Hebrews: Holy

Mr. Estes lived across the street when I was a kid. He was a big man, very broad-shouldered and taller than my dad, who was himself over six feet. Just looking at him told me he was a scary guy. But it was his voice that really terrified me. Deep and loud and gruff. I heard him yell at his dog once and that was all it took for me to stay far away from him.

The writer of Hebrews wanted his readers to remember their history with God. Stop here and read Hebrews 12:18-21. This is referencing the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinia (Exodus 19). God came down to the mountain amid thunder and lightning and fire and smoke and a “very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled” (Ex 19:16). I reckon so. The people were commanded to not touch God’s mountain under penalty of death. Animals were forbidden to approach it.  Even Moses trembled with fear. Why? Because the presence of God made the mountain holy.

We’ve lost the concept of “holy” today. The word is often combined with farm animals and even gross bodily functions and vulgar euphemisms for sex as an expression of surprise or even a curse. This should not be. Holy is not just four letters strung together – holy is God. It is the word the angels declared thrice before His throne: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;” (Is 6:3). “Holy” is His own self-description: “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Lev 20:26). Even within the church, the word is not held with honor and reverence. This is one of my most fervent frustrations. If you use the word “holy” flippantly, I hope you are convicted and pay attention when it is on the tip of your tongue.

Wherever God goes, whatever He touches becomes holy. Remember Moses and the burning bush? God told him to take off his sandals because the ground surrounding the bush was holy. When God spoke to the Israelites at Mt. Sinia, they begged Him to stop because even His voice was holy. Their sinful ears could not bear to hear it. Whatever is set apart unto God is also holy and anything that touches the consecrated thing was also considered holy.  That includes you. Just a couple of chapters back we learned that “we have been made holy” through Christ (Heb 10:10). If you are in Christ, you are holy – set apart unto God for a relationship that will last forever. That, Beloved, should make you tremble with Joy.

The King Has Come!

It is a familiar scene in movies set in medieval times. The battle is fierce and the warriors are weary, many of their comrades have fallen on the blood-soaked field, and the few that remain try to swing their swords with leaden arms.  Then the cry rings out “Look! The king has come!”  Eyes scan the horizon to see a bright flag with the king’s crest lifted high above the ridge.  All is not lost!  Their king has come to aid them in the fight.  With renewed vigor, the men cheer as their sovereign wades into the sea of battle and leads them on to victory.  They did not see him at first; they only saw his standard rising high into the sky – but it was all the assurance they needed.  The king’s banner was the promise of his presence.

You and I fight a battle every day – we are at war against the enemy, satan, the lord of darkness, the devil himself.  He is a fierce foe and he fights dirty.  He has no mercy. My arms are weary, and my energy is spent.  I look over at you and see the same – as if you are my reflection.  There are tears in my eyes that match your own. It seems we’re just about done in. But all is not lost, my friend. Look! Our King has come!  There, on the horizon – don’t you see it?  It is the standard of our Sovereign rising high above the world. Though we do not yet see Him, His banner – a blood-red flag lifted high atop a cross – is our assurance that He is here in the fight.

He is Jehovah Gibbor Milchamah – The Lord Mighty in Battle (Ps 24:8). He is Jehovah Chereb – The Lord . . . The Sword and Jehovah Magen – The Lord . . . The Shield (Deut 33:29). He brings all His mighty angels as Jehovah Tsebaoth – The Lord of Hosts (1 Sam 1:3). The enemy is no match for Jehovah Maginnenu – The Lord our Defense (Ps 89:18).  Renew your strength, Beloved, the victory is sure.  We have seen His standard. His banner over us is love (Song of Songs 2:4).

God is . . .

Some of you know me as Dorcas. Some of you know me as Beth. My Dad called me Sis and my brothers called me Dorcas deLizard. Some of my classmates called me Dorky Dorcas. My husband calls me Sweetheart or Bubba and my son calls me mom. But my favorite name is Nana. I’m all the same person, but I fill different roles to different people. I love to study names. Names in the Bible were not just a tag, they defined people and their lives.

I have spent years studying about God in textbooks. But I have learned more about Him by experience – and struggle – than I ever could from a book. I came to know God as Jehovah-Jirah – The Lord my Provider, when my pantry was bare. Jehovah-Rapha – The Lord my Healer, came to me when I was very sick.  I discovered that He is Jehovah Shalom – The Lord my Peace during a time of turmoil and chaos, and that He is Emmanuel–God With Us, when I felt abandoned and alone. He is Yahweh Tsuri–The Lord my Strength when I am at my weakest, and He is Jehovah Ori –The Lord my Light when the darkness of depression surrounds me. When the enemy is attacking me, I know that Jehovah Gibbor Milchamah–The Lord Mighty in Battle is at my side. David wrote in Psalm 9:10, “Those who know Your name will trust in You.” God’s name reflects His character.

He met me in the hard places and showed Himself to me. I trust Him in the difficulties I face today and tomorrow and all the days to come because I know Him by name and by nature. My favorite names for God, the names that mean everything to me, became most precious when my life and heart fell completely apart. It was there that He came to me. El Emunah, the Faithful God. El Hayyay, the God of my life. He has proven Himself to be so ever since. Beloved, He is all this and more for you too.

Why Should I Choose God?

“Why should I believe in your God? What benefit is it to me?” The young man stood with his hands on his hips and a scowl on his face. I was very young in my faith and I didn’t know how to answer him. I mumbled something about heaven and hell and he laughed at me and walked away. I’m a lot older and a little wiser. I’ve walked through some stuff with God. I’ve seen His power and felt His presence. He has set me free from strong chains. He has healed me, provided for me, comforted me, and brought Joy to my life. He has directed my life in amazing ways. I wish I could tell him all that.

And I also know Scripture better now. I would take him to Psalm 62 and show him how he could benefit from a relationship with God. In this Psalm, David said that his “soul finds rest in God alone” (v. 1, 5) and then he shares all the reasons why. They are true for you and me as well.

God is the source of our salvation (v. 1, 6, 7) through His Son, Jesus we are saved to eternal life. He is our Rock, our Fortress, and our Refuge (v. 2, 6, 7, 8 ) – a sure place of security and safety. He is the source of our hope (v. 5)  and even shares His glory and honor with us (7).  

And David added this wonderful statement: “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that You, O God, are strong and that You, O Lord, are loving” (v. 11, 12).  I love this because it shows the perfect balance of our Father. If God were all strong without love, we would be terrified of Him. If He were all loving without strength, He could only pity us but offer us no help.  But He is both able and willing to save me, protect me, lift me up, and give my life meaning. In His love, He promises to give me eternal life. By His power, He can deliver it.

You may be wondering what life with God means. I think David expressed it perfectly. I don’t know where that young man is today, so I’ll just tell you, Beloved. Life with God is full of power and love. Don’t walk away from it.

Holy Father

When I pray, whether written or spoken, I use my favorite name for God: “Holy Father” (John 17:11).  It comes from Jesus’ prayer just before his arrest. I love that name because it is expressing the two most important aspects of who God is. Taken separately, each word speaks volumes.

“Holy” describes the highest moral quality, something or Someone set apart and sacred. I think of the Most Holy place in the Tabernacle where God dwelled among His people. It was a sacred space and entry by man was forbidden – except once a year and then only by the high priest who came to make sacrifices for the sins of the nation. A holy thing would never be used for common purposes by common people. The angels in Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room constantly called out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” (Is 6:3). Not just holy, but thrice holy.

“Father” is, of course, a male parent or significant leader to a family, a nation, or an individual. It is a title of honor and reverence. It is also a title of endearment – at least for some. My Dad and I didn’t have the best relationship when I was growing up and we were estranged for much of my adult life. (We did reconcile a few years before his death.) “Father” was not a warm fuzzy thought for me. But coming from the lips of Jesus, the affection was deep and sincere. Most Jews would not dare refer to God in such familiar ways. Remember He is holy – set apart from common, sinful people. But after His resurrection, Jesus told the disciples, “I am returning to my Father and your Father . . . (John 20:17). And He is our Father.

But together “Holy Father” serves as bookends with all the wonder and awe and majesty of God in between.  And together they are the complete picture of this God who is both holy and dear, who both demands perfection and makes us perfect through the blood of His own Son. The words speak to my heart of a Father who will never wrong me, never leave me, never hurt me or shame me but will always love me with the holiest of love. With perfect love (1 John 4:18). Because He is a perfect Father (Matt 5:48). Yes, “Holy Father” says it all.

Morning Prayer

Sharing 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).

Your name is exalted high above the earth and the heavens. You are great and worthy of praise. You are mighty, glorious, wonderful, awesome, good, righteous, gracious, compassionate, eternal, and faithful (Psalm 145). You are my fortress, my stronghold, and my deliverer (Psalm 144:2).

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.

I give You thanks O Lord because Your love endures forever (Psalm 136).  My hope is in You and in Your Word (Psalm 130:5, 7). One day I will see Your face (Revelation 22:4). Until then I will wait and trust. I will watch the skies and listen for the sound of trumpets (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

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

God of the Big and the Small

He is the Lord who calms the wind and the waves and brings peace where there is turmoil (Mark 4:35-41).  He is the Warrior who stands between His prophet and the enemy when the enemy is all around (2 Kings 6:15-17). He is the Savior who reached out His hand and rescued Peter from drowning (Matt 14:22-31). He is a mighty God who does might things on behalf of His people.

He is also my Provider who brought my family food when our pantry and checking account was empty.  He is my Protector who shielded me in a car accident. He is my Guide who brought me back home. He is My Father who notices even the smallest things in my life. Like my phone.

Shortly before Christmas, my very old phone died and I had no funds to replace it. My best friend’s daughter got a new phone for Christmas and they made a four-hour round trip to bring me her old phone which was still in great condition. It was a blessing and a gift of love from both my friend and from God who cared about me. Until last week when it slipped out of my pocket and into the tub. And we were out of rice. So it just sat on my desk, mocking me with its dead, black face. But two days later, on “a whim” I plugged it in and it came to life and has been working perfectly ever since.

I know you’re thinking, she’s not really going to turn a cell phone into a devotional, is she? Oh, yes I am. Because the God over the wind and the waves is also the God over empty pantries and dead phones. Paul said, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32).  He is the good and gracious God who cares about even the smallest detail of His children’s lives.

I spent two years recovering from a severe emotional breakdown by studying the Hebrew names of God in Scripture. There were so many that spoke to me, but the one that means everything to me is El Hayyay – the God of my life (Ps 42:8) because there is not one detail of my life that He doesn’t care about, whether I’m in a battle or watching my phone float to the bottom of the tub. He is Lord over the big and the small. Beloved, He is the God of your life, too.

The Heavens told the Christmas Story

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“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

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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

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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.