Caleb and Elizabeth working together

Photo of the Week – 28 November 2017

This week was a pretty quiet week. No real adventures out of the house. Just a week of school and admin work and living life in the beautiful place.

This week’s photo is Caleb and Elizabeth doing Caleb’s handwriting together.

Several years ago, we found this great handwriting curriculum called A Reason for Handwriting. Each workbook is a different Bible theme, but the work pattern is basically the same. Each day is different words or letters, and the last day is a coloring page where the student writes out the Bible verse they learned that week and colors a border around it. The kids really enjoy these books.

Caleb and Elizabeth working together

Caleb and Elizabeth working together

Zechariah: 1. Persistent Prayer

As Advent–the journey to Christmas, and ultimately Easter–began, I began a journey of my own. For sometime, I felt that God was leading me to concentrate my reading and study on the Gospel narrative. To go back to the basics of what Jesus said and did. Strip out the third party, and just stay on the story of Jesus.

Today's reading brought me to the story of Gabriel appearing to Zechariah and foretelling the birth of John. I've read this story many times and have even written about it previously on this blog, but a couple of new things stood out to me in today's reading. We'll examine these things over the next three days.

Our text is from the Luke 1:5-25 (NIV) (emphases mine):

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of The Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of The Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him:

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He wil be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of The Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to The Lord their God. And he will go on before The Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”



Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife 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.”

The first observation that I had was that it was Zechariah who had been praying for a son. What we don't know from this verse is whether or not Elizabeth was in on this prayer of her husband. Could Zechariah have been praying secretly for a son? Could he have been quietly praying in the other room while Elizabeth was cooking dinner?

This brings back memories of our own journey back to Jesus.

Jesus had brought Stephanie back to Himself in the fall of 2009. But, it was another 6 months or so before I answered the call to “cast our nets on the other side.” During that time, Stephanie would quietly and secretly pray in the other room, while I worked or studied or read. When she would hear me coming, her secret prayers would look at lot like laundry folding.

Yet, after months of faithful prayers, I answered Jesus' call to re-enter relationship with Him.

The text is silent on whether or not Zechariah and Elizabeth were in agreement on this whole “baby-in-our-old-age” thing, yet we do know that she hid out for five months and was grateful that her “disgrace” had been taken away.

The other thing that we don't know from the text is how long Zechariah (and Elizabeth?) had been praying for a son, yet it would be safe (culturally) to assume that it had been for a long time. Luke makes it a point to tell us that they are old. It is likely a safe assumption that the prayer for a child was one prayed many times over the course of many years.

I think about three sets of friends who have walked this same journey as Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Wanting children.

Praying for children.

Yet, not having children.

Until, one day, God answers.

I don't know why God waited to answer in either the case of Zechariah or our friends. While I don't understand it–and wish that He wouldn't delay–He has a timing that is far superior to our timing. In the case of John, He waited until the time was fulfilled for Jesus to be born. He had a purpose for John–just as He has a purpose for each one of the children of our three friends, our own children, us and you.

And, so, Zechariah prayed.

His prayer was answered.

John was born.

For what are you praying? Don't give up on your prayers!


Emily as a baby

Emily as a baby

Caleb as a baby

Caleb as a baby


Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Confirming Voices

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emmanuel.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  Having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, you highly favored one!  The Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women!”

But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what king of salutation this might be.  The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and will call his name ‘Jesus.’  He will be great, and will be call the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever.  There will be no end to his Kingdom.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?”

The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God.

“Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For everything spoken by God is possible.”

Mary said, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to your word.”  The angel departed from her.

Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah, and entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.  It happened, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, that the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  She called out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For behold, when the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy!  Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord!”

Mary said, “My should magnifies the Lord.  My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for he has looked at the humble state of his handmaid.  For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed.  For he who is mighty has done great things for me.  Holy is His name.  His mercy is for generations of generations on those who fear him.  He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  He has put down princes from their thrones.  And has exalted the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things.  he has sent the rich away empty.  He has given help to Israel, his servant, that he might remember mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his see forever.”

— Luke 1:26-55 (WEB)

I believe that Mary needed Elizabeth to speak words of life to her at that visit. I imagine Mary probably had many questions, and that she needed confirmation of the word the angel, Gabriel, had spoken to her before she left town. And not only did Elizabeth impart words of life to Mary, but she used the same words the angel had spoken: “Blessed are you among women!”

Not only did Elizabeth speak common language as the angel, but she confirmed things from the angel and Mary’s encounter that she couldn’t have otherwise known.


Angel – “You will conceive in your womb.”

Elizabeth – “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.”


Angel – “The holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God.”

Elizabeth – “the mother of my Lord should come to me.”


Angel – “Elizabeth…also has conceived a son.”

Elizabeth – “The baby leaped in my womb for joy!”


Mary to the angel -“Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Elizabeth – “Blessed is she who believed.”


Angel – “For nothing spoken by God is impossible.

Elizabeth – “For there will be fulfillment.”


The Lord speaking to Mary through the angel, Gabriel.

Elizabeth – “…the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord!”


The Lord washed away all of Mary’s fears by bringing such solid confirmation of His Word. In fact, Mary is so encouraged by this word that Elizabeth has confirmed through being filled with the Holy Spirit that she is able to pour out such a beautiful expression of worship to God that we have it recorded and still recall it two thousand years later.

God speaks, and He does it in a number of ways. In this instance, He spoke to Mary through the angel, Gabriel, and through the Spirit-given words of encouragement and confirmation spoken through Elizabeth.

I want to encourage you to be an Elizabeth. If the Spirit of God comes on you to speak to a certain person, don’t doubt it or shy away from the prompting. The word He has given you may very well be a confirmation of what He has already spoken into that person, and speaking that word may inspire that person to pour out a beautiful expression of worship to God.


Advent 2012: Preparing the Path: God’s Sunrise Breaking Through

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emmanuel.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, “Blessed by the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free. He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives, and in the very house of David his servant, just as he promised long ago through the preaching of his holy prophets: Deliverance from our enemies and every hateful hand; Mercy to our fathers, as he remembers to do what he said he’d do, what he swore to our father Abraham–a clean rescue from the enemy camp, so we can worship him without a care in the world, made holy before him as long as we live.”

“And you, my child, ‘Prophet of the Highest,’ will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins. Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”

— Luke 1:67-79 (The Message)

Leading into Zacariah’s prophecy, we get the story of the birth of John the Baptist. An angel appears to Zacariah and tells him that his wife will have a baby. But, he and his wife, Elizabeth, aren’t exactly young. In fact, we’re told they were “quite old.”

Zachariah was a priest. He knows the history of the Jewish people. He knows one story in particular – Abraham and Sarah.

Angel appears.

Says, “You’re going to be a pop. Congratulations.”

Zachariah laughs.


Just like Sarah did.

Here is a priest. A man who has taught hundreds of Jewish children their history. And he laughs at a story–an epic story central to his people’s history–that he’s heard before.

This story shows hope.

Once again, we see God choosing the unlikely to become the molder of history.

An old man.

An old woman.

A baby.

The foreteller of the Messiah.

God removing people from their personal dramas to make them a part of His story.

The angel tells Zachariah that his lack of belief–belief of a story he’s known all his life–would result in his mouth being shut until the baby is born.  Maybe, when we fail to believe in the promises of God, He would prefer that we just keep our mouth shut.

Contrast Elizabeth’s response. She “relishes” in the fact that she is pregnant. Fortunately for her, Zachariah couldn’t talk. He couldn’t be the wet-blanket that he would have undoubtedly been if he had been able to speak. He couldn’t derail the joy of God as we so often do when we hear a promise of God that will remove us from our own dramas.

Then the baby is born.

“Name him John”, Elizabeth says.


No one in the family is named John.

No significance.

But, Zacariah, speaks.

“Name him John.”

God likes to work counter-culturally.

God often takes us from what’s comfortable when He uses us in His story. He doesn’t remove us from the drama, rather He walks with us through the drama.

Zachariah then prophesies. He says that this boy, John, would foretell the coming of the Messiah.

Early Morning view across the Mamaras Sea

Early Morning view across the Mamaras Sea

Then he makes a profound statement: “Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”

Because God has chosen to have mercy on us once again, He will break through our darkness with His beautiful sunrise.

The beauty of Emmanuel is that Emmanuel is right now. God is with us in the right now.

Emmanuel doesn’t airlift us out of our situations, rather he parachutes in to walk through the “valley of the shadow of death” with us. In the midst of our darkness, He breaks in with His sunrise.

When Job is in deepest despair, God speaks out of the storm.

When Elijah is hiding in a cave, God breaks in with a still, small voice.

When His people were in slavery, God burns a bush to get Moses’ attention.

When we are struggling with addictions, God’s sunrise brings us comfort and strength.

When we are experiencing death, God’s sunrise brings us hope of new life.

In the middle of our darkness – our personal drama – God’s sunrise, Emmanuel, breaks in and moves us into His story.


Advent 2011: 4.5 — And the Story Continues

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

Week 4: A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

In the sixth month after Elizabeth had become pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee. He was sent to a virgin. The girl was engaged to a man named Joseph. He came from the family line of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel greeted her and said, “The Lord has given you special favor. He is with you.”

Mary was very upset because of his words. She wondered what kind of greeting this could be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary. God is very pleased with you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son. You must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king like his father David of long ago. He will rule forever over his people, who came from Jacob’s family. His kingdom will never end.”

“How can this happen?” Mary asked the angel. “I am a virgin.”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come to you. The power of the Most High God will cover you. So the holy one that is born will be called the Son of God. Your relative Elizabeth is old. And even she is going to have a child. People thought she could not have children. But she has been pregnant for six months now. Nothing is impossible with God.”

“I serve the Lord,” Mary answered. “May it happen to me just as you said it would.” Then the angel left her.

–Luke 1:26-38 (NIRV)


As we conclude this final week of Advent, we find ourselves in the company of some unlikely members of the story.

David.  A humble shepherd thrust into kingship.  A man, much like many of us, with flaws but a heart turned toward God.  A king with whom God renews a covenant–I will make you a great nation and your Kingdom will be eternal.

Mary.  An unwed teenaged girl who finds herself pregant.  A young girl who doesn’t cave to the pressures of her society, rather who declares “I serve the Lord!”  A girl whose desire to serve God superseded acceptance of her family, friends, neighbors and culture.

Elizabeth.  Like Sarah an old woman.  Barren.  Wanting nothing more than a child.  Waiting for decades in hope that God would intervene on her behalf.  Trusting God even when months and years pass without an answer.

Zachariah.  A priest from the division of Abijah.  A priest who knew the Abraham/Sarah/Isaac story, yet still laughed at the Messenger of God.  Hoping for a child of his own, yet finding himself in disbelief when the promise is made.  Then acting counter-culturally to name him John.

Abijah.  A priestly order believed to have been named for one of the priests who return to Israel with Nehemiah.  A family that understands what it means to wait in exile.  Who understands what it means to worship even when God is silent.

Joseph.  A person who is often–unfortunately–overlooked.  The pivot person in the unfolding drama.  A man who holds the power to end the story.  Culturally, he would have had the ability–right–to quietly or rather noisily (with rocks) removed Mary–and child–from the story.  Yet, he doesn’t.  He is visited by an angel.  Told the story.  And then elects to act contrary to family, friends, neighbors and culture.

And, so here we are.  Only hours to go until our waiting comes to an end.  Just a brief time before Messiah comes.  Immanuel.  God with us.

In these last few hours of waiting, take a moment to ponder the characters in this story.  Think about their various plights.

Each in the midst of their own personal dramas.

Each with their own flaws.

Each with their own counter-cultural response to their circumstance.

Each with the offer from God to enter into His story.

Each responding with a resounding, “I serve the Lord.”

And, now, as we prepare to light the fifth candle–the Christ-candle, let us consider our own place in this story.  God is offering to each of us that same glorious offer.  “Join into My story,” He says.

The choice is ours.  Yet, be warned, to accept the offer is to act counter-culturally.  It is to forsake all and follow.  It is to leave the nets–and the fish–and follow a Star.  It is to risk everything to invite just one other into the Story.

It is to live forever in the grip of Grace.

It is to walk the ancient path.  It is to walk in the hope, peace, joy, and love of the Christ-Child.

A trail at Haupoca, Chihuahua, Mexico

A trail at Haupoca, Chihuahua, Mexico


Advent 2011: 3.3 — Guest Post – Rev. John A. Thorpe

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

Rev. John A. Thorpe

Rev. John A Thorpe

Since this week’s Lectionary Readings contained an optional reading. We asked our friend, The Reverend John A. Thorpe, if he would step-in and offer a meditation on this reading. He graciously accepted, and we are all blessed because of it. Rev. Thorpe is a graduate of Oral Roberts University (where we became friends), Yale Divinity School, and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He currently serves as the the Rector (Senior Pastor) of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Newton, Iowa.

Week 3: A reading from the Gospel of Luke

My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

— Luke 1:46-55b (KJV)

Mary’s spontaneous joy comes at a difficult time in her life: she will soon be an unwed mother, in a culture that would ostracize and even kill her for that. She has no money, no ability to support herself, and has risked her relationships with mother and father and fiancée, anyone who could support her – all to say, “Let it be to me as the Lord desires.” That one moment of real spirituality, of vision, of fearlessness, of submission to her God might cost her everything. Mary had nothing to gain but everything to lose.

Mary sings this song to Elizabeth. Elizabeth, too, is with child by a miracle; but rather than risking everything, Elizabeth’s pregnancy is a crowning achievement. Since she had been considered barren, she had been ostracized by society; but God’s action took away her shame. Her husband was at the top of his field, and both were well advanced in age and respect in a culture that respected age. The coming of a baby was no shame to them, but lauded at every turn as a blessing. They had nothing to lose but everything to gain.

Though these two women were vastly different in age and circumstance, they were linked by the divine miracles in their wombs; but even further, they were linked by their willing submission to God’s plan for them and their families. And this submission, more than anything else, leads both women to exult in God’s victory through their pregnancies. Mary’s song is full of praise to God for what He has done – not a word about human action or agency. God is always the actor in this song. Mary finds joy in seeing God’s hand at work, even though it leads her down a difficult path, and even though Elizabeth’s path is happy! There is no jealousy among these cousins, but both find joy in their insight into the character of God.

The lesson for us today is that true joy is to be found not in circumstances, but in God. The more we look around at ourselves, others, the worldliness around us, the more joy we lose. But the more we shut that cacophony out and focus upward on the Lord Himself, the more we find joy. The retail hubbub of the Christmas season has it wrong: joy is not to be found in money and stuff and status and self-indulgence and consumption. Nor is joy to be found in getting our problems solved. Elizabeth praises God for solving her problems; Mary’s problems are just beginning. Joy is to be found only one place: the face of our Lord, Mary’s Lord, Elizabeth’s Lord – Jesus Christ. And no one can have the Joy of the Lord without that crucial step which both Mary and Elizabeth model: willing submission to our loving and Living God. From Mary’s joyful submission, by an act of the Holy Spirit, came Christ into the world. From our joyful submission to the same God, by the act of the same Spirit, Christ can come into our worlds and bring joy, no matter what might be our circumstances.