Anticipation

My granddaughter is going to be a daredevil. (Nah – she’s too sweet –maybe a dare-angel 😊) We have a game she loves. I’ll say “Are you ready?” then I count. “One” and she smiles. “Two” and she begins to giggle.” “THREE!” and I’ll twirl her around, or drop her just a bit (with my arms firmly around her) or toss her a few inches in the air. She squeals with delight! Yesterday we did that for a half-hour as she sat in her swing on the back porch. Always the same routine. “Are you ready?” “One.” Give the swing a jiggle. “Two.” Pull the swing closer “THREE!” Give the swing a big push. Cue the laughter and smiles. I love it as much as she does, because of her sense of anticipation. She knows that when Nana starts the countdown, fun will ensue.

What do you do when life hands you a challenge? When your world gets turned upside down? When you feel like you’re in the spin cycle of a washing machine? Friend, I’m there, and I suspect you are too. The thought occurred to me as I played with Joy-Joy – what if God is giving the countdown? What if He’s about to do something that will bring delight to our lives? Isaiah 43:19 says: “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” If only we could hear Him saying, “Are you ready?” “One.” “Two.” Would we hold our breath in anticipation? Would we smile? Would we look around with expectation?

I’ve been around the block enough times with God to recognize a pattern of sorts like my granddaughter recognizes the countdown. Something comes along that interrupts my life. Usually something hard. Then He uses that situation in ways I would never imagine to accomplish extraordinary things. I’m in the midst of one of those hard situations now. I have a choice. Will I sit in hopelessness or listen out for God’s voice?

Beloved, have you lost your sense of anticipation with God? Have you resigned yourself to hopelessness? May I encourage you to tilt your ear toward heaven and listen for the countdown? I think I hear Him – “Are you ready?”

Joy and Delight

Photo by Ashley Andrews

From the day they moved in with us, we have made it a point to sing to our granddaughter. Poppy makes up songs with her name. I sing hymns and songs from my childhood, like “This little light of mine,” “Jesus loves me,” and “Oh, little playmate, come out and play with me.” I sing them fast and silly when we’re playing and soft and slow when I’m trying to soothe her or rock her to sleep. We’re pretty sure she sings to us too when she oohs and aahs back. I guess you could say singing is our love-language with her.

Last night she was playing beside me, standing at my footstool when I looked at her, overwhelmed with love and started singing her favorite song – “I love you a bushel and a peck.” She lit up in the biggest grin, threw her head back laughing, and started jumping up and down. It blessed my heart so much to see her Joyful reaction. I sang it again and again, holding her sweet little hands while she jumped and laughed. Let me tell you – nothing this world can offer will ever compare.

It gave me a glimpse into one of my favorite verses, Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Imagine this with me. You are doing life, going about your normal day – or maybe it’s not a “normal” day. Maybe it’s a hard, painful day, or a dull, colorless day. God looks at you and His heart swells with delight and He breaks out in a song – a song just for you. Maybe it’s a soft melody to “quiet you with His love,” or it may be a happy song of rejoicing. But it is inspired by the pleasure He finds in you. Yes, YOU! You are a delight to God, just as my granddaughter is a delight to me.

How should you respond? Just like Joy-Joy did – with a big grin and a holy laugh and yes, even a happy jump or two. Your delight in God delights Him. It’s a never-ending circle of mutual gladness. Maybe that’s the secret behind Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. When God is the desire of your heart Beloved, He will be your delight.

Worship the King!

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What kind of faith must you have to chase a star for two years and hundreds of miles based on an ancient prophecy? The wise men – Matthew calls them “Magi” – traveled what scholars suppose to be about 1,000 miles “from the east” (Matt. 2:1), most likely ancient Persia, or our modern Iran. They were probably devout scholars who studied ancient holy texts of many religions. The writings of the Jewish faith – which would include prophecies of a special King – would have likely come to them via Daniel’s time in Babylon. Through their studies, they came to recognize that the star that rose at a specific time signaled the birth of this very King. So they set out on a long, difficult journey with gifts fit for royalty.

Here’s what amazes me about the Magi – it wasn’t curiosity that caused them to leave their homes and families for such an arduous journey. It was worship. Matthew records their words to King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship him” (v. 2). Here’s the other thing that is surprising to me – He wasn’t their king. Remember – they identified Him as the “King of the Jews.” The Magi didn’t owe him homage. Why would they worship a king not their own? They realized from all they had studied that this king was worthy of worship – not just the worship of the Jews, but the worship of all men everywhere.

These Magi took ancient prophecies, looked forward, and recognized that Jesus was a unique king. In faith and awe, they set out on a long journey to worship Him. You and I have not just ancient prophecies, but we have the New Testament Scriptures that testify that Jesus is this King. We have the eye-witness of the Apostles and we have the heart-witness of the martyrs that testify that Jesus is not just King of the Jews, but King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The faith of all these should inspire faith in us. Jesus – the baby in the manger, the child in Bethlehem, the man healing lepers and raising the dead and dying on a cross and bursting alive out of the grave – this Jesus is worthy of our faith and worthy of our worship. Let’s give Him all He deserves this Christmas – and every day.

Christmas Presents – or Christmas Presence

O Immanuel . . . God is with us.  Isaiah 8:8, 10

My best friend and I are separated by almost a hundred miles.  We chat often on social media and text and talk with one another on the phone, but when I have the chance to see her face-to-face my heart rejoices.  There is something about presence—about being together physically that touches the heart more than a phone conversation ever could.

In the beginning, in the Garden, God and His first children, Adam and Eve enjoyed one another’s presence regularly.  The Bible tells us that they delighted in spending time together “in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8).  But sin forever altered that.  The fellowship was broken by disobedience and man was physically separated from God. A few select people encountered God for specific purposes, like Noah, but God no longer walked with His creation like before. After Noah, the Bible shows no interaction between God and man throughout many generations, until Abraham. God promised His presence with Abraham and his descendants and He was faithful through their escape from bondage and their desert wandering and settling in The Promised Land. He was with them, but still not in the same way as He had been with Adam and Eve. The Israelites built a temple where He could dwell among them, though still separated from them by walls and heavy curtains.  When Israel’s apostasy reached a certain point, the Lord withdrew His presence from the Temple—and the people.  But He promised His presence would one day return to them, in the person of the Messiah.  And as He always does, The Lord kept His promise.

The hope of Christmas is the hope of God with us – in the flesh. It is the fulfillment of the promise of His presence. God – in the person of Jesus was born as a flesh-and-blood baby in a stable in Bethlehem. He had tiny toes and tiny fingers, and He cried for the comfort of His mother.  He walked with His creation. He talked to them. He touched them – healing, comforting, and cleansing them. Imagine being able to reach out and touch God’s own hand. The most wonderful Christmas present is the presence of God. That is the promise of Immanuel—God with us.

Christmas is Real Hope for Real Life

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He gave her a hug and pressed some folded bills into her hand. “I know this is a hard time, but God is going to come through for you. He has always come through for me.” The woman thanked the man then sighed, “I hope so. I don’t know how much longer we can go on like this.” Hope is a necessary thing, almost as essential to the spirit as oxygen is to the lungs. When every breath is a struggle the heart strains to keep beating, the mind becomes dull, and the smallest task becomes a huge challenge. It seems easier to just sit life out than to push to keep moving. When hope fades, our spirit is weakened, we become disheartened, our thoughts forlorn. When life is hard, hope seems more of a desperate gesture than a sure belief.

That’s why the Bible presents hope as a confident conviction. Micah saw the gathering storm clouds of hardship on the horizon. Judgment was coming to Jerusalem because of her sin. Hope seemed futile in the face of imminent oppression. But Micah hoped anyway saying, “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me” (Micah 7:7). He understood the reality of their troubles, but he also knew the faithfulness of God. What was the root of his conviction? His hope was not in an outcome – his hope was in the Lord. And it was not a desperate hope – hope in this sense means to wait in expectation. Because his hope was in God, and because he knew God’s character, he knew with a confident assurance that God would hear and act on his behalf. Even though the situation looked grim, Micah hoped in the Lord and “hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:5). Isn’t it interesting that Micah also offered these words: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2). You might recognize this as the prophecy of the coming Messiah. No wonder Micah had such confident hope.

Beloved, if hope is in short supply right now, I want to remind you that Christmas confirms the power of hope because of the faithfulness of God. The promise of God that Micah delivered was fulfilled by the Baby in the manger in Bethlehem. I also want to assure you that God does indeed always come through. I was the woman hanging onto a thread of hope. And my hope was not disappointed. God is faithful. Christmas is proof.

What do a bunch of old laws have to do with me; or why should I read Leviticus?

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I am doing a slow dig through the book of Leviticus – yes Leviticus – the book where most New Year’s resolutions come to die. Why would I spend months studying a hard-to-understand bunch of antiquated laws that don’t apply to me as a New Testament Christian? Because Jesus is found in Leviticus more than any other Old Testament book. He is the fulfillment of every law therein. Three verses into the first chapter and there He is: “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male” (Lev. 1:3). That’s Jesus. Unblemished. Perfect. Sinless. Innocent. Pure. The only sacrifice that could atone for your sin and mine – making us acceptable to a holy God.
I look into the next verse and I see, not only Jesus this time but also me. “He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4) In the ancient sacrificial system, the person placed his hand on the animal’s head symbolically transferring all of his sins onto it. This innocent animal now bore the guilt for the sinful person; the animal – not the man – died for those sins.
I am the one with my hand on the head of Jesus. Those sins are mine. The guilt is mine. I am shaken by Charles Spurgeon’s comment on this verse: “If the worshipper was a right-minded person and not a mere formalist, he stood with tears in his eyes and felt in his heart, ‘That death is mine.’” Oh, God let me never look at the cross and forget – “That death is mine.”
Beloved, that is your hand on the head of Jesus too. That death is yours. Those sins are yours. The guilt belongs to you. But so does the atonement. The sinless, innocent Son of God graciously received your sins and bore your punishment so that you would be accepted by His Father. May you and I never forget the price that Jesus paid to set us free.