Elizabeth in Shadows

woman in shadow.jpgIn the midst of all the grand things God is doing at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, there is something much smaller going on. In the midst of the story of God playing out in human history and the incense of the Temple in Jerusalem with Zechariah, there is a woman standing in shadows of shame and her name is Elizabeth.

Sometimes we wonder if as human beings we are mere cogs in the universe. Even if we believe in God, we may wonder if we are simply hidden, unnoticed beings before the divine majesty. I think it precisely in moments like this that the words of Luke 1:23-25 are for us:

Listen to the last verses of today’s passage:

And when Zechariah’s time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

I love this because in the midst of all God is working out in cosmos through Jesus Messiah, there is still a message of salvation that is so relationally personal.

Elizabeth, who was last described by her barrenness (Luke 1:7), now experiences a work of God that is personal and transformational. She declares aloud: “The Lord has done this for me…In these days He has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

She knows that God has done this for her. A good theologian might want to correct Elizabeth by reminding her of the bigger thing God is doing in the world and for salvation. Yet here we encounter an important truth: God’s grand story always involves our personal story.

God is not so great that He forgets about us; in fact, He is so great that He remembers us.

Elizabeth’s childless years – the years of mourning have been changed. She has a child. It is a miracle child that promises something great for Israel and all the nations of the earth…

But this child speaks to Elizabeth that even for her, God is bringing a promise:
a promise of hope, of change, of new beginning.

As it says in Psalm 30:

“Lord my God, I called to you for help,
and you healed me….
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth & clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.”
(Psalm 30:2, 11, 12)

So, for those of standing in the shadows of shame like Elizabeth, the work of God in Jesus Christ is also a personal, relational, and transformational. God is doing something new in Jesus now…for us.

 [This is an excerpt from my message “Promise” as part of our series on the Gospel of Luke.]

The First Day

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (Luke 24:1)

the first day:
walking with heavy loads and burdened hearts
to the place His breathless body lay.
every hour seemed so still
since that dark day.

but now, the first day:
their hesitating procession to the tomb
finds the place, but not Him;
and aching emptiness
meets anger’s anxiety.

yet, on the first day
two men send shivers of loud light
mingled with a message:
‘He’s alive like a new day’s dawning!’
and they remember His words.

this first day is the third day
that sends the dark day running.

[This is the fifth in a group of original poems composed for Holy Week, which begins with “Unseeing in Sleep.” Read the next poem, “Unbelievable Words,” here.]

Joseph’s Offering

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus….With Pilate’s permission he came and took the body away. (John 19:38)

as the crowd dispersed
i came to honor Him.
perhaps it was too late…
but the cost was real for me,
as others from the Sanhedrin
turned their dark looks upon me.
our entourage gathered His limp form
with painful effort from the tree
and wrapped it with care.

standing there, at the Executioner’s workplace,
i couldn’t help but think that
He deserved more than this;
that my present actions were a feeble attempt
to cover my earlier inaction.

Jesus, wrapped in linen and death’s shadow,
seemed like a gift Jerusalem
was not worthy to hold.
so we took Him to the tomb,
with the women following close,
and placed Him gently within
for safe-keeping until the day of the Lord.
but my heart ached within me.

[This is the fourth in a group of original poems composed for Holy Week, which begins with “Unseeing in Sleep.” Read the next poem, “The First Day,” here.]

New Hope (discussion questions)

Exiles Series Gfx_ThumbHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “New Hope,” which is the first part of our series “Exiles” on the book of 1 Peter. This study walks through 1 Peter 1:13-2:3.

  1. When was a time that something you were hoping for came true? How did hope sustain you in the waiting period?
  1. This weekend we continue our series, “Exiles,” on the New Testament letter known as 1 Peter. Take a moment to begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak to you and transform you through His truth. Then, whether you are alone or with others, read 1 Peter 1:13-2:3 aloud.
  1. Peter begins his letter with an extended prayer celebrating the hope that we have with God in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1-12). In this next section of the letter, he explains how we live fixed upon that hope. 1 Peter 1:13 begins with an imperative statement. What do you think Peter means when he writes: “set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming”?
  1. In 1:14-15, Peter build upon the new identity given to believers in Jesus by their “new birth into a living hope” (1:3). What does Peter call the believers toward in these verses? Why does he say we should live that way?
  1. ‘Holiness’ or being ‘holy’ has fallen out of fashion these days. Why do you think that is? What might it look like for us to live meaningfully holy lives today in our everyday settings?
  1. Peter builds on the theme of holiness in 1:17-21. What is Peter’s main exhortation to the believers here? What does he say are the main reasons believers should do that?
  1. Moving from the focus on holiness and appropriate fear of the Lord, Peter begins to talk about the way we live with one another as Christians. How would you restate Peter’s main request of the believers in 1:22?
  1. In what ways do you think holy living and loving others relates to our hope in Jesus Christ? Why do you think these topics be related in Peter’s mind for ‘exiles’ (1:1) and ‘foreigners’ (1:17)?
  1. Drawing upon imagery found in Psalm 34:8, Peter encourages the believers in 2:1-3 to grow up with God by having the right sort of spiritual nourishment in their lives. Why do you think they must rid themselves of certain things (2:1) and also crave certain other things (2:2)? What do you think the ‘pure spiritual milk’ Peter is referring to means in our everyday lives?
  1. What is one specific thing you sense God is speaking to you about your life through this study? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray about what you share together. If you are studying on your own, write it down, pray about it, and share this with someone during the next few days.

 

New Hope

Exiles Series Gfx_Web HeaderThis past weekend at Eastbrook Church we continued our series entitled “Exiles: A Study of 1 Peter,” looking at the hope we have as exiles. We journeyed into Peter’s words on that hope and how it transforms the way we live in 1 Peter 1:13-2:3.

You can watch the message here or subscribe to our audio podcast, following along with the outline below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site.

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