Where Was God?

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“Where was God?” the atheist demanded. “Where was God?” the frightened widow cried. “Where was God?” the shocked nation asked. Even Christians looked to heaven and said,  “God, where are You?” It was the most tragic and horrific day in American history and twenty years later it still makes us weep. I imagine the same question was going through the minds of the Jews when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. The event even sounds very similar:  “[The Babylonians] set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.” (2 Chronicles 36:19).

A memorial sits at the very spot in New York City where the buildings fell. People come every year to remember and pay their respects to the thousands who lost their lives that day.  Every year religious Jews come to Jerusalem to pray and fast in remembrance of the destruction of their Temple, first by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE, and again in 70 CE at the hands of the Roman legions led by Titus.

Where was God when the Twin Towers fell? The same place He was when Jerusalem fell. In His heaven, ruling over human history. How can that be? I wish I could give you a simple answer, but this is the age-old “problem of evil” that men have pondered for thousands of years. It has been used to deny the existence of God and His goodness and sovereignty and quite honestly, I cannot answer it. But I can tell you that evil may have claimed a few battles throughout human history, but it has already lost the war.

Oh, satan thought he was victorious when Jesus drew His last breath and cried out, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). But he was trembling when the ground rumbled as the stone rolled away. He was dumbfounded when the angel told the women, “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). He was horrified as Mary Magdalene ran back to the disciples with the amazing news, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

So today I will remember the lives lost twenty years ago and pray for the still grieving. But I will not fear evil. I will keep my eyes on heaven and celebrate the risen Lord who dealt evil a fatal blow. No, the war is not yet over, but Satan has already lost. God has already won. God always wins.

Jesus is . . .

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“We’re New Testament people, we don’t need to read the Old Testament.” “I just want to know about Jesus, so I’ll stick with the New Testament.” Ever thought or said anything like that? I’ve heard it many times. As Christians – Christ’s followers – we are focused on only what Jesus did and taught.  But the Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ.  Check it out:

In Genesis, He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan.

In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage.

In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice.

In Deuteronomy, he is the Great Prophet to come.

In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.

In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of sin.

In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer.

He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel.

In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple.

He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Restorer of broken walls in Nehemiah.

He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.

He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs.

He is the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.

He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon.

In Isaiah, He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant.

In Jeremiah and Lamentations, He is the Man acquainted with sorrows.

In Ezekiel, He brings life to dry bones.

In Daniel, He is the Ancient of Days.

He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of His people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment.

In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem.

In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy,  the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk, and in Zephaniah, He is the God who is mighty to save.

In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.

Beloved, if you want to know Jesus, read the Old Testament. He is all over the place.  Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.

God With Us

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 “They will call Him Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

“Immanuel – God with us” is a great comfort as we endure the struggles of life in this fallen world.  To know that God is with us means we are assured of His presence and help.  But to truly understand the name and its significance, we have to go back to the Bible, to the most incredible statement by God: “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:9).  The God who created and sustained and ruled over all things wanted to dwell with His people.  So He gave them instructions to build Him a sanctuary and when it was completed “the cloud [of the Lord’s presence] filled the temple of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11).  And the Lord dwelled among His people there.

Until.  Until their idolatry and sin became unbearable.  Approximately four hundred years after He filled the temple, the Lord withdrew His presence.  Shortly afterward the people were taken into exile and the temple was destroyed.  And though it was rebuilt when the exiles returned to Jerusalem, the Lord’s presence did not inhabit the second temple.

Until. Until the angel visited a carpenter, betrothed to a young woman and proclaimed the return of Immanuel.  Joseph would instinctively know what this name meant – God with us.     God came to once again dwell among men – this time in the humblest way – as a human baby born to peasant parents and laid in a feeding trough for animals.  The name “Immanuel” recalls the glorious presence of God in the midst of His people – walking among them, eating with them, touching them with human hands – and dying for them Immanuel is still present with His people today.  He is present in the Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer.  He is present in our worship.  He is present when we pray.  He is present when we rustle the pages of the Bible.  He is present when we reach out to touch a suffering soul with His love.  He is present in holy, divine moments and in the everyday events of our lives.  Because He is Immanuel, He is always present. Because He is God with us, we are never alone.

Immanuel – God with Us

 

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“They will call Him Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

One of the most beautiful hymns of Christmas is Emmanuel, Emmanuel:

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called Emmanuel.
God with us, revealed in us,
His name is called Emmanuel.[1]

In our modern, New Testament mind the idea of “Immanuel – God with us” is a great comfort as we endure the struggles of life in this fallen world.  To know that God is with us means we are assured of His presence and help.  I am so grateful that God was with us through this difficult year that we experienced.  His presence gave me strength day-by-day and bolstered my faith.

But to truly understand the name and its significance, we have to go back to the Bible.  But don’t stop in Matthew, go back even farther to the book of Exodus, to the most incredible statement by God: “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:9).  In the ancient near east, the pagan gods of the time did not dwell with human beings.  No, the “gods” were far too important to be bothered with mortals and their petty lives.  But the God who created and sustained and ruled over all things wanted to dwell with His people.  So He gave them instructions to build Him a sanctuary where He could be present with them.  When the structure was built, the Lord came and took up residence in the place.  The same was true of the temple Solomon built for the Lord in Jerusalem to replace the tabernacle.  When the temple was completed, and the ark of the covenant was put in place in the Holy of Holies, “the cloud [of the Lord’s presence] filled the temple of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11).  And the Lord dwelled among His people there.

Until.  Until their idolatry and sin became unbearable.  Until God said, “Enough.”  Approximately four hundred years after He filled the temple, the Lord withdrew His presence.  The prophet Ezekiel records the terrible sight of the cloud drawing up and away from the Holy of Holies and from the temple and from Jerusalem and the nation of Judah.  God was no longer with His people.  Shortly afterward the people were taken into exile and the temple was destroyed.  And though it was rebuilt when the exiles returned to Jerusalem, the Lord’s presence did not return to the second temple.

Until. Until the angel visited a carpenter, betrothed to a young woman and proclaimed the return of Immanuel.  Joseph would instinctively know what this name meant – God with us.     God came to once again dwell among men – this time in the humblest way – as a human baby born to peasant parents and laid in a feeding trough for animals.  The name “Immanuel” recalls the glorious presence of God in the midst of His people.  But not only in the temple.  No, this time Immanuel would walk among them, eat with them, touch them with human hands – and die for them.  God had been absent and silent for hundreds of years, but now He had returned to His people.

Immanuel was the promise of God’s presence.  And He is still present with His people today.  He is present in the Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer.  He is present in our worship.  He is present when we pray.  He is present when we rustle the pages of the Bible.  He is present when we reach out to touch a suffering soul with His love.  He is present in holy, divine moments and in the everyday events of our lives.  Because He is Immanuel, He is always present. Because He is God with us, we are never alone.

[1] Emmanuel, Emmanuel was written by Bob McGee in 1976 and published by C.A. Music.

The Lovely Dwelling Place of God

“How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty!” Psalm 84:1

Home décor and aesthetics are big business today – and with good reason.  Who doesn’t want a well-appointed home worthy of a magazine cover.  If your family is like mine, that look wouldn’t last more than a day past the photo shoot. What really makes a home beautiful? It’s not the paint or the furnishings or the landscape – it’s the ones who dwell there. It’s the people who call it home.

The Old Testament pointed to the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, as the dwelling place of God. The Tabernacle was made with the finest wood, the richest tapestries and was adorned with gold and silver elements. When Solomon built the Temple, the walls were covered with gold and only the finest stones were used throughout. It was necessary and fitting for the dwelling place of the Lord God to be the very best.  After the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, the Jewish people rebuilt it and the older generation grieved the smaller, less opulent structure. In time Herod remodeled and expanded the Temple to appease the Jews but, as Jesus predicted,[1] it was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans.

There are many awe-inspiring structures of worship throughout the world. Have you seen St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, or the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris? Maybe you’ve seen pictures of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow or St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. They are all awe-inspiring structures of worship. But the most beautiful of all God’s dwelling places is YOU. The Scriptures says that if you are in Christ Jesus “The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” (Romans 8:11). You are the place where God chose to reside through His Spirit. You are the place God calls home. Whether you are tall or short, light or dark-skinned or any other color in between, no matter your weight or the color of your hair (even if you have none!), despite any scars or imperfections you may see, you are the lovely dwelling place of God in the world today. It’s not your physical appearance nor your clothes and accessories but it is the One who lives within that makes you the beauty you are.

Beloved, if you struggle with your physical image, may I suggest you look deeper than the surface? Look past the garments and flesh and see yourself as the exquisite abode of the Lord of heaven and earth. See the beauty within and let others see it too. My but you’re looking lovely today!

Holy Father, anything good in me is because your Spirit dwells within and makes me into someone beautiful, inside and out. Thank you for moving in – please make Yourself at home in me. Amen

[1] See Matthew 24:2.

Christmas Presence

presence“I will put my dwelling place among you…I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”  Leviticus 26:11-12

God is all about relationship.  He created man for a unique and special relationship.  From the earliest days of creation, God walked with man in intimacy. Genesis 3:8 tells us that God enjoyed daily fellowship with Adam and Eve.  The second greatest tragedy of their sin was broken fellowship with God.  Their sin meant that God could no longer be with them in that intimate way.

Though man continued to live in sin and push farther and farther away from Him, God still desired that communion, so much so that He commanded the Israelites “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). Once again, God drew close to His people, dwelling in their midst.  But, once again, because of sin and rebellion, God had to distance Himself from His creation.  Ezekiel 10 tells the sad story of the Glory of the Lord departing the Temple. But all was not lost forever.  Decades before, God had promised to make a way that His people could still dwell with Him despite their fallen state.

God who is forever faithful fulfilled His promise, and the Hope of Christmas was born.  John 1:14 says “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”  God came once again to live among His creation, this time as a flesh and blood man – Jesus.  He came as a baby, born as any other man, yet born with the divine nature of God.  He came to walk among us, to eat with us, and to touch His creation with the literal fingers of God.  And He came to die for us, to forever bridge the gap between God and man.  He came to restore the relationship that sin had broken, He came to be Immanuel – God with us – forever.

Holy Father, the lights and carols and tinsel of Christmas are beautiful, but the true wonder of Christmas is Your presence among us, as a baby, as a man, as our Savior.  My hope is in your promise to be “God with me.”  Amen

When Your World is Shaken

“At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” Hebrews 12:26-27

There are two perspectives taught in the church about suffering, one is that suffering is inevitable and unavoidable and the other is that suffering is evil and its presence should be rejected, and in truth they are both correct.

Suffering and hardships are part of human life. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, mankind has been subject to the travails of life outside of the perfect world of the Garden.  Sickness, death, failure and even the ravages of nature are all part of the consequences of that very first sin.  In that sense suffering is unavoidable.

Suffering is also part of the Christian’s life—Jesus told us as much: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). He said the world would hate and persecute His followers because they hated and persecuted Him (see John 15:18-21).  It is both a painful experience and a joyful one to suffer for the name of Christ.  As we watch the world turn farther and farther away from God, it is reasonable to believe that suffering in this way is inevitable.

Suffering is also rooted in evil, as we noted—a direct consequence of the actions of the first humans who listened to the evil one rather than their Creator.  In the Garden, all was perfect.  No disease, no death, no hatred, no failure, do destruction.  Evil entered the picture and Adam and Eve were banished from their perfect home.  If only they had resisted . . .  Now mankind and creation are subject to evil in the forms of hatred, war, crime, poverty and abuse, to name a few.

How are we to comprehend a good God who allows suffering to befall His beloved creation—human beings, animals and the planet He spoke into being?  Look around the world at what evil men have done, at the pain they have inflicted. Why would God allow this to be?  Let’s bring this closer to home—how can we understand when He allows suffering to touch our lives?  Is it possible that God has lost control?

Beloved, God has never lost control of this universe; He is just as sovereign over the affairs of creation—including suffering—as He has ever been.  And He has never lost control of the lives of men.  He continues to hold the reigns of the world, just as He continues to hold your life and mine in the palm of His hand.

So how do we reconcile God’s sovereignty and suffering?  Do we become spiritual Eeyores and resign ourselves to it?  Pat each other on the shoulder and say “Just trust God,” with a sigh?  There are many theological reasons we can consider, but I don’t think that will comfort our hearts.

Our key verse is the hope I hang on to in suffering.  This verse references a passage in the Old Testament book of Haggai, which is written to the Israelite refugees who had returned to Jerusalem after their 70-year Babylonian exile.  The weary and bedraggled Jews came home, not to the shining city of their past, but to a burned out shell.  The walls had been knocked flat, their homes decimated, and worst of all, the temple of the Lord has been burned to the ground.  In their recovery efforts they restored the wall and built homes and even began the work on the temple, but they were too overwhelmed to finish.  God declared to His people, “Be strong and work, for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4), and the Jews did indeed complete the task.  Yet they became discouraged because this second temple was much smaller and less opulent than Solomon’s temple.  So God declared to them that an even greater Temple was yet to come, a heavenly temple far beyond their wildest and greatest dreams.  This is what the writer of Hebrews was drawing on in our key verse.

Times of suffering in the lives of God’s people are tools He uses to prepare us for what is to come.  In this verse, the author used the image of being shaken.  Some things are “shakable,” unstable and unfixed.  They are the temporary things that we too often set our hearts on in this life.  Power, popularity, prestige, wealth, health and beauty—all things that fade away.  God wants us to realize that these things, so sought after in this world, have no value or permanence in the eternal.  So He shakes things up, causing these worldly “treasures” to fall away, and with them our dependence on and affection for them.

What remains after all the shaking is done?  Look at Hebrews 12:28: “a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” What remains is the eternal, unshakable Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  The New Jerusalem, the Holy City where we will live forever in the presence of the Lord.  What value is there in worldly treasures when we stand before the King of kings and Lord of lords?  Those things that captured our hearts in this life are meaningless in the light of heaven.  Oh why do we hold on to the unstable things of this world when an unshakable destiny awaits us?

What is God shaking loose in your life?  What are you holding on to that has no eternal value? Dear one, He will not take anything from you that is lasting and true.  Let God have His way with the temporary treasures of your life so that you may inherit the unshakable and eternal.

Holy Father, in my hand are worldly treasures, trinkets and false gemstones set in fool’s gold.  Shake them from my hands that I may grab hold of that which is unshakable and eternal.  Amen.

The Hope of Salvation

“Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us.  This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

The nation of Israel looked and longed for the salvation of the Lord.  He had promised to send them a Savior, and so they watched and waited with an eye always turned toward the Temple, the Sanctuary of God.  Today we will look at the Hope of God’s salvation in this fourth day of Advent.

The prophets of Old declared the Word of the Lord; a Word that foretold both coming destruction and coming salvation.  The Jewish people would soon fall to their ruthless enemies and suffer great oppression.  But they had hope, because they had God’s promise for salvation from their enemy.  And so they waited for their deliverer.  They waited, not with a “wishful” hope, but with an expectant hope, confident that the Lord their God would fulfill His promise.  And He did – but not in the way they expected.

You see, Israel’s greatest enemy was not a foreign nation.  Israel’s greatest enemy and ours is death-and Israel, like all mankind needed a Savior who could defeat death and give us life.  That Savior is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Advent season is traditionally one of preparation and waiting – waiting with that expectant hope and confidence in the faithfulness of God.  Two people are highlighted in Luke’s Gospel as great “waiters,” Simeon and Anna. Scripture says of Simeon, “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel…it had been revealed to Him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:25, 26)  When Jesus’ parents came to the Temple to dedicate the Holy Infant, Simeon recognized the Promise of God and, taking Jesus in his arms, he praised God – “My eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation…”(v. 30-31). Anna was a long-time widow who gave herself night and day to worship, fasting and prayer.  Verse 38 says “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel.”  Did you catch that – “to all who were looking forward to the redemption” (emphasis added).

We live in a world fraught with evil, sickness, hatred and despair.  But we are not hopeless.  We have the fulfillment of God’s promised salvation in the God-man, Jesus Christ.  He alone is our hope for salvation.  It is not a vain hope, for Jesus has already defeated our enemy.  By His death, we are free from eternal death; by His resurrection we have eternal life.

As we rush through stores and celebrations and parties, let us commit to keep one eye always trained on He who is the Hope of all mankind, the Promise of God, Jesus Christ – our Salvation.  The greatest Christmas Gift of all.

Oh Lord my God, You alone are “mighty to save (Zech. 3:17).  I rejoice in Your promise of salvation, a promise You fulfilled through Jesus, born as a tender infant, born to save and redeem me.  My hope is in You, my Savior and My God.  Amen