Some Final Ponderings

by Carolyn Hope

The past two weeks, we’ve observed several different pieces in the story of our Savior’s birth. We’ve read about shepherds, prophets, and angels. We’ve seen individual characters such as Elizabeth and Mary. There are many parts to play in such a momentous birth, a birth that shook the world.

I’d like to leave you this week with a few thoughts:

  1. God took the lowliest and the least and used them in mighty ways. Shepherds were outcasts; angels were often unseen; the prophets were rejected. Mary was ordinary; Elizabeth was old. Every character had multiple reasons for disqualification, yet God never considered those. He chose them, and He chooses you too. When God calls you, nothing can disqualify you. You yourself are enough for the journey He is leading you on.
  2. One ordinary night became an encounter. At an unexpected time and an unexpected place, God showed up. What started as a normal day became a day that changed history. You never know what today could bring. Stay expectant and stay hopeful. Wake up each morning eager to see all that God will do. He is working and moving on your behalf. Today could be the day that everything changes.
  3. God’s plan for your life is greater and more risky than you could ever imagine. Mary and Joseph’s calling to be the parents of the Christ was incredibly dangerous; yet they were never unsafe as they followed the Lord. There will be great risk in your story, and there will even be danger. Do not let those facts deter you or frighten you, for your God is with you through every moment. He will protect you and fight for you through it all.

I hope you have had a very Merry Christmas!

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Supporting Actress: Mary

by Carolyn Hope

“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.” (Luke 1:31-33)

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:46-50)

Mary was an ordinary girl who found herself in an unexplainable position. One day she was engaged to be married and the next day she was told she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah.

When Gabriel came as the mouthpiece to a divine message, he did not ask Mary to be the mother of God’s son; he decreed it as though it would be. “You WILL be with child … He WILL be great … his kingdom WILL never end.” Just as certain and sure God was of Jesus’ future greatness and kingdom, He was certain and sure that Mary would be his mother. It’s almost like Mary didn’t even have an option. There was no, ‘If you don’t want to do this, I can find someone else.’ Gabriel didn’t say, ‘Are you okay with this?’ God didn’t seek Mary’s approval of His plan; He simply decreed and declared what would be. Mary could have said no, but that was very clearly not what the Lord planned or desired. He wanted Mary, and He was so convinced that He didn’t even speak of the situation as though it was optional.

Mary believed this message and submitted to the dangerous call. Thus began her plight … or so we often think.

Mary said that all generations to come would call her blessed. While much of the church honors and respects Mary, we often view her predicament as a burden, not a blessing. We treat her pregnancy as a task, and not a gift. She seemed to believe that it was an honor and a joy to be the chosen mother of the Christ. We tend to focus on the negatives. ‘There was risk involved. She could have been killed. She was scarred with supposed scandal for the rest of her life. She almost lost Joseph.’ We forget all the joys and blessings that came with this divine and beautifully orchestrated call. Mary had a miraculous pregnancy and birth! She had a perfect son (I feel bad for Jesus’ siblings), who came to save all of humanity. Every parent has at least some bias toward their children, but with Jesus, no bias would be too much. His destiny, his call, his purpose was greater than any other human has ever known. Mary got to see what God looked like in human flesh. She was the first voice Jesus heard, the first to feed him, the first to be intimately close with him. She watched her God, her Lord and King, grow up in her own home. How special. How incredible. How beautiful.

Sometimes we view Gabriel’s visit to Mary as the great interruption; her life was flipped upside down (and maybe even ruined) from that point forward. Actually, it was probably one of the greatest days of her life! That was the day that she was chosen for something greater than herself. That was the day that God brought his dream for her and turned it into a reality.

I wonder if Mary had always felt different. If she had sensed that she was made for more than a normal life. Then one day here comes an angel, and suddenly all the strange longings in her heart made sense. What if, instead of totally freaked out and stressed and afraid, Mary was excited to give birth to Jesus? What if instead of being something to put up with, Mary’s call brought her exuberant happiness? What if this was everything she was waiting for? Yes, there was risk. Yes, there was danger. Yes, she could have lost everything. But think of all she gained! Think of all the blessings bestowed on her!

God has a call on your life, and it’s not meant to be a heavy burden that crushes your heart. No, it won’t be easy. Yes, there will be trials and danger. Don’t let that deter you. Far greater than the reality of the risk involved in your destiny is the reality of joy and peace. The life God has for you is the best that could ever be. When you follow after Him with all your heart, you will walk into the fullness of His goodness and mercy.

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Chosen Ones: You!

by Carolyn Hope

“I have called you back from the ends of the earth, saying, ‘You are my servant.’ For I have chosen you and will not throw you away.” (Isaiah 41:9)

Isaiah 41 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It so confidently affirms God’s power and tender love for His children. We see from this verse that it doesn’t matter where you come from, or how far from God you have been. He will always call you back to Himself.

He also decrees that you are His chosen one, and He won’t ever change His mind. We live in a culture that says, “If it’s broken, you don’t like it anymore, or it doesn’t meet your expectations, throw it away and get a new one.” That’s not how God views you. You are not dispensable, nor are you replaceable. There’s only one you, and Jesus wants you for who you are. He won’t ever get tired of you. He’ll never be impatient with you. You don’t have to be nervous about God’s attitude toward you. You are always accepted, and you’ll always be His chosen child.

Rest in the truth that you were chosen, and you were chosen for a reason. You are enough for whatever God calls you to. With Him by your side, you can do anything. You can walk confidently, knowing that your Father forever chooses you.

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Chosen Ones: The Hostile

by Carolyn Hope

Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning. (Ephesians 3:8-9)

Paul is one of the most influential Christians that have ever lived. He wrote nearly two-thirds of our New Testament, and he started many churches on his missionary journeys, but before his conversion, Paul was the church’s most fervent of enemies. He persecuted the early Christians with zeal, hunting them down to throw in prison and even execute. Absolutely convinced that Christianity was a cult, he was determined to put an end to it.

This was the man that Jesus chose to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Of all people, Paul! That would be like choosing an ex-abortion clinic owner to be the head of the Pro-Life movement. A more similar situation would be an ISIS leader getting radically saved and then becoming a prominent leader in today’s church. It contradicts both our reasoning and our feelings.

God chooses even His enemies for His work. He doesn’t look at them with hatred, but with love and a heart to bring them into His family.

Paul recognized that he was undeserving of his calling. God’s choosing you is not a consequence of your behavior. You can’t earn a calling; it’s a gift that Holy Spirit has handed you, and He won’t take it back. Your only responsibility is to respond to the call. You are worthy. God said you were so when He chose you – and He did indeed choose you. Do not let your feelings of unworthiness hold you back from the dream in God’s heart for you.

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Chosen Ones: The Outcasts

by Carolyn Hope

Now there were four men with leprosy sitting at the entrance of the city gates. “Why should we sit here waiting to die?” they asked each other … “we might as well go out and surrender to the Aramean army. If they let us live, so much the better. But if they kill us, we would have died anyway.” So at twilight they set out for the camp of the Arameans. But when they came to the edge of the camp, no one was there! For the Lord had caused the Aramean army to hear the clatter of speeding chariots and the galloping of horses and the sounds of a great army approaching … So [the lepers] went back to the city and told the gatekeepers what had happened … Then the gatekeepers shouted the news to the people in the palace. (2 Kings 7:3-11)

For a long time, the Arameans had been attacking the capital of the ten tribes of Israel, Samaria. Samaria suffered a great famine, because of the length of the siege. They were so desperate that they were selling dove dung for food, and mothers began eating their very own children. In this time of despair, God brought a miraculous, supernatural end to the enemy’s siege. He chose four lepers to discover His answer to the famine.

Think about it. God could have chosen anyone in Israel – the king, the generals, the warriors, the prestigious priests – but He didn’t. No, instead he picked four men on the brink of death, with nothing to hope for. These men were outcasts of society, considered better off dead. When God looked at them, however, He saw the beauty of their hearts, and He used them to be the first to witness His deliverance. They proved themselves to be good stewards of saving news when they took the word back to the gatekeepers that the enemies were gone. They could have kept the plunder to themselves, and they were certainly tempted to do so. However, in humble gratitude, they went back to the people who would not touch them in order to proclaim the freeing provision of the Lord.

God does not take into consideration other people’s views of you when He chooses you. He’s not concerned about whether society accepts you or not. He cares about your heart. You may think you’re not worth choosing, because you’re sick, or rejected, or an outcast. Jesus tenderly looks you in the eyes and says, “I choose you. I choose you to be Mine. I choose you for the work I want to do in this world. You are just the person I’ve been looking for.” God didn’t choose you by accident, or by default, or because there was no one better. He chose you because you are valuable, you are uniquely needed, and only you can fulfill the calling He has placed on your life. You can accept yourself; Jesus has already accepted you as perfect for His plan.

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Chosen Ones: The Weak

by Carolyn Hope

Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!” “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.” (Judges 6:14-16)

Gideon’s first reaction to God’s call was to disqualify himself on the basis of his family and his own person. “We’re the weaklings,” he said. “I am the least of them all.” God had already told Gideon that he was a strong, mighty warrior; yet Gideon’s view of himself was the exact opposite. He insecurely replied, “How can I?” And the Lord’s comfort was found in two promises: His presence, and the certainty of victory. The rest of Judges 6 and 7 tells us that God indeed was with Gideon, and the Israelites were given a complete and powerful victory.

You may look at your family, your background, or your failures and think that God could never use you. That’s the opposite of the truth! Jesus says His strength is made perfect in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Whatever you think you are or aren’t, does not define your identity. Your identity is found in God’s Word, and your calling comes from His heart. He has chosen you for a purpose on purpose. The One who made you says you are able to do what He asks you to do. Your past, your family line, or your insecurities do not disqualify you. What Jesus says about you is the truth, and you can trust Him to keep His promises.

If you’re feeling small, insignificant, weak, or afraid, remember: God used a mere 300 to defeat thousands of enemies. He can do far more with your life than you can imagine; and if you’ll submit to Him, you’ll see firsthand the mighty power of God.

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Chosen Ones: The Impure

by Carolyn Hope

Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night … “Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you” … So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho. (Joshua 2:1, 12; Joshua 6:25)

Jerusalem was a wicked city, an immoral and depraved place. Even so, there must have been many far better choices to help the Israelites than a prostitute, but that’s who Rahab was, and she showed herself to be a worthy choice. She protected the Israelite spies at the risk of her life. In return, she asked that she and her family be spared from the destruction the Israelites were about to bring upon Jerusalem. Not only was she allowed to live, but God honored her. She became a part of the lineage of Jesus.

You don’t have to be perfect, holy, or spotlessly pure to be chosen by God. He chose you to be His child in the midst of your wretchedness, just as He chose Rahab while she was still a prostitute. The sins you’ve committed cannot separate you from the love Jesus has for you; neither can they keep you from becoming who He has called you to be. God is a redeeming God; Rahab, a woman of impurity, became the great-great-great-great-great-etc. grandmother of Jesus, the only human being who was perfectly pure (see Matthew 1 for the genealogy of Jesus). You may think that what you’ve done or been is too sinful, too messed up, or too ugly to be reversed, but it isn’t. God doesn’t pick people based on their failures. He picks people because of the potential He sees within them, and the person He knows they can become. Don’t count yourself unworthy and unusable because of your past, or even your present state. Your Father has purposes for you that are greater than your impurities.

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Chosen Ones

by Carolyn Hope

God has a way of picking people that the world would never think to choose. The Bible is full of characters that we would deem less-than-desirable because of all their issues and imperfections. Yet, in His surprising, glorious way, God selects them for His work. He can and does use anyone to build His kingdom.

This week, I hope to encourage you with some examples of the unlikely people that God chose. Some were outcasts, the weak, and the impure. Through their stories, we can see how God’s choice is incredible, certain, and enough. You have been chosen to be a child of God, and you will do great things for Him. You can rest in God’s choice of you; His choice is always the best.

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