Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Women of Christmas...week 4

It's Christmas Eve!! I know most of you won't read this today or tomorrow simply because you are inundated with family and festivities. That's okay! I do hope you will finish this little study though! Please make room for a little time reading about the events we have record of after Jesus' birth. If you're like me, the story fades in your mind about as soon as the decorations come down, only to be picked up next year around the Friday after Thanksgiving. I've contemplated some fresh ponderings this year though, and I'm not ready to put the story away yet. In fact, I'm full of new questions that just might take me all the way to Lent and Easter!

The assignment for the final week is simple. 

1. Ask Him to give you time and a hunger for this part of the story, then read about the wise men in Matthew 2:1-12. Follow up by reading pages 141-145 in chapter seven of The Women of Christmas. 
•Does this biblical account challenge anything you thought you already knew?
•What were the Magi's reactions to the star, Herod, and the baby?

2. Read Luke 2:21-40 and make note of any questions you have. 

3. Only after you've read the scripture, finish chapters 7 and 8. 
•What do we KNOW from scripture about Simeon? What do we KNOW about Anna?
•What does Simeon say about Jesus and about Mary? Do you think Mary completely understood his ominous "blessing" at this point? When do you think she may have remembered Simeon's words later in life?
•What does Anna do in this passage? Note the timing of her interaction with Mary. Don't you think she might have been an encouragement after Simeon's blessing?

4. Here's a last question to ponder and research. In every aspect of the story we've read, the Holy Spirit has played a part. Go back and make note of when the Holy Spirit was mentioned and the roll it played. So often we think about the Holy Spirit as having come only after Jesus' ascension, but clearly this member of the Trinity has always been at work! 

Thank you to everyone who followed along with this little study! Whether you've actually done it or you've all just been a hope in my imagination, you've driven me to do it and I've been changed! I've contemplated and learned more about Christ's early human life than ever before. Christmas will forever mean far more to me from now on...and I pray the same is true for you!

I'd love to hear what you've learned!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Women of Christmas Week 3

If you are at all like me, now is the time in this little Bible study journey that you are tempted to give up! We are one week away from Christmas so now is the time to finish shopping and wrapping and baking and cleaning and...now is crunch time!! Surely there is no time to sit quietly and read, to contemplate and meditate! We've got things to do, people to see, places to go, and expectations to fulfill! We can be still later, right?

But we won't. I won't. It's basically now or never, because if the enemy can't tempt us to totally forsake God then he will tempt us with "busy-ness". The enemy wants us to celebrate Christmas like crazy but never slow down enough to contemplate the Messiah. 

Thank you for slowing down with me!

This week's assignment:

1. Pray for God to show you at least one fresh thing about the story of John's and Jesus' births this week. Document that request in writing right on a page in your book.

2. Read Luke 1:57-79 and Matthew 1:18-25. When was Zechariah allowed to speak? What does Zechariah say God has come to do? Were these words spoken before or after Christ's birth? Note all that Joseph says in the Matthew passage.

3. Read Chapter 5 of The Women of Christmas, highlighting anything that jumps out at you.

4. Read Luke 2:1-20. This is the passage we have heard all our lives at Christmas! Are you ever tempted to let it go "in one ear and out the other" because it's so familiar? What Christmas carols do we sing that accurately portray the scene? Do you ever visualize it based on carols or nativity scenes instead of what scripture recounts?  I realize this comes across as shameless mom bragging, but here's one song that I base my nativity visualizations on sometimes...anyone with me?  And by the way, this is my oldest son's public school chamber chorale group Una Voce!  Yes, I said public school...I almost shouted "AMEN" at the end!

5. Read Chapter 6 of The Women of a Christmas, and please tell me you learned something! Did reading Liz's well researched commentary give you any new insights? Any new questions?

Enjoy this week in The Word! Please comment on the blog so that the rest of us can learn too!

And by the way, I'm praying that you can't get the story out of your mind this week...even amidst the "busy-ness"! Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Week 2 of our study The Women of Christmas

It was such fun to study with at least 30 of you last week as we contemplated the beginning of the story of Elizabeth, Zechariah, and baby John the Baptist! I've heard from about 30 friends and family, even friends' family, saying they were participating! I love picturing all of us together, bibles and books and pens in hand, sharing what God is highlighting afresh in this story! I know you all would love getting to know each other because I love you all! I wish we could meet at Starbucks...I'd buy all your favorite hot drinks and then tell stories about fun times I've shared with you!

And speaking of sharing, thank you to those who have shared so beautifully and honestly on the blog! I seriously received such encouragement and fresh insight from you! Several of you, like me, have walked or continue to walk the infertility road so I knew Elizabeth would stir us up. The truth is, we likely all have dreams we've yet to realize, so being reminded that there is no time limit on God's answers was hopefully encouragement. 

This week we will begin to read about Mary. You may have noticed that we didn't finish the story of Elizabeth last week. The book, The Women of Christmas, basically covers the announcement of Elizabeth's pregnancy in chapters 1 and 2, then the announcement of Mary's pregnancy in chapters 3 and 4. I promise we'll get to the births of both the Messiah and His forerunner in chapters 5 and 6 before getting to the third "woman of a Christmas" in our last week together. And just in case you are behind where I am...PLEASE DO NOT QUIT!! This will be a blessing to you no matter when you do it, not because of anything I'm doing but because it's God's Word and Jesus' story! It says so right in the passage we are studying this week:

""For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:37 NIV)

So here's your assignment this week.

1. First pray! Pray before you read, asking Him to teach you, encourage you, remind you, and reveal something new to you! Write that prayer in your book or a journal so you will have a reminder when He does it!

2. Read God's words in Luke 1:26-38. Make a list of what Mary says and what Gabriel says. Does making this list give you any insight into Mary? What do we learn about Jesus from what the angel says?  Do you wish you knew more about anything in this story?

3. Read Chapter 3, highlighting anything that jumps out at you. This just made me cry at the thought:

4. Read Luke 1:39-56. (Doesn't a lot happen in this one chapter?! Typically we just rush right into chapter 2 at our house on Christmas Eve or even in church, but oh the richness of the story even before Christ's actual birth!)  Use your imagination a little and tell me what YOU think Mary and Elizabeth talked about for those months together!

5. Read chapter 4 of The Women of Christmas and highlight anything you found interesting or particularly encouraging.

6. Here's an extra challenge: write these verses on an index card and memorize them this week. 

For no word from God will ever fail.” 
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, (Luke 1:37, 46, 47 NIV)

Now tell us on the blog what God's revealing to you! 

Thank you for keeping me accountable! I am honestly, and I really mean this, praying for you to be blown away by Jesus this week as you study!

I love you!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Week 1 of The Women of Christmas...a personal connection

I've posted a little something personal. Please let it help you connect in your own way to Elizabeth's story. I'm no video wiz, nor am I particularly great on camera, but this is me just being honest!

Reading about Zechariah's angelic interaction in the temple made me want to know a little more about what he was doing and where he was in the temple. It seems that there were a lot of priests in that day...I read from 7000-8000 of them were walking around! Evidently they were organized into 24 divisions and assignments were made by casting lots, sort of like rolling dice. We know there was no "luck" or "coincidence" involved though because God arranged for Zechariah to be exactly where He wanted him to be to receive this announcement! And remember, no one had received a fresh revelation from God in about 400 years. God, for all human understanding, had been silent for 400 years! And Zechariah gets to hear from Him first! Wow, no wonder he was surprised at the least scared to death at the most! Yet Zechariah receives this news right there at the Altar of Incense...in front of the very curtain separating this altar from the Holy of Holies...in front of the very curtain that would be torn from top to bottom when Christ died! Right at the altar that symbolized their prayers being lifted to God just like the smoke and scent wafted heavenward. This is the exact place where the angel announces that Zechariah's prayer has been heard! 

My friend Mandy said it well in her comment on the previous post when she wondered if he'd actually given up praying for a child since they had waited for so long. Let me assure you that Elizabeth had not stopped! Oh sure, she may have wearied of the request, but her deep deep longing was a child. Barrenness, at least for me, never is far from a woman's mind if she's afflicted with it. And even if she'd stopped actually asking God, her heart still ached, so God still knew her longing and cared!

Because I'm probably just a little odd, I would love to know what "signs" Zechariah made to the crowd! They expected him to pronounce the blessing probably found in a Numbers. 6:24-26. Oh please go read it!!! I find it so ironic that, though Zechariah could not literally pronounce the blessing, what he'd been told by the angel Gabriel was indeed ACTUALLY what God was about to do...turn His face -the face of Jesus who was the exact representation of God-toward them and bring them peace with God through this Jesus!  No, Zechariah could not utter the verbal blessing, but he was about to parent the one (John the Baptist) who would pronounce that Jesus was that very face of God and instrument of peace.

I also noticed that verse 15 of Luke 1 says that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. Verse 41 says that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary arrived and John jumped in her womb. And verse 67 says that Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit after he regained his voice. This has become a heartfelt prayer of mine, that my entire little family would be filled with the Holy Spirit and submit to serving Him!

I pray that you have read verses 39-80 of Luke 1. The time Mary visited Elizabeth is such a sweet story! If ever I've wished for a video gospel it's as I'm reading about these two women, years apart in age yet forever connected in divine ways. 

I am a bit sad to read that Elizabeth and Zechariah probably died while John was young. I have to wonder if his diet and wardrobe would have been different had Elizabeth been around! However long she had with her boy, she must have taught him well because John pointed to Jesus as the Messiah whenever he got the chance. What an important roll Elizabeth played!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Online Bible Study Week One: Let's Get Started!

Welcome to the Christmas season! It's my very favorite time of the year, and I have a feeling that this Bible study may turn out to be one of my most cherished parts of the celebration! Thank you for taking this journey with me! I mean it every time I say it, and I say it every time I begin any new study, but this really is a selfish act on my part. I desperately need to be in God's Word daily for any peace and sanity to rule in my mind, my actions, my words, and my reactions. Having you on this journey with me keeps me accountable! I need you, and I have a sense that God is okay with that. He made us with free will and a need for community so surely it honors Him whenever we exercise that will to study His Words together!

If you're just deciding to join us, you'll need your Bible, the book The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs, and maybe a journal. Sometimes I use index cards when I study to help me remember specific verses as well. Honestly, the method you use and the specific tools you utilize aren't specifically important as long as you are reading scripture. We all probably have or will develop methods that work best for us.

Just briefly I want to say that I know several women who are taking this journey, and I'm so excited! Ladies I've known from every stage of my life are joining together to study this time! Typically I am blessed to be able to study with women from my church and community here in Kansas City, but this time I get to interact with friends from high school, my niece and niece-in-law in Texas, a sweet friend I once taught in Sunday School when she was in college, and my best friend from Atlanta! God is so creative and brilliant to baptize technology and use it to help us connect through His Word! 

And oh how I'm praying specifically for you all! Prayer is sort of the main way I feel God uses me at this stage of my life. As a stay at home mom, I honestly spend so much time during my day praying for friends and family as I complete the necessary but sometimes mundane tasks of keeping a home together. So...please let me know if you're joining us so I can visualize you and pray specifically for you...by name! It's my sheer joy and gives me a sense of usefulness in His Kingdom.

Enough talk! Let's go! Here are my suggestions for what and how to study this week.

1. Pray first each time you sit down to study. I often even write brief prayers right in my book or journal like this...absolutely nothing fancy!

2. This week we will study about Elizabeth. Before you read the book, please take time to read The Book! As much as I'm loving The Women of Christmas, I want us to study God's words. So read Luke 1:5-25 and write down any thoughts or questions you have as you read.  I'd suggest reading the same passage everyday this week in different translations. I use the YouVersion app on my phone to read those translations I don't actually own in paper form.

3. Read chapters 1 and 2 of the Women of Christmas throughout the week. They actually are short, and you have 7 days to do it! Liz Curtis Higgs writes in a way that interacts with the scriptural text and helps me ask deep questions. Write in that book, underline, do whatever it takes to help you really engage in the text!

4. Interact with us! As you study, I really would love it if you would talk back on this blog. Comment on one or all of these questions. If, for some reason,you have trouble commenting please send me a Facebook message with your comments and I will post them to the blog with your permission. Of course you can always message me privately with anything meant for just me and you and I won't post it!

So answer these questions:

Was there anything in the biblical story you had never thought about before? Did God highlight any part of it afresh for you?

Can you relate to Elizabeth or Zechariah in any way? Is God encouraging or challenging you in any way through this story? Are these words reiterating anything God's already been trying to communicate to you?

What does this story tell you about the character of God or how He works?

5. Join me in memorizing this part of the passage this week from verses 24 and 25:  "...Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (NIV)

6. Make a list of the miraculous things The Lord has done and is doing for you!

I'm praying for God to reveal His constant presence to you this week and to make you desparate for His Word! I'm praying you get just a little seclusion with Him like Elizabeth had...and that you can joyfully say, "The Lord has done this for me" as you go through this week! 

Feel free to invite a friend to join us!