The Plan (Luke 1:12-14)

Talk about fear! Zechariah was a priest and was serving at the Temple. While serving, an angel appeared to him and told him that he and his wife would have a child. The child, the angel said, would be filled with the Holy Spirit and be a prophet like Elijah.

Zechariah didn’t believe the angel – and why would he? He and Elizabeth were both very old and they had both resigned themselves to the idea that they would never have children. But God had a different plan.

Elizabeth gave birth to John, who is John the Baptizer, the forerunner of Jesus and the prophet who prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah, to come to his people. How marvelous that God could use a barren couple to bring into the world such an important figure in history!

But in the beginning, Zechariah was greatly afraid. In fact, he didn’t believe the angel and was struck mute for the duration of the pregnancy because of his unbelief.

Sometimes I feel like we are like Zechariah – scared and unwilling to possibly believe that God has a plan even when it seems unlikely or even impossible. But the fact of the matter is that God does have a plan for each one of us. It doesn’t matter who you are, there is a purpose for your life. I like to say that if you’ve got a pulse, you’ve got a purpose. In this pandemic, it’s easy to get distracted and fearful, but we must stay focused on God. God has a plan, and we should trust in that plan, even when we can’t see it. If you’re struggling to see the plan right now, spend time in prayer, asking God to open your eyes so that you can see things through God’s viewpoint. Another thing you can do is talk with a trusted friend or pastor to ask them to help you see where God may be leading. Stay the course.

The Fake Apology & the Garden of Eden

Children misbehave.

It’s an undisputed fact.

And adults then react (or overreact) to those poor choices.

One thing that I can remember seeing over and over growing up is that when two kids got into a fight of some kind, the adult in charge would often make them apologize to one another and then give each other a hug. As you can imagine, and have probably seen, this doesn’t generally work well.

The first obstacle is generally the perceived authenticity of the apology. “No, Johnny. Say it like you mean it.” The second is similar to the first, as the hug is genuinely quick, with the two barely touching, or on the other end of the spectrum, the two turn it into a mini-wrestling match to who can squeeze the hardest.

Neither of these outcomes is generally what the well-intentioned adult wants, but if done with just enough sincerity, it passes the sniff test and all goes back to normal.

Just a few days ago, someone asked me the question, “Why did God place the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden in the first place?” For him, it would have been better if human beings just didn’t have the option to sin in the first place. Then we’d all be with God for eternity, no one would be separated from God, and there would be no sin in the world. Pretty great, right?

The answer to the question, however, goes back to those fighting kids I talked about in the beginning. In order to actually love someone, one must make a choice to do so. There has to be a conscious act of the will to make the decision, “I love you.” That can’t happen when it is forced. Just like when Johnny is forced to apologize and hug his enemy, though he’s saying the right words and doing the right actions, his heart really isn’t in it. There’s not a choice to love at that point.

When God created humankind, he gave each of us a choice to love him and worship him in return. Yes, he could have created us to be like robots – or the stubborn child – who would simply reply that we loved him, but that would not have been true love, would it? True love requires choice.

So God provided us with the choice – will we follow him or not? Will we love him or not? Will we choose to put him first in our lives? Without that choice, our love for him is just as meaningless as the child’s forced apology and hug.

God has created us in his image, and has given us the choice whether to love him or not. This choice to love is only possible because he first loved us. Without God we would not know what true love looked like. And the ultimate example of love was Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.

Kids, next time you’re forced to give that fake apology or fake hug, take a minute and remember that God did not give you a fake apology or fake love – he showed his true love by sending his Son to die on the cross for you. It’s up to each of us to choose how to respond.