When we think of the book of Jonah, what first comes to mind? Jonah and a big puking whale? As miraculous as that was, (not the puking part mind you, but the “in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” survival part – 1:17, 2:10). There is something much more spectacular if we were to take one step back and see the story framed from a distance.
To sum it up in one word, “Sovereign.” Supreme or ultimate in authority and power.
God is Sovereign.
He does what He wants. When He wants. How He wants and with whom He wants. And yes, where He wants. God has it all covered!
Jonah was a reluctant missionary prophet, (a contemporary of the book of 2 Kings). He was initially unwilling to go and do as God said. He didn’t like the Ninevites. God was sending him to the capital of the pagan, Gentile, powerful, Assyrian empire—his enemies. After the thrown overboard and fish excursions, when he finally got to Nineveh (big bad, icky, mean, and evil place) he simply declares his 5-word sermon (FINE! I’ll go. I’ll speak. But I’m keeping it short!) “40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (3:4).
The Ninevites repent and God honored their repentance, and they find His mercy.
In this story, these four short chapters (48 verses) declare how God commissions. How He patiently waits. Shows His divine steering. His lavishing 2nd chance. Not to mention (but I will) how He provides visual aids to get Jonah’s attention (disastrous storm, throwing sailors, fish, plant, worm, and a scorching east wind). All flowing out from His character of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness (Ex 34:6b). And yes, His justice to a person—and ultimately, a people group.*
How many times have we been reluctant for any reason to obey God? Oh, we have our excuses. We draw out the lengthy diagramed blueprint of “WHY” we can’t or why (without saying it out loud)—we won’t. May we (like Jonah) know, God means what He says, “You can do it My way or My way.” It is His way.
Yet may we notice too, God writes ‘turn around’ narratives (even if He must interject Himself boldly into the story) and He graciously offers second chances within re-commissioning (3:1-2).
God’s commissioning. Patience. Divine steering. His most gracious 2nd chances. His beautiful (non-coincidence) visual aids.
Does this resonate? It does for me.
God is Sovereign.
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds – Hebrews 10:24).
*The Ninevites chose to go back into their sinful lifestyles, despite the very generous reaching of Yahweh. He patiently waited for them to return—for a bit. He waited 150(ish) years. Then He sent another prophet, Nahum. Jonah was initially unwilling, going to a willing people. Nahum who was willing, went to (a grown to be) unwilling people. Nineveh was ultimately destroyed. God is Sovereign.
Anyone besides me, feel like their timeline has been messed with? It’s like playing “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” as we struggle trying to find when something happened, “Was it before, or maybe during Covid… I don’t remember.” This and the economic and political climate. The moral downward spiral of our country. And personal happenings in our families. We’ve had a few rough years! Years that if we were honest, we could say—it changed us.
But in this time, I am confident we all have learned something new about God or something re-affirming about His character. What about learning something about ourselves? If we are truly honest, we’ve seen a strength, a challenge, a weakness or even maybe, a sinful life pattern.
Tough times are an opportunity to learn. An opportunity to grow.
A proverb is a stated truth or offering of advice. “Without wise leadership, a nation falls” (Pro 11:14a – couldn’t resist). There is one modern proverb familiar to us all, “When life gives you lemons—make lemonade.” When life comes at us fast. When the unknown stares us in the face. When life is bitter. Make—lemonade. Use it. Make something good out of it.
We have a choice. We can attempt to hide or run. We can ignore it all or deny it’s happening. Or we can position ourselves for opportunity. Joy-filled opportunity.
James talks about this, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:2-4, NLT – emphasis mine).
Notice James emphasizes “let it grow.” Do-not-stop-the-process. Don’t stop it pre-maturely. In our current society, endurance (perseverance or steadfastness) is not a strong point. When things get tough, we bail out. We quit. We just sit down. Not to mention (but I will) how many of us have sabotaged the growth process because we knew it could be painful. It could be a boatload of emotional, physical, and spiritual work.
Joseph of the OT is a great example of making something good out of bitter lemons. His brothers (out of jealousy) threw him in a pit and later sold him as a slave (yup, bitter tasting). It gets even more sour for him; he is falsely accused, imprisoned, and forgotten. Rough times indeed. He himself didn’t grow bitter; he grew—better. What do I mean by that? Joseph embraced the process. Stayed obedient to his God. He didn’t let the trials ruin him.
Testimonies are birthed in trials.
God is a God of detail. He sees it ALL. Knows it all. I would offer, He says, “I can use this in your life, I can use it – if you will let Me.” Embrace and work the process. God used it all. All the ick. All the trying times to mature Joseph. He ultimately used Joseph to save Egypt in the big famine. He used Joseph to graciously restore his family. Remember what he said to his brothers “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20. Read his whole story, chapters 37-50). What would have happened if Joseph gave up in the middle of it all? (Point to Ponder).
James didn’t stop when saying, let it grow, the maturing process God is working in and through you, he continues; (I’m paraphrasing) “but if you lack wisdom in the process, you need help in handling the trials? Ask God for wisdom.” Wisdom is God-given and God-centered discernment regarding the practical issues in life. I’ve heard it said that true wisdom is applying God to my situation. The bible refers to Solomon as the wise guy, the guy who wrote all those wise proverbs. Why was he so wise? He asked for it (1 Kings 3:5-12; 2 Chron 1:7-12).
I am challenged by this. May we see each season with joy as an opportunity to learn and grow from it. May we not be lazy in the maturing process. Don’t stop. Let it grow! Seek God’s wisdom. I am not belittling ANY pain, but what we learn from THIS tough season, what is grown in us, we take into the next one. Jesus is enlarging our capacity for Him, enabling us to see HIM more clearly. Live Him more clearly —all for His glory!
When life gives you lemons (count it all joy) and make some lemonade!
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds” – Hebrews 10:24).
*There is so much more to be said, this is an excerpt from the teaching I brought at our June Women’s Breakfast at church. Each gal was given a “Joy Jar” to remember all that was shared, summarized, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
In my quiet time I have been reading through the book of Galatians. I am fascinated by Paul telling of his encounter with Jesus. Paul, zealous in the traditions of his forefathers, advancing ahead of his colleagues, and once a persecutor of the Christians. Then dramatically calls it like it is “But when God” (Galatians 1:15, NIV) —everything changed. Don’t you just love it! We all need a “but when God” in our life! He goes on to say God called him by His grace and revealed His Son to him (v16).
The word Paul chooses to use for reveal is thought-provoking. There are two uses for this Greek word. One is used to describe something given to the spirit-man, (the inner man, associated with the mind, will and emotions). God reveals to the intellect of man (Matthew 16:17, when Jesus states His Father revealed to Peter, that He was “the Christ, the Son of the living God“). However, here Paul primarily stresses the other usage. Within the context, this revealing is done to the senses (the outer-man) to sight, smell, hearing, speaking and touching. Meaning, when Jesus presented Himself to Paul (remember the bright blinding light) He knocked Paul on his backside and was appealing first to his senses. He had to get Paul’s attention! Paul was a highly educated man, a thinking man. Perhaps God was getting past his head so he could not attempt to rationalize the encounter, (thus three days of blindness). The verse goes on to say, this revelation—all was done ultimately “so that” he might preach Him. (See Galatians 1:11-16 and Acts 9).
I appreciate that the Word of God is so practical. The phrase “so that” (used 80x in the NKJV) not only gives us a connecting clause, but also is powerful and insightful—this is why. Not that God needs a reason, but graciously and divinely, the writers included it and the Holy Spirit breathes understanding through it.
“Walk in the ways of the LORD your God so that you may live and prosper” (Deut. 5:33).
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
Paul prays “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better” (Ephesians 1:17).
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).
May we spot the “so that’s” in scripture, aware there is a reason, and the reason is intended to be known. May we also see the “so that” in everyday life. Mindful of moments (i.e.) realizing perhaps a delay (in circumstance) was divinely designed “so that” we were able to see God move, or God move through US!
Noting too, like Paul, God may find the need to get our attention and knock us on our backside, (He has me a couple-three times) when He does, let’s look for the reason, “So that ______________________” (you and Holy Spirit fill in the blank).
The graciousness of God, “This is why.”
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds” – Hebrews 10:24).
I do puzzles on my iPad, it’s less messy and I can easily store the puzzle away. The part I enjoy most is when I slide the pieces around, looking for just the right fit. But then—they click into place. With a little effort, one piece at a time, all the pieces creating a beautiful picture.
This is what I love about the Word of God. God so wonderfully orchestrating the fitting of pieces, “all the pieces creating a beautiful picture.” Not long ago in my study time I saw the pieces click into place—amazing! I was looking at Leviticus 9:7, Moses to Aaron “Come to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and the people” (NIV). Looking at the word “atonement” I went directly to the law (or principle) of first mention. Meaning, I went to the first time that word (doctrine or concept) is mentioned. The first mention often sets the tone for further usage.
Here’s what I found. Here’s what I love.
Atonement (“kapar” in Hebrew) is used 102x in the OT. The 1st time it is used is in Genesis 6—the flood story. “Wait. What?” I know, right? The flood. When God gave Noah the building instructions, He was very specific in the wood and to “pitch” it inside and out (v14). Pitch is kapar. What beautiful imagery. To pitch means to cover, to smear, even to caulk, waterproofing, sealing any gaps or seams. To “pitch” is prevention against water and unwanted pests and erosion from entering or affecting the material. Pitching changed the nature of the Ark; it was now waterproof inside & out. When God had Noah pitch the Ark, he was protecting and covering the remnant that He was making covenant with.
THAT literally is atonement. In Leviticus it speaks of Aaron the Priest who took a bull (killed it) then took the blood and atoned with it on the altar. The blood covers. It appeases. It pacifies the anger of a holy God against sinful man.
JESUS. He came to take care of it all. His blood covers and fills any gaps. His blood fully satisfies God—we are fully reconciled to God. And yes, our nature too is changed. We are covered and protected in the covenant. All this making us—fully pitched. Wouldn’t it make a great bumper sticker “Got Pitched.”
One piece at a time, all the pieces creating a beautiful picture.
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds” – Hebrews 10:24).
*See: Gen 6:14; Lev 4, 17:11; Ro 3:25; Heb 9:12,22; 1 Jn 2:2, 4:10; Rev 1:5.
“Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth” (1 Samuel 17:33, emphasis mine).
I LOVE the story of David and Goliath. Big nasty dude yelling stupid things about God and God’s people. But one day a boy comes to camp. Goliath continues yelling, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other” (v10). Goliath is not just asking for any opponent; he wants a man. A grown, trained, mature, “give me a challenge” —man.
There is but one response. David. Scholars believe him to be about seventeen(ish) when he told King Saul “Send me.” Saul’s response basically says, “You are but a boy, an adolescent. The situation is beyond you—beyond what you are.”
Saul tries to get David to wear his suit of armor. “I cannot go in these” he says (v39). There was no hesitation on David’s part. There was no “give me a minute while I figure this out.” He takes his sling, stick and smooth stones and RUNS toward Goliath. I must add, Goliath’s shield-bearer was out there too (v41). Not so tough now big guy! David swung his sling, the stone hit the target. Down went the opposing giant of a man. Goliath called for a man. King Saul declares a mere boy. David did what God called him to do. Victory!
What is God calling us to?
May there be no hesitation in us when we are called beyond what we seem to be. Perhaps too young, untrained, too small. Or possibly too big, or too old. And maybe, like myself, as I was the former student with the “reading disability.” Graduating High School with a 4th grade reading level. Even so, I surrendered to His call on my life to teach His Word—calling me to the Book. He has healed my mind, what once didn’t make sense, now makes sense—and then some.
Chances are we’ll run into a Saul now and then, but don’t let them pull out their measuring stick and attempt to size us up, it has nothing to do with what God can do through us! Let us not begin a wardrobe change, trying to fit into someone else’s stuff. But take up what we know. His word. His presence and RUN toward what God calls us to. I’m sure if you wish to yell, “For Narnia!” God will understand.
We all have giants to slay. Now go.
Earless chocolate bunnies and leftover deviled eggs in the frig. Post-Easter. Now what? Do we rummage through the calendar for another holiday? Or plan an event to look forward to? What excites us about the future or even—daily? May I be so bold in asking, what causes our inside to burn with excitement? What consumes our mind and emotions? What drives our behavior?
Jesus’ resurrection is AMAZING! WONDERFUL! DIVINE! REDEEMING! However, let’s not stop there. There is MORE! Let’s unpack this in brief summary. Stay with me, this is good! Luke 24, it speaks of the women going to the tomb, once there they find two angels who notify them that Jesus was no longer there. He’s risen from the dead! The gals go back to tell the others. Peter, as energetic as he was, runs to go see and confirms. Just following that, (v13) it says, “Now that same day.” It proceeds to unfold the story of the two walking to Emmaus, who unknown to them at first, encounter Jesus. They are flabbergasted that this Stranger didn’t seem to know what had just transpired in Jerusalem. Sharing their disappointment, “We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Going on they explained how Jesus’ body was not found. Verse 27, “Then He (Jesus) started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to Him.” WOW! I’d love a one-on-one instant Bible study from the lips of the Master!
It wasn’t until Jesus was in their home, seated at their table, and they accepted the bread He offered, that their eyes were opened, and they had the revelation of Who He was. Could it be (just an observation) that as Jesus reached forward, giving the bread, the sleeve of His garment slid up and they could see His nail scarred hand? At that exact moment, they realized, and Jesus disappeared. I LOVE their response, “They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us” (v32).
Their hearts burning within them. I want spiritual heartburn! I want my soul, my mind, and thoughts, my passions, desires, and appetites to burn with and for Him and His Word! Throw in my imagination and I’m pretty much covered. The word Luke chooses to use for “burning” is very colorful. It doesn’t mean to simply strike a match and light the kindling and watch it slowly give off heat. No, it RAVISHES through the wood and consumes it!
Notice Jesus didn’t lay hands on them or put mud on their eyes for the revelation. He didn’t drift from the shore in a boat to speak to them. He didn’t even send them to the Priest for verification! He simply—walked with them. Walking and talking. The narrative says they got up at once and went back to Jerusalem testifying that Jesus has indeed RISEN.
For us? The next time we find our seat at church or open the Bible for devotion time, let’s not daydream off to another place, but do some focused walking, and talking. Jesus told us, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things” (John 14:26). We just need to show up for the lesson and not make it more difficult than it is. Pay attention, take notes, and ask questions—engage in conversation. THIS is the event. The daily event we will look forward to.
And burn Lord, BURN within us!
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds – Hebrews 10:24).
Jesus is agonizingly set between two thieves. His feet and hands are nailed to a wooden cross. There at the foot of the cross, many mocked, some cried, and I am confident there were those—in complete silence. After the vinegar water was given to Jesus, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He then bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
“It is finished.” The word in Greek is amazing! Stand back and take in the whole Technicolor filled screen. I don’t think even Steven Spielberg with all his creative genius could convey the scene that was unfolding upon humanity. “It is finished” (Tetelestai) “to bring to an end—to fulfill. What is done corresponds to what has been said, ordered or commanded.” “Not My will, but Your will be done” (Jesus, Lk 22:42). Grammatically, it is in the “perfect tense.” Meaning the action was completed in the past with results continuing in the present. Basically, “This happened, and it is still in effect TODAY.” The gift that keeps on giving!
As Jesus said this, His blood flowing down His forehead, from His hands and His feet. His sacrifice now eliminating the debt owed by mankind (you and me). May we take careful notice, Jesus didn’t say “I am finished.” That would imply He a mere man and die defeated. What was finished was not Jesus’ life—it was everything keeping us from God. Looking back, you can almost hear the divine whisper as God sends Man & Woman out of the Garden, “It’s okay, I’ve got a plan.”
Those red words. “It is finished.”
Jesus is ultimately laid in the tomb. Where God spares NO detail. Instructions for building the Tabernacle and the divine furniture, “Make the atonement cover (Also known as the MERCY SEAT) of pure gold… Make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. Make one cherub on one end and the second at the other end” (Ex. 25:17-19). HERE the blood sacrifice was placed by the Priest (Lev 16:14). Fast forward, John 20:12, Mary “saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” Because of blood—Jesus’ blood, God’s requirement of sinful man is now satisfied. HE is the Lamb of God. HE is our High Priest.
When Jesus rose from the dead and the stone was found rolled away it was NOT so He, the Son of God, Who walked on water, could get out, it was so mankind could get in! Get in and see “He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as He said would happen. Come, see where His body was lying” (Matt 28:6).
Jesus rises from the dead triumphantly (Happy Easter) the bridge back to the Father is perfected. He engages and commissions the disciples. Returns to heaven to reign forever. Does it end here? No. Now we the church with the authority given by Jesus Himself, as inspired by Holy Spirit, carry on with the red-letter commands, statements, and tender words.
Move over Easter Bunny, here comes the risen King! “It is Finished! Relationship offered; relationship restored.
When Jesus died and with His resurrection power, He left no unfinished business behind, He successfully completed the work He came to do. The plan, the process of God. Now may we live each day as a red-letter day!
Happy Easter from our home to yours!
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds“- Hebrews 10:24).
Remember as a child sliding the crayon from one dot to another until getting to the last dot, excited to see a picture form? This is often how we come to understand certain things—connecting the dots. Have we considered the “dot connection” (if you will) of the Lamb of God? As we draw near to Easter, let’s pick up our crayon and begin connecting as we see the progression of the Lamb.
Genesis 22: God declares to Abraham to take his son Isaac, his only son to the mountain and offer him as a sacrifice. As Abe and son begin their hike up the mountain, father placing the wood on the shoulders of the son, Isaac says, “The fire and wood are here” then asks, “But where is the lamb?” Abraham confidently responds, “God Himself will provide the lamb.” As the story progresses, Isaac on the altar, Abraham obeys to the fullest. God knowing his heart, stops him and in substitution, provides a male lamb for the sacrifice. The lamb provided.
Exodus 12: God prepares the Israelites to leave the captivity of Egypt. Instructions were given as the Angel of Death would soon be unleashed. “Take the lamb” slay and place the blood of the lamb on the doorpost of the home. The blood now over them, death avoided. The lamb protected.
John 1: John the Baptist, known as an eccentric evangelist, sees Jesus approaching; he openly declares, “Look, behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” John purposely points to Jesus, the shift of attention. The Lamb proclaimed.
Revelation 5: The heavenly citizens declare before the throne, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (v9). THAT verse! Read it again as Holy Spirit breathes on you with His Majesty! Let’s all stand to our feet! The Lamb PRAISED!
As we enjoy milk chocolate with peanut butter filled eggs (I SO love Easter candy) let’s take these next few days building up to Easter—our dots connected. May we wholeheartedly consider the Lamb of God. The empty cross. The empty tomb. Focusing, seeing, understanding and participating in the celebration of Jesus.
It’s not about the bunny—it’s about the LAMB!
The lamb provided, protected, proclaimed and praised.
Worthy is the LAMB!
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” – Hebrews 10:24).
This weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday:
“Six days before the Passover…” Mary took a pint of perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet—the house filled with the fragrance. The narrative (John 12) describes the triumphal entry “The next day” (Palm Sunday). It is safe to say Jesus still smelled quite fragrant from the oil. This being of Jewish telling, in Jewish culture, whilst Jewish people stood on the street as Jesus passed by, they (potentially) smelling the fragrance, resonated the Kingly procession, as they shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel (v13).
Anointing was a priestly and kingly custom: Moses pouring oil on Aaron’s head (Lev 8:12) and Samuel over Saul (1 Sam 10:1) and the anointing of King David (1 Sam 16:13; 1 Chron 29:22). Interestingly, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet. The custom was washing the visitor’s feet from the dusty paths but could (just an observation) the anointing of His feet, (not His head) display the declared Majesty of God—on earth. His Kingly walk among man, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Later as Jesus rides through the cobblestone streets, the crowd begins to yell “Hosanna… Hosanna in the Highest” waving palm branches with enthusiasm. It was common practice in the ancient world to welcome home a king or war hero by laying down branches in front of them, similar to our ticker tape celebrations today. Hosanna is the Greek version of the Hebrew saying “yasha na” meaning “Save now we pray.” This taken from what is known as the Hallel, (Jewish prayerful readings of Psalms 113-118) specifically here, “O LORD, save us; (HOSANNA!) O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you” (Psalm 118:25, 26, emphasis mine). Can we grasp the impact of what they are saying? Jesus was fulfilling the prophetic words of Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9).
However, just four chapters later, people were yelling again, but this time; “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:12-14). Little did they know they were basically yelling the same thing. Both times! For you see beloved, for Jesus to “save we pray” they had to “Crucify Him!” and —He allowed it. He laid down His life for YOU and for me. By this act and He resurrecting from the dead with all Kingly authority and power, He stood in the gap, reaching for your hand and placing it into the hand of the Father. He is the Restorer of relationship—God and mankind.
This weekend, may we not allow this moment to pass us by, as we whole-heartedly consider the impact and fulfillment of Hosanna. JESUS! He rides an untamed colt in a King’s procession, “SAVE WE PRAY!” THAT He did!
Move over Easter Bunny behold the Lamb of God!
In Him DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds” – Hebrews 10:24).
God has been showing me and teaching me about His countenance—His Presence. Through David, the Psalmists, God instructs us to “seek His face.” We find this specifically in Psalm 27:8 “You have said, “Seek my face.” (David responds…) My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek” (ESV, emphasis mine). We find it again in Psalm 105:3-4, “Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!” In these latter verses we see “seek, seek, seek.” Seek Him. Seek His strength. Seek His presence continually. It isn’t a one and done deal, it is ongoing. What an exciting, yet in this wild and crazy busy world—a challenging command. A challenging demand.₁
David uses two Hebrew words to stress we are to “seek” God. Although the words differ, the sense is the same and could be paraphrased, “Carefully search for the LORD and His strength; continually and eagerly seek Him.
Now that we have the method (seeking). WHAT are we after? We are to seek—His face. Face means (as some Bible translations refer to it) as presence. Paniym (in Hebrew) interestingly represents not just the “face” but the whole person. When we seek God’s face and stand before Him, face to face, (metaphorically, spiritually) we get His “wholeness.” We have access to His countenance. ALL His qualities and features.
I felt God showed me it’s like those board cut outs we see at the fair, life size with a humorous picture on the front. As you stand behind it, you lean forward and put your face in the cut-out hole, all that is genuinely seen of you is your face, the rest is a sketched illusion.
May I offer to help paint the picture, God is conveying in the above verses; He wants us to step around the board cut-out (possibly our sketched perspective) and receive ALL of Him. This isn’t an irreverent move, or rash intrusion, but an invitation. Being in His presence, full-on front, with no barrier, the whole God package—we have His love, mercy, grace, wisdom and yes, His justice.
James wrote, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (4:8a). The context is replacing our desire to sin with our desire to experience God’s presence and His availability and power to purify us. It is in His presence (slipping behind the board cut-out beyond just the face image) we have access to His wholeness. It is likened to when I stand face to face with a friend, I have access to their eyes, ears, mouth and even their hands. I have and see all their features. Yet, with this in mind, many of us take on the sketched illusion that God is mad at us and when in His presence, we only have His back—He is faced away. God is not mad at you; He is madly in love with you. We must look behind the perceived illusion and truly see Him.
It is amazing how (and expect it) the enemy knows we’re heading to “seek Him” – he’ll do anything to keep us from God’s Presence. We need to be Presence seekers, abiders and “fight for it” kingdom members!
*I recently spoke on “Emotional Freedom” at our women’s conference, this is an excerpt from that teaching. (Click this link for part one: https://inspiredfountain.com/2022/03/13/before-you-pray-them-away/ and part two: https://inspiredfountain.com/2022/03/18/storm/ ).
1A command is an order and comes with authority. Demand is a firm request that does not come from a position of power. God gave the command; we demand of ourselves; it in our response and behavior—we seek HIM! So yes, in this wild and crazy busy world—a challenging command. A challenging demand.
Promotional Picture above from Oriental Trading
Emotions, they can be rough at times. In our attempt to control these often wayward and chaotic feelings we laugh them off with a wave of “That is just how I am.” Or throw up a pleading prayer “Oh God take it away!” But we rarely REALLY want to address them. Before we pray them away (in Jesus’ name) may we first consider “Why?” we are feeling what we are feeling.
Could it be due to a storm we are in. An emotional storm can be our reaction to a sudden rush of circumstance that swirls around us. Or a brewing of both external and internal disturbances.* (See below).
Mark chapter 4:35-41, we know this story (I paraphrase):
Jesus tells the disciples “Let’s go to the other side.” They get in the boat and head across. Sometime in, a huge storm comes up. The disciples are terrified. They cry out to Jesus. Jesus stands and calms the storm.
There’s one thing I find interesting; In Mark’s telling, he adds one detail the other gospels (Matthew 8, Luke 8) don’t tell: “There were other boats with Him” (v36). They weren’t alone out there.
I see four lessons in the storm (among MANY):
1). Listen to Jesus. He said, “Let’s go to the other side.” Jesus doesn’t lie. If the boat was going down, He would have said, “Don’t bother with the life jackets—it won’t matter.” They were going to the other side. Look for and listen to Jesus. What does He say about our circumstance?
2). Don’t be too proud to cry out: There were pros in boat, experienced fishermen—those men were terrified. They could have hung on for dear life rationalizing away the effects of the storm, claiming they had it under control, declaring they knew the storm. Regardless of preparedness—STORMS HAPPEN. Cry out.
3). In the storm we learn the power of Jesus. In the swirling storm, He spoke. Jesus miraculously brought peace. The wind and waves obeyed. The disciples were in awe, “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!” (v41, NLT). Invite Him to speak in our storm. Invite the Presence and power of God to stand with us.
4). Our crying out to Jesus affects others. There were other boats out there. When the disciples cried out to Jesus, His response affected ALL on the water. It says, “the wind died down and was perfectly calm” (v39). How we handle the storm DOES affect others. Cry out to Jesus.
Next time we have a swirl of emotion, before we wave them off, may we take pause and consider our potential storm; Identifying what Jesus has to say about it, not hesitating due to self-reliance, but cry out—invite Him, His power to help. Remembering, others are affected by our treatment of the storm.
*I recently spoke on “Emotional Freedom” at our women’s conference, this is an excerpt from that teaching. (Click this link for part one: https://inspiredfountain.com/2022/03/13/before-you-pray-them-away/ )
This weekend I had the wonderful honor of being one of three speakers at our annual Women’s Spring Conference. The theme, “Emotional Freedom.” Deep topic. Challenging topic. A topic of opportunity.
When I was introduced, I came from the back of the sanctuary pulling a child’s red wagon heaped high filled with suitcases and bags. Tied to the back of the wagon was clanging cans and bells. Each bag was tagged; Anxious, fear, anger, sorrow, insecure and bitter. Some had pretty bows and others with clothes recklessly hanging out of stuffed bags. As I walked down the center aisle (cans noisily bouncing along) I stopped to chat with gals along the way (while my wireless mic was on). At one point I handed the handle of my wagon to one gal to hold while we chatted. Taking my wagon, I moved on, when the gal who introduced me (from the pulpit) reminded me I was needed up front.
We all have emotional baggage of some sort. Most of us are draggin our wagon full of them. Our emotions can be messy and noisy. We can attempt to decorate them—hide them and sometimes we even try to hand them to others, forcing them to hold them. Emotions can distract us and delay us.
Our emotions can be like the Oregon weather, we have a saying here, “Just wait, it will change.” Some days you get them all (sun, rain, hail, wind etc). And some days you get them all—at the same time.
Emotions are not bad; they are God given. There is plenty of emotion expressed in the Bible. King David and the apostle Peter are prime examples. David was an intense man. He played hard, was a violent warrior and a passionate man (which at times got him in trouble). Peter was a man of outbursts. He jumped out of the boat, told Jesus “NO!” and cut a man’s ear off.
In our attempt to control these often wayward and chaotic feelings we laugh them off with a wave of “That is just how I am.” Or throw up a pleading prayer “Oh God take it away!” But we rarely REALLY want to address them. Before we pray them away (in Jesus’ name) may we first consider “Why?” we are feeling what we are feeling.
Perhaps we feel alienated and lonely. We are agitated, angry and cranky. Maybe we are dissatisfied and find nothing (absolutely NOTHING) satisfies us. Could it be—perhaps maybe—it is due to sin? Is what we are feeling a result of disobedience? We don’t talk much about the “S” word—sin. Yet it needs to be the first place we look. Our relationship with God is first and a priority, “Have I broken fellowship with Him?
Genesis chapters 2-3 (Briefly paraphrased). Man and woman are in the Garden, naked and unashamed. Then they disobey (sin) breaking fellowship with their God. They attempt to cover themselves. God comes to the Garden. They hide and are afraid, NOW they know shame. Disobedience births shame. Shame turns to fear. Fear motivates hiding.
I noticed something, as God speaks to them, addressing their disobedience, as He declares consequences (Adam and Eve) and curses (serpent and the ground), He does NOT properly cover them until—UNTIL they are being sent out of the Garden, out of His presence. In their makeshift attempt to cover themselves, they were still truly naked before God.
He doesn’t pamper them. He doesn’t coddle them. He doesn’t waver in the disciplinary process and give them a coat (yet). His actions (or lack of) conveying (if you will) “You stand right there. Just as you are—in your mess, WHILE I address your disobedience. ALL in love, the love of the Father.
When God came to the garden and asked, “Where are you?” God knew where they were. The question was for Adam to consider his position (hiding, wearing makeshift fig underwear) and his condition (broken fellowship with God). Broken and hiding, God had purpose in keeping them “in” their emotional discomfort without covering them. Please know, He did NOT hold them “in” their sin. It was the consequence of the sin—He allows them to stay in their discomfort for the learning process.
It’s like in Exodus when the narrative says, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Pharaoh’s heart was already hard. God knew his heart. God kept his heart hard. In doing so, making them experience ALL the plagues. They needed them all. If Pharaoh stopped the process short, they wouldn’t have experienced all God wanted them (and Israel) to learn. Each plague addressed the “gods” Egypt worshipped. God doesn’t take away Pharaohs free will, He holds it—strengthens it, “So, you refuse to let My people go? Fine. I’m going to allow it. I’ll even help reinforce your stubborn will and watch you go through the whole pack of plagues” (DeDe’s paraphrase of the event). It’s kind of like if we catch our kids smoking, to teach them a lesson, we make them finish the WHOLE pack. God needed Egypt to experience the whole pack of plagues. With Adam and Eve, they need to experience the whole package of shame. What it meant—what it felt like (shame and fear) to be in broken fellowship.
Sometimes our discomfort, our pain-filled emotions are meant to cause us to become aware of our sin. Sometimes we are not aware or have a blind spot or we may just be ignoring it. It’s like if we step on something, by design, the pain makes us stop and look. All these could point to what we have put in His place, making “it” or “them” more important. When God said in Exodus 20:3 to “have no OTHER gods before” Him. He was serious. He is first—He is only.
Disobedience. How do we address it? “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9*). In today’s culture, “confess” tends to convey we are getting caught and owning up to it. But biblical confession is MORE. It literally means “to say the same thing”—to concede. When we confess, we are coming into agreement with God. It isn’t necessarily our “wrong” (although VITAL we declare it) but the rightness of God. “I am wrong — YOU are right.” The emphasis is the rightness of God. HIS standard is right. HE is right. Confession (and repentance) is re-agreeing and re-aligning to the rightness of God. And as this verse points, Oh the wonderful and beautiful forgiveness and purifying of God!
Folks, it’s time to get real. Time is short and there are people who are depending on our obedience. May we stop and look.
(Above is Part One of “Before You Pray Them Away”)
*1 John 1:9 is written to the Christian, the Jesus follower. If you haven’t come to the wonderful saving power of Jesus, please know, YOU are loved. Jesus took care of the distance between you and our Holy God. All you have to do is accept His sacrifice, His blood to cover you. It is the INITIAL agreeing and aligning to the rightness of God. Ephesians 2:8 tells us we are saved (made right with God) it is God’s gift to YOU. You can’t earn it or have to work for it—just believe and receive it.
We might say we need to remember that Lincoln is the capital of Nebraska for the seven across answer on a crossword puzzle. Or remember that in “1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” to help our children with their homework. Facts. Mere facts.
However, remembering in the Bible is different. It is mentioned some 235+ times. Jewish culture treats remembering as a behavioral response. Conveying that hearing and obeying are synonymous. In the Hebrew, it literally means “to properly mark, so as to recognize.” The recognizing demands a response. The first mention is found in the story of Noah. God puts Noah, his family, and the animals in a big boat. Outside, the rains are in a downpour. The waters rise and the boat stays afloat for many days. “But God remembered Noah and all… and He sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded” (Genesis 8:1). God remembered. Did He temporarily forget? No. The Omniscient God (All-knowing) does not forget. His plan was implemented and in process. He remembers, He rescues, and He acts. God marked Noah. Genesis 9, the ark now sits on dry ground. Noah and family are out, and the animals disperse. God promises to not do THAT again—promise to not destroy everything with water. Sealing the deal, He gives a rainbow as a reminder.
“I have set My rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (9:13-16 NIV, emphasis mine).
The sign of the rainbow was a reminder—to GOD. Even though mankind seems to always keep mucking it up, continuing in disobedience—yet when the bow appears, He remembers. His response will be consistent with His covenant.
Isaiah speaks on behalf of God, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). He Himself declares before Moses, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). Oh, the glorious mystery of His mercy, of His grace! God’s response is consistent with His character.
God often directs His people in the Old Testament to remember their past and all that He had said and done for them: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you… Remember the Sabbath… Remember the law…” Why? So, their behavioral response would reflect relationship, they are His. Remember.
Jesus also speaks of remembering. The Last Supper: Jesus instructs the disciples to take the bread and the cup, representing His body and blood and “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22, 1 Corinthians 11). His intent was not assuming we’d forget Him throughout the week, and as we walk into church, seeing the elements up front, and think, “Oh, that’s right, I forgot about Jesus.” No, when we come to the table, and partake of the bread and wine, we remember—we remember ALL that He is, all that He did. We remember His covenant, His character. And yes, He expects a response. We properly mark, honor and recognize God, a response of worship, and of lifestyle.
Whatever it may take for us to remember, to invoke a Godly response—do so. I am right-handed, on my right little pinky finger, I wear a simple gold ring. I wear it to remind me, that whatever I reach for in life, it had better be under the authority of God’s character, and it be in line with God’s covenant.
Remember. Behavioral response.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Paul, letter to the Philippians (2:4).
I am reminded of a morning while driving to work a few years ago. Cruising along, the traffic seemed heavier than normal for 5:15am. Looking in my rear-view mirror, I saw the pretty orange lights of a big rig truck behind me. The poor guy was trying to maneuver through the morning commute. Cars full of folks that I am confident had not yet been caffeinated to complete awareness of their surroundings. Like that of a Chess game, I figured if I move over one lane, then move forward around this little white car, I could make room for the big truck to make his move. Off I went. Doing so, the truck driver saw the “move” and made his own advance. As we continued down the road for a few minutes, just as I began my exit off the freeway, the truck driver passed on by, but NOT before reaching his hand out with a hardy wave of “Thanks.”
Do we look and see those around us? Are we aware? Do we CARE? Do we see the need and heed? Or do we see and ignore with a hastily “Go around me!” Paul speaking to the Christians in Phillipi, proceeding the above verse stating: “Make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (vv2-3, NLT).
As we cruise through this life—may we be aware. May we take time to look and see how we can help others. When was the last time we made a conscious effort to look into the eyes of those we are with? May we offer a smile to the cashier and ask her how her day is going, looking at her nametag and calling her by name. May we hold the door while another carries heavy bags of groceries.
Our words of encouragement don’t need to be big and profound, a simple text of “Thinking of you” can go a long way. Perhaps, when possible, hold them, laugh with them, cry and pray.
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds” Hebrews 10:24).
The trendy slogan “What Would Jesus Do” from the 1990’s has pretty much faded away, yet the principle is true. The principle is good. Following what Jesus did is always the safest, the smartest, the most impacting—the BEST way to go.
Peter knew this.
Jesus is told by an agonized father; that his daughter is very sick (Mark 5). Soon, some men from Jairus’ house came with the news, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” Taking Peter, James and John, Jesus goes with them to Jairus’ home. There was a great commotion with loud weeping and wailing. Sending them all out (ah…quiet) Jesus took just the mother, the father and the three disciples. Taking the little girl by the hand, He said, “Little girl I say to you, arise.” Immediately her life was restored. All were overcome with amazement (vv22-42). Peter was there—he watched Jesus.
Peter was in Lydda when he was sent for (Acts 9). Tabitha, a good woman, a disciple of Jesus has died. Peter went to Joppa. When at the home where Tabitha’s body lay, he asked everyone to leave the room, the loud mourners were sent out (ah…quiet). “Tabitha, arise” he said. Her life was restored. Taking her by the hand, he helped her up. He called the friends and family back in, seeing her, the news spread throughout the village, and many believed in the Lord (vv 36-42).
When the situation seemed hopeless, Jesus went. Peter too. Jesus told the noise to leave. Peter too. Jesus declared “Arise!” Peter too. Jesus extended His hand. Peter too. In both scenarios, life was restored.
Jesus was Peter’s pattern.
A pattern is a model or design used as a guide. When Jesus called His disciples, He said, “Follow Me.” Jesus—the ultimate Guide.
Life can be filled with twists and turns. Known and unknowns. Joy and frustrations. What a gift God gave us to watch and learn from Jesus as He navigated the roller coaster ride of humanity. He was quiet when needed. Spoke boldly when required. Slipped away for Father time. Loved unconditionally. Pardoned the guilty. He confronted the lies. Taught among confusion. He led with righteousness.
This year, may we look to and reach for THE Pattern. Choose our steps, make our decisions, speak, love, confront, slip away for Father time—as Jesus did. Impacting. What grace was gifted to us, may we extend the same to others.
Have you ever felt a shrug of heart, you know that “Blah” feeling? Perhaps the blah is leading to anxiety or even agitation. The only way to put it into words is “I’m off, just… off.” May I offer, something may have shifted. Shifted from the sidelines to the seat; something/someone is now sitting on the throne of our heart. This, my dear friend is found deep in the factory setting in the design of man, a component known as the Peace Barometer. (Okay, maybe not—but that is what I call it).
In the Old Testament, the word for peace (Hebrew) is shalom. In short, meaning tranquility, harmony, wholeness. It has been referred to as evidence of not having strife or war. I would define peace not necessarily in what you do not have, but in what you do have. Let’s give a nod to the New Testament: The word for peace (in Greek) is eirene, which literally means “to set at one.” The picture is something that was once set in place has either been removed or toppled over (think of the game Jenga, remove foundational pieces and over it goes) chaos, strife, irritation even war are the results. Once it is set back in place—PEACE reigns.
Here’s a brief (VERY brief) explanation: Remember God and man (and Eve) in the Garden, their relationship was good and whole (peace-filled). Then there was a sin outbreak, the relationship was broken—toppled over. For generations (begetting) generations there was a missing element, what was, is no longer. Later Isaiah speaks of the coming of the Prince of Peace and the government resting on His shoulders (9:6). Fast forward to Luke chapter 2, the angels announce, “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace…” (v14). Peace was back on earth among man. Jesus is the missing piece (peace). He came bridging the gap (which was big and ugly) between man and his God. He set it all back in place. Relationship restored. God the Father planned it. God the Son accomplished it. God the Holy Spirit applied it. The God package delivered. PEACE REIGNS.
Paul writes, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” (Col. 3:15). Here’s where the peace barometer comes in: If God is not ruling on the throne of our heart, be assured another will occupy it! We will know peace to the degree that we YEILD to Christ, the Prince of Peace, if NOT—chaos, strife, irritation.
Paul again, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, PRESENT YOUR REQUESTS TO GOD, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7, emphasis mine). Presenting to God means, we are NOT to go looking for solutions elsewhere. If we do, we can potentially be placing things on the throne that shouldn’t be there. Our peace barometer will TILT if Jesus is not the center of our life, the One residing and reigning on the throne of our heart. Peace is not about peaceful circumstances; it’s about yielding to the presence of Christ. Let’s cut to the chase: God doesn’t come to take sides (help sort out our stuff) He comes to TAKE OVER. It is His design, His throne.
“May the God of Peace who makes everything… holy and whole, make YOU holy and whole, put you together–spirit, soul and body” (1 Thess. 5:23, paraphrased, The Message). God the Maker—God at the center—God on the throne.
How is our peace barometer? What is the condition of the throne of our heart? What is there? Who is there?
Immanuel. We sing with a resounding “O come, O come Emmanuel…” Immanuel* (see below) meaning “God with us.” Many who attempt to say God is uninterested and doesn’t turn His divine head our way do not understand Immanuel. Whether it is walking in the Garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8) the pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:22) or sandaled feet in Galilee (Matthew 4:18) or gloriously residing within us (1 Corinthians 3:16). The God who dwells with us, among us and in us—God is Immanuel.
Immanuel is first mentioned in Isaiah (chapter 7) within a strong warning to King Ahaz to get his act together in the midst of political uprising and trust that God is with them. But the guy chose poorly. Alrighty then, let’s take a peek at just how much God is WITH YOU, His people and what He has planned: Isaiah prophecies: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will be called Immanuel” (v14, may we always pay attention to the ‘Therefore‘ of scripture). As we know, God’s people were quite fickle in their love, trust, and obedience, causing them to do what was right AND evil in God’s eyes. They STILL didn’t fully comprehend God’s presence.
Fast forward to the New Testament, tucked in the story of the birth of Jesus. Matthew chapter 1: Joseph is about to take Mary as his wife, (according to cultural tradition, the engagement was a done deal). BUT she is pregnant (Hm…). He, a good man, plans to dissolve the marriage quietly as to not disgrace her. Queue angelic messenger: Joseph is told to take Mary as his wife, the baby she carries is of the Holy Spirit, she will have a Son and His name will be Jesus because He will save His people from their sins. Matthew gives narrative: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel – which means, “God with us” (vv 22-23).
God was and is with His people throughout history, but sending His Son, slipping Him into human flesh, all He was, all He did, could not be more unmistakably striking evidence of God’s presence. A sign indeed! God keeps His promises. The All-Powerful, All-Sufficient, Sovereign Creator of the universe does not NEED to be with us—He wants to! It is His plan. What a glorious plan.
This holiday season, as you consider Immanuel, step up, lean in, look to the far left—back to the beginning and then follow the timeline all the way to where YOU now stand. Then continue to the right, following the thread into eternity as declared from the heavenly throne, revealed to John, “the dwelling place of God is with men…” (Revelation 21:3). Unhindered fellowship with God Himself. The thread of God’s reigning government is “God with us.”
So beautiful, so comforting—Immanuel. Jesus. Continue singing, “O come, O come Emmanuel…”
*Why do we often see two spellings for Immanuel? The different spellings ultimately are because of different vowels used in Hebrew (O.T. “Immanuel”) and Greek (N.T. “Emmanuel”) yet they are indeed the same God presence, just two different languages.
This holiday season I have been pondering and rolling around in my head, the little seasonal rhyme, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” It fits well as a lapel pin and written in gold on our Christmas cards. I like it! The message is clear and points to Jesus!
I began to think of this in theological terms, the accuracy of it. I know—I KNOW you are rolling your eyes at this point. But bear with me. I am a people watcher. I watch how they walk, how they talk, their mannerisms, their facial expressions (hoping they are smiling behind that cloth mask). The other day as I was Christmas shopping, I looked into their eyes, wondering if THEY knew Jesus. Then it dawned on me—THEY are the reason for the season!
The season is Christmas. Christmas is JESUS—His birth. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The best gift ever! Jesus came to earth, the divine, embodied in human form. His life message pointing to Godly Kingdom stuff. His death represents us. He resurrected in full power and authority and now sits, enthroned on the right hand of the Father—for US! He came to fix the man-made mess. WE are the “whosoever.” WE are the reason for the season! Even simpler, YOU are the reason for the season! (Ok, group-HUG!) Yes, it’s all about Jesus and we glorify Him! But what He did, He did for YOU! He came for YOU! What LOVE! THE best gift giving possible.
Even with all the self-interest, self-immersion, self, self, self and all the “I” focus today, this Christmas look into the eyes of those around you, up and over your mask and consider THEM! What a great opening line to the gospel, said with heartfelt humility as you tenderly lean forward “Did you know YOU are the reason for the season…” Then tell them about Jesus. Tell them why He came. Use their name (read their name badge if they have one) “Bob, He came for YOU!” Most know about the baby in the manger and most often, folks leave Jesus there—in the manger. They either ignore or don’t know the rest. Now tell them about the grown up – KING.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14
Blessed Christmas to you and yours,
In Him, DeDe & Mark (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & deeds” – Hebrews 10:24).
Christmas, a time of sharing, loving and gift giving. We are in the season of hunting for those perfect gifts. We roam the mall, the local Walmart, Target or order and excitedly await the Amazon truck.
We often read the Christmas story and highlight the most spectacular parts: Singing angels. “Fear Not” statements. The Star of Bethlehem, and yes, the divine precious baby in the dingy manger. YET, there are some quiet and less compelling items to be had in the excitement.
Consider if you will, the Magi (Matthew chapter 2) as they prepare for their trek to find the child to whom the shiny Star belongs. Tradition, not scripture, says there were three wise men, only because the three gifts that were given. They are packing, (imagine with me) dividing the supplies list. Then they come to the gift inventory; gold is given to the first, then frankincense handed to another. “Oh yeah” the myrrh is last. How would you like to be handed the myrrh and picture yourself bowing low, head to the floor while you offer to the King of Kings, M-Y-R-R-H (said with an Eeyore deep tone). You may think “Why do I have to carry the white elephant gift?” White elephant it is not. It is one among the triune gifts that are of great value.
Have we thought about these gifts? Gold, we have that one down. Next, frankincense is ground dried up tree sap used as incense, highly fragrant when burned. And myrrh, what is THAT?
The divine significance of myrrh: It also comes from the sap of a tree, yet it is not just some sticky goo creatively used. It was:
1) In the divinely prescribed anointing oil of the Tabernacle and the priests (Exodus 30:22-23).
2) In the perfumed oil poured over Jesus’ feet (John 12:3, Matthew 26:6-13: The ointment is “Myron” which is myrrh-oil).
3) Also, as one of the spices wrapped around His body following His death (John 19:39-40).
Picture now, the Christ child, perhaps two in age or younger. Jesus with dark curly hair, possibly pudgy cheeks. At His feet, the Magi place gold, frankincense, and MYRRH. The same anointing oil used to anoint temple priests, now set before Jesus—our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). The same perfumed myrrh now before small feet—perfume that would one day be poured over a grown man’s feet, those feet that would hang on a cross and be pierced.
Jesus was also offered wine mixed with myrrh while on the cross, but He did not take it (Mark 15:23). Scholars believe Jesus refused to drink the mixture, due to its numbing effect. He wanted to be fully aware—fully present in the suffering for mankind. Myrrh (spices) wrapped around Jesus’ body. Wrapped. Just. Before. His. Resurrection!
Wonderful gift giving. Gold, frankincense and yes, myrrh. We celebrate Jesus, a child, Who one day, would be the man fulfilling this gift. Myrrh—HOW PROPHETIC.
Note: For those of you who work Crossword Puzzles: 5 letters down: “Anointing oil of the Tabernacle, the priests and Jesus?” The answer: “Myrrh” (YAY! You’re welcome).
There is a story of four young Jewish Yeshiva students, (Jewish seminary). One afternoon in a study session, one student gave a book to one of the men asking him to take a look and “Tell us what you think.”
Later that night, curious of the book, in eagerness, he sat down and opened to chapter one. He started to read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Pause). “What?” he thought. He read it again “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Excited, he stood up, exclaiming, “NO!” And continues, “God’s not finished!” And closed the book! You see, in the ancient writings, originally there were no chapters, no verses and no punctuation. According to Hebrew thought (and method) they never paused until the complete thought was finished, they read to the edge of the story. The book handed to this young man was the English King James version of the Bible.
The very first verse is just part of a story. That story is part of a bigger story —the historical story of God. We often read, pause, or stop before the whole of a particular story is in sight. Or we come to a famous or familiar portion of scripture, so familiar with a “Oh I know this part” we run our finger down and turn the page.
We read the story of Christmas in both Matthew and Luke. We know this story as well—very well. Both Mary and Joseph are told great things, divine things through angelic visits. Mary, although never being with a man, would become pregnant, conceived of the Holy Spirit. This baby boy would “save the people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). At one point, Joseph and Mary head to Bethlehem for the national census. There are some housing issues. Once settled, the baby, who is to be called Jesus, is born.
Luke chapter 2 tells of the shepherds living in the fields taking care of the sheep. They too get an angelic visit, declaring good news, “Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you; He is Christ the Lord” (2:11). The shepherds are told what to look for. Then the backup singers appear, angels singing “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…” (v14). When the angels exit, so do the shepherds. Excited, they go and find Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus. As they do, they tell any and all who will listen what they were told.
Glorious and full of splendor! Yet we tend to stop here. But the story isn’t over. Keep reading. All who heard what the Shepherds reported hearing were—amazed. Then v19, this verse is challenging, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” This young gal took all that has been said to her, to Joseph and now the shepherds and did some pondering.
The Jewish people were (are) a storytelling culture. From a noticeably young age, they are told the story of God and of their people. From the very beginning when Adam and Eve were in the Garden, where mankind broke relationship with their God. Throughout many, many generations, God used prophets, law and the lives of people to tell His story—the story of restoring relationship.
Mary pondered the miraculous virgin birth, the coming of the Savior, and the declaration of “peace on earth.” It ALL slipped into the ongoing story line and fit perfectly! The story of restoring relationship, restoring peace. Biblical peace isn’t just the lack of conflict; it is the presence of the rightness of God. It literally means “to set at one again.” Conveying what once has been toppled over was now righted and set at one again—peace.
Mary took ALL this and she pondered it. Her pondering isn’t mere tucking it away and thinking on it now and then. The word Luke uses conveys “putting together.” She connected all the dots. She lined it all up. When all strung together, all the pieces fit. Each piece has beauty in itself. But what a glorious bigger story. Mary, the shepherds (and those amazed) were told their whole life, the Jewish people were waiting to be rescued—the Messiah. God has just sent the answer to their waiting—His Son, Jesus.
When reading our bibles, don’t stop or skim over the famous or familiar parts. Keep reading, like the young Jewish men—beyond to the edge of the story. The same Holy Spirit that inspired, breathed on the writers, He breathes on we, the readers. Invite Him to read with us. In this Christmas season, may we truly treasure the bigger story. May we ponder, putting together all the divine stuff—God’s gracious, loving restoring of relationship, “Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you; He is Christ the Lord… “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…”
Expectation. “A strong belief that something will happen” (so says Webster’s Dictionary). I’d offer, we generally take it further. We not only believe it will happen, but we list out HOW, WHEN, and WHERE. We define the outcome. Once the occasion has come, we hold it up to our expectations and scrutinize as if looking at a counterfeit bill with squinted eyes.
Our expectations (although good at times) can be a distraction.
Recently I went through some health issues, and still recovering. What an amazing learning season. As I was preparing for an upcoming surgery, I was rather anxious. Taking Paul’s divine inspired words to heart, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4:6, NIV). I prayed. I prayed specifically. I prayed the surgery would be “textbook.” I prayed with heartfelt longing. I wanted God’s best. I wanted Him.
Thanking God—off we went.
Following the surgery, the surgeons came in and said everything went well, one stated (without any prior prompting) “It was textbook.” (Check √). As some time went on, I grew exhausted. In my exhaustion, I picked up my “expectation list” and began to review it. Running my finger down the list, I was looking for that warm—wrapped—in—blanket—presence of God. I didn’t sense it. I had in the past. Where were You God? Where are You?
When we ask God pointed questions, be ready for an answer.
“Besides the textbook surgery (I can almost see God winking) … How was your pain level, were you in pain?” No, I was not. “Were there complications?” No, there was not. “Are the doctors concerned for the outcome?” Nope, they are not. “Will there be any long-term limitations?” No—not.
God is in the not.
So often we look for highlighting moments worthy to write in our journals. Things, events that stand out as extraordinary (There WILL be those). But, how often we fail to see, in the quiet, tucked behind our personal hype—God working. God orchestrating like only He can.
Through all this, I have asked God to move me beyond MY expectation, to true anticipation: awaiting, preparing, longing to see how HE moves. King David wrote: “Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You. Show me the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul…I hide myself in You. Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Psalm 143:8-10). Putting my trust (unconditionally, without my advice) in God, WILL enable Him to “show me.” Giving myself, hiding myself in Him, enables Him to “teach me.”
THIS has been a “write in my journal” (if I had one) moment. Highlighted. Circled. Underlined. “Positioning ourselves according to OUR expectations distracts us, potentially missing God in the process.”
God is in the not.
Please know, YES, there are times we need to contend, to move beyond an appearing “No” (prayer, fasting, spiritual warfare) but there are times, we need to accept God working, giving Him glory.
Turkey, dinner rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, salad. (Breathe) Dinner plates, napkins, silverware, glasses, AND centerpiece. THANKSGIVING! I love this holiday. Food, family, and football. A set time to pause, consider and ponder what we are thankful for.
There are seasons when it may be difficult to pull forward on the shelf of our life something to be thankful for. We may have just lost a job or a loved one. Or our bank account matches our emotional bucket of strength—empty. Yet there IS something to be thankful for. You have a REASON for thanksgiving.
The great Psalm of thanks opens with, “Give thanks to the LORD for He is good” (136:1). The Hebrew language renders a beautiful word picture, “Give thanks…” painting the idea of reverent acknowledgment and of worship—with extended hands.
“His love endures forever.” The author found it needful to repeat this phrase twenty-six times throughout the rest of the Psalm. This word love (in Hebrew) is “hesed.” We know it biblically as mercy, goodness, loyalty and steadfast love and even—grace. What a pivotal word.
This mercy-filled love is enveloped in personal involvement and commitment to relationship. That is our God. He is pleased when it is reciprocated “For I delight in loyalty (hesed) rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, emphasis mine). Our God desires faithful love in relational awareness of Him.
His lovingkindness is precious (Ps. 36:7) marvelous (Ps. 17:7) undeserving (Ps. 103) abounding (Ps. 86:5) reviving (Ps.119:159) satisfying (Ps. 90:14) and everlasting (Ps. 103:17). Thankful yet?
David’s well known and beloved Psalm 23 (v6) “Surely goodness and MERCY will follow me all the days of my life.” Mercy is hesed. This “follow” is not a mere tag along behind, but—PURSUIT. David knows the concept of pursuit. God’s unending, steadfast love, full of mercy, pursued David. He pursues us! He pursues YOU. He is unrelenting. Aren’t you GLAD He does not let up, let go! Reason for thanksgiving indeed! “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures forever.”
As we share around the table amongst the laughter and love, the blessing of health and family, may we too declare, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so…” (Psalm 107:1-2a)
From our table to yours. Thankful.
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)
Encouragement, we all could use it now and then. Whether in the form of a kind word, loving gesture or standing along side us in troubled times.
Recently I was studying the conversion of Saul (known later as “Paul”) in Acts 9, when I ran head long into Barnabas. I love this guy. When Saul went to Jerusalem and attempted to have fellowship with the disciples, they were afraid and would not accept him. They didn’t believe him to now be a true disciple (a learner, in this case, a learner of Jesus, one who positions himself to understand, accepting the instruction given and makes it his rule of conduct). Saul’s prior “conduct” was contradictive of the teachings of Jesus. What was this man’s angle? The man who “breathed out murderous threats” (9:1), who now claims to be a Jesus follower and wants in their ranks.
- We tend to fear what we don’t understand, what we don’t see. They hadn’t seen any true evidence —yet.
“But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles” (v27). Barnabas, (Joseph) a Levite, he is first mentioned in Acts 4:36. He is nicknamed by the apostles “Barnabas” which means “Son of Encouragement” which is quite fitting as he introduced the newly converted Saul to the circle of believers. Barnabas also stood up for the young John Mark when Paul did not want to take him with them on their missionary journey (15:36-39).*
What did Barnabas see in Saul that the others didn’t? We can speculate till the cows come home, yet it seems to be Barnabas’ nature; he was an encourager (one who invokes courage with presence and action). After all, he did take Saul to the apostles, testifying that Saul HAD an encounter with Jesus and Saul “preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (v27b). I doubt Saul went kicking and screaming, but what a bold act for Barnabas, putting his own relationship/reputation on the line with the spiritual leaders for the former persecutor of the church now turned promoter.
Not only was Barnabas an encourager, but he was also a reconciler. Placing Saul before the church leaders, was an act of reconciliation, for Saul AND the leadership and the believing church. Reconciliation where there was once strife, hostility, and of recent, misunderstanding.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Many read that quickly and interpret it as “peacekeeper.” There is a difference between maker and keeper.
Peacekeepers listen, notice, pay close attention and draw others in (Group hug). Peacekeepers tend to the comfort of others, embracing both sides of an argument—equally. Attempting to please both sides, hoping to not rock the boat—playing a balancing act. But peacekeepers can make themselves small and keep their own voice quiet to avoid conflict, settling for a false peace in hopes of avoiding relational fallout.
Peacemakers promote God’s peace, (total well-being and wholeness through the redemptive work of Jesus) with “whatever it takes” tactics. It is active, intentional, and discerning. They engage in messy, back-breaking, work—and they don’t care so much whether anyone is comfortable (including themselves). Their goal is God’s goal. Bring what has been toppled over back into its slotted place, erecting God and God stuff at the center of it all, which is true peace.
Barnabas was an encourager, reconciler, and peacemaker. May we all have a “But Barnabas” in our life. May we all BE a “But Barnabas” for others.
* Paul later sees the good (and God) in Mark and makes mention of him (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phm 1:24).
I love autumn, the crisp morning air, the weather changes from hot sunny days to now wrapping yourself in your favorite quilt. Oh, and those vibrant yellow, orange, and red leaves. I find it fascinating that so much beauty can come from a season of change.
With so much uncertainty in the world, there is however a guarantee, according to God’s design. There WILL be another season. Fall and eventually winter. Winter turns to spring, where again it carries new life bursting forth.
The Lord has shown me that just as the atmosphere changes (often it is packaged within the holiday season) we too can personally experience a change of season. This season comes with a potentially entangled set of habits or life patterns and not to mention (but I will) a set of emotions.
For some of us our season is lingering. The cold emotional winter drags on, and on and on. Or perhaps something triggers you and an unhealthy season reappears. A season of your life you were confident had passed. A season when you chose quite unwisely, and the memories haunt you like a hungry hyena. Or you flip the calendar page and there it is – THE month. The one you dread. The month you experienced betrayal or the death(s) of a loved one. *
I experienced something similar a few years ago. It was a beautiful sunny fall day. I was driving to my granddaughter’s school to pick her up. Once in the parking lot, backing up, parking, stepping out—instantly I stopped—feeling complete dread and sorrow. Then again walking towards the school. I asked God, “WHAT is this?” He reminded me, the same scenario; sunny day, cool and crisp, orange, and red leaves, school buses, and it was HERE! Here, I received a phone call with very traumatic news. Sorrowful news – stop in your track’s news. News that tore my family to its very core. It was all so familiar, in a way that I was not aware.
With this revelation, I knew this needed to be broken! “In Jesus’ name!” I couldn’t go through life filled with sorrow whenever the leaves changed. So, I took authority over the familiarity, over the dread, the sorrow. Breaking the emotional AND spiritual hold. The fall season still gives brief twinges of pain, but no longer holds its pain-filled traumatic grip on me.
God does not want us living in the past. Each new day is a gift. If we keep our hands full of the old stuff — there is no room for the new. And folks we got us some stuff. And if we are not certain what it is that is overwhelming us—ask God!
Times and seasons CAN be broken! Daniel praised God saying: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever. Wisdom and power are His. He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise. And knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him” (2:20-22).
Pray with me: “Father, may You reveal to us the seasons we may not be aware of. Seasons we only feel the effects. Show us. Perhaps it is time to lay a few things down, some habits, patterns and emotions. Empty our hands as we wait in expectant joy as You “… change the seasons.” Break the familiarity in JESUS’ NAME! Free us. Let there no longer be “stop in our tracks” unaware – but moving forward with each new day. With NEW stuff in our hands. Good God stuff. Your stuff. All for YOUR glory. Amen.”
Please know, we don’t forget. However, we allow ourselves to be freed from the heavy blanket of the past. God has new, restoring, healed, and healthy seasons.
- He changes.
- He removes.
- He gives.
- He reveals.
- He KNOWS!
*For my brothers, Jeremy and Jeff—when the fall season hurts. Yet, God!
He brings the new.