Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Gospel of Luke - Part 4

The most familiar story in the Bible is found in Luke 2, the birth of Christ. Each year at Christmas, it is read in services and homes throughout the world. Luke records this historical event in Luke 2:1-38, giving us specific details outlining the birth and dedication of Jesus. Because Luke is not an eyewitness of these happenings, he gathers information from others, likely Mary in particular. It is Mary who ponders these things in her heart, who will one day stand at the foot of the cross of Jesus.

At the time of Jesus birth, Caesar Augustus is the Emperor of Rome and political chaos is redefining Rome from a republic to an empire. No longer is the power of Rome decided by the people, this new empire is governed by a “single, supreme authority”. Herod the Great, appointed by Rome, is king of Judea and known for murdering both his brothers-in-law and his wife and mother. Herod's reign is full of slaughter. Christianity’s beginnings will always be woven into the culture and history of Rome during the first century. Luke is the only Gospel writer who relates his narrative to dates of world history.

With such familiarity, it can be difficult to keep a fresh view of the account we call the “Christmas story”. This year, in a few short weeks, the season of Advent will be here. Take the time this year to look at these words again, to imagine the culture and scenes, to visualize the manger and Mary, the angels and the shepherds, and the tiny baby born Luke records. Keep the beginnings of Jesus life on earth full of hope and infinite possibility. After all, we know the ending of this story! - dho

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Gospel of Luke - Part 3

Only Luke writes about the Annunciation of Jesus, when the angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her God chooses her to be the mother of Jesus. This event occurs some 1,000 years after the time of David and six months after Gabriel visits Zechariah. In Luke 1:26-38 we read Mary's response to Gabriel, perplexed but willing, humble and faithful, saying, "may it be". Mary hurries to see her cousin, Elizabeth, who we know is pregnant with John the Baptist. Upon Mary's greeting, Elizabeth's baby "leaps in the womb" in recognition of Jesus in Mary's womb. (Luke 1:39-45) After Elizabeth speaks a blessing, Mary's song of gratitude is recorded. (Luke 1:46-56). Luke emphasizes relationships with people, miracles and angels, records inspired hymns of praise, and gives a prominent place to women.

The Gospel of Luke is the most universal of the four gospels, confirming that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world who draws people to Himself from every race, culture, and social status.  Essential Bible Companion

In the first two chapters of Luke, we find 4 recorded songs: Mary's song of gratitude, "The Magnificant" [Luke 1:46-56]; Zechariah's song of praise and prophecy, "The Benedictus" [Luke 1:67-79]; the Angels' song announcing the birth of Christ sung the shepherds, "Gloria in Excelsis" [Luke 2:13-14]; Simeon's song of the long awaited Messiah, "Nunc Demittis" [Luke 2:29-32]. Luke includes many details to give us creative insight into the myriad of people involved with the birth of Jesus. Luke frequently includes the marginalized, the outcasts, the overlooked and records their experiences. The Gospel of Luke presents Jesus as the Son of Man, as the Messiah who is bringing salvation but who also identifies with all of humanity. Jesus is the Savior who sees the weak, heals the sick, and seeks the rejected. -dho

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Gospel of Luke - Part 2

Luke, a great storyteller, gives us an account that is more comprehensive than any other Gospel writer, taking us on the entire journey from John the Baptist to the gospel message reaching the capital of the Roman Empire (Luke and Acts). Scholars say that Luke gives us the most complete story of salvation in the New Testament; yet, he is not very well known to most. In telling the accounts of Jesus’ life and purpose, Luke wants people to know, “We are just like you, we seek peace and keep the law and have high morals; we are good Romans!” The message is relevant for every century.

Michael Card describes the Gospel of Luke as a “bridge”. First, we see Luke as a Literary bridge, connecting the Gospels and the Letters in the New Testament. Secondly, we can find a connection between the eyewitnesses of Jesus and those who only hear about Jesus afterwards, a generational bridge. Thirdly, Luke describes a bridge of Christian leadership, between Jesus, the one, perfect leader, and many imperfect leaders in the faith. Fourthly, we discover a bridge between the Old Testament and New Testament, a time when faith means waiting and a time when faith means following.

Only Luke includes information about the unusual circumstances surrounding the birth of John the Baptist, the annunciation to Mary, the manger, the angelic visitation to the shepherds, and the Spirit-led responses of Simeon and Anna when Jesus is presented at the Temple. In Luke 1:26-38 we read about Mary’s encounter with the angel, Gabriel. Her response to an incomprehensible circumstance is, “May it be”. She replies whatever God is planning, "May it be!". This is an attitude we, too, can adopt and still always find room to spiritually grow. In situations we do not ask for or do not understand, our hearts can join God in what He is doing, can respond with humility and faithful obedience. -dho

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Gospel of Luke - Part 1

I am currently teaching a class on the Gospel of Luke. So, I thought I would share some of this with you between now and Thanksgiving. - Donna

Luke, a traveling companion of Paul, writes the Gospel of Luke around 60 AD. While not an eyewitness of Jesus, not one of the original twelve disciples, not even Jewish, Luke’s purpose is, “To write an orderly account that you may have certainty...that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:3-4) Luke’s goal was to show that Jesus is not only the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews, but also the Savior of non-Jews. His efforts are to give a verifiable, credible, and accurate account of Jesus.

Luke, the only Gentile writer of the New Testament, is known as a physician, historian, companion, theologian, missionary, and evangelist. His keen observation skills and attention to detail give us deeper insights into circumstances and relationships. Luke stresses Jesus’ relationships with people, emphasizes prayer and miracles and angels; he records inspired hymns of praise and gives a prominent place to women. Frequently, Luke writes about the poor, the sick, the disabled, about those who society diminishes, those seen as less valuable.

The Life Application Study Bible calls the Gospel of Luke, “the most comprehensive Gospel.” John MacArthur writes, “No other writer wrote so comprehensive a history of Jesus and His impact. No other writer goes all the way from the John the Baptist to the gospel having reached the capital of the Roman Empire. He is the most complete story teller of the saga of salvation in the New Testament, and he is mostly unknown to us.” 

As we explore the Gospel of Luke, the longest Gospel and the longest book in the New Testament, let’s look for the details the writer gives, soak in the descriptive language, and consider the historical impact of the times. Hope you enjoy the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem. - dho

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Eyes Open!

God loves us; not because we are loveable but because He is love, not because He needs to receive but because He delights to give.  C.S. Lewis

How like the blind beggar we are, sitting beside the road with life passing by us every day. So often we are 'blind' to the opportunities to serve, the weariness of others, even the prayers offered for us! We miss God's goodness all around us, the gestures of love by strangers and friends; we miss the loneliness of those we know.  

Read John 9:8-12

"How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded.
[The beggar] replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see." John 9:10-11

When God finds us, He offers us love; He delights to give us unconditional love. If we listen to Him and follow His instructions, our eyes are opened to His goodness and grace, to the needs around us, to the Spirit's leading. As we respond in faith, we find our hearts grow more compassionate, more loving, more giving ~ more like Him. 

Immanuel ~ God with us ~ You are with us even when we do not notice. You embrace us even when we feel unworthy. You carry us when we cannot move. You open our eyes to new possibilities. Thank You for more! Amen.  ~dho

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Piece by Piece by Peace

Previously posted on Breathing Room For My Soul in October, 2013 - Donna Oswalt/dho

To choose life is to love the LORD your God, obey Him and stay close to Him. He is your life... Be strong and brave. Don't be afraid... don't be frightened, because the LORD your God will go with you.  He will not leave you or forget you...The LORD himself will go before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forget you. Don't be afraid and don't worry.  

on our knees ~ 
We speak the Hebrew word Yahweh because it is Your covenant name, and we study Your promises to the descendants of Abraham. The ancient words recorded centuries before tell the story of humankind and all its frailties. Words translated from Hebrew tell of Moses and his obedience, tell how You always went before them, preparing the way.  

We call, LORD, because there are promises for us. The ancient words tell a living story of love and sacrifice and redemption; they tell of a new covenant ~ Christ. We choose life! Now, as then, You go before us, preparing the way.

We whisper, Adonai, for You are Lord; You are Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You are both hope and light. Your Spirit dwells within us. Lord, only through You can we be strong and brave. We long to firmly embrace You. The world entices us, even when we try to draw near to You. Sometimes our journey is not clear, the path uneven, our steps uncertain. When we cannot see, help us remember the ancient words, the living words: The LORD himself will go before you. You are the Promise that chooses us; You are the Love that embraces us. Lord, hear our simple prayers.  Amen. ~dho

Thursday, September 26, 2019

What Gives My Life Meaning?

"Here is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey His commands, for this is the duty of every person." Ecclesiastes 12:13 NLT 

The writer of Ecclesiastes is searching for the answer that most all of us desire ~ the meaning of life. For each person, there are particular paths or callings that influence his or her choices of career, family, and community, but I believe this question reaches deeper and, if honesty prevails, becomes a common desire for all people ~ what gives my life meaning? After an exhaustive survey, the researcher in Ecclesiastes reaches a final conclusion, a universal answer to finding meaning in life: Fear God and obey His commands.

In his book, Living the Resurrection, Eugene Peterson gives insight into what demonstrates our truest Christian identity. How does one live the resurrection? He writes, "We embrace and cherish a firsthand, personal life with God and one another." Peterson explains, "we engage in a life that is permeated by the presence and companionship of the resurrected Jesus in the company of friends." The meaning of true life always comes from the Giver of Life. At the core of our being, this personal relationship refines the soul.

What gives my life meaning? It is having a personal, intimate relationship with God and growing that relationship through obedience to His Way. Living the Resurrection gives God glory and allows God's faithful to fully embrace His promise of Everlasting Life. While life will always be full of mystery and unanswered questions, God remains full of majesty and blessings. Remember, worship God, and let your obedience to Him define how living the resurrection is the greatest secret to the meaning of life! ~ dho

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Red Rose

Previously published in 2013 - dho

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need. 

December 1963
Every autumn, every year, my heart remembers a time of personal and spiritual growth. After brain tumor surgery, my grandmother retains her abilities to comprehend situations, but can no longer verbally express herself. Recalling the summer of 1974 finds me thankful for these last months of sharing, both through tears and gestures, but always laughter was louder. Reflections of my paternal grandmother's last stage of living always bring to mind an unusual demonstration of friendship. Her friend remains faceless to me. She's just a name that I heard from time to time over the years. And, just as mysteriously, for nearly 5 months, a red rose arrived each day.

A Remnant of Love

Once long, long ago, who knows just when,
            Greetings were exchanged.
Neighbors for a while, some say, these two
            Strangers became friends.
Conversations of yester-year gone
            And unrecorded,
How I wish I could go back in time
            To find the secret
Of such enduring friendship, a gift
            Of the heart for life . . . 

Sunny skies and death, together, cast down
            Shadows on my soul.
Precious as gold, time seemed all too short;
            She would soon be gone.
Silent tears of helplessness inside;
            Laughter was louder.
Old stories retold became treasures,
            Priceless memories.

Although miles and miles apart, friendship 
            Did not notice, and
Always, a token of remembrance
            Was placed by her side.
Gentle reminder, gesture of love,
            Each day one red rose.
Only once did she speak to me of 
            Death, my constant thought.
Relentless, calloused foe of mortal
            Life claimed her spirit . . .

Her body lay empty beneath a 
            Blanket of roses.
I stood beside her grave in sorrow
            For my loss; I wept.
I remember taking one red rose,
            A final farewell.
For me it was a symbol of her
            Friend’s tender heart,
Of such enduring friendship, a gift,
            A remnant of love.

Although more than a decade has passed,
             I still think of her.
Those priceless memories come to mind
            As if time stood still.
Each year when autumn breezes whisper,
            Tears seek revival.
Beneath the sadness I remember
            Laughter was louder.

And my heart is blessed as I recall
            Her final months, when
Always, a token of remembrance
            Was placed by her side.
Gentle reminder, gesture of love, 
            Each day one red rose.
How I wish I could go back in time
            To find the secret
Of their enduring friendship, a gift 
Of the heart for life.
(written 1987, Donna Oswalt)

I wrote this poem more than a decade after her death, words eluding my emotions until then. And still, when I think of such friendship, the best definition I can think of is "each day one red rose." What an amazing heart-gift! What a demonstration of love and loyalty! The Life Application Study Bible says, "The greatest evidence of genuine friendship is loyalty." More than four decades later, I have learned this kind of friendship is extremely rare.

God never asks us to do something without having demonstrated it Himself. Jesus tells us to love one another and demonstrates this rare kind of love with His life, death and resurrection. By definition, loyalty manifests itself by devotion, honesty, sincerity and support. God models His loyalty to us though His constancy, incorruptibility, steadfastness, and truth. Genuine relationships understand the value of sharing life events; to remember the beginnings, to treasure the laughter, to honor the celebrations, to bear the disappointments, to endure the ordinary, and to love through the endings. God promises to love forever! 

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:7 NLT) God's love is much more than a token of remembrance or a gesture of love. Christ's unmatched sacrifice becomes God's matchless grace. This holy gift of enduring friendship redefines loyalty's unfailing love as Perfect Love. I have learned this friendship is the rarest of all! ~ dho

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Taking Notes

God wants the combination of His steady, constant calling and warm personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever He will do next. Romans 15:4 The Message

For the last fourteen years, I have consistently kept a devotional-prayer journal. It is small enough to easily take with me if necessary and fits inside a Bible. I do not necessarily write in it every day, but most days I do. Scripture, random ideas, new words, and meanings of words often find their way to the pages. Excerpts from articles, books or commentaries that effect me are also written or attached within the pages. Along the outside margin I write praises and prayers; this process reminds me and gives me a place to make notes of specific needs and outcomes. 

There is one unique entry I always include: on the first page of each notebook ~ I make note of a Scripture that helps define where I am spiritually when I start the book ~ my journey note. I often discover this to be way the Spirit leads me during this phase of my journey with Him. Occasionally, I add a quote or commentary that speaks to His Word. When the book is complete, when no more empty pages remain, I mark the front of the journal with the beginning and ending dates and begin another. Looking back I can always find a richness of God's teaching, wisdom, and leading and a deeper understanding of my struggles, successes, and relationship with God. Sometimes, the very circumstances that brought me the most discomfort reveal my most intimate times of spiritual growth with God. 

My current journal note is the above Scripture from Romans and reflects God’s desire for each of His children. In our daily journey with the Father, we should be seeking His will and purpose in life, listening for His voice to lead, and knowing His compassion as peace. We must trust God with thankful hearts ~ thankful God loves unconditionally, and trusting Him to work all things into His perfect plan. This is our HOPE! Because try as I might, I will never understand the mystery at work in all that God does. ~ dho

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Pain, A Gift

Last post in the 2019 Summer SeriesWhisper: How to Hear the Voice of God by Mark Batterson takes us on a spiritual journey, a journey of how to listen for God and what God can reveal to us. I read this book about a year ago and am re-reading it this summer. As I share some excerpts from his writing, I hope you will be encouraged to read along. - Donna

Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my groaning. Psalm 5:1

This is the last post in our Summer Series on Whisper by Mark Batterson. We conclude with the 7th language of God’s love: pain. Batterson explains, “The Bible is a book about real people with real problems who experienced real pain.” (Whisper/p 171) 

Pain can be a professor of theology.
Pain can be a marriage counselor.
Pain can be a life coach. Batterson/Whisper/p 173

Pain is real, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. Pain can be a gift, exposing problems and giving perspective. Pain brings us to a place that builds endurance and perseverance. Batterson remains us to “pitch your tent in the land of hope.” (Whisper/p 180)

In conclusion, as Autumn calls us, we think back over our series this summer. Batterson says, “Whether you recognize it or not, God was the first voice in your life.” (Whisper/p 189) To hear God’s voice, whether in our busy or banal days, whether in our noisy or neutral times, we must listen for God’s whisper. Simply put, “Is [God] the loudest voice in your life?” (Whisper/p 189) - dho

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Promptings from God

2019 Summer SeriesWhisper: How to Hear the Voice of God by Mark Batterson takes us on a spiritual journey, a journey of how to listen for God and what God can reveal to us. I read this book about a year ago and am re-reading it this summer. As I share some excerpts from his writing, I hope you will be encouraged to read along. - Donna

Your ears will hear sweet words behind you: “Go this way. There is your path; this is how you should go” whenever you must decide whether to turn to the right or the left. 
Isaiah 30:21 The Voice

The sixth language of God’s love is “promptings” according to Batterson. God’s divine timing comes when we are not paying attention and often not on our timeline. In this chapter in Whisper, we read, “Discerning the voice of God requires an internal clock that perceives His promptings. And it’s our reaction time to those promptings that leads to supernatural synchronicities: being in the right place at the right time with the right people.” (Whisper/p 148) We must continually be open to God’s promptings, alert and aware.

Promptings from God come in a variety of ways: whispers, ideas, visions, sounds, dreams, circumstances, and people to name a few. Batterson says, “The stirring of the Holy Spirit can be a feeling of restlessness...” (Whisper/p 160) We need to be open to hearing God, but when we become aware of a prompting, we must also become obedient. Ignoring God’s promptings result in missed opportunities, missed opportunities to serve God, missed opportunities to give God the glory! We are reminded to “make sure He’s the loudest voice in our lives.” (Whisper/p 167) - dho

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Divine Appointments

2019 Summer SeriesWhisper: How to Hear the Voice of God by Mark Batterson takes us on a spiritual journey, a journey of how to listen for God and what God can reveal to us. I read this book about a year ago and am re-reading it this summer. As I share some excerpts from his writing, I hope you will be encouraged to read along. - Donna

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16 NASB

Expected and unexpected people, the sign-post people God allows to cross our paths, influence our journey. From parents to adults-like-parents, siblings to friends of siblings, school teachers and Sunday School teachers, friends and almost-friends, either brief or lasting, historical or current, God uses these encounters to speak to our lives. Batterson calls this “the fifth love language of God... people.” (Whisper/ p132)

 God speaks regularly to us through the people who speak to us about the things of God. Henri Nouwen, Discernment

How frequently we forget or dismiss or overlook our many God-appointments; these are the people God sends with words of encouragement, applause for effort, signposts pointing to truth, reminders of His presence, hugs for tears. In Whisper, Mark Batterson writes, “Part of the genius of Jesus was His ability to see potential in unlikely places and unlikely people.” (Whisper/ p140)

Sign-post people offer new perspectives, ask different questions, and suggest other options. Sometimes they bring opportunities for us, like a chance to give more, to step outside ourselves, to sense another's loneliness, to hear a deeper need, to respond like Christ. God embraces us with love and encouragement but also has designed us for purpose - His purpose. God asks us to take our God-given talents, to reach out into the world, to share Jesus. 

Whether the sign-post marks the way with a stranger or friend, lasts for a season or a lifetime, comes full of mystery or simply as a reminder, God is speaking to you and me. Could it be a completely new direction, a familiar path with a new attitude, a change of location, a closer connection within a current community, a new passion, or renewed passion? "No one is in your life by accident; everyone is there by divine appointment.” (Whisper/ p142) Are we listening? Let's not miss our sign-post people! ~dho

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Dream Giver

2019 Summer SeriesWhisper: How to Hear the Voice of God by Mark Batterson takes us on a spiritual journey, a journey of how to listen for God and what God can reveal to us. I read this book about a year ago and am re-reading it this summer. As I share some excerpts from his writing, I hope you will be encouraged to read along. - Donna

May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it! 1Thessalonians 5:23-24 MSG

In Whisper Mark Batterson continues his discussion of the languages of God saying, “The language of dreams is the fourth love language” of God, calling Him the “Dream Giver”. (Whisper/p 117) Scripture gives us many examples of God speaking through dreams, and Batterson lists several in his book. In discussing dreams, he tells us that God “speaks through memories of the past and dreams of the future”. (Whisper/p 118) It is important for us to remember, “The dreams God gives us are for us, but they’re never for just us; they are for everyone who will be affected by and inspired by them.” (Whisper/p 120) 

Scripture is the primary voice of God to us, and Batterson cautions us, “A God-given dream won’t take you beyond the boundaries of Scripture, but it will stretch you to do things you didn’t know you were capable of even attempting.” (Whisper/p 124) We often ignore or overlook this way that God speaks to us, prompts us, and leads us. While accomplishing great things for God’s glory Is important, Batterson reminds us, “The primary goal is who you become in the process.” (Whisper/p 127) Scripture tells us that however God speaks to us and whatever questions or doubts constrain us, God calls us into His holy service, and He remains “completely dependable”. -dho

Thursday, August 08, 2019

God’s Doors

2019 Summer SeriesWhisper: How to Hear the Voice of God by Mark Batterson takes us on a spiritual journey, a journey of how to listen for God and what God can reveal to us. I read this book about a year ago and am re-reading it this summer. As I share some excerpts from his writing, I hope you will be encouraged to read along. - Donna

“See, I have placed before you an open door...” Revelation 3:8

In Whisper, Batterson writes about “doors” being ways that the Holy Spirit can help us discern Scripture and circumstances. We know that Scripture is the inspired word of God, that Jesus is the Word incarnated, born to walk on earth, both man and divine. Jesus calls Himself “the door” or the gate to eternal life. Batterson tells his readers that “God speaks through circumstances.” (Whisper, p98) These doors, open or closed, can be signs to those seeking God’s way.

Scripture gives various examples of “open doors” such as the Israelites escape from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. By stepping out in faith and obedience, God provides. Another example is when Paul is blocked from taking the Gospel message to Bithynia; instead, God re-routes him through Macedonia. God closes some doors and opens others. While knowing the mind of God and the reasons He chooses is something we cannot explain, we can be certain that God is power and peace, protection and provision.

God closes doors to protect us.
God closes doors to redirect us.
God closes doors to keep us from less than His best. - Batterson/Whisper, p 107

God constantly provides and empowers the Believer who seeks His way. Often, we are cavalier in calling these circumstances a coincidence or luck, but God has divine appointments for each of us. When we are called to a new purpose, God allows us to be “released from” our present task. In longing for reconciliation with us, the sovereignty of God permanently opens the door to eternal life through Jesus. “God reveals His sovereignty... by opening and closing doors.” (Whisper, p 104) Listen for God’s whisper because He is speaking - to you and to me. -dho