The Heavens told the Christmas Story

See the source image

“The heavens declare the glory of God . . .” Psalm 19:1.

When my son was very young, we would pull an old blanket out into the yard and lay down to watch the stars.  I tried to identify some of the constellations, but he was much too young to understand, and I was too far removed from high-school science to remember.  But it is a memory I cherish—stargazing with my boy. There were stargazers in the Bible too. Matthew said of the Magi: “When they saw the star they were overjoyed” Matthew 2:10.

Scholars believe that these were Persian astronomers who studied the stars for prophecies, premonitions, and promises.  How did they know about a Jewish prophecy so far removed from Palestine?  Remember Daniel – you know, the guy from the lion’s den?   When the Jewish exiles left Babylon after seventy years of captivity, Daniel opted to stay as did many other Jews who had put down roots in the area.  Daniel knew the Hebrew Scriptures well and likely shared the ancient prophecies of a coming King who would rescue His people.  These were handed down through the generations to the time of Jesus’ birth.  When the star appeared and the astronomers put all the pieces together, they realized something very special had happed in Judea.

For the past fifteen years, I have been a student of the descriptive names of God in Scripture. One of my most names of the Lord is El Emunah—the Faithful God—because it reveals Him as the God who keeps His promises.  The Magi were overjoyed when they saw the star because they understood that the ancient prophecy of a new King of the Jews had been fulfilled.  God had kept His promise to send His people a Messiah.

The same God who was faithful to the Jews has promised His faithfulness to you.  He has promised to redeem you and restore your life.  He has promised to walk with you and guide you every day.  He has promised His presence, His peace, and His unfailing love.  He has promised to prepare a place for you in heaven, and He has promised to come again to take you home.

The Magi rejoiced when they saw the star because God had kept His promise to the Hebrew people.  He continues to be the Promise Keeper today for all who trust in His Son Jesus.  Beloved, every promise God makes is a promise you can take to the divine bank. He is forever faithful.

God is Here

See the source image

The boy stood looking at the writing on the angry man’s poster: GOD IS NOWHERE. When the man laid down his poster to step into the nearby café, the lad turned the poster over and wrote diligently.  The man came back to his spot on the sidewalk and the boy said, “You had a mistake on your poster, but it fixed it. He picked up the poster to read what the boy had written: GOD IS NOW HERE.

That is the whole point of the Christmas story.  The Bible shows us that God has continually drawn near to man.  In the garden, He had close and personal fellowship with Adam and Eve, walking through the Garden with them in the cool of the evening.  But sin broke that intimate fellowship, and a barrier was placed between God and man.  God commanded the Israelites to make a Tabernacle that He might come and dwell among His people, and He did for hundreds of years until again, the sin of the nation of Israel became so great that God withdrew from the Temple.  The Old Testament records many visitations of God to Abraham, Jacob, Daniel, and others who were devoted to Him.  But these were brief occasions, to impart a message or empower His servant for a specific act.  God desired a deeper communion with man.  And God had a plan.

The angel recalled the prophecy: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him called ‘Immanuel*’ which means ‘God with us’” (Matt 1:23).  Jesus brought God near to us as a tiny baby in Bethlehem, as a man proclaiming the Good News, as the sacrifice on the cross for our sins, and as the risen Lord.  Then He gave us His presence continually in His indwelling Holy Spirit.  Immanuel is with us in storms and darkness and trial and suffering.  He is with us in our times of doubt and fear and loneliness and emptiness.  The joy of Immanuel is knowing that there is no place we can go and no circumstance of life we will face that God is as near as your whispered prayer.  Jesus made Himself one of us that we might be with Him now and for eternity.

Beloved, I pray that the Joy of Immanuel is with you this Advent season.

* Some translations spell this word differently, the NIV uses Immanuel, the KJV uses Emmanuel – either way God is with us.

Blessed Be The Name of the Lord

See the source image

I remember when “cool” was a temperature, then it became a word of affirmation. Sometimes it’s used to describe someone that is aloof – but it also describes someone who is fascinating. Then again, the weatherman said a cool front is passing through this week. And don’t forget about Paul Newman’s movie “Cool Hand Luke.” I think I’ve confused myself here. But consider how important words are. Words we used in the past are now banished because they are deemed demeaning and offensive. On many college campuses, some words are forbidden because they might “trigger” an emotional response of fear or anger. Yet today, words that were once spoken in reverence are spat out like curses.

Consider how our culture uses the words “Lord,” “God,” “Jesus,” and “Holy.”  Yet they identify the Righteous Creator and Sovereign King of the universe. Tradition says that in the medieval days when monks were transcribing the words of the Bible and they came to the Name, they would leave their table, wash themselves, get a new quill, write the Name then break the quill. This was to ensure that they did not approach the Name of God in an unclean state and that the pen that wrote the Holy Name would never be used to write something profane. That may be a bit over the top, but oh, that we still venerated the name of God!

One of the ten commandments says: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name” (Exodus 20:7). When we speak these designations of God as mere words in anything less than reverence we are misusing God’s name and identification. When we say “Good Lord” it should only be to praise Him, not register frustration. “Oh my God!” should be spoken as a prayer, not an exclamation of surprise or excitement or – worse – disgust. “Jesus Christ” is the name of the Son of God and our Savior, and is not to be spat out like a curse. And “Holy” is the highest description of the Lord God, and should never be joined to farm animals, bodily functions, and sexual slang.

Yes, our words carry meaning. Beloved, let’s consider carefully the words we say and use our mouths to speak of our God and Savior in the reverence due them.

God is . . .

See the source image

“One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.” Psalm 62:11.

David identified God as his Shield, his Refuge, his Rock and Fortress, his Shepherd, and so much more. He used so many beautiful and powerful expressions to describe his God. Yet in these two simple words, I believe David paints a picture that comes the closest to the true essence of who God is. Strong and loving.

God is strong. Not strength that lifts massive barbells.  This is strength that breaks the power of sin, overpowers the enemy of our soul, and raises the dead back to life – and not just life, but eternal, everlasting, unending life!  It is a strength that overcomes our weaknesses and lifts the weight of all our burdens. I don’t know about you, but need a God who is strong, because my burdens are heavy and my weaknesses are many.

David also said that God is loving. Do you believe that God loves you? Over and over in God’s Word proclaims His love for you and me. His is

  • Unfailing Love – “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken” (Isaiah 54:10).
  • Loyal Love – “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6).
  • Devotion – “By day the Lord directs His love, a night His song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8).
  • Mercy – “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion” (Numbers 14:18).

Paul said, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). That is the kind of love that I need. A love that never turns away never dies, and never gives up. A love that lasts for all eternity. This is the love that God has for you and me. His love is steadfast and sure – you can’t make Him love you more, and you can’t make Him love you less. He loves you because He is love. His is perfect love because He is the perfect lover.

God’s love was perfectly expressed at the cross of Jesus Christ. His power was perfectly revealed at the empty tomb, through the resurrection of His Son – our Savior. We can never know all there is to God, for He is holy and righteous and beyond our finite understanding. But we can know this about God: He is strong and He is loving. And that’s a very good place to start.

God in Two Words

See the source image

If someone asked you to describe God, what would you say? I’ve studied the Hebrew names of God for years and often call on some of those names to express who He is. Names like El Elyon – The Most High God, Adonai Yahweh – The Lord God Sovereign, Yahweh El Emeth – Lord God of Truth, Yahweh Hoshaih – The Lord Saves, and my personal favorites: El Emunah – The Faithful God, and El Hayyay – God of My Life. Theologians use words like Omnipresent (He is everywhere at all times), Omniscient (He has total perfect knowledge of everything), and Omnipotent (He has unlimited power and authority). They are correct; He is all that – and more. But I think David got it right when he said simply, “One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord are loving” (Psalm 62:11-12).

Strong and loving. It’s the perfect combination to describe Him. I don’t know about you, but I need a God who is both. If He were just strong, we would fear for our lives. If He were just loving, He could do little to help us. But He is strong and He is loving. His strength is perfectly balanced by His affection. His love is equally matched by the power to rescue. His love allows Him to see our needs and respond with compassion, mercy, and grace. His power enables Him to work mightily on our behalf, parting seas and overwhelming enemies. And rising from the grave. There have been many powerful men throughout history who had no compassion and left a wake of pain and destruction behind them. By the same token, benevolent hearts offer empathy, but cannot render any real aid. God is sufficiently both; He cares and He moves.  Love and Strength.

Beloved, this is the God who listens to your heart’s cry and responds with power. He sees you. He hears you. He loves you. And He is coming to your rescue.

The Name of God

“Oh my God!”

I drew a deep breath, put on a big smile, and turned around to face her.

“Oh, you know Him too? Isn’t He wonderful? Aren’t you glad He is your Father!”

The shocked look on her face told me I was right – she didn’t know Him as Father. She glared at me, “What are you talking about?!”

“You were calling out the name of God, so I assumed you knew Him like I know Him – as my Heavenly Father.”

“You’re crazy! It’s just a word!” she muttered as she walked away. 

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He opened with reverence and worship: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name,” (Matthew 6:9). Jesus was teaching them and us that the name of God should always be treated with the holiness that is due Him.  When the Lord gave Moses the Ten commandments He included reverence for His name: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name” (Ex. 20:7). The name of God is His essence and identity, it declares Him as great, mighty, powerful, exalted, and deserving of worship. And when it is combined with profanity, misused as an expression of surprise or disgust, or used to deceive and manipulate it is a personal affront to Him. Likewise, the name of Jesus Christ is never to be spoken in any manner that denies His holiness and righteousness.

When I was in school I was teased horribly over both my first and last names: Dorcas Beegle. Every day I was greeted with “Here comes Dorky Dorcas, the beagle dog!” followed by a chorus of barking and howling. It hurt. They were making fun of my name, but their words felt like a personal attack on me. When we misuse the name of God, we think we’re only speaking words, but we are attacking God’s character. When my classmates teased me, I would hide in the bathroom and cry, but God says that He will hold accountable anyone who misuses His name.

And while we’re at it – please do not misuse the word “holy.” It is the word that most defines God. Jesus shed His blood to make unholy people holy. It is not to be combined with profanity, bodily functions, or farm animals. It should also always be used with reverence. So, no more “Holy cows! okay?”

Beloved, how does God’s name and the name of His Son roll off of your tongue?

Shut up, Satan!

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants, You have ordained praise because of Your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. Psalm 8:1-2

I have always read this verse with the image of the “Cherub Choir” of little children gathered in front of the church, singing (and wiggling and giggling and waving) to the delight of the congregation. It’s such a sweet vision. But God gave me another perspective of this verse as I wrote it in my prayer journal this morning.  “Ordained” jumped out at me, like the Spirit turned a spotlight on that specific word. Oh, the dig is on! This word means “to lay a foundation, to establish,” and as I researched farther I found a slightly different version of verse 8: “Through the praise of children and infants You have established a stronghold against Your enemies.” I got glory goosebumps as the Spirit turned that Cherub Choir into a fortress, a strong tower against the enemy that God and I – and you – share.

I have studied the Names of God for many years and one name that I use often is The Lord my Stronghold. When I call on Yahweh Metsudhathi He surrounds me and protects me from our enemy. This verse says that what builds that stronghold, that protective wall, is praise. That is why I always try to start my prayers – written or spoken – with praise. It’s not that God needs an ego boost, but I need to look at my struggles and trials and challenges in the shadow of the One who is greater than all of them. There is a bonus to praise that verse 2 presents. Read it again. Do you see how the praise of little children “silences the foe and the avenger.”? When you and I praise the Lord, the enemy shuts his lying mouth! Yes!! That’s the power of praising the mighty Name of God! Have you ever wanted to stop satan’s taunts? Praise the Lord!

You have a real enemy and you will never get through this battle without a strong tower, a fortress, a place of defense, and protection. Beloved, God is your Defender, and praise is your defense – it is your shield of faith. Tell the devil to shut his mouth by filling yours with praise!

God Doesn’t Make Watches

See the source image

“I’ll see you in heaven,” I said to my Mom as peace fell over her still face. It’s the same thought I had when I got the call several weeks ago that my brother had passed away. For the believer, to be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Truly, I envy them. I long to be home – eternally home. But it occurred to me that I never have to tell Jesus, “I’ll see you in heaven.” Yes, I will “see” Him in the sense that I will, like my mother and brother, gaze into His face in heaven. But I am not separated from Him at all. Over and over in Scripture, He promised, “I am with you,” and I know that He is.

There was a theory espoused in the late 18th century called “the Watchmaker Analogy.” Just as watches are set in motion by watchmakers, after which they operate according to their pre-established mechanisms, God created the world, set the laws of nature in motion, and then sat back on His heavenly throne to watch it all unfold without His regular involvement unless there was a catastrophic need to intervene. (2020 would be a good time.) It allowed for theism – the belief in the existence of a Creator – and evolution – the natural process of selection – to coexist without firmly standing in one camp or the other.

That’s not the God of the Bible, nor is it the God of my life. The God I know is not sitting back with disinterest, He is actively engaged in the world and even in the minute details of my everyday life. He is passionate about His creation and especially about His children. Recently I cried to God over hard stuff in my life, and He assured me of His ever-watchful eye and His hand poised to act at the right moment.

This life is hard. It’s doubly hard when you think you’re alone. It is comforting to know that the God who promised His presence to Abraham and Moses and Joshua and David and the Apostles and Paul has also promised to be present and active in your life as well. Beloved, you don’t have to wait for heaven. God is with you now, today. He is El Hayyay – the God of your life.

A Prayer for Today

See the source image

This is my prayer this morning. I invite you to pray with me:

Holy Father,

This is the day that You have made, and I will be glad and rejoice in it (Ps 118:24).

Nothing will touch me today that has not passed through the filter of your loving purpose.

I have awakened to new opportunities and new mercies (Lam. 3:23).

Yesterday’s failures are buried. Today is a new slate, bright and clean.

I do not face this day alone; You are present with me (Matt. 28:20).

You are my Shepherd (Ps. 23:1).

You are my Father (Matt. 20:17).

You are my Peace (Heb. 13:20).

My Comfort (2 Cor. 1:3)

My Rock (Ps 18:2).

My Strength (Ps 19:14).

My Shield (Deut. 33:29).

 

Lord, when my heart and mind are focused on You, the worries of my life seem small because You are so great. Oh, help me keep my eyes fixed on You all through the day.

Gracious, mighty, sovereign God what an extraordinary thing that You sang me to sleep last night (Zep. 3:17) and You sent me word this morning of Your unfailing love (Ps. 143:8).

I make one plea in this early hour – the angels declare that the whole earth is full of Your glory. (Isaiah 6:3). Give me eyes to see Your glory all around me today.

In the mighty and holy and perfect name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Babes in Christ – or Men and Women of God?

See the source image

My granddaughter eats from a plate that belonged to her daddy when he was her age. It is made of hard plastic and has brightly-colored cartoon dinosaurs painted on it – she calls them “puppies” and so puppies they are. We’ve tried to remember to always hand wash it, to preserve the puppies’ colors because dishwasher detergent tends to fade and bleach away designs on dishware. But lately, it’s been put in the dishwasher rather than take the few minutes to hand wash it with a gentle cleanser. A couple of days ago I noticed flecks of white showing in the puppies and the colors were not as bright as they had been. Our laziness was beginning to show – and it was beginning to diminish the dish.

The writer of Hebrews chastised the recipients of his letter saying, “We have much to say about this but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn” (5:11). The word “slow” caught my attention, and I grabbed my spiritual shovel to start digging.  What I found was a very sharp rebuke. That word does not indicate a learning disability – it speaks to a heart problem instead. The word means “lazy, undisciplined, no longer trying to learn.” Oh. The writer continued by saying that they were not growing and progressing in their understanding of God’s Word and their faith – “you need milk, not solid food!” (v. 12). They were content being spiritual “infants” sucking on their spiritual bottle.

So how do we grow in our faith? How do we go from babies on milk to men and women producing fruit for the Kingdom of God? The writer continued, “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (v. 14). Spiritual growth requires spiritual discipline –effort and time and developing holy habits that become an ingrained part of our character. Salvation is always the work of God, but growing in our faith requires our cooperation. Beloved, lets you and I determine to put down our bottles, shake off our laziness, and grow up. Let’s revive those bright colors so that the world can see the unfading beauty of men and women of God.