Christmas in Heaven’s Eyes

See the source image

I’ve often wondered about heaven’s reaction when Jesus was born on earth. What was the Father thinking? Were the angels rejoicing? Or were they silent with wonder? The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically, but I expect the Father looked on the scene with love for His Son now cradled in a young woman’s arms. And the angels? Some were tasked with delivering the good news in message and song. But I also believe there was wonder and astonishment and worship in haven.

Peter said, “Even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12). The word Peter used for “look” means “to bend over to look intently.” Can you picture it with me – tens of thousands of angels bending over the edge of heaven to gaze upon the Son of God in human flesh? The One who, with the Father and the Spirit, created the first human being had now become one of them. The omnipotent was now a helpless infant, subject to cold and hunger and pain. The One who provided all men with all things now needed a young woman to provide for Him. He who called the light forth now squinted His eyes at the brightness of Joseph’s lantern. He had spoken the animals into being; now they were His only companions at His birth.

No doubt they marveled at the sight before them, but they were in absolute awe pondering the purpose of it all. The context in which Peter used the word “look” means to have knowledge of. The Sovereign Lord God Almighty had sent His One and Only Son to pay the penalty for humanity’s sin. They had always known that God is complete love, they had experienced that love for themselves. But grace. Grace was something foreign to them. These earthly creatures had rejected and abandoned their Creator; they deserved destruction. But God offered forgiveness and was willing to accept these rebellious humans. To the angels it was extraordinary – they recognized the greatness of God’s offer. But it is a gift only human beings can receive.

This Christmas Beloved, I pray you will consider with fresh eyes the gift of God’s favor.  In heaven – where all is wonderous, this thing called “grace” is truly a wonder. It is, in fact, the very heart of Christmas.

Christmas Wish List

See the source image

What Do You Want for Christmas? Jewelry? Clothes? Something for your house? (Maybe a Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred shot range model air rifle?) Or you just might prefer the one-size-fits-all cash gift.  Sometimes our wishes are pretty big – my son wanted a LEGO® Star Wars Death Star (retail 499.99) – needless to say, he did not get it.  Some of us are satisfied with a bit less.  When I was a little girl, I just wanted paper and pencils – guess I’ve always been a writer at heart. Maybe your Christmas list is less tangible – something that can’t be wrapped up and put under the tree.  If you wrote it out it might say “peace” or “joy” or “hope” or “love.” Maybe your list includes “acceptance” or “freedom” or “rest.” 

To the one who asks for peace, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).  For the one who has lost their joy David wrote, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence” (Psalm 16:11).  If you need hope this Christmas, hear God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Do you wish for love? “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).  This same verse fills your desire for acceptance – God calls Himself your Father and He accepts you as His child.  If freedom tops your list you can find release – the Psalmist says “O Lord, truly I am your servant . . . You have freed me from my chains” (Psalm 116:16).  Maybe you just want a little rest this Christmas.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)

Whatever you long for this Christmas, you can find it in Jesus.  There is nothing on your list that He cannot provide. He is the greatest Gift and can fill your heart’s deepest longing.  No, this won’t be wrapped in paper and ribbons sitting under your tree.  You’ll find it wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

On God’s Side

See the source image

Like the rest of the world, this year has been rough for me. Sometimes life happens that way, one problem piled on top of another. The question now becomes, how will I react to it? I’ll be honest and say I haven’t always been the paragon of faith I hoped to be. At first, I got upset, even got angry, then I settled into a spirit of discouragement.  Of course, I prayed – sort of. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I whined. “God just look at this – what am I going to do? I can’t take this anymore!” And yes, I am the one who writes constantly about having faith and trusting God in our difficulties. Sometimes it’s had to take your own advice.

Recently, as I whined and cried to God, a verse come to mind (see that’s why we need to be students of the Bible). 2 Chronicles 20:12: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” Immediately the question came to my heart, “Child, where are your eyes?” My eyes have been on me, on my problems, on my fears, and what I have to do to fix the situation. They certainly haven’t been on God. All through the Bible, when difficult times came to God’s people, the difference between victory and defeat came down to whether the people were looking at their enemy or their God. David is the perfect example. Goliath was harassing the army of Israel, “When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear” (1 Sam 24). When David saw him, the shepherd-boy advanced with his sling and five stone and declared, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty!” (v. 45). The others saw the giant and ran away from him. David kept his eyes on God and ran with the Lord.  Who do you think won that battle?

Looking back at 2 Chronicles 20, the Lord’s answer to Jehoshaphat’s prayer comes in verse 20—“have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld.” Beloved our only hope in these difficult days – whatever they may be – is to turn our eyes from the things that worry us and turn them to God who cares for and is able to help us. God’s never lost a fight. You’re on the side of victory.

Thankful People

The Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant, the one element of the Tabernacle that was God’s special dwelling place. David set out to bring the Ark home, and the people and their king were ecstatic with joy and gratitude. They celebrated with sacrifices and offerings to the LORD and joyful thanks. 1 Chronicles 16:41 says, “With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and designated by name to give thanks to the LORD, ‘for His love endures forever.’” Did you catch that these priests were “chosen…to give thanks to the LORD”? Their sole responsibility was to lead the Israelites in songs and expressions of gratitude to the LORD who was again dwelling among His people.

You and I are chosen by God to be His royal priests. We are chosen to give thanks. We have been given the special calling of leading our families, churches, communities, and nation in gratitude to the God who created us, sustains us, provides for us, and, most importantly of all, saved and redeemed us and made us His dwelling place through His Holy Spirit. You and I are God’s priests , chosen to led the way in thanksgiving. Yes, even in 2020. Especially in 2020. As long as there’s breath in your body Beloved, you have a reason to give thanks.

God, I Have a Question . . .

See the source image

Doubt and unbelief are part of human nature in the presence of the supernatural. In reading the Gospel accounts of the resurrection I discovered a lot of unbelief. Matthew 28:17 says that, when Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples, “they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted.” The word used here comes from a root that means to take a second look. Luke gives us better insight into their doubts. He reports that when they saw the resurrected Lord, “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement” (Luke 24:41). They were overcome with the unexplainable truth standing before them: Jesus, who was dead just days ago, was alive!

Sometimes our doubts and questions can be a powerful tool of spiritual growth if we allow them to make us look again, look deeper, and look for truth. I know that has been the case many times in my life. When I have had questions, and I took them to the Scriptures and to the Lord, I came away with answers that were solid and sure. I nailed down some important points of my faith.

Beloved, if you have questions, if you have doubts, take them honestly to God and ask Him to show you the answers. Dig deeply into the truth of the Word and seek wisdom from the Holy Spirit. The Lord says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). God is not offended by your questions. He wants you to seek the truth. He wants you to seek Him. He promises: “I will be found by you” (v. 14). That’s a promise worth searching out.

Heroes of the Faith

See the source image

The Bible gives us so many people to admire and try to emulate.  I have a few favorites:

God called me to ministry through Ezra.  A scribe and teacher whom God blessed and used powerfully, “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). He has inspired me to devote my life to study the Word, live the Word, and teach the Word.

I love Daniel because he stood firm for the Lord in the face of pressure and oppression.

I love Habakkuk who, despite having bare fields and empty stalls, chose to be “joyful in God my Savior” (Hab. 3:18). He speaks to my heart in this season.

Like many, I love Peter because his rash, impulsive nature means that God can use even a goof-ball like me.

Several women have touched my heart deeply:

I love Ruth for her sweet, humble manner with her bitter mother-in-law. Ruth loved Noami and was willing to work hard to care for her. Her life speaks volumes to me right now.

Dorcas is another one of my heroes, for obvious reasons – we share a name –  but also because Dorcas was a woman who “was full of good works which she did” (Acts 9:36). She inspires me to get up off of my intentions and put them into fruitful action.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, who received Gabriel’s astonishing message with a humble, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

Anna – the first to proclaim the coming of God’s redemption (Luke 2:36-18).

Mary of Bethany – who chose sitting at Jesus’ feet over duty (Luke 10:38-42) – then anointed His feet for burial (John 12:3).

Lydia – the first European convert to Christianity (Acts 16:13-15).

Priscilla – along with her husband Aquila, mentored the young preacher Apollos in the faith (Acts 18:24-26).

Phoebe – a fruitful servant alongside Paul, and a deacon in the early church (Rom. 16: 1-2).

And the woman I admire the most: Mary Magdalene who was the first to see the resurrected Jesus and the first evangelist who proclaimed that the Lord had risen from the dead. A woman who preached the resurrection.

They are all part of that “great cloud of witnesses” who are cheering me – and you – on to perseverance and faithfulness. Beloved, who are your heroes of the faith?

But I Like My Sin

“I know the Bible says this desire is wrong, but why do I have to give it up?  Doesn’t God want me to be happy?”  Yes. And no. Happy in God’s vocabulary isn’t the same as our 21st-century “it’s all about me” understanding. In the Bible, the word “happy” is interchangeable with the word “blessed.” Happiness is a blessing from God. It is not something you can attain from circumstances, pleasures, or emotions. And especially not from sin.

In the last half-century, the church has flung the doors wide open and said, “You don’t have to give up anything – just come sing a few songs and sip some coffee and God will make you happy.” That is nothing less than an outright lie. Before you throw your Bible at me – yes, God accepts us as we are, but His purpose in accepting us is to conform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).  One who has no love for sin. A more conservative answer is, “You don’t have to give up your sinful desire, just don’t act on it.” It is an attempt to live in the tension between the holiness of God and your flesh. Two things will happen:  you will withhold the most important part of yourself – your heart – from God, and you will eventually give up the pretense.

Here’s the deal, God isn’t after your cooperation, He’s after the desire of your heart.  I Chronicles 28:9 says, “The Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.”  He knows when your outward obedience masks a heart that still yearns for sin. Friend, the reason you and I fall back into sin over and over again is that we hold on to those fleshly, sinful, evil urges and don’t make Him the complete desire of our heart  That’s what the Bible calls “cherishing sin (Psalm 66:18).  It’s also called a divided heart.  And you can’t survive with less than a whole heart – physically or spiritually. Believe me when I tell you God is stomping all over my toes right now.

Beloved, you may think the sin you desire so much will make you happy, but that’s a lie. When God is your heart’s greatest desire sin cannot compare. When your heart delights in Him He will bless you. That’s true happiness.  

God Bless America

See the source image

For weeks leading up to the election, I prayed. I didn’t pray for President Trump to win. I didn’t pray for Biden to win. I prayed for God’s will to be done in America. Days after the voting ended we still don’t know whom the President of the United States is going to be in January 2021. To the consternation of the majority of Christians, it appears that Biden will take this election. I have heard the theories of stolen votes and impropriety by the Democratic Party. I’ve also seen and heard all the hand-wringing about the destruction of religious liberty under a Biden/Harris (or Harris/???) administration. That is a very real possibility. Why would God allow that to happen? Because it may very well be the best thing for His Church.

Acts tells the story of the birth and growth of Jesus’ Church. It wasn’t smooth sailing for the first-century Christians. Acts 7:54-60 tells the story of the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith. Immediately afterward, “A great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1).  God’s faithful people were running for their lives. Again, we ask, why would He allow that to happen? Because “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). It was the persecution of the church that allowed the Christian faith to spread across the world.

What is God’s will? Is it the preservation of the United States of America? Or the preservation of His people, the Church? Around the world and throughout human history, the church has experienced the most growth – not just numbers, but growth in faith and strength – where she is being persecuted. Where the church was accepted and approved, the numbers may have increased, but the quality of faith suffered. Nothing spells the downfall of Christianity more than popular acceptance. This nation was founded largely by Christian men on Judeo-Christian values. But this nation is not a Christian nation and has not been for a very long time. Church membership was expected for generations, and like the church under Constantine, the moral value diminished greatly. I believe with all my heart that the church will undergo persecution in the coming days. And it will be a purifying fire. Those whose hearts are not devoted to the Lord will flee to save their skins. Those who remain will be the unshakable core that God will preserve and strengthen. Church buildings may be shuttered, but the Church will be healthier than ever. Beloved, do not fear what is to come. God is at work, and His work never fails.

Obedience = Love

The class I’m taking this semester is a study of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.  This week we’re in Leviticus, the book where New Year’s Resolutions go to die. I know – this book is so antiquated – so many strange rules, weird diseases, and issues that rub against the grain of our culture. But it is also completely applicable to the 21st Century if we will take the time to study it and think.

As I sat down to read this week’s assigned chapters, right off the bat, God spoke a timeless word to me.  The Lord said to the Israelites “When any of you bring an offering to the Lord . . .” (Lev. 1:2). Can you guess what jumped out at me – what word is as relevant today as it was then?  “When.” Notice that God didn’t say, “If you bring an offering to the Lord” – He said, “When.” What did that mean for Israel, and what does that mean for you and me? Simply that God expects obedience. He didn’t offer a suggestion they can accept or decline. The sovereign Lord gave a command. The Israelites were obligated to obey.

That chafes against our modern sensibilities and our independent, autonomous attitudes. We stand proudly and say, “I’ll do what I want to do.” “I make my own decisions.” No one has the right to make any demands on me. And when it comes to “religion” – we “pick-and-choose” from the Bible what we feel comfortable with and then put our own spin on it. “This is what I think this verse says and that’s what I intend to follow.” How else could the church applaud and celebrate what God so clearly condemned? 

What was true for Israel is true for the church and believers today. God expects obedience. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Obedience is the fruit – the evidence – of our love for Him. Beloved, what had God been calling you to do? That can be a big as a call to ministry or as small as pulling weeds for your elderly neighbor. Are you regarding it as a choice you can take or leave – or as the Word of God that you will commit to obey? Obedience = love. Do you love God?

When There’s No Way Out

“Lord, I just don’t know what to do.”

“This is a no-win situation.”

“I don’t see any way out of this chaos God.”

Ever said anything like that?  I know I have, and quite recently too. Life has a way of pushing us into overwhelming situations. We look to the left and there is no escape. A glance to the right shows no way out. What can you and I do in times like these?

I have a verse (you knew I did, didn’t you) that I turn to when there’s no visible solution.  It is in 2 Chronicles 20 and it comes amid fierce and frightening warfare.  The report comes to King Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you. . . .” (v. 2). Jehoshaphat didn’t rally his own army in response – he did something wiser: “Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord” (v. 3), and he called the people to fast.  Then he stood before God at the temple and prayed. He reminded himself and all the people that God was their ruler with “power and might in [His] hand” (v. 5-6) and that He had promised to protect and defend them. He presented the situation to God: we are under attack and are powerless against our enemy. Then Jehoshaphat made a declaration that I have turned to again and again and again:

“O our God, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You” (v. 12).

That’s the answer: put it out before Him and keep your eyes on the Lord. Oh, I know that sounds simple, but it’s so hard to do when chaos reigns and we face impossible situations. But it’s the best advice you’ll ever hear.  It’s where I am right now. I can either drive myself crazy with worry and frustration, or I can keep my eyes on the Lord and watch for Him to work on my behalf. He sure came through for the people of Judah. The prophet told the king, “The battle is not yours, but God’s” (v. 15). And God wiped out the enemy as the people sang and praised Him. They never had to lift a sword.

That’s the God I need over my impossible situation.

Do you have a hard thing with no way out, Beloved? Tell God about it, then keep your eyes on Him and you will witness the power and might of the Lord.