people. I shudder to think of how I once made my best friend sit down at the dining room table and read the Bible aloud with me. I was 17, and a first-class idiot.
We had just moved to a new city for the fourth time (my parents moved every year during my highschool years) and I knew no one. The friends I did pick up along the way were a mixed bunch. Some liked to party and drink (a lot) and others were the same way, only they called themselves Christians because they believed in God and had "youth group meetings" and "Bible studies". I couldn't actually differentiate between the two groups as far as their lifestyles went, so I joined those who liked to study their Bibles like me, because I was pretty sure my unsaved friends were getting sick of me always talking about Jesus. But, much to my dismay their belief in God was only that. They believed, but they weren't about to change their lives for Him. Some of them did, but the majority just kept on partying and drinking. I began to think it was okay to be like I was before I knew Jesus, so I would read my Bible, learned lots of stuff, continued to share with those who didn't know the Lord and yet - not make an impact on anyone. Why? I was still living as an unsaved person. Taking my cues from the "Christians" around me.
I didn't know what being "born again" actually meant.
Then, one day I finally met a different kind of Christian. Someone who was committed to God in all aspects of their lives and I started taking my clues from this person on how a Christian was supposed to behave. Unfortunately, I didn't realize, due to my young age and my lack of Scriptural knowledge, that this person was too legalistic and I became afraid to speak my mind or do anything really, without feeling judged for it. I continued to read my Bible, discovering new insights and comparing Jesus' life to how people behaved at my church. But kept these insights to myself. And I became horribly confused on why Jesus' life and attitude were so different from my fellow church goers.
By the time I met my husband I had already begun a singing ministry. I had decided to continue with my Bible studies and voice my discontent through my songwriting. When we relocated and found a church home we inadvertently stumbled into the most legalistic church I'd ever been in. And I felt smothered. People would actually chastise me for raising my hands while singing worship songs. Oh, my! I was not only feeling smothered, I was becoming depressed. For a long time (at least a good 15 years) I would "learn" what it meant to be a Christian from critical, judgemental people. People who were quick to think the worst about you, would spread gossip and lies behind your back and basically do everything Jesus had explicitly told them not to do.
I began to hate going to church.
I buckled down, continued singing and ignored those who "hated" my exuberance during worship. And finally new people began coming to my church. Christians who showed me the love of God and accepted and encouraged me in my walk with the Lord. They prayed with me, loved me and encouraged me to study my Bible, because it was through my Bible that I would truly learn what God was like and what He expected from me. This was when I began to grow in the Lord.
And I began to change.
It took a while, I'll admit, before I started to change. I had been so long with critical people that my spirit had become damaged. But I finally began to morph into the person I was when I first came to know the Lord. Someone who loved the Scriptures and wanted to dig deeper into them, letting the wisdom of God change me from the inside out. I finally began to accept that my quirkiness was something God built into me and I shouldn't have allowed others to silence me.
My love of Scripture and the desire to share what I learned was a gift God had given me when He first filled me with His Holy Spirit. And all the stuff in between (life in general with all its ups and downs) had all been God ordained. My incurable disease, my loss of my singing voice, a fall down a flight of stairs that left me disabled, cancer scares and more - all of it - was to help me grow and change into the person I am now. Someone with faults. Someone God has forgiven and is using despite those faults. A sinner saved by grace.
My mother in-law was a very wise woman. She once told me never to place your trust in people, because people will always let you down. Place your trust solely on the Lord. Let your Bible and God be your influencers. I'm glad I finally listened to her.
So, what about you? Where are you in your journey with God? Are you letting the Holy Spirit lead you, or are you letting other people determine who you will become?
“I have not seen Jacob at all. But let me tell you –”
“Oh, Joseph, please help me!” Mary cried from the back of the wagon. “It’s getting closer!”
“Heli, what are we to do? She can’t have the baby in the street!”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, Joseph. We have a place.” Heli grabbed the reigns of the oxen from Joseph and started to drive them through the crowd.
“A room? You have a room? Well, why didn’t you say so?” Joseph sighed with relief. “Mary, it’s all right, we are going to our room now. Can you hang on?”
“I don’t know, Joseph. Please hurry!” she sobbed. They went as quickly as they could to the far end of the street, where Heli directed Joseph to the back of an inn.
“What’s this?” Joseph asked as they neared the entrance to the stables.
“Your room,” Heli declared as he carefully retrieved Mary from the back of the cart.
“You can’t be serious?” Joseph protested as he watched Heli carry Mary to a stall in the back of the stable. “Heli, she cannot give birth in a stable.”
Heli laid his daughter on a fresh bed of hay covered with a blanket. He stood, then turned to face his bewildered son-in-law.
“She can and she will. It’s clean, it’s warm, and it’s private.” Heli was adamant and Joseph could tell by the look on his face that his father-in-law would not change his mind.
“It’s fine, Joseph,” Mary whispered, her strength waning. “It’s fine.”
Joseph, clearly at a loss, looked to Rebekah, who arrived with warm water and fresh cloths. Surely, she would agree with him. Mary could not give birth here – could she?
Rebekah pleaded silently for Heli to take Joseph outside. She placed a comforting arm on her son-in-law and said, “It is as it should be, Joseph. We have cleaned out the stall. We have fresh hay. We are even using the cattle’s feeding trough as a little crib for the baby. Go now. Mary will be fine.”
At first, he had been frustrated that he would be forced to leave his wife for such a ridiculous reason. Then his frustration had turned to outrage when a Roman official told him that his wife had to go with him – no excuses.
“How could she possibly stand the journey? She is with child and is approaching her final month,” he had argued. “Surely Caesar Augustus would not expect her to endure such a trip?”
The official had smirked and said, “Caesar expects only one thing, and that is obedience from his subjects. If you fail to comply, you will suffer the consequences.” Joseph had not bothered to find out what those consequences would be. Instead, he had turned and stomped away.
As he neared his home, he saw Mary talking animatedly to her mother and father. All three seemed upset and Joseph knew at once that they had heard about the edict. Heli’s and Rebekah’s concern for their daughter’s welfare was evident.
“I see you’ve heard about Caesar’s plans?” Joseph asked as he waved the edict in his hands.
Heli turned to him and with a sad shake of his head said, “This is ridiculous, Joseph. To force a woman with child to take such a journey …,” he trailed off, overcome with worry for his daughter and unborn grandchild.
Rebekah reached out to comfort him and asked, “What if she just didn’t go? How would they know? So many people will be there, after all. Would it really matter if one girl was missing from the crowd?”
“Perhaps not,” Joseph said. “But I would never be able to leave Mary alone while I go to Bethlehem. She could have the baby and there would be no one here to help her.”
“I suppose if they wouldn’t miss one girl, they probably wouldn’t miss her mother either, would they Heli?” Rebekah asked.
Heli smiled and shook his head. “We will all go to Bethlehem. I myself must register. There is no other way.”
Mary nodded. “It must be this way, Ima. Do you not see how Yahweh has arranged this census? For it is written: ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’ Everything is as it should be,” Mary said with confidence.
Heli nodded slowly, his weary eyes dawning with understanding. “She is right. Everything is unfolding as it should. I forget sometimes, my daughter, the miracle of whose child you carry.”
“You know, I recall the Rabbi speaking those very verses last Sabbath,” Joseph added, “and I have been pondering on them ever since – about what it meant, concerning the babe Mary carries. God’s Son, if He is to be the ruler over Israel, must come out of Bethlehem to fulfill the Scriptures.” He shook his head in amazement. “I was wondering how we were going to end up in Bethlehem. God is using Caesar’s evil census to get us there.” He laughed. “God is great! We need not worry for Mary, for He does indeed have everything in His control.”
 Micah 5:2
“No! His name is to be John.” Elisabeth spoke up.
“John?” Lemuel asked, his bushy eyebrows rising up to meet his hairline. “But there is no one among your relatives with that name.”
Each person present started talking at once, thinking Elisabeth must be mistaken.
Lemuel turned to Zechariah and asked, “What is the child to be named?”
Zechariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”
“John? Are you sure?” Lemuel asked again.
“His name is John!” Gasps of surprise came from all corners of the house as Zechariah’s voice returned to him. Laughing and crying, he began to dance around praising God and prophesying.
“My Love!” Elizabeth reached toward her husband, who grasped her in a firm embrace. She cupped his face in her hands and wept. “I have missed your voice.”
Zechariah threw caution to the wind and kissed his wife firmly on the mouth. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and has redeemed His people!” Zechariah lifted his hands toward the heavens and cried with joy as he praised God. The people around him felt the glory of the moment and one by one began to kneel in prayer.
Zechariah took John from Lemuel and, lifting him high in his arms, proclaimed, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him. You will give God’s people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”
Elisabeth and Mary hugged each other and sobbed as Zechariah continued to prophesy. The wonder of it all took their breath away. Zechariah could speak again! What other great things would happen? Their neighbours were filled with awe and, as the weeks passed throughout the hill country of Judea, people began talking about the new baby born to Elisabeth and Zechariah. All who heard the story wondered about it, asking, “What then, is this child going to be?”
For the Lord's hand was with him.
 Luke 1:67-69
I've recently begun to dig into the book of Jeremiah and realized once again how God really does have things in control. For example, in my last post we discovered that God had a plan for Jeremiah's life before Jeremiah had even been conceived. Does this mean He also has our lives planned out in advance? If so, how much free will do we really have?
It is clear when you read the complete first chapter of Jeremiah that we have quite a bit of free will. True, Jeremiah was born into a family of priests, so his future was somewhat marked out for him. He also would have been trained on how to approach God as well as the laws of the Torah and the respect that comes with that. So, his upbringing likely prepared him for the role God had in store for him. But was he ever in the position to say no?
Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.”
Clearly, Jeremiah felt comfortable voicing his concerns to God that he had the wrong man for the job. However, God convinced him that everything would be fine, because He would be with him (Jeremiah 1:7-8; 1:18:19). So we can see from Scripture that it is okay to relate our fears to God about what He wants us to do. But can we say no?
"Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them."
The word "dismayed" in Hebrew is chathath and means to be shattered, dismayed, broken, abolished or to be afraid. God basically tells Jeremiah that if you are too afraid to do my will, I will keep you in that state. In other words, Jeremiah's actions would either be a victory for God or a harsh lesson for Jeremiah to learn to trust in God more. One leads to victory, the other would lead to a spirit of fear. God doesn't force us to do things we don't want to. He does however give us the power to do them and prepares our path to do them well. It comes down to your faith. How willing are you to trust God? It also means you must be absolutely sure God has called you to do His work. Not everyone receives visions and dreams like Jeremiah. So how can we know for sure what God's will is in any given situation?
For Christians we have the assurance of Ephesians 1:3-6. In particular, we have received the Holy Spirit as a pledge from God as to our inheritance in Him.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).
This promise of the Holy Spirit is crucial for Christians when trying to understand what it is God has called us to do in relation to our service to Him. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that we were created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. In my own life, I always equated "good works" (caring for the sick, feeding the poor, helping your neighbour, etc. ) with helping others, but I have come to realize it is more than that. Because of my illness I cannot get out and "help" anyone. In fact, it is quite the reverse. I need help on a daily basis. However, my "service" to God my "good works" if you will, is sharing with you from His Word. Oh, yes I can give money to help a needy cause, but my mission, my calling from God is to discern His Word and share it. He prepared this in advance for me to do, by giving me a spirit that hungered after His Word. Yes, I questioned God on my ability to teach, but He confirmed His choice for me through people, circumstances and His Word.
For example, a good friend of mine (without telling me) paid for a course for me to take on teaching Scripture. Why? God told her do it. She put her faith into action at a conference we were both attending and paid for me to attend a training course. The result was that at the end of the conference I was feeling convicted to take a training course on teaching Scripture. The same course she had already signed me up for. When you step out in faith amazing things can happen!
You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.
It all comes down to how much you trust God. Scripture tells us that we did not choose God, but He chose us! Isn't that amazing? He does have a plan for your life and He will reveal it to you in time. Right now, you may not know what God wants you to do with your life, but know this - where you are right now will prepare you for what He wants you to do. And you have a choice. To say no to the God of heaven and forever be unsatisfied and unfulfilled with your life, (because you aren't fulfilling your God-ordained purpose) or live a life in accordance with God's will and reap the benefits.
So yes, we do have free-will and we can say no, but why would you want to?