Advent 2022: Christmas Light

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

My granddaughter loves Christmas lights. Anytime we drive at night, even in the middle of summer, she is on the lookout for them. We tell her that the Christmas lights are not out yet but she always says, “Maybe we’ll see some.” I love that Joy is always searching for light in the darkness.

When I was a kid we visited a park with beautiful caverns. In one deep, dark cave the park guide turned out all the artificial lights and the room was plunged into total darkness.  For a moment I was overcome by a sense of despair and fear.  In that pitch-blackness, I lost all orientation. I had no idea where the exit was, or where anyone else was.  If my friend had not grabbed my hand, I would have thought I was completely alone – that I had been abandoned.  Then the guide lit one small match.  All eyes were drawn to the light. With that single flickering flame, the darkness was overcome. Darkness is nothing more than the absence of light – but where there is even the smallest light, darkness has lost its power.

Adam and Eve plunged this world into sin and we are disoriented in spiritual darkness.  It is the kind of darkness that makes you feel completely alone and abandoned. Oh, the world offers a distorted light that is all glitz and glitter and flash. But it’s not the kind of light that helps you find your way.  Yet we are not to despair. God had a plan from before the creation of the world – before He called forth the light (Gen 1:3). He sent His One and Only Son to be “the Light of the world” (John 8:12).  His light overcame sin and evil and death. His light has the power to overcome the darkness and despair of living in this sin-sick, evil world with all its struggles and heartaches, and pain. He is “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9).

Paul wrote, “God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).  This Advent season, as you enjoy the lights of Christmas, let the light of the Christ Child come in and dispel the darkness.  Beloved, come live in the Light of Jesus Christ.

Advent 2022: The King is Coming

Joy to the world!

The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room

And heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n and nature sing,

And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.[1]

“Joy to the World” is one of our most beloved Christmas songs, but it isn’t about Christmas at all.  Isaac Watts originally penned these words in anticipation of the return of Jesus.  Notice that verse 1 above calls Him the King, if you read the full hymn, you will see that verse 2 celebrates His reign, verse 3 tells of the end of the curse and verse 4 proclaims Him as the righteous Ruler of the world.

In Jacob’s blessings over his sons (Gen 49), he said of Judah, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is His” (v. 10). Jacob was declaring the coming of the Eternal King – Jesus. He is the one to whom the royal scepter belongs and all the kingdoms of the earth will bow at His feet.

We love the Baby in the manger; He is the embodiment of God’s holy love for mankind and the fulfillment of His promise to free us from bondage to sin.  But we must let Jesus grow out of the swaddling clothes and into the crown of thorns to understand the full impact of Christmas on the world.  We must see Him as the risen Lord standing in the Garden and look to the skies as He ascends back to heaven to grasp the fullness of His promised resurrection.

And we must see Him as the coming King in Watts’ song.  Zechariah 14:4-9 describes His glorious return: “On that day, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west” (v. 4).   The world missed His first advent, but there will be no missing His second.  “Every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7).  Christmas brings us Joy as we remember Jesus’ birth, but the greatest rejoicing will come when the King of kings returns to earth.

Jesus promises “Behold, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:7).  And so we say with the Bride and the Spirit: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (v.20).

[1] Words: Isaac Watts, 1674-1748; Music: George Frederick Handel, 1658-1759; Arr.: Lowell Mason, 1792-1872

Advent 2022 – Blessed are You Among Women

Image: “Jump for Joy” by Corby Eisbacher corbysart.blogspot.com

Advent day 2 – Read Luke 1:39-45

“Did that really happen? It must have been a dream. I have been so anxious over all the preparations Joseph and I are making – it must have caused me to have this strange dream.”  Mary was traveling through the hill country of Judea on her way to visit her dear relative, Elizabeth.  The angel had also said something strange about her cousin – that she was going to have a child – in fact – he said she was in her sixth month. Elizabeth – of all people. She and Zechariah were too old to have a baby. Yes, this had to have just been a dream.

But what if it wasn’t?

Could she really be with child – with THE child – the Messiah?  Why would he have chosen her? She was nothing special, wouldn’t God have chosen the wife of the high priest for such an honor?  Someone in a high position in the temple, someone more mature, more wealthy, more righteous. No.  She shook her head as if to shake loose the crazy idea.  This was just not possible.  She saw the familiar house and spied her relative in the doorway with her back turned toward the road. “Elizabeth!” Mary called out and gasped as the older woman turned to face her.  The smile on her face was warm and welcoming, but the bulge under her dress was a shock to Mary’s heart.  It was true!  Elizabeth was pregnant!  If that were true – then . . .

“Mary! Dear Mary!” Elizabeth exclaimed, and then as if from deep within her spirit she began to speak. “Bless are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:42-44).

Oh, it was true! It was all true!  Elizabeth was pregnant. That meant she really was pregnant too – with the Messiah!

Then, as if reading the thoughts the younger woman had carried with her along the journey, Elizabeth took Mary’s hands in her own and said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (v. 45).

Beloved, believing is the sweetest blessing of all.

Advent 2022 – Gabriel’s Announcement

“The Annunciation” by Leonardo da Vinci

Day 1: Read Luke 1:26-38

She stood in the dim light of the early morning with her hand over her belly and her heart full of awe and wonder at the life growing within her.  It was all so surreal.  She tried to remember every detail but it was so wonderful and frightening at the same time.  She had heard a rustling beside her and turned to see a man – but not a man – an angel?  Yes, it was an angel; he said his name was Gabriel and he called her “highly favored,” but surely he meant someone else.  She was a peasant girl from the nothing town of Nazareth.  Her highest goal was to marry Joseph and have a family.  She pulled her cloak tighter around her and noticed that she was trembling  – fear mixed with excitement ran like shockwaves through her small frame. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:30).  Mary pointed out that she was a virgin, wondering – not if – but how this would happen.  He spoke of the Holy Spirit, an overshadowing, and the impossible becoming a reality.  Then the angel said the most remarkable thing – that this child would “be called the Son of God” (v. 35).  Oh my!  Did he mean that she – Mary of Nazareth – would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah? It was every Jewish girl’s dream. 

In the stillness of the morning, the angel’s announcement still rang in her ears.  She repeated aloud the words she said to him that day as if reassuring herself and reaffirming her willingness, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).

Mary’s quiet, well-planned life was suddenly interrupted by God.  She was put in a most scandalous situation, one that could have cost her her beloved Joseph, and possibly even her life. It was an inconvenience, to say the least. Yet she humbly surrendered herself to the will of God and embraced an unknown future with awe and wonder and faith. Beloved, has God interrupted your life with something unexpected – something inconvenient, perhaps even shocking?   It may be a person, a diagnosis, a major change, or a great sorrow.  How will you respond? With fear and anxiety? Or with faith and humble surrender?  Are you willing to be the Lord’s servant?

You Can Say It Now, or Say It Later: Jesus Is Lord

“I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Mark 1:24

Do you know (without looking it up) who spoke those words? No, it wasn’t Peter or John. Not the wise and righteous spiritual leaders of Israel. It wasn’t even one of the angels. Those words were spoken by a man possessed by an evil spirit, a demon of hell. Someone who certainly had no affection for Jesus, but recognized His divine nature as God in human flesh.

The world is filled with people who refuse to acknowledge Jesus for who He is. They may regard Him as nothing more than a great teacher or prophet. Many consider Him an extraordinary humanitarian. And more than a few claim He is a charlatan who has deceived people for more than two thousand years. Some dismiss Him altogether as a man-made hoax designed to ‘fleece the sheep.”

In my undergrad studies, I had to interview several non-believers and I asked them to just speak three words: “Jesus is Lord” and every one of them refused. One said he “couldn’t” say it, the words wouldn’t form in his mouth. How can two people know of Jesus and one believe and one not? Because “the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Heb 4:2). Demons don’t have faith and neither do people who hear the gospel and walk away from it. But one day they will see what they refused to see in this life.

Paul declared in Philippians 2:10-11 that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The evil spirit in our key verse is proof of Paul’s words. The day will come – very soon I believe – when every human from Adam to the last man standing will kneel and profess Jesus as Lord – the Son of God – the Holy One. It will be an involuntary response to His holiness and majesty. Just as the demon declared it, the words will fall from every person’s lips as all of mankind acknowledges Him. For those who believe today, it will be a shout of celebration. But for those who spurned the Son of God during their lifetime, that confession will be made with deep anguish and terror as they realize that in rejecting Jesus Christ they rejected their only hope for salvation.

You and I have a choice to make today that will determine how we respond in that glorious moment. We can reject Jesus now and make that confession by force, or bow our knees and our hearts and acknowledge Jesus as Lord today, so that great confession will be spoken with Joy. Don’t wait to proclaim the Name of Jesus, Beloved – He is Lord!

Hebrews: Home

My husband, son, and I lived in Florida for almost twenty years. We had jobs, bought a house, became involved in a church, made very dear friends, and my son’s entire school life was in Florida. But – no offense to Floridians in the least – we never felt like we were home. I’m an Alabama girl. Red clay runs through my veins and cotton is my favorite flower. Home is where your heart is, and my heart is in Alabama. To quote that great bespectacled poet, John Denver, “Hey, it’s good to be back home again.”

The writer of Hebrews would understand. He said, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Heb 13:14). We’re looking for a home that will last. We won’t find it here in this world. Not even in Alabama. But that’s by God’s design because we weren’t made for this world. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). “Gentleman” Jim Reeves sang, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.” We are pilgrims here on our way to our heavenly home.

Jesus is at work today, preparing a home for all who will believe and trust in Him.  He made this promise in John 14:2-3: “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you, [and] I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  Jesus is fixing up your room in His Father’s house.  With just the right colors and furnishings, everything will be perfect for you when you arrive.  I hope he hangs His portrait on the wall.  But then again, we won’t need pictures, we will see Him face to face, in all of His glory.  Imagine, all of the great men and women of the Bible, the martyrs, missionaries, servants, those who preached to great audiences of people, and those who lovingly wiped feverish brows in the name of Jesus all together in the great halls of God’s house.  And oh, what wonderful reunions with those who made it home before us!  My mom, dad, and big brother will be there, and dear and precious friends that I miss so much.  We will all share in the joy of God’s house, for Jesus has been working all this time to make everything ready.  No wonder He “apprenticed” as a carpenter for thirty years here on earth. Is this your forever home? Do you know the Carpenter from Nazareth? What do you imagine your place will look like in heaven? Beloved, keep moving toward heaven. When you get Home you can take your boots off and rest. Forever.

Sin No More

When I read the Gospels, I marvel at Jesus’ patience and understanding with sinful people. No, He was not (is not) gentle with sin – He called it out for what it was. He didn’t excuse it or call it a disease or disorder. He didn’t accept it or tolerate it or celebrate it. Sin was and is appalling. It needs to be confronted – and Jesus did. Yet even while correcting sin, was always gracious to those lost souls caught in the devil’s snare. “He had compassion on them because He saw that they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:6).

While walking through Jerusalem one day, Jesus passed by a pool that was believed to have healing properties when the waters were stirred by “an angel.” A helpless invalid had laid by the side of the pool for thirty-eight years, waiting and hoping for his chance to slip into the waters at just the right moment. But he was alone and never managed to get there. Along came Jesus who healed Him. At a later encounter, Jesus told the man, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:1-14). He healed first, then corrected. We need to take notes.

On another occasion, Jesus was teaching in the temple and the religious leaders brought to him a woman caught in adultery. But just the woman – isn’t that interesting? He defended her against her accusers – but he did not defend her actions. When Jesus confronted the men with their hypocrisy they left in shame.  After assuring her that He did not condemn her, Jesus told the woman, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11). I have no doubt that she did. Grace and correction always work hand in hand.

I often look up words to build a devotional and that is what I was doing as I was developing a different point when God turned this in a whole other direction. When I looked up “sin no more” I found these two stories – and something else. Those same words appear again in the Scriptures when the writer of Hebrews talked about the new covenant in Christ. The Lord said, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Heb 8:12). No more. No more guilt. No more shame. No more condemnation. Because all your sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus. The affair. The abortion. The sexual immorality. The lies. That sin you don’t want to remember? You won’t have to Beloved, because in Christ your sins are “no more.”

Hebrews: Outside the Camp

“We’re New Testament Christians, why are we studying the Old Testament? This stuff doesn’t apply to us anymore.” “One reason,” I answered “is because the New Testament writers used it quite a bit in their books and letters.  If we want to understand what they were saying, we need to understand their references.” That’s what we’re going to do in today’s passage.

“The high priest carried the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp” (Heb 13:11). It was Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish year. The day when the sins of the nation were atoned for. It was a day for fasting and prayer and confession. It was the day that the slate was wiped clean and the people were declared righteous – at least until they sinned again.  The high priest took the blood of the slaughtered animal into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle/Temple as a sin offering and sprinkled it on the mercy seat of the Lord. The carcass of the animal would be carried outside of the camp/city to be burned because it represented the sin of the people. Sin must not be allowed to remain among God’s holy nation.

The writer makes the new covenant connection in verse 12: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.” Jesus was the sacrificial animal. Jesus’ blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Lord. And Jesus was crucified and buried outside of the city of Jerusalem because He bore the sin of all humanity. And by His blood, those who believe and receive His atonement are made holy.

An interesting aside here is that the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and had Him crucified at Golgotha because of His radical message. But by putting Him outside of the city proper they were unknowingly confirming that He was indeed the sacrifice for the sins of the people. Because his original audience was believing Jews, the writer urged them to “go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore,” symbolically rejecting the old ways of Judaism (v. 13).

As believers in Christ, you and I will often have to “go outside the camp” of popular opinion and cultural relevance, even within the church, to live in holiness. But we’re in good company. We’re out there with Jesus. Remember what He said: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

Oh, and there’s one more reason why we need to study the Old Testament, even as New Testament Christians – because Jesus is all over it and all in it. It’s worth digging into the early texts to know Him better. All of history, including the entire Bible, is His story. It’s the greatest story ever told.

Hebrews: In Remembrance of Me

I hated lunchtime in the school cafeteria. Every day I walked around with my lunch tray looking for somewhere to sit. Classmates would quickly throw their purses and books in all the empty seats at their table – the non-verbal way of saying “We don’t want you.” I eventually found my way to an empty table and ate my meal alone. Now, as an adult, I usually gravitate to an empty table out of habit.

This all came to mind because of the verse we’re focusing on in Hebrews: “We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat” (Heb 13:10). Remember, the author’s audience is believing Jews that are being pulled back into their traditions and away from Christ. The brazen altar in the tabernacle was where blood sacrifices were made. The priests were allowed a portion of the meat from which the blood was taken as their meal portion (Lev 6:26, 29, 7:28-38; Deut 18:3-5; Num 18:10-20). But it could only be eaten by the priests and the males in his family. No one else was welcome at that table.

But Christians have an altar and a portion that no one else can share – not even the tabernacle priests. The altar is Jesus Christ Himself, and the meal is His flesh and His blood – the portion He gave to His disciples in the upper room before His death (Matt 26: 26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-21). The portion He commended to us who believe in Him. We observe this as a sacrament we call  Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist.

I was privileged to serve communion one Sunday, and as I repeated the phrase “The Body of Christ, broken for you,” to each partaker it became a very profound and special thing to me.  As I passed the bread to each person in the line I realized that Christ’s body was broken for every single person – even those who don’t believe and haven’t received Him. I thought about the juice and the bread that would be left over after the service.  It would just be discarded – like grace poured down the drain.  It made me sad that the devil has blinded the world to this amazing gift of Jesus’ blood and body. After the service, I realized I had flour all over my clothes from the bread I had served.  I had the visible witness of the gospel all over me!

You and I carry the gospel with us wherever we go. Let’s make it clear and bold and winsome. Let’s bring as many to the table as we can. Beloved, your life is the best testimony to the world of the grace of God.

Hebrews: “Strange Teachings”

Was Jesus some kind of space alien? Is there really power in sacred underwear? Check out my latest devotional in the series: "Hebrews: Strange Teachings" at Deeper Roots.

If ever there was a word for the church today, I believe this is it: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (Heb 13:9). The writer was referring specifically to dietary regulations to which the Jews strictly held. “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Col 2:21). Paul had adamantly preached that “Food does not bring us near to God” (1 Cor 8:8).  Nor did food make them unclean before God. Our writer went on to say, “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them” v. 9). Jewish believers were torn between trusting in their ability to obey all the rules and trusting in the grace of God through Jesus Christ. That’s so foreign to us in the twenty-first century in the west.

But boy, do we have some weird stuff of our own in the world today – and sadly in the church too. Google “strange religious teachings” and you’ll see all sorts of things from snake handling to sacred underwear that protects believers from spiritual contamination, fire and speeding bullets. You’ll see the prosperity gospel, the humanitarian gospel, the social gospel, the gay gospel, and the feminist gospel – none of which resemble the true gospel at all. You’ll find Bibles that are gender-neutral and exclude certain portions of clear truth so as not to offend. There are so many different religions in the world, it’s impossible to keep up. And so many blatantly unbiblical teachings expressed on social media, published in “Christian” books and “Bible” study resources, and even preached from pulpits.

Is there any doubt that we are the generation of which Paul spoke when He warned Timothy, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).  The church today resembles what he called: “infants tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14). That is why way back in chapter 6 he said, “Let us leave the elementary teaching about Christ and go on to maturity” (v. 1) – which is a very nice way of saying “GROW UP!”

Strange teachings, whether about dietary regulations, Kabbalah, or sacred underwear, will always grab those who prefer to be spoon-fed. If all you know about the Scriptures is what you’re told, how can you know you’re being told the truth?  That’s why personal Bible study is like oxygen to a Christian. I love teaching you, Beloved, but I want you to dig into the Word for yourself. Then we can have some incredible conversations over a cup of coffee and the Words of Life we both love.