audience.” and then went on to ask me if I was a teacher. I did internal backflips over that one, let me tell you. To be affirmed by a woman I admire (even if we don’t really know eachother) meant the world.

I’m keeping those evaluation forms in my smile box – I know there will come a day when I’ll need that emotional boost and I can pull them out and read them for a pick me up.

I have a question here – if you do not have someone in your life who is affirming you in healthy and positive ways, can you commit to being that for yourself? I can be my own worst enemy to be honest – I’m known for being verbally and spiritually abusive to myself – “Well that was stupid.” and “I’m such a dork” yes I say those things pretty regularly – I’ve committed to learning how to be that affirming voice for myself – will you join me in that?

I returned on Sunday just in time for a voters meeting at church – still on cloud 9 from this workshop I invited the ENTIRE congregation to SpeakUP. My aim is to bring at least five people back with me next year. People who are ready to take that next step in ministry and step out in faith for Christ.

Voter’s meetings are well, voters meetings what can I say. Being part of a church plant that isn’t always enthusiastically embraced by our congregation is a challenge. We have a couple who openly oppose what we are trying to do and find ways to speak out against it when ever they can.

After the meeting this gal and her husband sought out part of our team to pray with us, and told us all about the two mission churches they tried to start and how they failed. They were trying to be encouraging.. but the message they gave us was “well, we failed so we know that you will too.”

Fortunatley for us, we chose not to receive their words (and it is a choice), and simply thanked them for their time and concern and let them leave.

They are what I call hope crushers… people who are double minded in their caring and who focus their time on telling people why their ideas and dreams won’t work.

I try to avoid people like that.

What I want to do this week is look for opportunities to be a hopelifter in someones life – and watch my words with my own family. Am I being affirming in positive ways? Or am I transferring my past and fears onto someone else?

Do you want to join me? Listen to your words this week – are you lifting up others or smashing them down? Keep a journal and see. When you do see yourself smashing hope – call on Christ – confess it as sin (because that’s what it is) then repent – (turn around in your actions) make a plan to be more affirming – for yourself and for others, and ask for God’s help – he will help you.

Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.