Wishing you a year filled with Christ’s presence, redeeming love, and resurrection life! May the power of the cross be evident in you and reveal God’s love to a broken world. Happy New Year from our family to yours!
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
What’s your favorite part of the Christmas story, dear one?
Is it Mary’s response to a visiting angel? Or perhaps the terrified shepherds tending their flock who found themselves engulfed in glory? I love the image of Magi from the east bowing to present costly gifts to a toddler King. If you let them, the details surrounding Jesus’ birth inspire awe and wonder.
Today I’d like to spend some time treasuring one of those details tucked in our opening Scripture, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Have you considered the significance of that phrase, beloved?
Perhaps you were not aware that the birth of God’s Son—the Word—came on the heels of four hundred years of silence from God.
That may seem of little consequence to you. Maybe you’ve lived your whole life expecting God’s silence because that’s all you’ve known. But scripture overwhelmingly declares that God speaks to His created. He talked with Adam and Eve in the garden after He gave them life, and our first glimpse of Him after they sinned reveals a striking picture of God’s heart.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:8-9
Do you see it, dear one? Even after they sinned, God came seeking them. He desires fellowship with us and wants us close. He calls to us, inviting a reply. When we hear and respond, His words provide life and quiet the soul. They become ‘”a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” Psalm 119:105.
So why would a God of fellowship who distinguishes Himself by speaking to His people remain silent for four hundred years?
It shouldn’t have surprised them. He told them it was coming.
“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it. Amos 8:11-12
God declared in advance that He would send a famine like no other—a famine of hearing His words. Why would He withhold that treasured gift from His people?
Well, usually our loving Father gives His children what they need. But sometimes, when they insist upon it, He gives them what they want.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.” Psalm 81:10-12
The people of God took for granted the gift they had been given. God spoke, but they refused to listen. He desired to fill their mouths, but they decided they didn’t need Him.
. . . they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen . . . Zechariah 7:11-12
So God stopped speaking. For four hundred long, silent years. And the people eventually realized what they had given up by chasing after their own desires. They longed to hear from God again, staggering from sea to sea, wandering in search of the word of the Lord, but they could not find it (Amos 8:12). They became desperate for it, to no avail. Until . . . once again, God proved His faithfulness.
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman . . . Galatians 4:4
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14). The Word of the Lord returned, this time clothed in human flesh, an expression of God they could see and hear and touch. God’s voice entered the realm of earth again, carried on the cries of His infant Son.
Jesus grew, and God continued to speak through Him. He revealed God’s character and heart, teaching truth to all who would listen. The Word called us back into fellowship with His Father, extending the invitation, “Follow me.”
Then He poured out His life on a cross so we could maintain that fellowship with God forever. And He left us the gift of His Spirit so we can continue to hear and discern God’s truth.
The Word still speaks, dear one. Will you hear and believe?
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:5 NIV 1984
I love Christmas. It’s always been my very favorite time of year.
Don’t get me wrong. If we’re talking about weather, summer wins. No question. Warm breezes, cookouts, and sunshine beat the gray winter doldrums any day.
But Christmas to me was never about the weather. It was about the feeling.
Do you know the one I’m talking about? My mother called it sugarplums. Every year the onset of Christmas carols, decorated trees, holiday smells, and overflowing trays of Christmas cookies brought inevitable excitement.
Anticipation built with each opened door on the advent calendar. Finally on the night of December 24th, I would lose the ability to sleep altogether.
I wish I could tell you that my childhood excitement over Christmas was rooted in something spiritual. It wasn’t. Although I marveled at the wonders surrounding Jesus’ Bethlehem story, it would be years before I understood its profound significance and opened the gift God gave me in His Son.
No, my childhood Christmas sugarplums came from the presents.
You see, for the 12 long months from one December 25th to the next, my brothers and I would hear one thing from my parents in response to asking for things we wanted. “Maybe. Put it on your Christmas list.”
So we did.
Then we’d wait. And we’d hope. And as the big day drew near, we’d wonder what treasures might actually appear beneath the Christmas tree.
Do you remember what it feels like to hope, beloved?
At some point, even if only for a few brief moments of childhood abandon, all of us have allowed the glimmer of possibility to stir our hearts.
And that stirring kindled anticipation. Perhaps that hope even inspired a step of faith.
You bought that lottery ticket.
You went after that promotion.
You opened your heart to love.
Then you waited and watched. And hoped. And you didn’t get the outcome you desired.
Unfortunately, in a world with very few guarantees, we often end up disappointed. And many of us have discovered first-hand that Proverbs 13:12 proves true.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
And so stories of a child Savior born in a stable with the power to redeem your life seem a bit farfetched. You can appreciate the sentimental wonder of the story, but you dare not open your heart to really believe Him for His promises.
Or maybe Jesus Himself seems to have disappointed you.
Yet Romans 5:5 makes a bold claim.
And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Beloved, biblical hope does not disappoint. But we must pay careful attention to what scripture links that hope to: love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
You see, we can seek Jesus for His power. We can associate ourselves with His name to try to garner His blessing. But if we pass love by, hope in His name holds no guarantee.
The baby born in Bethlehem wasn’t the means to access God’s gifts. He is the gift.
But we can’t just stand next to Him in church on Sunday. We don’t step into His power by singing songs about Him. We’ll never find healing by owning a Bible we never open.
Love alone releases the blessings of heaven into this broken, troubled world. Love remains the only catalyst to release them in you.
And so the manger offers an incredible hope. Transforming love. Love that must first be encountered, trusted, and received. Love that can then pour out. And change the circumstances of earth.
That’s better than any shiny present under the tree.
Whatever your association with Jesus has been, beloved, will you take a chance on love? Will you open the door to your heart and invite Jesus to reveal Himself? His Spirit wants to write His Word upon your heart and transform you from the inside.
Make sure you open the gift, dear one. It costs you nothing but time and gains everything.
And it’s guaranteed not to disappoint.
Recently God showed me a glimpse into His wounded heart. While in prayer for the church, a picture of His bloodied Son nailed to the cross filled my mind. Then I saw the curtain torn that had separated man from God’s presence.
And I began to weep, because I realized how few actually enter in.
Beloved, Jesus endured incredible suffering for one singular purpose: to allow us the privilege of drawing near to the Father. Yet when He invites those of us who bear His Name to meet with Him in secret, we recoil. We act as though it’s a great hardship—a sacrifice—to give Him the time.
I felt the pain in His heart, dear one.
Our heavenly Father has only ever wanted us close. Yet time after time, we choose distance. We call it relationship, but it isn’t one. We hardly know Him. And yet this primary desire burns within God’s heart. He longs to be known.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6
Today I’d like to share an excerpt from a recent article by Francis Chan. May it stir your heart to enter the only place you’ll find true heavenly power.
The Greatest Thing You Could Do Today
Imagine walking up a mountain alone. But it’s no ordinary mountain. The ground beneath you is shaking, and the entire mountain is covered in smoke. At its peak is a thick cloud with lightning and thunder. God descends onto the mountain in fire, and each time you speak to him, he responds in thunder. This is what Moses experienced in Exodus 19.
Now compare that experience to your last time in prayer.
Distracted, obligatory, ordinary — I doubt any such words came across Moses’s mind as he ascended the mountain. But some three thousand years later, we rarely marvel that God permits imperfect humans into his presence.
How did the shocking become so ordinary to us? Is it even possible for our experiences with God to be that fascinating?
Going Up the Mountain
A mentor of mine lives in India. Last year, he called me on the phone crying, distraught over the state of the church in America. “It seems like the people in America would be content to take a selfie with Moses. Don’t they know they can go up the mountain themselves? Why don’t they want to go up the mountain?”
When was the last time you enjoyed meaningful time alone with God? Time so good that you didn’t want to leave. It was just you, reading God’s words, in his holy presence…Has relying on books and sermons about Jesus actually kept people from interacting with him directly? Click To Tweet
We often spend a lot of time and effort gathering believers together. We’ve become experts at gathering Christians around great bands, speakers, and events. Where we have failed is in teaching believers how to be alone with God. When is the last time you heard someone rave about their time alone with Jesus in his word? Gathering believers who don’t spend time alone with God can be a dangerous thing.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together:
Whoever cannot be alone should beware of community. Such people will only do harm to themselves and to the community. Alone you stood before God when God called you. Alone you had to obey God’s voice. Alone you had to take up your cross, struggle, and pray, and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot avoid yourself, for it is precisely God who has called you out. If you do not want to be alone, you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called.
The word community is thrown around quite a bit in Christian circles today. But our gatherings can be toxic if we do not spend time alone with God. I’ve been in many groups where people share their insights. The problem is not only that our insights are not as profound as we think they are, but that we’re so eager to share thoughts originating in our own minds, when we have a God who says,
My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8–9)
I want to know the thoughts of God. I want to gather with people who have been reading God’s words, people who have prayed and interacted with him. I want to fellowship with those who fellowship with God. I couldn’t care less if you have a doctorate in theology or sixty years of life experience. I would rather talk with a fifteen-year-old who has been in the presence of God.
To read this article in its entirety visit DesiringGod.org.
The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. Exodus 20:21
Recently God opened my eyes to a beautiful truth tucked into Exodus 19. A single purpose has always marked God’s heart in His dealings with man. He expresses it in verse 4.
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
We tend to think that God delivered the Israelites from Egypt so that He could deposit them in the Promised Land. But the land of milk and honey wasn’t His primary objective. Relationship was.
“I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
God rescued the Israelites out of their slavery—out from under the law of the land that oppressed them—to bring them to Himself. I think sometimes we overlook that part.
Beloved, God prioritizes bringing His people near. His people, however, don’t share His priorities. We often skip the relationship and focus on seeking the earthly blessings He can provide. We don’t want Him. We want His gifts.
Unfortunately, that’s the same choice the Israelites made. And do you know what happened to them, dear one?
They died in the desert outside of their land of promise. They never made it to their earthly blessing because they rejected the means to get there. Oh, that you and I would learn from their mistakes!
God further revealed His intentions for Israel in Exodus 19:9.
“Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”
Did you catch it, dear one? God wanted the people to hear Him speak. Until that point, He had only spoken to Moses, and Moses communicated God’s desires to the people. But now He called them all to Mount Sinai because He wanted them to hear Him too.
So God gave Moses instructions to prepare the people for their encounter.
The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” Exodus 19:10-11
An unholy people were about to encounter a holy God. So God gave them instructions to follow that would enable them to survive the encounter.
He told them to purify themselves for three days. During their time of cleansing, He set some boundaries in place for their protection.
“And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.” (Verse 12)
You see, sin can’t live in the presence of pure righteousness. The people couldn’t draw near to God’s holy mountain while they remained impure.
But once they were cleansed, God offered an invitation.
“When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” (Verse 13)
The Message Bible states it this way.
“A long blast from the horn will signal that it’s safe to climb the mountain.”
Let’s see what happened when the trumpet sounded.
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. Exodus 19:16-20
Notice the purpose clearly stated in verse 17. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. This was the moment God had prepared them for, to bring His people to Himself. Now note the language indicating their posture in the rest of the verse. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain.
Picture the moment, will you? Thunder and lightening burst forth from thick clouds. Knees tremble in fear. A trumpet sounds, its volume increasing as the people stand firmly planted at the foot of the mountain. Nobody moves. No one ascends. Until finally Moses cries out to God and meets Him on top of the mountain.
Exodus 20:18-21 reveals what happened in those moments.
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Do you see it, dear one? God brought them out of Egypt to bring them to Himself. But the people didn’t want to come close. They preferred boundaries and limits over relationship. They didn’t want to hear God speak. Instead they chose an intermediary to tell them what God wanted. They didn’t want to hear it for themselves.
I wonder, dear one. How many today continue to make that same choice? Christ tore the veil so that each one of us could boldly enter the presence of God. He longs to speak to each of us through His Word and whisper life into our hearts by His Spirit.
But we’d rather let a pastor talk to Him and tell us what He says.
If we choose to stand far off, dear one, we’ll suffer the same fate the Israelites did. We’ll die in the desert without ever entering His promises. And we’ll blame God, but it won’t be His fault. It will be the result of our refusal to draw near.
You see, we can’t just call on His Name and expect to enter His promises. Every promise comes through Him. We must step into His arms and let Him draw us to Himself.
Only then can He carry you to your land of promise.