Welcome to the December Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture quotes taken from the American Standard Version
A WORD FOR TODAY, December 2007
Instead of following the regular scripture lessons for the Sundays in Advent, I have decided to do a series with the names of God. I will write daily from December 1st through December 25th, using one of the many names of God each day. The names of God define His character. They help us to see more fully His hand in this world, in our lives, in our futures. The names of God help us to understand His purpose and our purpose in the world.
December 1, 2007
Exodus 3:1-13 Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the back of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, unto Horeb. And the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. And Jehovah said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. And now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: moreover I have seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain. And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them?
When I was a teenager, I had an acquaintance named Marvin. Despite the wonderful, handsome, talented men named Marvin in the world, the name itself carries a bit of a stigma. If you closed your eyes and tried to imagine Marvin, you would probably be right. He was a little geeky, thick black glasses and the confidence of a man twice his size. He was short. I was definitely not an Amazon woman, shorter by inches or even more than all my peers. He was at least as old as I and I towered over him. As a matter of fact, we once danced together and he rested his head squarely on my… “pillows.” He was very content. Marvin was a little creepy. I had an idea in my head of what a “Marvin” would be like, and this Marvin verified my ideas.
When we get new pets for our families, the first question we all ask is, “What should we name him or her?” Felix is a solid black cat, with just a few strands of white fur. The one cat that the kids knew that was all black was the cartoon character “Felix the Cat.” They were not very familiar with Felix the Cat, had never seen any of the cartoons, so they did not know what type of character he really was. I remember thinking to myself, “This could be trouble. If Felix takes on the character of his name, we’ll have a mischievous cat on our hands. Felix lives up to his name.
Did Marvin become a creepy geek because of his name? Did Felix become a mischievous cat because of his name? Am I who I am because my parents gave me a specific name? I doubt it. I have one example of a Marvin that fits the stereotype but I could probably find hundreds of examples of men who are exactly the opposite. Felix was going to be a mischievous cat no matter what we named him. Felix, Shadow or Blackey, he was going to try to escape at every opportunity and beat up on his little brother Tigger.
However, names do mean something, particularly in the Bible. We have examples throughout the story of God when He took the name of one of His people and changed it to mean something different. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Simon became Peter. Saul became Paul. Jacob became Israel. These name changes defined a change in their relationship with God. The name changes defined their character in light of God’s mercy and grace.
Jacob was returning home after many years in another land. He had married and gathered a great deal of property, yet he had no place to call his own. He was afraid because his brother was a powerful man and Jacob had stolen his birthright from him all those years ago. On the night before he was to meet his brother, Jacob separated himself from his party and he wrestled with his thoughts, fears and concerns. He also wrestled with a ‘man’. Though the theologians argue about the identity of the man, it is suggested that Jacob wrestled with God. In the end, Jacob lost and the LORD renamed him Israel. Then Jacob asked, “What is your name?”
Jacob was not the only one to ask God His name. Moses asked. He wanted to be able to identify to the Hebrews the source of their promised deliverance. But God does not have a name like you and I. He does not have a name we can know or speak. In ancient times knowing a person’s name gave a person power and control over that person. Since there is no human that can have power or control over God, it was understood that no human could ever know His name. There are even some who refuse to write the word “God” out of respect for His name.
However, it is alright for us to ask. God is given many names throughout the scriptures. His names define His character. His names help us to understand God and His grace. His names indicate the things that He does for His people, with His people and through His people. Each name identifies just one aspect of God. Each name gives us just one piece to the puzzle, one glimpse into His nature and purpose. To know these names does not give us control over God, but it helps us to know Him more fully, to understand our relationship with Him and to understand our purpose in this world.
Exodus 3:13-15 And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.
When I was pregnant with Victoria, we decided that if the baby was a boy Bruce would name him. If it was a girl, it would be my responsibility. I was absolutely certain that I was carrying a boy. I had not real evidence. There was nothing to make me think that I was right. I was just convinced that we were going to have a boy. Bruce had come up with a name but I wasn’t worried about doing my part. A few days before the birth, Bruce told me I had to consider the possibility. “You need to pick a name just in case.” I said, “Fine, Victoria.” I had not given it much thought. I had not considered other options. Out of the blue I came up with the name.
Naming a child is a very important responsibility for parents. The names children are given at birth are generally the name they keep throughout their lives. They might use nicknames. Some people decide to have their name legally changed. But for most people, the name they are given at birth is the name they will be known by forever. We know people by their names. I have called my daughter Vicki since she was a child, but as she has matured she had decided that she wants to be called Victoria. I have to remember this when I am speaking to her teachers and her high school friends.
When we meet new people, we want to know their names. It is the first step in developing a personal relationship with someone. When we have a problem with a business, we ask the names of the employees and managers so that we can address the right people. When we receive a message or edict or command from a person in power, we want to know their name so that we can ensure that they have the authority to do or say that which appears in the message.
This is why Moses was concerned about God’s name. He was an outcast, far from home and far from welcome in Egypt. He was going to a people who really did not know his name. He had been raised in the home of the Pharaoh, what could he possibly know about their problems? The Hebrews had been in Egypt a long time and though they still had connections to the God who promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations, they had been in Egypt for four hundred years. Their faith was mixed with that of their neighbors. The gods of the Egyptians had names. When someone spoke for those gods, they had a name which gave them the authority to do so. When Moses went to the people, he wanted to be able to give them some assurance that his words are real and true.
God answered, “I AM WHO I AM.” This translation, which comes from the Hebrew Jehovah, YHWH or Yahweh, is the personal name of God. It means that He is the self-existent one. It was Bruce and my responsibility to give her a name. She came from us and she received her name as a gift from us. God, however, came from no one and there was no one to give Him a name. He was, is and will be. He is eternal. He is before all else. He is. This name is more than just an identifier for us, however. It is also the covenant name of God. Everything He has done, is doing and will do rests upon His name, this name. This name is used thousands of times in the Bible.
We do not know exactly how the tetragrammaton YHWH is pronounced. It was written in Hebrew without any vowels because it was improper to put God’s name into print – yet another way of trying to control Him. In most cases, the word is translated “LORD.” We will find in the next few weeks that many of God’s names are inextricably connected to this name, coupling Jehovah with His actions of love, mercy and grace.
Psalm 33:1-9 Rejoice in Jehovah, O ye righteous: Praise is comely for the upright. Give thanks unto Jehovah with the harp: Sing praises unto him with the psaltery of ten strings. Sing unto him a new song; Play skilfully with a loud noise. For the word of Jehovah is right; And all his work is done in faithfulness. He loveth righteousness and justice: The earth is full of the lovingkindness of Jehovah. By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made, And all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as a heap: He layeth up the deeps in store-houses. Let all the earth fear Jehovah: Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.
I recently finished a painting. It is an oil painting on canvas, a sunset over the ocean. It has taken me a long time to complete, partly because of my busy schedule, partly because I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with the painting. I wanted the sky to be full of color like reds and oranges and yellows, the ocean to be a deep blue with hints of green. It was never meant to look realistic, just a huge canvas of color. When I began the painting, I was cautious with the paint, using just enough to cover the white. But it never looked quite right. A few weeks ago I got inspired. I took the tubes of paint and just squooshed it onto the canvas. I made it thick and rich and textured. I finally found the look I was imagining in my mind and I love what I have created.
Many people would claim that they are not creative, but everyone has some creativity in them. Everyone just exhibits their creativity differently. Some people are painters. Others are writers. Others are dancers, singers or actors. You don’t have to create some sort of art to be creative, though. Problem solving is creativity. You have to think of some way to get around or through a situation. Parenting is creative. Not only do the parents bring forth the child, but every parent has to find creative ways of dealing with the growing child. Storytelling, discipline, feeding picky eaters all takes creativity. We all make creative decisions daily. What should we wear? What should we eat? How should I decorate my house? Should I buy blue or black? Should I add olive oil or vegetable oil to the salad dressing?
We are creative beings because we have been brought forth by Jehovah-Bore – the LORD Creator. He created us in His image, making us creative also. We do not make worlds come into existence out of chaos and darkness, but we make beautiful things come out of oil paint and words. We take a little flower, sugar and eggs and make mouthwatering deserts. We take cotton or wool and make it into soft, comfortable fabrics which we make into clothes. We have all the resources we need to create a wonderful world in which to live and love.
God is the Creator. He spoke and the world came into being. He said, “Let there be light” and there was light. He spoke and the stars began to twinkle in the sky. He spoke and the flowers began to bloom. He spoke and the animals started roaming the face of the earth. Then He took a handful of clay, molded it and breathed life into the body He created. In the beginning, God created everything. But He has not stopped creating. He still paints the sunsets and the rainbows. He still brings forth the flowers and the trees. He still breaths the life into human beings, passing on His creative nature on to us so that we might share in His continuing creativity in the world.
Isaiah 40:21-31 Have ye not known? have yet not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he that sitteth above the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in; that bringeth princes to nothing; that maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Yea, they have not been planted; yea, they have not been sown; yea, their stock hath not taken root in the earth: moreover he bloweth upon them, and they wither, and the whirlwind taketh them away as stubble. To whom then will ye liken me, that I should be equal to him? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these, that bringeth out their host by number; he calleth them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and for that he is strong in power, not one is lacking. Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from Jehovah, and the justice due to me is passed away from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? The everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait for Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.
There was an episode of “Seinfeld” that revolved around the idea of speaking in third person. Elaine was interested in a guy at the gym and she was talking to another guy about it. She did not know the names of these guys. She was talking to Jimmy and he said, “Jimmy really likes Elaine.” Since he was speaking in third person, Elaine assumed that the cute guy was named Jimmy and that this guy was letting her in on his feelings for her. He was really hitting on her himself. It was hard for her to know the truth because he never referred to himself as “I” or “me.” He always referred to himself as Jimmy. This made for a comical television show.
Others have been known to refer to themselves in odd ways, in ways that are confusing to the listener. We find this especially true in the way royalty speaks. Imagine, if you will, sixteenth century Queen Elizabeth I on her throne speaking to her servant. “We shall take tea in the salon and then retire to the royal bedchamber.” She does not mean that the servant will join her for tea and then sleep. She is speaking of herself in the plural. When a monarch makes a proclamation, it is often done in plural language, but the monarch is not speaking for a group of people. He or she is speaking for the throne, for the position. As the head of the government, he or she is speaking for the whole, even if the proclamation is attributed to only the one person.
Elohim is one of the most common names for God used in the scriptures. It is second only to Jehovah. This is the first name used in the Bible, the form that is used in the telling of the Creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” There is some disagreement as to the meaning of the word Elohim. There is some confusion about the etymology, or history of the word, because there are so many different roots that are thought to be the base of the word. Most agree that it means “the mighty one” or something to that effect. It is used not only to refer to God, but also to gods. So, it refers to the something beyond the creation, something transcendent, divine or celestial.
When referring to God, however, the word is accompanied by singular verbs. This is more evident in the Hebrew, which is why the Bible translators can make a differentiation between God and gods. In other words, in the passage, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” the verb ‘created’ is singular. One God created the heavens and earth even though that word for God is plural.
One of the meanings for the word Elohim is “the worshipped one.” I like this translation when it comes to the name Elohim. As compared to Yahweh or Jehovah, Elohim is a name for God that sets Him apart from the creation. Yahweh is a more personal Creator; Elohim is a Creator that is hallowed, divine, sacred, holy. The God who created the heavens and the earth is to be worshipped. He is greater than all the greatest rulers. He causes the earth to move and the stars to shine. He is eternal. He has no beginning and He has no end. We like to think of our God in personal and intimate ways, as our friend and our father. However, Elohim reminds us that God is something much more than a friend and a father. He is the everlasting God who gives power to the faint and increasing strength to the weak. He is worthy of our hope and of our worship.
Genesis 22:7-14 And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father. And he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold, the fire and the wood. But where is the lamb for a burnt-offering? And Abraham said, God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son. So they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of. And Abraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of Jehovah called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham. And he said, Here I am. And he said, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him. For now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh. As it is said to this day, In the mount of Jehovah it shall be provided.
Have you ever gone to a potluck and not been amazed at the variety and quantity of food? In my experience, all you have to say is “bring a dish” and you can feast for hours on what everyone brings. There are some who will organize a pot luck dinner to control the offerings. After all, you don’t want fifty types of Jello or bags of chips. So, they ask certain people to bring certain types of items or they put up a sign-up sheet to ensure that there are foods from every food group (meat, side dish, dessert.) However, I have found that it is rarely necessary to do this type of organizing. Somehow the tables fill with every type of good food, giving a wonderful variety of flavors so that everyone can find something they like. I like to think that God has something to do with this phenomenon.
One day Jesus was teaching on a hillside. The crowd had become very large and the hour very late. They were no where near a grocery store or the fast food strip. The people were far from their homes. They were getting hungry and tired, but no one wanted to leave. Jesus didn’t want them to leave. The disciples wanted them to leave. It is not that they did not want Jesus to keep preaching to the people. They were afraid of what would happen if the people did not take care of their physical needs. They certainly did not have the resources to feed thousands of people. They were concerned about the people’s well-being when they told Jesus to tell them to go home.
Jesus answered their concerns with a challenge. “Do something about it.” How ridiculous Andrew must have seemed to the other disciples when he brought a young boy with a small lunch of five fish and two loaves of bread. Phillip was adamant that they couldn’t handle that type of crowd. When Jesus said, “Do something” he did not mean that they should go out and get enough food for thousands. He meant that they should have faith. Andrew had faith. “Here Jesus, maybe this can help,” he said. It did. Jesus was able to take that meager meal and make it feed thousands. God provided.
The name Jehovah-jireh means, “the LORD will provide.” In the story for today, God commanded Abraham to take his beloved son to the altar of sacrifice as a test of obedience and faith. Abraham did as he was told, taking Isaac and all that he would need to make an offering to the place God sent Abraham. Isaac realized that they did not have a bull or a ram to sacrifice and he asked his father, “Where is the lamb?” Abraham believed that God would provide the sacrifice. God had – Isaac’s birth was a miracle. Isaac was a gift from God, and willingly sacrificing this beloved son would show God that Abraham honored him above all else. Just as he was about to sacrifice his son, an angel called out to Abraham. When he looked up, he saw a ram caught in the thicket. The LORD had provided, saving Isaac from death and Abraham from the grief he would have suffered.
God does not call us to sacrifice our children on altars in the wilderness. He does call us to share our resources with others. In our world today generosity tends to follow success. We give when we have enough for ourselves first, and then give the leftovers to others. However, God has promised to provide and he is faithful. Jesus was testing the disciples and they nearly flunked the test. Only Andrew was willing to step forward with a ridiculous idea: to give Jesus a few fish and loaves of bread. Abraham had faith, too. We see in their stories the truth of the name Jehovah-jireh, “the LORD will provide.”
Exodus 6:1-8 And Jehovah said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for by a strong hand shall he let them go, and by a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land. And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am Jehovah: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah I was not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojournings, wherein they sojourned. And moreover I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant. Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am Jehovah, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and ye shall know that I am Jehovah your God, who bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land which I sware to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am Jehovah.
We just finished setting up our Christmas display in the yard. It took us about a week to get everything hung and placed where it needed to be. It did not take us that long because we have so much stuff, although we do have quite a bit. We were doing the yard piece by piece in the evening after Bruce got home from work. There was only so much that could be done each day. The yard never looked half finished. We ensured that everything looked done even if there was more work to be done. It did not take long before cars were slowing down to look at our Christmas lights. One night, before the display was complete, a car stopped and took pictures. I don’t know if the people taking pictures live in the neighborhood. I don’t know why they took pictures, but I hope they come back again now that the house is complete.
We set up the decorations outside our house over a period of time because we could not get all the work done at once due to our busy schedule. However, I enjoyed doing it that way. We revealed the display a little bit at a time, surprising the neighbors with something new every day. I can almost imagine them wondering, “What are they going to do today?”
God did not reveal himself all at once to his people. It would be impossible for us to comprehend the entirety of God’s self. He revealed himself as they needed him. He came as comforter to those who needed comfort. He came as healer to those who needed healing. He came as savior to those who needed to be saved. As we read through the scriptures, we see his character and relationship with his people unfold.
In this passage, the LORD says, “I am Jehovah: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah I was not known to them.” Abraham came from a world that worshipped many gods. He probably even carried some of those local gods with him when he went in obedience to the command from God Almighty. He did not yet know this God who would do so much for his people. He only knew there was something different, something greater, in the voice he heard. It was greater even than the gods he had worshipped.
Today’s name is El Shaddai and it means God Almighty. It also means, “God All Sufficient.” He is all we need. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did amazing things by faith in El Shaddai. But the LORD did not keep his relationship with his people at that level. It was not enough for him to be simply God Almighty to his people. He wanted to touch them personally, to give them all they needed. He continued to reveal himself. He did not create the world and then retire to his throne in the heavens to watch the earth and her inhabitants go by. El Shaddai is actively involved with his creation, growing with them as they grow with him. He is El Shaddai, all sufficient, but he is much, much more. Everyday we can experience him in our world; every day we can catch a glimpse of his grace. Every day we can learn more about the God Almighty who first revealed himself to the patriarchs and who continues to reveal himself to us today.
Psalm 23 Jehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul: He guideth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou hast anointed my head with oil; My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah for ever.
I have noticed that the animal shelters are having pet drives right now. In our town some of the shelters are overflowing, so they are giving great deals on the animals. One shelter is giving two cats of any age for less than the usual price of one. With Christmas right around the corner, some families are considering giving pets as a gift. The shelters are taking advantage of this by making their animals available and affordable.
At this time of year there is usually some report cautioning parents to think carefully about getting a pet for Christmas. Christmas is such a busy and hectic time for families; a pet would not receive the proper care especially in those important first days when it is getting used to a new environment. Some pets find the noise and confusion of Christmas time difficult to handle and it can suffer from poor health due to nervousness and improper nutrition. The expects suggest either getting a new pet well before the holiday so that it is used to the household, or waiting until after things settle down in the new year. The shelters realize how hard it is for a pet to acclimate into a new home around Christmas, so they are having their big drives now, well before the holiday, for the sake of the pets.
Taking care of an animal is a big responsibility. The pet owner needs to do much more than offer water and food. The dogs need to be walked and the cats need a litter box. The animals need love and attention. Trips to the veterinary office regularly are necessary for the pet’s well-being. Owners are expected to license their pets. Animals bring so much joy to our lives, but we also need to deal with the emotional issues that come with the poor health and the death of a beloved pet. They need more than a family to give them shelter. They need tender-loving care.
The LORD is our Yahweh-Raah, our Shepherd. He is more than El Shaddai, God almighty, revealed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is more than Jehovah, the self-existent One. He is more than Elohim, the Creator God. He is a loving, caring God who takes care of His creation. He is like the shepherd in the filed who takes care of every need of his flock. The shepherd ensures the safety of his sheep. He provides them with good food, fresh water and a soft place to rest. He leads his flock by the best path. He disciplines the flock so that they won’t go the wrong way. God is our Shepherd and we can rely on Him, just as the sheep rely on their shepherd.
1 Samuel 17:38-47 And Saul clad David with his apparel, and he put a helmet of brass upon his head, and he clad him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword upon his apparel, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him. And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in the shepherd's bag which he had, even in his wallet; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine. And the Philistine came on and drew near unto David; and the man that bare the shield went before him. And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and withal of a fair countenance. And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the birds of the heavens, and to the beasts of the field. Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a javelin: but I come to thee in the name of Jehovah of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will Jehovah deliver thee into my hand; and I will smite thee, and take thy head from off thee; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day unto the birds of the heavens, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that Jehovah saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is Jehovah's, and he will give you into our hand.
For the entire story of David and Goliath, read 1 Samuel 17
I like to read historical fiction, especially stories that come from England. Since we visited so many historical sites during our time in the country, it is exciting to see things as they may have happened in those places. As I read, I can really imagine what it would have been like to approach the king in one of those castles. I can really see the hillsides and the cathedrals. I can really feel the cold rain as it fell on soldiers marching to war. I know what it feels like to wander on cobblestone streets and to become lost on the small country roads that seem to lead to nowhere.
It is amazing to consider how life might have been in those times. They did not have any of the comforts that we enjoy. Even the nobles lived without conveniences like flush toilets. In one ancient castle, we saw a room that was identified as the loo. There was a stone seat with a hole that led to a hole in the wall. The waste literally ran down the outside walls of the castle. This had a duel purpose. First of all, it removed the waste from inside the fortress. It also made for a messy and difficult attack on the castle.
Warfare was much different then than it is now. Unfortunately, modern technology has removed human contact from the battle. In the days of swordplay, the combatants had to look their enemy in the eye. As technology created new and better weapons, the soldiers became increasingly displaced from the battle. A catapult meant that the army could kill from so far away that they never had to see the people they were destroying. Now is even worse. One push of a button in a safe and distant war room can send missiles hundreds of miles away. Aircraft can litter large areas with bombs and be gone before they hit the ground.
In those ancient days, the armies met one another face to face, like in the story of David and Goliath. The battle did not happen immediately. The armies often spent days, weeks and even months face to face before even coming to blows. The soldiers hurled insults at one another, doing everything they could to break the moral of the enemy. Each army wants the other army to be too hungry, too tired and too weak to win.
As I read the historical novels, it amazes me to see how the king was not displaced from his men – he was right there on the front lines. In modern warfare, the army leaders tend to stay behind the scenes, in the war room or even in another country far from the battle. With modern communication, it is possible for a general to be a thousand miles away and yet still know exactly what is happening and what should be done. However, in the old days, like in the days of King Arthur, the king was right there. He lead the troops into battle. We think it is foolish for the king to be so close to the danger because his death meant defeat. However, those kings led their armies into war.
Yahweh Tsabbaoth is the LORD of hosts. He is sovereign over all powers of the universe. He is Lord over all the armies and over the heavenly powers. He is the King who leads his people into battle. He stands in front of those who live by faith and takes them to victory. David was not a warrior. He was a shepherd boy, the smallest brother, merely a youth of small build. He tried to wear the armor of a king but it was too big and heavy for his body. So, he went into war with only a sling and a few pebbles. However, he went into battle with the LORD of hosts leading the way. He had faith and God gave him the victory. Yahweh Tsabbaoth gives victory to His people who live by faith and follow Him into the battle, for He is sovereign over all.
Exodus 17:8-16 Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to-morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; And his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi; And he said, Jehovah hath sworn: Jehovah will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.
Yesterday we talked about how the ancient kings led their people into battle. They did not hide behind the ranks. They did not gather safely in tents talking about how to fight the war while their soldiers went ahead into battle. The king was right there, in the front, setting the example and charging the passion of the battle. The king, however, was difficult to see once the battle began. Though he often wore a helmet or some other identifying mark as he rode his horse on the front lines, the men on their feet in the midst of conflict could easily loose sight of their leader.
There was another soldier who faced the enemy, this one even more shocking than the king. The banner carrier was always in the front, always right in the heat of the battle. The banner carrier did not have a weapon. He could not defend himself. He was often a young soldier, not quite ready for combat. He carried the banner that identified the army. The banner usually had some sort of symbol representing the nation or the king. The banner gave the soldiers on the field hope. They saw the banner and knew that victory was still possible. The banner was lifted high above the field as a sign to the enemy that the army won’t be defeated. The enemy sought to capture the banner because in the chaos and discouragement that would follow the disappearance would create chaos and discouragement in the troops. The battle that surrounded the banner was often as violent as that which was around the king.
Jehovah-nissi means the LORD is my banner. He is lifted up before us as we go into our daily work as a sign of the hope we have in His promises. Moses was the banner carrier in this battle, but he did not hold a flag. He held up his hands in praise and thanksgiving to God. The task was tough. It is impossible for a man to hold up his harms for such a long period of time, but with the help of Aaron and Hur, the responsibility was done.
We are the banner carriers today. We are not the source of hope; we are the ones who carry God into the world, lifting Him high that all people might see. The Hebrew word for banner means “to be high” or “raised.” We lift Him high that all people might know His promises and believe. He is the sign of the victory we have, the victory that has been promised, the victory that brings life and peace and joy.
The task is not easy. Just as Moses’ arms got tired as he held them for such a long period of time, we also find it difficult to keep our arms raised in praise for the whole battle. We become discouraged, tired and confused. We see the evil in the world and we become afraid. We get sick, disappointed and disheartened. That is why we need others. Our brothers and sisters in Christ help us to keep our arms lifted in praise. They lift us up, encourage us and remind us who it is that we are praising with our lives. Together we are the banner carriers, holding up God before the world that they might know the hope of His promises and believe.
Psalm 139:1-18 O Jehovah, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, And art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, But, lo, O Jehovah, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, And laid thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, And thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall overwhelm me, And the light about me shall be night; Even the darkness hideth not from thee, But the night shineth as the day: The darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou didst form my inward parts: Thou didst cover me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks unto thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Wonderful are thy works; And that my soul knoweth right well. My frame was not hidden from thee, When I was made in secret, And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance; And in thy book they were all written, Even the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: When I awake, I am still with thee.
It has been very busy around here. We had an open house yesterday, a party to which we invited many of our friends. A party requires a great deal of preparation and all too many last minute details. I made a dozen or more trips to the grocery store this past week, each time forgetting something that was on my list. The house needed to be cleaned and decorated, food prepared. I needed to find and organize all our Christmas dishes and back dozens of cookies. All the while, my family continued to live their normal lives with school, work and other activities. I had to find time in between batches of cookies to run the kids to their activities and pick them up, make dinner, do the dishes and laundry. I have wished at least a few times over the past few weeks that I had a clone or two to help me with everything.
Having a clone is not a new idea. As a matter of fact, several movies have used that storyline. The scene is often the same: a frazzled mom, unsure how she is going to manage to get everything finished wishes for duplicates of herself to help. Suddenly there are multiple manifestations of that woman. At first it is wonderful. Each clone has a specific gift – one is a mother, one is a housekeeper, one is the wife and lover. Eventually, however, things get confusing. The family gets confused, communication is complicated, and lines are obscured between the different clones. In the end we discover that it is impossible for human beings to be in several places at the same time. We simply have to learn how to deal with our busy-ness, prioritizing our tasks and making plans for those times when we have to be in more than one place at once.
Though we are created in the image of God, we can’t be exactly like Him. Sometimes we can’t be where we need to be. We have all experienced times when we have had to disappoint someone because we could not attend a party or see a show. We have all had to rely on someone else because we simply can’t do it all. We have had to leave something undone because we did not have the time, resources or physical ability to accomplish the task.
The last verse of the book of Ezekiel, which has ended by describing the new order for the purified Israel, says, “And the name of the city from that time on will be: The LORD is THERE. The Hebrew here is Yahweh Shammah. This may be a bit of Hebrew wordplay, sounding much like Yerushalayim, the word for Jerusalem. However, as God continued to reveal Himself to His people, we learned that God is not confined to the city of Jerusalem or behind the walls of the Temple. God is there, and there is wherever His people dwell. He is wherever people need hope. He is with the hungry, the poor, the sick, the displaced, the persecuted, the imprisoned and the discouraged.
He is also with the sinners. He is with us when we are righteous and He is with us when we are not so righteous. We may think we can hide from Him. We may think that we can stay away from the Temple and not have to face the LORD, but the LORD is not confined by the walls we build. He is not confined by space or time. He is there. Whether it is then, now or later; whether it is here or somewhere else: God is there. Though this is a frightening thought, it is also very comforting. We have disappointed people we love because we can not be more than one place at a time. But God does not disappoint. He is there when we need Him, and even when we think we don’t need Him. He is there, from the beginning of our lives even before our parents knew we existed, until today and into tomorrow. Whether we sleep or are awake, He is there.
Isaiah 57:14-21 And he will say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling-block out of the way of my people. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit would faint before me, and the souls that I have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him; I hid my face and was wroth; and he went on backsliding in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips: Peace, peace, to him that is far off and to him that is near, saith Jehovah; and I will heal him. But the wicked are like the troubled sea; for it cannot rest, and its waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
We are broken people. Every human being has some dis-ease, whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual. We may think we are healthy. We may have a strong body, be happy and content and have deep and abiding relationship with God, but we are still broken. Martin Luther put it bluntly, “Simul justus et peccatur.” We are simultaneously saints and sinners. We sin daily in thought, word and deed. We sin by not doing the things God is calling us to do. We sin by ignoring the needs of those in the world that are hungry, naked, imprisoned, lonely, lost and broken. We are imperfect. We need to be healed.
We often think of healing in terms of our health. When we are sick with a cold or suffering from another disease, we see healing from the doctors and through prayer. We want our body to be well so that we can have the strength to do what we need to do in this world. We even think about healing when it comes to our emotional health. If we are suffering from depression or other mental disorders, we seek doctors or counselors that can help us overcome our mental dis-ease so that we can be happy and content with our circumstances.
In the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John described the many aspects of Jesus and the work that He did throughout Israel. The stories tell not only about His preaching and teaching, but about His healing touch. He came to change people’s lives, and He did so with many people. The healing was often physical. He healed the blind, the lame, the deaf and the dumb. He made bleeding stop and even raised people from the dead. He gave comfort to the grieving and peace to the frightened. Most of all, He gave forgiveness and wholeness to the sinners. His healing touch reached beyond their flesh to their spirit, giving hope and faith to those who were once lost. He reached out to the brokenness of the world and brought healing.
God heals our bodies and our minds, but He is also concerned about our spirit. Though we do not ignore our spiritual health, it is the last thing we consider when we want to be well. In the days when the bible was written, the religious understanding of illness and dis-ease was directly related to the spiritual health. A person became sick because they sinned. While we do not need to return to the attitude that illness is punishment for sinful behavior, however we have forgotten that our pain is the direct consequence of sin in this world. When Adam and Eve rejected God’s Word, they were cast out of the perfect garden to live and work and suffer. We live in that exile even today. But it is our brokenness that brings us closer to God. We need Him. We need His forgiveness and His grace. We need His healing touch. He is the LORD who heals, Yahweh-Rapha.
Judges 6:11-24 And the angel of Jehovah came, and sat under the oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him, and said unto him, Jehovah is with thee, thou mighty man of valor. And Gideon said unto him, Oh, my lord, if Jehovah is with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where are all his wondrous works which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not Jehovah bring us up from Egypt? but now Jehovah hath cast us off, and delivered us into the hand of Midian. And Jehovah looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and save Israel from the hand of Midian: have not I sent thee? And he said unto him, Oh, Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house. And Jehovah said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man. And he said unto him, If now I have found favor in thy sight, then show me a sign that it is thou that talkest with me. Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and lay it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again. And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of meal: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it. And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. Then the angel of Jehovah put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there went up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of Jehovah departed out of his sight. And Gideon saw that he was the angel of Jehovah; and Gideon said, Alas, O Lord Jehovah! forasmuch as I have seen the angel of Jehovah face to face. And Jehovah said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die. Then Gideon built an altar there unto Jehovah, and called it Jehovah-shalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
*For the entire story of Gideon, please read Judges chapters six to eight.
Gideon was a nobody. He was an unimpressive man from an unimpressive clan of the tribe of Manasseh. There was no reason anyone should believe that he would become a great warrior and leader of the Israelites. As is typical of God, however, Gideon was chosen, gifted and commanded to serve God’s purpose at that time and in that place. Gideon was willing, but frightened and uncertain. Israel had strayed far from God’s ways, worshipping at the altars of false gods. How could he, a simple man from a simple tribe lead God’s people back to the path of righteousness? Gideon had trouble believing that it was happening to him. He had trouble believing in himself.
I can imagine how he was feeling, because I’ve felt the same way many times. I can hear God’s voice in my life but I worry whether or not I have heard Him correctly. I have trouble believing that He is really calling me to do some thing. I am sure that there must be somebody better qualified for the task. There must be someone who can get the job done faster and better. There must be someone with more faith, more knowledge, and a better voice. There must be someone smarter, stronger or more faithful. I’m a nobody, so I have a hard time believing that I could have heard God right. “Did you really call me to do this?” I ask too often.
It was easy for Gideon to doubt. The LORD had not appeared to be with Israel for much too long. Gideon even asks the messenger, “If God is with us, why aren’t we seeing the same miraculous things that our forefathers saw? He has abandoned us and left us to our enemy.” The task was not going to be easy. He had to defeat not only the armies of his enemies but also the gods. He had to show the Israelites that the foreign gods they had been worshipping were nothing. He wanted proof, a sign, that the voice was really from God. He went to get an offering of meat, bread and broth for the visitor. The food was placed on a rock and the angel of the LORD touched it with his staff. Fire came down and consumed the meal and the messenger disappeared. The offering was accepted.
This was the most frightening thing that Gideon faced, because he realized that he had been in the presence of God’s holiness and he was sure that he would die. But God said to him, “Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.” Gideon built an altar and called it Jehovah-shalom which means “The LORD is peace.”
We talk about peace a lot these days, especially as we draw near to Christmas. For many people, the best Christmas present would be peace on earth. We are tired of war and rumors of war. We are tired of people dying for all the wrong reasons. We are tired of hearing about the death and destruction that comes with war. Our understanding of peace is a world without conflict. Though this is a wonderful, utopian idea, it is not the understanding of peace that is represented by this story. Gideon named the place Jehovah-shalom because he faced his greatest fear and God told him not to be afraid. It must have been an incredible relief to know that he would live another day, even if that day took him into conflict.
That is what happened. He tore down Baal’s altar and the Asherah pole, faced the men of the town and even their gods. Then he faced the enemy armies, not with a great army of his own, but with a small army appointed by God. Interesting, isn’t it, that Gideon called God Jehovah-shalom and then followed Him into war? Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the assurance of life. When we call Jesus the Prince of Peace, it does not mean that the child to be born is going to make the world free from war and conflict. It means that He is the one who will take away our fear of death because in Him we will no longer die. Will our flesh die? Of course it will, but in Christ we will live forever.
Gideon did not run off to war, confident of his calling. Even after the offering was accepted and he survived destroying the altar and pole, he was still unsure. He tested God. He asked for another sign. He wanted proof. The peace that Gideon knew did not give him an unwavering assurance in his ability or trust in God’s faithfulness. But, God is big enough to accept our doubts and fears, to provide us with all we need to go forth in faith. God passed the test and Gideon went off to war to win the victory that would bring Israel back to her God for a season. The stories of God’s people tell us about the roller-coaster relationship they have always had with God. They knew times of peace and times of war. They trust God at times and at other times they were unfaithful. Through it all, God wanted to be Jehovah-shalom, the LORD is peace, so that His people would not fear to be in His presence. Seeing His face will not bring death. In His presence we will know true peace which is life.
Deuteronomy 10:12-22 And now, Israel, what doth Jehovah thy God require of thee, but to fear Jehovah thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve Jehovah thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of Jehovah, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? Behold, unto Jehovah thy God belongeth heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth, with all that is therein. Only Jehovah had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all peoples, as at this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked. For Jehovah your God, he is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, the mighty, and the terrible, who regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward. He doth execute justice for the fatherless and widow, and loveth the sojourner, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the sojourner; for ye were sojourners in the land of Egypt. Thou shalt fear Jehovah thy God; him shalt thou serve; and to him shalt thou cleave, and by his name shalt thou swear. He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen. Thy fathers went down into Egypt with threescore and ten persons; and now Jehovah thy God hath made thee as the stars of heaven for multitude.
I used several websites when I researched for the devotions this month. One website, Love Worth Finding (www.lwf.org), had a brief devotions by Dr. Adrian Rogers that went along with all the different names. For today’s name, Dr. Rogers told a story about violinist Fritz Chrysler. An old Englishman had a Stradivarius which Fritz Chrysler wished to buy, but the old man said it was not for sale. One day Chrysler went to the old man’s house to see the violin and asked if he could touch it. The old man allowed him to hold the violin. He put it under his chin, pulled the bow across the strings. Great tears began to well in the old man’s eyes. Chrysler thought the tears were because he was playing the instrument and he apologized. “I’m sorry, but I would so much like to buy this instrument” he said. The old Englishman said, “It is not for sale, but it is yours. You are the master. You alone are worthy of it.”
Our name for today is Adonai, This word is translated “Master” or “Lord.” This particular name is much the same as, but very different from Jehovah which is translated “LORD.” Jehovah is the covenant name of God, a more personal name. Adonai is more a title or position. He is Lord. Adonai is similar to Jehovah in that it is a plural noun that takes a singular article to refer to God. The singular, the word “adon,” means “lord” and is used hundreds of times in the scriptures to refer to human lords. Our God is more than a god. Our LORD is more than a lord. Our King is more than a king. He is the God of gods, Lord of lords and King of kings. He is the Master. He alone is worthy of our worship and our praise. He along is worth all that we have and all that we are.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus is referred to as Master. He was teacher, rabbi and friend. The disciples willingly left everything (their homes, families, jobs) to follow Jesus and to do His work in this world. Jesus did not make it easy. His miracles and signs made it clear that He was from God, but he taught difficult lessons. In the sixth chapter of John, Jesus told the crowd that He is the bread of life. He said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves.” When they disciples heard this, they told Jesus that it was too hard, that the Jews could not believe in Him because of this saying. Many left. They could no longer follow Jesus. Jesus asked the twelve, “Would ye also go away?” Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God.”
Just as Fritz Chrysler was the only one worth to play the Stradivarius, our God is the only one worthy of our praise. For Peter, there was only one Lord. Our God is Adonai, the Lord of lords who rules over all.
Daniel 7:9-14 I beheld till thrones were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit: his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and the wheels thereof burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousands of thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld at that time because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake; I beheld even till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed, and it was given to be burned with fire. And as for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
A young girl was so intently drawing on her paper and crayons that her mother asked what she was doing. She answered, “I am drawing a picture of God.” The mother, taken aback by such a daunting task, told her daughter, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The girl was not deterred from her task. She simply said, “They will when I get done.”
We all have a visual image of God. For most of us, that image is based on images created by artists over time. We see God as that powerful figure painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We see Him in the face of Christ in the painting that graced the nursery wall. We see Him as a shepherd surrounded by sheep or as an unearthly glowing light on the top of a mountain surrounded by clouds. As we read the names of God this month, we assign a mental picture to the character they portray – the healer, warrior, protector, king. His face bears a countenance of compassion and peace. We give Him the image of our ideals, He appeals to our needs physically, emotionally, spiritually and by our imagination visually.
One of the most common images we have of God is as an old man sitting on a throne wearing a robe with long flowing pure white hair and beard. This image comes from the name we see in today’s passage from Daniel: Attiyq Youm, which means Ancient of Days. This is a picture of authority, of power, of dominion over everything. While the other names of God identify Him as ruler over the earth, this name Ancient of Days gives us a far more visual understanding of God. He is old. He is so old that we picture Him as like the oldest person we know. The reality is that He is far older than any human being could ever be, and He is timeless. So a picture of an old man on a throne does not give us the entire picture of God.
This name gives us more than an image of God. Here we see a timeline of God’s presence. He is the Ancient of Days, being God long before there was even the keeping of time. He was, is and will be. He does not exist in time or space, but is God. He is like no other. He is sovereign, omnipotent, and omnipresent. He inspired the writer of Daniel to see what will come long before it was possible to know.
In this passage we catch a glimpse of the Christ, the reason we are waiting through Advent. The son of man approached the throne of the ancient one, receiving the dominion, glory and kingdom. We see the promise of what is to come. Christ will rule over the earth, receiving the glory and the kingdom for His willing obedience to God’s will and purpose. We rarely consider this scene as a precursor to the Christmas story, but this is a picture of the sending of Jesus to the manger. The baby for whom we wait is the one who has been given the authority of God, the authority to rule, to judge and to add names to the book of life.
Psalm 90 Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place In all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction, And sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight Are but as yesterday when it is past, And as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: In the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; In the evening it is cut down, and withereth. For we are consumed in thine anger, And in thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, Our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: We bring our years to an end as a sigh. The days of our years are threescore years and ten, Or even by reason of strength fourscore years; Yet is their pride but labor and sorrow; For it is soon gone, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger, And thy wrath according to the fear that is due unto thee? So teach us to number our days, That we may get us a heart of wisdom. Return, O Jehovah; how long? And let it repent thee concerning thy servants. Oh satisfy us in the morning with thy lovingkindness, That we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, And the years wherein we have seen evil. Let thy work appear unto thy servants, And thy glory upon their children. And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And establish thou the work of our hands upon us; Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.
“Then he ran over to another machine, a small shiny affair that kept going phut-phut-phut-phut-phut, and every time it went phut, a large green marble dropped out of it into a basket on the floor. At least it looked like a marble.
Nothing lasts forever. I took the previous quote from the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I happen to have a first edition copy of the book printed in the U.S. in 1964. The book is in pretty good shape considering its age, although it has definitely seen some wear and tear. The binding crackled a bit as I opened it. The edges are stained as if something had spilled on the book. The cover and binding is worn and ripped at the edges and the writing has faded. The pages are yellowed by age. With special care, this book should stay in decent shape for a long time. But, it won’t last forever.
Some things last a long time – well beyond our lifetimes. Other things perish quickly, like fruit, bread and other food. Clothes wear out. Houses fall down. Grass withers. People die. It is the nature of creation. In this modern age we are more likely to throw something away than to have it fixed. After all, if it costs more to repair something than to purchase a new one, why would we bother? The landfills are full of $10 toasters that served for a year or two and then got tossed when they no longer cooked the bread to the right shade of golden brown.
My first thought when I think about something like an Everlasting Gobstopper, is what would I do with it? I mean, I can’t really suck on it all the time, so I would have to have a place where it could be stored when I wanted to eat it. Wouldn’t it become covered with lint or dust, making it disgusting and unhealthy to eat? It may be everlasting, but it won’t stay the same forever. Even the Everlasting Gobstopper will change.
We can take comfort in the truth that there is something everlasting, however. El Olam is the Everlasting God. He has been before the beginning and He will be after the end. Not only will He be here and there, but He will always be the same. He does not change. He does not corrupt. He does not perish. In a world that changes as often as the hands of a clock move, it is precious to know that we can rely on our God who is faithful and trustworthy. He is forever. We can rest in that knowledge forever as we are invited to become part of His everlasting kingdom through the life, death and resurrection of that child who is born in Bethlehem.
Genesis 16:1-16 Now Sarai, Abram's wife, bare him no children: and she had a handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, Jehovah hath restrained me from bearing; go in, I pray thee, unto my handmaid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to Abram her husband to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I gave my handmaid into they bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: Jehovah judge between me and thee. But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her that which is good in thine eyes. And Sarai dealt hardly with her, and she fled from her face. And the angel of Jehovah found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. And he said, Hagar, Sarai's handmaid, whence camest thou? and whither goest thou? And she said, I am fleeing from the face of my mistress Sarai. And the angel of Jehovah said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. And the angel of Jehovah said unto her, I will greatly multiply thy seed, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And the angel of Jehovah said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son; and thou shalt call his name Ishmael, because Jehovah hath heard thy affliction. And he shall be as a wild ass among men; his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his brethren. And she called the name of Jehovah that spake unto her, Thou art a God that seeth: for she said, Have I even here looked after him that seeth me? Wherefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bare, Ishmael. And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram.
As we get closer to Christmas Day, there is one question that I have heard more than any other: “Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?” Driving by the mall this morning, I could tell that there are a great many people who have not yet finished their shopping. Bruce and Victoria went to the mall yesterday to buy a few things and they said that the parking lot was a madhouse. It is rare to find a short check-out line these days. The aisles are packed with people scanning the shelves for the perfect gift. I would like to think that I am finished my shopping, but there are nine days left until Christmas. Although I tend to get my shopping finished early, I typically also think of things I should buy at the last minute. I’m sure I’ll fight the crowds at least a few more times before the big day.
Another question people ask is, “Have you been good this year?” This question draws from the idea of Santa Claus, and how he gives gifts to only the good boys and girls. I’m no different than most parents, enjoying the threat of no presents to entice good behavior out of my children. I will admit to using the standard line, “Santa won’t come if you aren’t good.” This usually bought me a few minutes of peace. Now I don’t have to use Santa, I just tell the kids that I’ll take back their presents.
I think it is the idea of the all-seeing Santa that makes children think twice about the reality of Santa in this world. By the time they get to that age of cynicism, they have seen the failure of their own parents to know it all. They have seen Mom and Dad make a mistake and they have realized that it is impossible for them to see everything. They have developed enough of a scientific mind to realize that the stories about Santa must be fantasy because it is impossible for anyone to see everything, be everywhere and give everything to every kid. “Santa’s watching,” no longer works when they realize that Santa can’t possibly be real. The idea of an old fat guy watching everything we do is a little creepy, too. Children also realize eventually that Mom and Dad can’t really see it all.
As we noted early in this series, we give God names and human attributes so that we can better understand Him. Our image of God is based on what we know, so we see God as an old man or as a shepherd. Many of the parables that Jesus used gave God some very real human characteristics like the woman sweeping the house or landowner. However, God does not have the physical form of a woman or landowner; He isn’t someone we might recognize at the department store during this Christmas shopping season. Even though we describe the hands of God, He doesn’t have hands we would recognize. He is a God who hears without ears. He smells our gifts of incense without a nose. He sees without eyes.
El Roi is the God who sees. Though we hear this description and think of the stories about Santa Claus, the God we worship is not a character that has some strange magic that gives him the power to see all the children all over the world. He is God, and as God He is in every time and place. He doesn’t simply exist, He is. And because He is in every time and every place, there is nothing that can be hidden from Him. He sees all that happens – the good and the bad. He sees the hurt we do to others and the hurt that is done to us. He sees, but even more so, He deals with it. He heals, He forgives, He changes lives.
Jeremiah 23:1-8 Woe unto the shepherds that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith Jehovah. Therefore thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, against the shepherds that feed my people: Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them; behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith Jehovah. And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and multiply. And I will set up shepherds over them, who shall feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be lacking, saith Jehovah. Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that they shall no more say, As Jehovah liveth, who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, As Jehovah liveth, who brought up and who led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries whither I had driven them. And they shall dwell in their own land.
There were two brothers, both dirty to the core. They were well known for dealing with people with crooked business practices. They were even involved with well-known criminals; they were cruel and violent. They had no conscience. When one of the brothers died, the other brother was determined to give him a fabulous send-off. He wanted his brother to be honored like a king. He made arrangements with a funeral home and then called the local church. He offered the minister a large donation toward their latest building project, but added a condition. “I will give you this donation if you call my brother a saint in his eulogy.”
The minister agreed and prepared for the funeral service. Great crowds crammed the church for the service, fascinated by this man who had lived such a cold-hearted life, and curious about how the minister would speak about him in the eulogy. The minister began, “The man you see in the coffin was a vile and debauched individual. He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a reprobate and a hedonist. He destroyed the fortunes, careers and lives of countless people in this city, some of whom are here today. This man did ever dirty, rotten thing you can think of. But compared to his brother here, he was a saint.”
How often do we compare ourselves to others, thinking that we are a little better, a little nicer, a little more righteous than the next guy. We think we are good, or at least good enough. We know we are not a sinner like Hitler or even our neighbor. We hold up our good qualities as badges of honor, thinking they are enough to make us righteous before men and before God.
However, though we are not as bad as that brother lying in the coffin, haven’t we all at some point in our life sinned against our neighbor and against God. As a matter of fact, I can almost guarantee that we have all lied, deceived and manipulated to get our own way. We have all stolen something, even if it isn’t a tangible item. We have stolen time, dignity, happiness from our neighbors. We may not be reprobate, but we are troublemakers in some sense of the world. We are all hedonists.
A.W. Tozer wrote, “Sin has many manifestations, but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, “I AM.” That is sin in its concentrated essence.” In the same book, “The Knowledge of the Holy” he also wrote, “Everything in the universe is good to the degree that it conforms to the nature of God and evil as it fails to do so.”
We fail daily. Though there are glimpses of God’s nature in the life of a Christian, we still fail to live up to the expectations of righteousness. We can’t be holy by our own will and power. We can’t be righteous by our own good works. It is impossible because no matter how good we are, we are still evil. As Martin Luther said, “simul justus et peccator.” We are simultaneously saints and sinners. We can’t be righteous without God.
St. Paul wrote in his second letter to Corinth, “Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Yahweh Tsidkenu is our God. He is the LORD our righteousness. The baby for whom we wait, whom we will honor as He is born to humble circumstances in Bethlehem, is the one who was sent to be sin in our stead that we might have the righteousness of God. By His power we are made holy. By His grace we are made right.
Galatians 3:26-4:7 For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus. And if ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise. But I say that so long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a bondservant though he is lord of all; but is under guardians and stewards until the day appointed of the father. So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world: but when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father. So that thou art no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
During this Advent journey we have learned about our amazing God. He is not like the gods that people kept on an altar, incapable of doing even that which they were believed to do. The fertility gods did not really bring a good harvest. The people attributed their good fortune to the gods. When the harvest failed despite their worship, the people took the blame. They left the fate of their lives up to the whims of their gods. They think “We must have done something wrong,” or “Our offering was not good enough,” when things did not go well. When things did go well, they thought it was because they did something well enough to please the god s.
We have learned that our God is different. He is the King of kings, Lord of lords, God above all gods. He is Creator, Shepherd, Banner. He is the Lord of hosts, the Ancient of Days, the God Almighty. He is the Master, the Everlasting God. He is the God who sees, heals, provides. He is peace and righteousness. He is there. He is God and yet He has taken a personal and intimate interest in His people. He has spoken to them, wrestled with them, and touched them with His hand. He has walked with them, fed them, and given them His Word. He has granted forgiveness, promised restoration and reconciliation. He has given His people a very real hope. He is holy. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. He is gracious. He deserves our worship. We have been invited to approach His throne, but we are right to do so with fear and trembling, for He is God.
He is God our Father. He is like a father because He is approachable. He listens to His children. He offers us comfort in their times of pain and fear, grants us all that we need to live and more. We know from the scriptures and our experience that we can seek all God’s touch in every aspect of our lives and He will be able to provide. We can pray to God Almighty, knowing that He is in control. We can pray to the LORD who heals, knowing that He can save us from our pain. We can pray because we know the LORD is there, listening.
When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray He said, “When ye pray, say, Father, Hallowed be thy name.” This was shocking to the people listening because it gave a sense of intimacy with God almighty to ordinary people. Who is righteous enough to speak to God as if He were our father? Jesus invites us into a more personal relationship with God, a relationship in which the King of kings listens to our hopes and fears and answers them by His grace. But we are welcome to an even more intimate relationship with God. We are encouraged to call God “Abba.” This word means ‘father’, but it means something even more personal. It means ‘Daddy.’ This God who is more than we can imagine and whose grace goes well beyond anything we could ever need is also like a daddy inviting us to climb into His lap to cuddle with Him, to cry on His shoulder, to hug Him and love Him like a little child. We can trust with the innocence of a child because He has made us sons and daughters, heirs to His kingdom. He might be terrible and terrifying in His power and authority, but He is also kind and compassionate in His grace. He is Abba, Father, Daddy.
Isaiah 9:1-7 But there shall be no gloom to her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the latter time hath he made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased their joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as in the day of Midian. For all the armor of the armed man in the tumult, and the garments rolled in blood, shall be for burning, for fuel of fire. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this.
I have been doing website management for eight years now. It seems very hard to believe. Much of my knowledge came from the help of a friend and self-teaching. I do not know very much, only the basics. I can’t make anything look really fancy. Flash is a foreign language to me. I have some tips that are helpful, suggestions for websites and ideas about design that I can share. Beyond that, I’m as clueless as the next guy. When it comes to regular computer knowledge, I am probably a little ahead of most people, a little more adventurous perhaps, but there is a great deal I do not know. I am certainly not trained, and most of my knowledge is based on my own experience. If I haven’t had it happen to me, it is unlikely that I will know how to deal with it.
That is why I find it funny when some of my friends email me or call me on the phone with their computer questions. I try to help the best I can, give them suggestions that might help based on my knowledge. Many questions might be answerable if only I could see the computer with the problem. I’m pretty good at getting through a situation, finding the right button or link to push by poking through a website or a program. I find it much harder to solve the problem from a distance. I can’t get into their account; I can’t see what they see on the screen. If I have never used the program or had an account with the same site, I can’t even guess where they should go. I need to be right there, looking over their shoulder or even right at the computer to really help them.
Throughout the Old Testament, God did all He could to help His people live, work and love according to His good and perfect will. Sometimes they did what was right, worshipping Him and following His Law. Sometimes they wandered far away, worshipping other gods and doing what satisfied their desires. He sent judges. He sent kings. He sent prophets. The messages went unheard, the servants rejected. The messengers were at times killed. God tried to solve the problem from a distance, but the problem of death and human bondage to sin was too great to stay apart. To be faithful to his promises, He had to come and dwell amongst the people.
Matthew writes, “Now all this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, And they shall call his name Immanuel; which is, being interpreted, God with us.” God did not choose to leave us to our own foibles. He chose to come and dwell among us. He sent Jesus, His Son, our Lord. It is for this Immanuel that we wait. It is for this Messiah that we watch. He will be all the things promised in the passage from Isaiah – Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – all rolled up in a tiny baby born in a stable in Bethlehem. This is perhaps the most incredible thing about our Christian faith: the God about whom we have been talking for nearly three weeks came into our world, born of the most humble circumstances and lived among us. What other god would become like his creation rather than demand the creation strive to be like it? He saw our heartache close-up. He experienced our temptations. He got behind the computer screen and worked to make things right. He is Immanuel.
Isaiah 11:1-9 And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah. And his delight shall be in the fear of Jehovah; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea.
I saw an amazing video a few weeks ago. A group of people on safari just happened upon a group of buffalo drinking at a watering hole. One of the people had a video camera and he realized that there was a pride of lionesses nearby watching them. The video camera was rolling when the lionesses suddenly attacked. They chased the herd of buffalo until they caught a baby that was unable to keep up. The lionesses took it down right near the edge of the pool. They were still wrestling with the baby when an alligator suddenly rose out of the water and tried to steal the buffalo. The lionesses and alligator wrestled for a bit, but the lionesses finally won. They got the baby out of the water and chased the alligator away.
Meanwhile, the herd of buffaloes was unwilling to leave their baby. They came back, slowly at first and then with confidence and determination. The largest buffalo, a male with large horns, suddenly attacked the lionesses, fighting for life. He managed to chase the lionesses away and I imagine they went away with more than just a few scars. Through all this, the baby survived. When the fighting stopped, it was able to get up and move away from the watering hole with the rest of the herd. The extraordinary part of this story is that there was a video camera at the ready to capture this incredible scene. Millions have been able to witness something few people have seen, and by it are better able to understand what happens in the wild.
We don’t realize how difficult it is for animals in the wild. We go down to the grocery store and get our meat packaged in Styrofoam and plastic. We don’t have to kill our cows or our chickens. There is no way our meat will fight back. Things are much different in the wild. Animals have to kill or be killed. They have to fight to protect themselves and to find lunch. When there is draught and the food supply dwindles, the animals become hungry and desperate. The battle we saw on that video was a battle for survival.
As we consider the relationships between all animals – like the wolf and sheep, goats and leopards – we know that the sheep and the goat would not stand a chance against either the wolf or the leopard. In the right circumstances these animals could live in harmony, if they are all satisfied. The wolf and the leopard would have no need to kill the sheep or the goat if they are not hungry or threatened. They do not kill without need or attack without threat. That is a trait of sinful human beings.
God created a perfect world where everything and everyone lived in harmony. The human creatures, Adam and Eve, rejected God’s Word, tried to be like Him and introduced sin into the world. Through their disobedience, even the animals had to live in a world where there is hunger and thirst, threats and danger. Even the animals were forced to live in conflict with one another.
Our Christmas greetings often include a wish for peace on earth and good will toward men. This is a noble hope in a world filled with violence and death. We are tired of hearing about war and grieving our lost. But the root of the problem goes far deeper than just men unable to get along in the world. The world has been broken and confused since sin became part of our existence. That sin affected not only human relationships, but also the whole creation. The hope of Christmas is that the world will be in harmony once again when the Prince of Peace who came into the world as a child born in a stable in Bethlehem returns to bring everlasting peace to His creation.
John 1:1-19 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not. There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth. John beareth witness of him, and crieth, saying, This was he of whom I said, He that cometh after me is become before me: for he was before me. For of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
I have been taking a beginning writing class online. It might seem strange after all I have been writing these devotionals for well over eight years. However, there is so much that I did not know and yet so much that I want to do with my writing. I have been doing these devotions for so long that everything I write sounds the same. I was hoping that the class would help to spur my creative juices, give me some confidence to work on something in a different style from a different perspective. The class has been helping; I think it has even helped my daily writing a bit.
I think the hardest part of the lesson for me has been free writing. The teacher has made it clear that to be a writer you have to get your creative juices flowing and to do that you have to write. Sometimes a writer just does not know what to say. We all suffer at one time or another from writer’s block, we are either uninspired or we simply do nto think we have anything to say. When we are having a day like that, our teacher has suggested that we free write. Free writing is exactly what it says, exercising our creativity by writing freely. We are to just sit down at the computer or with pad and pencil and just write. It does not matter what we say. It does not matter if we are grammatically correct. It does not matter if we spell the words right. It does not even matter if what we have written makes sense. The point of the exercise is to get our thoughts out in the open, to put them on paper. Usually this helps us to see where we are going with an idea. It allows our thoughts to come out freely, without the obligation to follow any rules, giving those thoughts some substance. They begin to make more sense on paper and then we can take them into our story.
God is, but God is beyond our senses. We can not define Him by sight, sound, taste, touch or smell. We can not define Him by time as we know it. We often hear the question, “If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” We can ask a similar question about God. If God is but there is no one to experience Him, does He really exist?” The answer, of course, is “Yes, He does exist.” But God chose not to exist solely for Himself. He made Himself known.
The Bible begins with a story of God’s first revelation – the revealing of Himself. It says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Then we hear, “And God said…” God spoke and what He said came to pass. He said, “Let there be light” and by His word there was light. By His Word there became a creation. By His logos, all we know came into existence, including us. God spoke and He became tangible. The first revelation of Himself was by Word.
St. Paul writes, “…who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist.” He is speaking about our Lord Jesus Christ. As John said, “In the beginning was the Word.” Christ was there. He was in the beginning. Through Him all things were made. But, He was not created as you and I; He was the revelation of what already was. God spoke, and in His Word we were able to experience the unexperiencable.
My thoughts mean nothing until I speak them or write them on paper. God was, whether anyone or anything knew Him. But He did not choose to dwell in solitude. The baby for whom we wait, the child Jesus born in the manger, was the ultimate revelation of the God, and the Word, that was revealed in the beginning when God first spoke.
Job 19:23-29 Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! That with an iron pen and lead They were graven in the rock for ever! But as for me I know that my Redeemer liveth, And at last he will stand up upon the earth: And after my skin, even this body , is destroyed, Then without my flesh shall I see God; Whom I, even I, shall see, on my side, And mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger. My heart is consumed within me. If ye say, How we will persecute him! And that the root of the matter is found in me; Be ye afraid of the sword: For wrath bringeth the punishments of the sword, That ye may know there is a judgment.
One of my favorite Bible stories is that of Ruth. Ruth, who is listed among Jesus’ descendents, was a Moabite, a woman from the country of Moab. They were not friends of the Jews, living a very different life with very different gods, but they were not always enemies. The story of Ruth takes place during a time of peace. It was, however, also a time of famine and suffering. There was a man Eli from Bethlehem who decided to take his wife Naomi out of the land of Judah to the land of Moab where they might find food to survive. He took with him two sons and they lived there for a number of years. The sons found for themselves wives, daughters of Moab, and they were all content. Then the man died. Soon his two sons also died, leaving Naomi and her daughters in law widows.
Naomi grieved her losses and decided the only thing she could do was to return to the land of her ancestors. Everything she loved had been taken from her. She needed to go home. She turned to Orpah and Ruth, her two daughters-in-law and told them to go home. She set them free to have a new life, a life with new husbands who could care for them. After some argument, Orpah agreed. Ruth insisted on returning to Bethlehem with Ruth. “Wherever you go, I will go. Your people will be my people, your God my God.” So Ruth went to Bethlehem with Naomi. Ruth took good care of Naomi, finding her food by gleaning the fields of the landowners. One landowner, a man named Boaz, learned that Ruth was caring for Naomi, a kinswoman. He decided to take special care of the women by throwing extra wheat on the fields for Ruth to glean. When Naomi found out that Boaz was the one who was taking care of Ruth and herself, she said, “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead. That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” (Ruth 2:20, NIV)
Boaz married Ruth, they had children and Ruth eventually became the great-grandmother of David and an ancestor of Jesus. If Boaz, a mere man, is able to be a redeemer, to bring hope and comfort to his kinsmen, how much more will our God bring to us? Boaz was a kind man, a man who provided food and rest to Ruth and peace to Naomi who had suffered so much.
Job was suffering. He had lost everything. He had been stripped of his wealth, his family and his health. He was left with nothing. Through it, however, Job knew that there was a Redeemer that lived. God is not just a Creator who put the world together and made everything that lives and breathes. He also redeems us from that which holds us hostage, such as our difficulties and our griefs. Even in the midst of his greatest trials, Job proclaimed his faith that his Redeemer will stand upon the earth. If Job should die before his Redeemer could save him, Job would still see Him. This text was the foundation of the beloved hymn written by Samuel Medley, who found such comfort in these words. Our God is the Redeemer who will set us free from our troubles, who will care for us in times of need and who will pay the price for our freedom. Jesus, the babe for whom we wait was that Redeemer, and the price He paid was His life on the cross.
Revelation 1:4b-8 Grace to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits that are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Even so, Amen. I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
If you have ever played a game like charades, you know how difficult it is to make your thoughts known through other forms of communication. You might understand that raising your hands high above your head in an arch means “sun” but other people see that as a symbol representing other things. They may think you are referring to a rainbow or a cave or a flower. Without the three letters that spell the word “sun” they might never understand what you are trying to say. A picture paints a thousand words because everyone sees something a little different. So, letters are the most basic building block of communication.
Our alphabet consists of twenty six letters. Those twenty six letters can be arranged in millions of ways to create words and the words can be arranged in millions of ways to create sentences, paragraphs and stories. We use letters made into words to relay information and emotion to others. We use words to describe what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch and know. We read, we speak, we whisper, we yell, we type, we sing. We use letters made into words to communicate. Without letters, other people would not know what we are thinking.
In today’s passage, we hear that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. He is who is and who was and who is to come. He is the Almighty. This name takes us back to the beginning of our journey when we first met Jahweh, the self-existent one. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet. We can also say He is the A and the Z. He is the beginning and the end. He is the first and the last. The alphabet we use, and all the alphabets around the world are used to create the words we have been given in the Bible. All the letters are here, arranged in a manner that tells us the story of the one true God Almighty, from the beginning to the ending. We see Him before time and after time. We see Him through it all. In this passage, we identify Jesus with the God we met in Exodus, the God who called Himself, “I am who I am.”
This name, the Alpha and Omega, reminds us again of the covenant nature of God. He has made promises to His people and He is faithful. We can rest in the knowledge that He is the beginning and the end and that we need not fear anything because God will fulfill His promises. The book of Revelation is filled with some frightening images and many people have played upon those issues throughout the history of Christianity to subject others by the power of fear. But we know, because He is the Alpha and the Omega, that He will have the victory that has been won by Jesus Christ on the cross. He is the ruler, the King of all.
Matthew 16:13-20 Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Who do men say that the Son of man is? And they said, Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But who say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged he the disciples that they should tell no man that he was the Christ.
It is hard for us to think about Jesus being a grown man today, Christmas Eve. After all, we are gathering together in our churches to hear once again the beloved story of the birth of Christ. We’ll be reminded of the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary, the excitement of the shepherds, the visit from the wise men. We will hear the angels singing and will consider the extraordinary gift that has been given to us on Christmas. We don’t want to think about the life of Christ tonight. We want to bask in the glow of the miracle that is the Nativity. That’s ok. For one night a year, Jesus is a baby. We will turn much too soon to the Lenten journey that takes us to the cross.
One hymn that we will likely sing is a favorite children’s song. This song has been incorrectly attributed to Martin Luther over the years, but it does remind us of something that he likely started in churches during his lifetime. He liked to invite the children to the front of the church during the Christmas Eve service, and there he had a cradle waiting with a doll representative of the Christ child. The children were given a chance to rock the cradle, to rock Baby Jesus to sleep. The children can most identify with the Christ we meet on Christmas Eve, because they too are innocent, vulnerable and dependent on the adults to care for their every need. As we sing “Away in a manger” we see a simple baby, but we are also reminded that He is much more.
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head. The stars in the sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay. The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes. I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky and stay by my cradle til morning is nigh. Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and take us to heaven, to live with Thee there.
The baby born at Christmas will not only be a man who lived and walked in our world. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He was fully man, a man who hungered and thirsted. He got tired, He needed love. As a child, He needed the care of His mother and father just as we needed as babies. It is almost sad that this song has continued the idea that Jesus, as a baby, was perfect. I doubt that He went very long without crying. He pooped His pants, He needed to eat. He got the sniffles and diaper rash and tummy aches. He probably knew what it felt like to be afraid, tired, hungry and sad. He experienced life as we experienced it. He became one of us.
However, that baby in the manger in Bethlehem is so much more. In today’s passage, Peter makes a confession that He could not have made without the Spirit of God giving Him the words and the faith to do so. When asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He is the revelation of God in this world, the incarnation of the divine in human flesh. He is the Christ, the anointed One. He is the Messiah that came to save His people and the world. He took on the flesh of man, to know our world and to know our suffering so that He could overcome it for our sakes.
Matthew 1:18-25 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But when he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name JESUS; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins. Now all this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, And they shall call his name Immanuel; which is, being interpreted, God with us. And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife; and knew her not till she had brought forth a son: and he called his name JESUS.
Luke 1:26-38 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee. But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God. And behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren. For no word from God shall be void of power. And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Of all the names we have heard and all the things we have learned about our God during this Advent journey, I think today’s name is perhaps the most comforting. Oh, it is good to know that the Lord is LORD, Creator, the One whom we worship, the Provider, God Almighty, Shepherd, Lord of hosts, our Banner, There, Healer, Peace, Master, Ancient of Days, Everlasting, the God who sees, Righteousness, Father, Here with us, Prince of Peace, the Word, Redeemer, Alpha and Omega and the Christ. He meets our every need and leads us in His ways. However, He has created us in His own image, with a sense of freedom and the power to reason. We can make choices. We can go our own way. We can even reject Him.
It is by our nature to reject God, just as Adam and Eve did in the garden. It is not that we do not love God, but that we love ourselves more. We think we know better. We think we are greater. We think we know what we need and we will do whatever it takes to satisfy ourselves. That is sin. Though we are made righteous by God’s grace, we are still sinners.
That’s why we’ve been through this Advent journey. That’s why we waited for the baby to be born in the manger. That baby is God’s answer to our rejection. He is the One who gave up the glory of heaven to become one of us, to live with us and to suffer with us. He is the One who died on the cross to bring us back to God and make us right with Him. His name is Jesus.
Both Mary and Joseph heard from the angels that the baby to be born to them was to be named Jesus. The name means, “the Lord Saves.” The history of the Israelites brought all humanity to that moment, to the moment when God would shake the world upside down and bring everything to order once again. A young woman was given the most incredible news – news that was not happy news in her circumstances. The man was given the same news – also not news he might expect. Both accepted this news with an open heart so that we might benefit from the gift. They named Him as God instructed. His name is Jesus. He is the Lord who saves. He saves us from ourselves, from our sin, from our selfishness. He saves us to be in harmony with Him as we were created to be.
Acts 7:51-60 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? and they killed them that showed before of the coming of the Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers; ye who received the law as it was ordained by angels, and kept it not. Now when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. But they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon the Lord, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
*For the entire story of Stephen, read Acts 6:1-7:60.
We have spent twenty-five days getting to know the God whom we worship. Christmas has come and gone. All that is left is the ripped wrapping paper on the floor and the leftovers in the refrigerator. What has it all meant? What has it changed? Where do we go from here?
Today is St. Stephen’s Day. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, the first of the disciples to die for his faith in Christ. It almost seems odd that we would go from the peaceful story of the Nativity right into the martyrdom of Stephen. It seems too soon to be thinking about those who have risked everything for their faith. However, that is what it is all about. Christ died that we might live. Now that we have seen it in the names of God and the story of Christ, it is time for us to live that life He has called us to live.
We use the word martyr in reference to those who have died for their faith, and yet the word simply means witness. The martyrs who have been stoned, beheaded, burned or who have died in other ways give us an example of extreme devotion to God. We are not likely to be asked to live or die in such extreme circumstances. We are, however, called to be witnesses. We are called to speak the story of God into the lives of those who are still living in darkness even while the light shines so brightly in the world. We might have to make sacrifices for our faith, but that is the cost of discipleship. It isn’t enough to celebrate the Nativity with a trip to church on Christmas Eve and a battle at city hall for a manger display. Our faith calls us to tell the story of Christ, to bring forgiveness and reconciliation to those who are lost and separated from our God.
That is what comes next. We are called by that baby in the manger to be witnesses to the great and awesome grace of God, to tell His story and to live every moment as if all that matters is God.
I will be returning to my normal writing tomorrow, but I pray this month of devotions has been a blessing to you. I pray you have come to know our God a little better, that you have seen how truly marvelous and extraordinary that He is. And I pray that it will spur you on to living the life He has called you to live, telling His story to all who will hear.
Scriptures for January 6, 2008, Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Isaiah 60:1-6 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee. For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but Jehovah will arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: they all gather themselves together, they come to thee; thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be carried in the arms. Then thou shalt see and be radiant, and thy heart shall thrill and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned unto thee, the wealth of the nations shall come unto thee. The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praises of Jehovah.
We took a trip to Houston for Thanksgiving weekend. We spent some time at the Galleria and started our Christmas shopping. We enjoyed some meals together and hung out as a family without the worries of work or school. Our main purpose for the trip was to visit the Houston Natural Science Museum. They had an exhibit that sounded interesting and exciting. So, we bought tickets and planned our trip around our reservation. The museum had several other interesting exhibits, including “Treasures from Shanghai,” some IMAX movies and a vault full of magnificent jewelry and priceless gems. They also have some permanent exhibits including dinosaur bones and a Foucault pendulum. But we went to see “Lucy.”
Lucy is collection of bones belonging to a hominid that lived approximately 3.2 million years ago. The new species Australopithecus afarensis is thought to possibly be an ancestor to modern humans. Lucy was three and a half feet tall and weighed approximately 60 pounds. She walked upright – unusual for species that are dated so old. The anthropologists that found Lucy managed to recover 40% of her bones, and she is the oldest, most complete skeleton ever discovered.
The exhibit was fascinating because it looked not only at the science of Lucy’s discovery, but also at the history of Ethiopia, which is where she was found. Along with a number of other ancient bones and signs explaining the process of studying the history of people, the exhibit included a number of artifacts from Ethiopian history, particularly religious. The oldest archeological sites are found in Ethiopia, some dating back 2.6 million years. A large percentage of early hominid remains have been found at those sites so it is possible to study the evolution of hominid development, including the possible connections with modern humans.
Ethiopia is a country that has had a long history. Written history shows us that there was a thriving civilization in Ethiopia during the days of Solomon. The Queen of Sheba came from there. According to tradition, the Queen of Sheba returned to with King Menelik, the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. He founded the Solomonic dynasty in Ethiopia. A small Jewish community still thrives there today. There are those who believe that Solomon also sent the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia with the Queen of Sheba, to keep it protected from the enemies of Israel.
Along with the Jewish community, Ethiopia has strong Christian and Muslim communities. It is the second nation to become officially Christian, sometime in the fourth century A.D. The three religions live in peace, working together for the betterment of the nation and the people. There are beautiful churches hand-hewn out of stone, built right into the rock face. The exhibit included ancient manuscripts of all three religions, religious art, metal work and other artifacts. The exhibit made me want to visit Ethiopia. It is not a perfect place. The country has seen its share of political upheaval and difficulties. Famine has been a problem. However, there is something special about the nation – perhaps it is the faith that was so evident in the presentation.
We might not always agree with the conclusions of the scientists or the opinion of the politics, but a light shines in a nation where people can work together to accomplish great things. It must have been difficult for the Jews who listened to Isaiah make the prophecy in today’s passage. He told them about the light that will shine out of Israel, the glory of the LORD which will rise out of His people. The light will draw all nations to Jerusalem, strangers and foreigners will come to worship the God of Israel. That light is Jesus Christ. He welcomes all people into the grace of God.
The world is still dark. There is still sin and hatred and evil. But Christ shines in the darkness and the world, the whole world, is welcome into the Light. On this Sunday of Epiphany, we welcome those first visitors to the Christ. In this passage we even see that people from Sheba will come. Perhaps one of those wise men was from that community of Jews that lived in Ethiopia so long ago, joining with others who longed to give praise and gifts to the God of peace.
Scriptures for January 6, 2008, Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 Give the king thy judgments, O God, And thy righteousness unto the king's son. He will judge thy people with righteousness, And thy poor with justice. The mountains shall bring peace to the people, And the hills, in righteousness. He will judge the poor of the people, He will save the children of the needy, And will break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear thee while the sun endureth, And so long as the moon, throughout all generations. He will come down like rain upon the mown grass, As showers that water the earth. In his days shall the righteous flourish, And abundance of peace, till the moon be no more… The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall render tribute: The kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; All nations shall serve him. For he will deliver the needy when he crieth, And the poor, that hath no helper. He will have pity on the poor and needy, And the souls of the needy he will save. He will redeem their soul from oppression and violence; And precious will their blood be in his sight…
In the Epiphany story we see the full revelation of Christ and His mission amongst us. The gifts brought by the wise men represent the three reasons for His birth. The frankincense represents his place as priest, the incense used in the rituals of the Temple. It is as the prayers of the priests that are said on behalf of the people of Israel, wafting the sweet smell of faith to the Lord. The myrrh, an ointment used to anoint the dead, reminds us of His ultimate purpose – to die for the sake of His people. The gold represents His reign as King. It is a tribute to his power and authority, given by one who wishes to honor the One who reigns. The wise men came to offer these gifts, to reveal to the world that the child Jesus was the Messiah for whom the world waited.
The psalm for today is a prayer given at the coronation of a king. It was used first by or for Solomon the son of David, and then for the kings that followed. It is the ideal reign of a king – a nation of peace and righteousness. It calls the king to a right relationship with His people, taking care of their needs and leading them in the right path. It is a prayer for a long reign, for a kingdom that spreads far and showers blessings on the entire world.
It is difficult for a human king to fulfill such a great expectation. King Solomon was a great king. He accomplished amazing things for the nation and for God such as the building of the Temple. His rule brought about a golden age during which Israel shined the world over. Kings, and Queens, came to visit Solomon, to bring great gifts and pay homage to the power and authority he had in the world. Solomon ruled with justice, wisdom and a heart for God. But he was imperfect. Like all human kings, he did not remain true to the Lord willingly building temples to the gods of his wives.
The prayer continued for the sons of David as they were raised to the throne of Israel. Some of the kings were more righteous than others. Some of the kings were just and merciful. The kingdom thrived and the kingdom fell under the leadership of the sons of David. But the people believed God and trusted that He would provide the king who could fulfill this prayer. They waited for the Messiah. They longed for the king that would restore Israel. He was born in a stable and visited by wise men from the East. The gifts brought reflected the truth of God’s faithfulness – this baby would rule forever in righteousness and peace.
Scriptures for January 6, 2008, Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Ephesians 3:1-12 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles,-- if so be that ye have heard of the dispensation of that grace of God which was given me to you-ward; how that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other generation was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him.
Lucille Ball was a popular actress on the television, a most beloved face. Her humor made generation after generation of people from all around the world laugh and find a moment of relief from the trials of this life. In a recent novel about Lucy called “Balls of Fire”, Stefan Kanfer talked about her life and her gifts. In reference to her inability to be as successful in the movies as she was on television, he described her as “a 68-inch actress not a 68-foot actress.” Though she tried very hard to make the transition, it was not something she was able to do. She was such a natural in front of the cameras that she was expected to succeed. However, she was at her best in the intimacy of the small screen and no matter how hard she tried she could not learn how to be good in the movies. Some things just can’t be learned.
Faith can’t be learned. It is impossible for us to believe in Jesus if there is nothing deep within us calling us into that relationship. That gift of faith be learned or found through hard work. It is by God’s grace that we can know His love and pass on the wonderful message of the Gospel. It is possible, however, for us to leave marks on the faith of others.
Paul was a zealous Jew, knowledgeable about the scriptures and the Law. He did everything he could to destroy Christianity, chasing after the disciples and ordering the destruction of the Church. He had no faith despite the fact that he had in depth knowledge of the prophecies that confirmed his identity as that of the Messiah for which Israel waited. Paul’s authority to destroy Christianity may have had a lasting impact on some of the believers whose faith was weak. He stood over the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr. One day Jesus revealed himself to Paul in a spectacular and miraculous manner and then Paul had faith. He believed and became an apostle who built faith rather than destroying it.
Paul knew that what he had been given was not something that came from hard work, but only by God’s grace. He revealed the mystery and now all can know His grace by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can’t learn how to love and serve God. We can’t learn how to speak His Word to the people. We can’t learn how to be a prophet or apostle. It has to come from within, the indwelling Spirit that brings faith and gifts to all those who believe.
God knew from the beginning of time the things that would occur in and through His people, planning for our salvation even before we were born. Much of God’s plan remained a mystery to those who came before Christ – they knew the promise but how it would be fulfilled remained hidden until the right time. Christ came to reveal God’s grace and mercy to the world. Then one day Christ broke through into this world to reveal something new, something hidden for so long. He gave this knowledge to the church so that we might reveal His love fully, pure and unadulterated by human hands.
God has given a similar responsibility to us, those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord. He gave us the Gospel, first to the Apostles and through them the rest of the Church, so that His mercy would be revealed to the whole world. There is still value in the Old – the Law and the word of God given through the patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets help us to see how we have failed to live up to God’s expectation. In the New we see how it was meant to be, revealed first in Jesus Christ and then through those who believe in Him. May we always care for the incredible gift we have been given, the Gospel of Christ, His love and mercy.