Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Becoming a Functional Atheist?

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 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." - (Luke 1.26-37)

"Good morning, Mr. Phelps." If you were a fan of the classic TV series (or the more recent Tom Cruise movies), "Mission Impossible," you know those words always began a riveting and exciting adventure. Jim Phelps, the head of the Mission Impossible Force, would listen to a tape, which would start with the words, "your mission, should you choose to accept it " Mr. Phelps would then listen to a brief outline of this assignment that seemed, well, impossible. Key word - "seemed." The tape would then self-destruct and Jim Phelps would immediately begin building a team of specialists and concocting this elaborate, perfectly-timed plan to do what couldn't be done. And, yes, every time they did get the seemingly impossible mission accomplished.

That's the conclusion you reached after watching that show for a while. And for them, there was really no such thing as "Mission Impossible." That's great fantasy stuff. It's a much greater reality when it comes to rescue missions undertaken by the One of whom the Bible says, "For with God, nothing shall be impossible" - (Luke 1.37)

That might be important for you to know right now - because there may be a person in your life that seems beyond His reach, a situation beyond your ability to manage, a struggle or maybe an addiction that's been too great for you alone to overcome. Maybe you're involuntarily unemployed and your financial situation seems increasingly impossible - the job prospects are bleaker than ever. Maybe you've just been given some really bad news about your health and what you will be dealing with is beyond the reach of modern medical cure and therefore seems just hopeless. Maybe there's a relationship that just doesn't seem possible anymore to deal with. Whatever seemingly "mission impossible" you are facing right now you need to know that with God - nothing is impossiblethat with God - all things are possible!

The angel Gabriel told Mary that God was planning to do something humanly impossible. All human logic would agree that a virgin cannot possibly give birth to a child. It is simply impossible. Yes, that's absolutely true, it is humanly impossible! And contrary to a frequently repeated saying, "God will not give you more than you can handle" (where is that in the Bible?!) - He does, in fact, give us more than we, within our own finite, human limitations, alone can handle. And, according to God's own word - this is exactly what was to happen in the life of Mary and Joseph. That's why Mary asks a perfectly natural question, "How can this besince I am a virgin?" I believe Mary's question was a realization of her own human limitations - not a reflection of a lack of faith in God's supernatural ability. It probably just seemed crazy that a virgin could have a baby - it is still a crazy notion to many today. But when God speaks of doing the humanly impossible, it is no longer absurd. "For no word from God will ever fail" - (Luke 1.37, NIV 2010) When was the last time God did the impossible in your life? When was the last time God directed you about what He wanted to do and you were scared to death by its scope and magnitude?

You see, God still does the impossible! Too often we acknowledge our belief that God can do whatever He wants, but then we add a safety-escape clause: "But I'm pretty sure God will not do that with me!" In theory, we believe, but in practice, we become functional atheists, believing that maybe God can perform miracles but never expecting a miracle in our own lives. We say we believe - but our behavior often proves otherwise. Quite possibly, we may not even believe God does miracles anymore -- that is something solely in the past -- and we give some other natural explanation for what only could be God -- something for which He should receive the honor, the glory, and the praise. So, has God changed? Is He still the Almighty, Omnipotent Creator?

God wanted to bring salvation to all of humanity. It was critical that Mary not only believed God could perform a miracle but that she also adjusted her life to the awesome miraculous work He planned to do through her. This illustrates the difference between a true follower of Jesus and a moral person - the Divine! The difference between the church and a social club is the reality of the miraculous. Some can imitate the morality of a Christian, but no one can reproduce the miraculous that is part of the new birth experience. Do you believe that nothing is impossible for God?

Now there's another thrilling aspect of how God works found in this first Christmas "Mission Impossible" for the young virgin and her husband to be. That Mary would travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem in her ninth month of pregnancy - probably a four or five day trip - is absolutely amazing. I've listened to people who have traveled the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem by car or bus, not as Joseph and Mary did. Whether they traveled on foot or rode on a donkey -- from what I've heard it's a tortuous journey through hills and mountains, and it's about 90 long miles of rugged terrain. There's no way you're going to get a loving husband to go with his very pregnant wife on a trip like that on the eve of their baby's birth, right? Wrong!

You see, for 700 years the prophecies of God had promised that Immanuel (God with us) would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7.14) and for almost 500 years, the prophecies also said that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5.2). Little problem: Joseph and Mary are living some 90 miles away in Nazareth. There's apparently no way you'll ever get Mary to Bethlehem when the Messiah in her womb is full-term. But the plan of God says born of a virgin and born in Bethlehem. What God does is absolutely amazing, and may prove to be a very special encouragement for you right now in your present circumstances.

We read in God's word, "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman worldand everyone went to his town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David" - (Luke 2.1-4).

Now the man who appears to be making all this come together is the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus. History tells us that he murdered members of his own family, he actually was a mass murderer, and he instituted emperor worship. He was, in many ways, a monster. And here is Joseph caught up in the great whirlpool of history, appearing to be directed by an imperial decree. But that is an earthly perspective. The apostle Paul gives us the heavenly perspective when he writes, "But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent His Son, born among us of a woman " - (Galatians 4.4, MSG). Note these Spirit directed words, "the time - set by GodGod sent His Son." It was God calling the shots - not any mere man!

You see it is Caesar Augustus who turns out to be the bit player in this divine drama, the footnote to history. He thinks he's flexing his muscle with this universal census, but this most powerful man on earth is only an unsuspecting instrument in the hands of sovereign, Almighty God -- ("The Lord can control a king's mind as He controls a river [The heart of a king is a canal-stream in the hand of the Lord]; He can *direct [turn; incline] it as He pleases" - Proverbs 21.1, EXB). And God will get His destiny people to His destiny place to accomplish His destiny purpose, even if He has to move an entire empire to do it!

So, as the Christmas story is still maybe lingering in our hearts and minds, let's not miss this very powerful statement -- that God's missions are not impossible! No, they're unstoppable - including His plans for you. Plans, as He says in Jeremiah 29.11, "to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." As The Message puts it, "I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out--plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for" - (Jeremiah 29.11, MSG). Plans for you that the apostle Paul declares, "There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appearsThe One Who chose you can be trusted, and He will do this" - (Philippians 1.6, MSG; 1 Thessalonians 5.24, CEV)

Now it may be that at this very moment there appears to be no way things can turn out right - it really does look to you as just completely, totally impossible! The money simply isn't there, your health just isn't there, the relationship looks impossible (or even being in a relationship seems impossible), the job frustrations are mounting, the mountain isn't moving and it's getting bigger and bigger, and the answer isn't coming. It looks as if there's no way for things to work out, not enough time for an answer to come - it's just impossible! Now, the moment of truth -- do you really believe "nothing is impossible with God"?

You belong to the same God who, with the stroke of an evil man's pen, moved an empire to place His kids, Joseph and Mary, right where they were supposed to be, for God to do what He had promised hundreds of years earlier. So, yes, there was a difficult process, there was a humanly impossible mission, but God delivered them exactly where they were supposed to be to accomplish exactly what He planned at just the right time - "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'--which means, 'God with us' " - (Matthew 1.22-23, NIV) And God will get His plans for you accomplished if He has to move an empire to do it, or use even a godless instrument to do it.

Jesus was born in Bethlehemof a virgin - the one a definite human impossibility, the other a human improbability at the very least! Don't forget that getting Him there in the first place was an act of divine orchestration! So relax in the strong arms of the God of Bethlehem and trust the One who entered this world in the flesh through the womb of a young virgin. He will move whatever or whomever He has to move and do whatever He has to do in order to finish what He has started in your life!

Remember, whatever "seemingly" mission impossible you may be facing - "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible." - (Mark 10.27, NKJV)

So, your mission today, should you choose to accept it, is to trust an all-powerful God Who loves you with a steadfast, enduring, unfailing, perfect, everlasting love, demonstrated most dramatically in the sending of His Son into this world to die for your sins and mine. And then, quite possibly, no matter what is or isn't going on right now in your life, with Him and by Him and for Him, you will have a peaceful, joyful, Happy New Year!

In a nutshell - in Him,

Web Shepherd
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