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.

I Can’t . . . But I Know Who Will

In our Scripture writing group, we are working our way through Genesis, specifically the story of Joseph. You know the kid who was sold to slave traders by his brothers, then to a powerful man in Egypt whose wife accused him of attempted rape and he was thrown in prison. While there, he correctly interpreted two of his prison mates’ dreams. When Pharaoh had a dream of his own two years later one of the men suggested Joseph could interpret the dream. He was brought before the highest man in the land who insisted that the prisoner do the same for him. Joseph’s reply is resonating deep within my soul this morning. “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (Gen 41:16).

And that is the story of my life: “I cannot . . . but God will.”  I cannot save myself . . . but God will.  I cannot make a masterpiece out of the mess of my life . . . but God will. I cannot heal my broken heart . . . but God will. I cannot love others who have hurt me . . . but God will. I cannot speak wisdom and truth . . . but God will. I cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit . . . but God will. I cannot be strong in my weakness . . . but God will. I cannot be the wife, mother, grandmother, employee, friend, teacher, and writer that I was created to be . . . but God will.

I hear echoes of Jesus’ words in John 5:19: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself . . .” If Jesus can do nothing by Himself then I should not be ashamed that I can’t either.  It’s what made Jesus human – He had to rely on His Father – just like me.

In this culture where all of our focus is on me, myself, and I, it’s time we shift our attention from what we can’t do and start declaring what God can – and will – do. And of all the things that God will do, the one I count on the most is that God will be faithful. He knows that I am fallible, He knows that I get weary and my shoulders are not strong enough to carry all my burdens. In all the things that I cannot do, God will be faithful to do it. In me. Through me. Despite me. And He will do the same for you. You cannot do it, Beloved . . . but God will.

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.

The Display of His Splendor

I couldn’t understand why I was in such a difficult trial. I had committed no grave sin that warranted discipline. I was being obedient to what the Lord had called me to do. And unlike so many other seasons of suffering, I hadn’t caused this one. “What is up with this God? What am I missing?” Then, as He loves to do, the Spirit took me to the Word for a word.

I was in the gospel of John. Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples, like me, looked for someone to blame. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9:2). Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v. 3). Then the Lord healed the man. His eyes were opened and he could see.

When you read on in this account, the man’s healing drew a lot of attention. Many questioned the validity of the healing and the religious leaders pressed him for answers. They foolishly claimed that the healer was a sinner. The man proclaimed, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know.  One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see” (v. 25).

And that’s the point. People were talking about this miracle and about Jesus. The work of God was displayed in his life. From this account, I realized that I was not being punished or disciplined. I was being set up to display the glory of Christ Jesus, my Lord and Savior. And isn’t that the point of our lives – to be “A planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” (Is 61:3)? When I was younger my Mom always warned me about my behavior because “We don’t want people to talk.” Well, I’m sorry Mom, but you’re wrong about this one. We want people to talk. We want them to ask questions. We want His name repeated all over town because of what He has done in our lives. “Did you see what God did? She had the worst reputation in town and now she shares Jesus with other women on the streets.” Or “He was so sick, no one thought he would survive that, but look at him now – so healthy and strong and praising God.” Or my own testimony: “She was such a negative, bitter, unhappy person and now she overflows with Joy!” I don’t know your story or your particular struggles but I know the Author of it, and I know that He is writing His name all over your life. You, Beloved, are the story of God.

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.

Consider it All Joy (part 2)

Yesterday’s devotional started a conversation about God’s purposes in our suffering. We’re going to continue today in part two. I’ll post a link to part one in the comments.

Sometimes trials are a means of discipline in our lives – I know this one well.  The psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word” (Psalm 119:67).  Hebrews adds, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).  Trials that come as a consequence of our sinful and foolish behavior are meant to teach us valuable life lessons.  Or as my mother said, “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.”  If you can connect your trial to your actions, take that as a means of discipline and training. The writer of Hebrews also said that discipline identifies us as God’s true children. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (See Hebrews 12:5-10). Discipline means that God is being a good Father to you.

Our trials reveal God to the world.  When Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth, He said, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). When the Lord healed this man everyone knew it, and he became a living testimony to the power of God.  You and I are the canvas on which God paints His own portrait for the world to see.  Just as silver and gold show up most brilliantly against a dark backdrop, the power and glory of God are on vivid display in our trials.  Our difficulties become the means by which God shows up and shows off.

Beloved, I don’t know what trial you are facing today, but I know that God has brought you to it for a good purpose.  He is at work in your life, stretching your faith, moving you into His will, preparing you to minister to someone else, teaching you discipline, and making your life a display of His glory.  Every trial is an opportunity for you and me to draw closer to our Father, to walk by faith, and to point others to Him.  Yes, we can count it all Joy when trials come, because we know God has a purpose and a plan – and we will be the richer for it.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

Seeking Jesus

“Why are you here?” I asked my class asked one Sunday morning. After a minute someone said, “Because it’s Sunday morning and I’ve gone to church every Sunday for my whole life.” Another answered, “I am here for the fellowship of my church family.” Others chimed in: “I’m here because the Bible said ‘Forsake not the assembling of your selves together.’” “I am here to be fed in my spirit.”

I recalled this conversation while reading John 6. Jesus confronted the crowd that followed Him after He had fed more than five thousand people the day before (John 6:1-13). When they came looking for Him Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (v. 26).

Now verse 2 said that the people “saw” the miraculous signs He had performed.” So what did Jesus mean? Here’s where the Spirit stirred up the word nerd in me and said, “Saw?” The word used in verse 2 is to see as a spectator, to view with the eyes. But the word that John used in verse 26 means to discern clearly, to behold – to experience. It’s like the difference between watching a football game from the stands and playing it on the field. You can be a fan, but until you put the pads on and take the hits and cross the goalline with the ball in your hand you haven’t experienced the game. The crowd has seen with their eyes the miracles of Jesus – healing the sick and feeding the multitudes – but they did not understand what the signs were pointing to because they did not see them with their hearts. They were fans, but they hadn’t experienced Jesus.

The Lord said they were back because He fed their bellies and they expected more of the same, but if they had looked with faith – if they had experienced Him – they would know Him. They would follow Him because He is the very Son of God and the only means to eternal life.

You and I need to seek Christ for who He is, not just for what he can do for us – to know Him for the Joy of His presence, and not only for His presents. I can find nowhere in Scripture that God says, “I want You to know all I can do for you.” But I lost count after 200 times that I read “That you may know Me…” In knowing God, we discover what He can do, but if we are only seeking Him for what we can gain we have missed the whole point of the relationship.

Beloved, why are you seeking Jesus?

Hebrews: The Marriage Bed

Fair warning – this post is NOT politically or culturally correct. But it is biblically correct, so take your issues up with God.

This final chapter of Hebrews is a rapid-fire list of exhortations for the Hebrew church. The writer just states the facts without a lot of added commentary. Paul, James, and Peter did it too. As I’m studying this next passage, I think I figured out why. He is reminding them of something they already knew, something didn’t need explanation as much as it needed obedience. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb 13:4). In case you’re wondering – yeah, I’m gonna go there. But first . . .

Notice that the writer starts by saying, “Marriage should be honored . . .” By definition, that means marriage should be esteemed, regarded as precious, of great price, held especially dear – and that includes spouses.  The first thing God did after creating man and woman was to establish marriage. That puts it on par with the sun and the stars and human beings in importance.

But it’s also important because marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship to the Church (see Ephesians 5:23-33). When the marriage relationship is tainted–for any reason–it spoils that beautiful picture of divine and holy love. Yes, this largely condemns homosexual “marriage,” but when heterosexual marriages are invaded by divorce, unfaithfulness, distrust, dishonesty, abuse, bitterness, and selfishness they are no longer a reflection of Christ and the Church either. The world won’t take seriously the biblical basis of marriage until the church does. (And for the sake of accountability, I’ve been divorced too.)

The church that honors the Word of God will stand against homosexual “marriage” on biblical grounds, and rightly so. Homosexuality is a sin, but so is heterosexual adultery and pre-marital sex and lust in any form – including pornography – which the church is far more lenient about. (So is greed, gluttony, hatred, envy, unbelief, gossip, dishonesty, pride, and a whole host of issues to which the church turns a blind eye.)

I don’t like to offend anyone, but I won’t apologize for this post. It’s the truth from the Word of God. Truth offends those who are living under a lie — regardless of our national laws. But Jesus said when you know the truth you are set free (John 8:32). So, Beloved, stand firm in the truth about marriage – but first make sure your marriage is honoring truth.

Count Your Blessings

Even without my pint-sized sidekick, my life is very busy. I work four full-time days a week, I am a graduate student, I write these daily devotionals, and am trying to pull them together to publish. I teach two different Bible classes every week for which I study and write the lessons. Oh, and somewhere in there, I (sorta) clean my house and give my sweet, supportive hubby some attention. And occasionally I sleep. I say all that to say, unoccupied time is hard to come by. But it is something I sense God pressing on me lately. It came to me – as every good thought does – from His Word.

“Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: ‘Who am I, O Sovereign Lord . . . that you have brought me this far?’” (2 Samuel 7:18). Nathan the prophet had just reported God’s prophecy to the King: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (v. 16). David was awestruck. Once a shepherd boy, now a king with an everlasting throne. All he could do was sit before the Lord in worship and astonishment. So should we.

Have you ever stopped to consider all God has done for you? First, He gave you life and breath – that in itself is beyond comprehension (Gen 2:7). Then, despite your sin, He gave you grace that has drawn you to Him – you would not have sought Him out on your own (John 6:44). And wonder of wonders, He gave His One and Only Son who then gave His perfect life to redeem yours out of the pit of sin and death. That’s mercy (John 3:16).  Then He raised Him from the dead to give you eternal life (1 John 5:10-12). If you stopped right there that would be more than enough.

But think of all the ways He pours out His love and blessings on you. I think of my family and the Joy they bring. I have the most wonderful friends, a job I love, the opportunity to continue my education, a loving, caring church family, food on my table, a roof over my head, a soft bed to sleep on – oh, I could go on and on. And so could you. Beloved, come and sit before the Lord and ponder His goodness to you. “Count your many blessings; see what God has done.”