Teaching Series
Christmas Presence
Wednesday—Planning the Presence

Series: Christmas Presence
Message: Planning the Presence
Preacher: Jenniffer Ogden
Reflection: J. Murdock
Live Wonder: Zan Long
Live Adventure: Zan Long
Live Beyond: Vanessa Alarcon
Live Purpose: Don Pate
Editor: Becky De Oliveira

Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.

Read: Luke 1:6-25 in the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). Note 1–3 insights or questions. 

Reflect: When I first began attending church as a teenager, I found there was all this unstructured time. Before the service begins, music plays in the background but there is nothing going on up on the platform. Depending on what time our family arrived, there could be as much as twenty minutes spent seated on a pew, facing an empty stage with nothing to observe. I began to fall into a dedicated routine that primarily consisted of mentally walking through (step by step) what I would do if a grenade suddenly hurdled into the Sanctuary from outside and landed in the aisle. 

Probably not the sentence you were expecting to read.

But I would be comfortable saying that not everyone reading this post is entirely unfamiliar with an exercise like this. You may be like me in your own way as you go about your day attempting to pinpoint where in your schedule there will appear a catastrophic hiccup that will derail your mission to conquer your day planner. Behind the wheel, this method of checks and balances is called “defensive driving.” In the world of psychology, people who think this way receive the unflattering label of “control freak.”

A control freak is someone who meticulously obsesses over details so as to flesh out any opportunities for wayward tangents to get in the way of a well-developed plan. Beyond the responsibilities of adulthood and the management of time and expectations, the desire to map out the minutiae to the very minute and second of every step of the itinerary shows more about the planner than it does the plan. At the stem of most control freaks is a simple yet permeating seed of fear fueling the need to stay on task. This fear keeps the focus on the task at hand and causes the controller to stave off all input that might suggest otherwise. 

In Luke 1, Zechariah and his encounter with the angel of the Lord causes him to divulge his own fears and reveals the control freak in him. In Verses 13-17, Gabriel plots the points between this day and the foreseeable future as it pertains to the son Zechariah has just been told he will have. The plan is simple and straightforward in that Zecharias only has to be made aware of what the Lord has in store for his family. Look closely at the messenger’s instruction in these verses. If there is one piece of the puzzle that Zechariah is responsible for, it’s to name the kid “John.” But even that isn’t a choice inasmuch as it is an order! This one task is literally all that is required of this first time dad-to-be, and still Zechariah can’t help but insert himself into the narrative. 

Zechariah asks, seemingly still in shock and while still crunching the numbers on what this new baby will cost, how in the world he’s supposed to train this kid to fulfill all of these requirements, and at what point the angel will notice that he is way too old to carry the responsibility of raising a child. So in protest, he questions the Lord, asking Him to clarify how any of this is possible. And in response, the angel, under orders from God, does what any graceful and loving God would do to a poor, scared, control freak disturbed by the sudden ejection from the projected plan of action—he silences the protests indefinitely. 

There is a fine line between control and Christianity. On the one side is the free will to choose to love God. On the other side is a God who has a plan for this world that is mostly outside of your control. Both begin the same way—by submitting to the One who knows the Way and desiring to follow Him before all else. Be warned if you do make such a claim, because at some point in your life God will come calling, and you won’t get to control when and where that might happen. 

Recalibrate: When would be a good time for God to interrupt your plan in order to implement His plan in your life? Are you prepared to step aside when He does arrive so He can manage your next move? How comfortable are you knowing that the answer to either of the first two questions relate very little to the plan God may have for your life once you dedicate yourself to Him?

Respond: Pray that God’s will be done in your life today in a way that you aren’t expecting as you place your trust in Him, knowing that His will for your life will always be greater than your own.

Research: Read Something Better Than Control.

Remember: “Then the angel said, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand beside God Himself. He has sent me to announce to you this good news’” (Luke 1:9, ICB).

J. Murdock is associate pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado, where he focuses on youth and young adult ministry.

Plan something special with your little one. At this time of year there are lots of special things happening—photos with Santa, Thanksgiving celebrations, or just going out for a special afternoon tea. Talk about how you will get ready to go. Do we need to go to bed earlier the night before? Do we need special clothes to wear, do we need to invite someone to come with us. Do we need to save up so we can go where we are planning to. Let’s get ready while we are waiting for the special thing to come along, being thankful all the time for all that we already have.

Yesterday we talked about lining up ready to race, waiting for the signal to go. Today we are going to talk about training. I want you to choose something you want to get good at. It might be running or riding your scooter or playing the piano. Whatever it is I want you to practice it. Practice how you start, how you stop, and everything in the middle, over and over again. God has something for you He wants you to get really good at. You don’t need a bike or running shoes or a piano. All you need to do is to love people like Jesus loves you. Learn to love—this is the best training you will ever do for the biggest race of your life.

So I recently found a YouTube series called Odd Man Out. There are six people in a box and one of those people is lying about their identity. For example, six people claim they are Taylor Swift fans. One of them secretly hates Taylor Swift but lies and tries to convince them that he/she doesn’t hate her. So they go in rounds, asking each other questions to find the liar but at the same they are trying to prove they are who they say are. As people get eliminated, you can see the confusion in the audience’s eyes. They want to know how to figure out who is the liar. It becomes this desperation of wanting to know what’s true and what’s not. I wonder if Zechariah was in a similar place. You hear an angel of God telling you something but don’t quite believe it. It led him to ask, “How shall I know this?” How could he know that he actually was going to have a son? Well, the fact that an angel approached him with the message gave it away, but it can be hard to have faith when our minds are not sure. How can you be sure to trust in God, even in doubt?

So old Zechariah heard the astounding news—God was going to keep His promise in their very day and he and his aged wife were finally going to get the baby they’d ached for as a sign of the approaching change. “God will prove His intentions by giving you a son, but not just any son. Your child, the one you’ve ached for through the decades, will be unique . . . which will be a blessing and a curse. He will bring about all that you’ve prayed for since the promise of Elijah back in Malachi hundreds of years ago, but he also will have a very, very hard life. Sorry, Zechariah, your child will not be normal. He will be more and that ‘more’ is going to be a very hard price to pay.”  “Really?” the old man replies. “Yes, or my name is not Gabriel. Now go out and begin to open this portal for all because that’s what your son is going to do. The Messiah’s on the way and your son will open the door for him. Now go! Go out that door and start telling everyone!” And when Zechariah stalled, the angel changed the rules, “OK, if you won’t tell everyone we’ll make it so you can’t tell anyone anything for a while. Deal with that!”  So the old man was rendered blemished by his muteness and he had to leave the temple and go home because no one with a blemish was allowed to serve in the house of the Lord. But Zechariah’s silence was not the end of the story.  The man is going to sing . . .

Zan Long is GRC director for faith development for ages 0-17. She lives in Sydney, Australia, and serves at her local church in nearby Kellyville.
Vanessa Alarcon is a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on addiction treatment in Denver, Colorado.  She also serves as the Faith Engagement Pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado.
Don Pate is “retired” in Tennessee after decades of teaching and pastoring but is still active in speaking and creating for the Kingdom.

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