Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Magnifying the Lord

Suppose you had to pick a woman to be a part of God’s plan for changing the world. Who would you choose? What kind of women comes to mind? Perhaps someone with power and influence? Maybe beauty and talent? Or associated with royalty and has a bright future? God, however, chose a teenage farmhand girl.

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to the-nativity-story-movie-poster-1020509334announce God’s stunning plan which involved her giving birth to and raising a son who would be called the Son of God. Frederick Buechner in his book Peculiar Treasures sketches an imaginary commentary when the angel Gabriel encounters Mary:

"She struck him as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child. But he had been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. ‘You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,’ he said. As he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great golden wings, he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of Creation hung on the answer of a teenaged girl."

A few days later, Mary hurried to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was also expecting a very special child. As soon as they saw each other they were both filled with joy. Mary bursts into song, known as the Magnificat, saying “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.  For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48)

The next chapter in God’s redemptive mission is under way - he is sending the Christ! A long period of silence is ending; something new is beginning. His birth is still months away; his appearance in the synagogue to announce his ministry is still decades away, but it is beginning.

Hope is now more tangible…longing is becoming more intense…other pastimes, interests, and concerns are now mere distractions…We are starting to feel joy again!!

The intent of Scripture is to portray Jesus (John 5:39; 20:31) rather than Mary. Yet, in the course of revelation a small glimpse of Mary’s character is given. One dominant trait stands out: her humble faith in God, which shows in her willing obedience, joyous praise, and familiarity with God’s ways known through the OT.

She is overjoyed that God has noticed her and included her, even though she's insignificant from a worldly perspective. T.S. Eliot wrote, "Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who strive to be important. They don't mean to do harm, but the harm does not interest them … or they do not see it, or they justify it … because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

Although our role in God’s mission is to do good in this world, we will actually do harm if our deeper mission is to feel important and "think well of ourselves." Eliot's words forced us to ask, How much harm could I do to my family, my friends, the people I am supposed to lead, all because I want to think well of myself?

Mary was sure that God had remembered "to be merciful ... even as he said to our fathers." God never forgets, he cannot forget! We may pass through wilderness experiences (dryness, loss, insignificance) but the Magnificat is a powerful reminder not to despair. God keeps his word; he never abandons his people. He surely takes down the proud and lifts up the humble.

In this Advent time we remember and agree to this day that Mary is indeed blessed. We marvel at her willingness to take on God’s plan for her even though it would include a sword piercing her soul (Luke 2:35). We also thank God for being mindful of the state of those who are without power or influence; for acting on their behalf; for overthrowing the self-sufficient and proud; for keeping us in a needy state that we can also say "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Missional moments in unconventional places

It has been said that success is where preparation and opportunity meet. In the case of living in a missional way, opportunities to minister can come in some unconventional places and we must be ready to participate regardless of what others may think. Peter wrote in first letter, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).

I once knew a pastor who was a bit unconventional. At one point in his ministry he felt God compelling him to reach out to people who rarely, if ever, talked to a pastor. As he prayed about this he felt he was to go into some unusual places and strike up some conversations with people. He reasoned that the most unconventional place to go would be the local pub. So he donned a clerical collar, went in and began talking to others. Of course this was quite awkward at first but he was generally well received which inspired him to go back. As he established some good relationships and ministered to people, he eventually became a regular figure in the pub. The owner even set up a table for him where patrons could come see him for confession and prayer.

Missional moments

Sometimes we can miss some important opportunities for ministry because of a dualistic view of mission. This happens when we believe that legitimate ministry is supposed to occur in traditional places only, like a church building or a foreign country, not in unconventional places such as the local pub.

But when we relate to the world in way similar to the life of Jesus (who was called a friend of sinners), our approach is neither confusing the world with God nor failing to find Him there, even in some pretty irregular places.


While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10–13 TNIV)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Idolatry 3: Test yourself

Diagnostic criteria or questions can be applied to a variety of contexts in order to determine the presence of disease, disorder, quality assurance or just a different perspective.


The following questions will help you check if there are any deep idols lurking in your heart:

  • Do I feel like I have enough money and possessions that reflect my worth or do I feel I need more?
  • Do I think I have enough of the power and control I feel I deserve or do I want more?
  • Do I need any specific relationship attachment for my life to be truly meaningful or successful?
  • How often do I fantasize about being admired, envied, feared, or respected?
  • Do I often feel I am the only one who truly understands right doctrine and the heart of God? Do I feel anger and hold grudges toward others who don’t think just like me?
  • Are there any activities or desires I am following that have made me more defensive, rationalizing, justifying, and secretive?
  • Has anyone tried to point these issues out to me before resulting in distancing myself from them relationally?