Praise = Peace

Gratitude, meditation, spiritual practice… trending ideas and buzz words that are all rooted in the Word, and not at all new concepts in the early church or with Christ followers today. So what exactly does the Bible say about gratitude, and how do we apply it today?

A frequently quoted scripture can be found in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, where he encourages them to be anxious for nothing, but in everything give thanks. Paul tells them this is because God is at hand (Philippians 4:5). Meaning, because the Lord is working on our behalf, because He is near to us, we do not have to worry. Instead, through prayer and thanksgiving we approach God with our needs, and His peace will fill our minds.

What a powerful encouragement! Because God is working, our act of thanksgiving not only glorifies the Father, but it covers us in peace! The act of gratitude comes back and blesses US!

As we’ve spent the past few months journeying through the Psalms, have you noticed the theme of David’s heart of gratitude? So much praise and worship for who God is, what He has done, and what He will do in the future. Our Psalm today (Chapter 86) carries this same message, and I’m drawn specifically to verse 12.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

With my whole heart. What would that look like in my life? Do I surrender my whole heart, my entire being, when I practice gratitude? Am I able to fully devote my praise to the Lord? Or is my thanksgiving a half-hearted routine muttering of niceties? Have my thank you’s become mannerly and procedural, lacking zeal and true joy? Are they genuine or are the obligatory at times? Does the splendor of His creation or the undeserved grace I experience ever get old? 

Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts, details her experience and learning of gratitude in the small and everyday, and the joy it brings. She shares that through the expression of gratitude for the life we already have, we come to know how wildly loved we are by God. This is part of the joy process that brings overwhelming peace.

I believe the Bible gives us formulas like this to unlock the fullness that God has for us. David shows us all through the Psalms how he was afraid, he was pleading for shelter, seeking forgiveness, and at the same time, he would break out in song and prayers of gratitude. David knew that when he wanted peace, he gave God praise.

Here’s something we can be grateful for – a God that instructs us! Not only is He the source of overwhelming peace and joy – He tells us how to get it! A heart wholly grateful for who He is and what He has done.

Lord, thank you for the steps to experience your peace. You are an amazing provider! I ask you to help me surrender any parts of my heart that aren’t fully praising you. Show me the little corners I might be holding back or allowing to be distracted, or want to control. You alone can bring full joy and peace! Amen

 

 

From Pleading to Praise

Grief. Lament. Agony. Anger.

Maybe you’ve had life experiences with similar emotions. Maybe even recently you’ve cried out to the Lord with your deep hurts, walking him through the timeline of your pain. Like a reminder for the all-knowing God. But there’s something about talking through it all line by line, and saying it out loud to him that helps us process. I know it does for me.

In Psalms 74, the first half of the chapter is a lament of the destruction against the temple of Jerusalem and their city being conquered. It’s almost as if rehearsing the litany of grievances will rile up the Lord to action – revenge even. Revenge that we like to call “justice”. And when we are wronged, isn’t that what we want? Recognition and validation from God that this just isn’t okay, and he will do something about it.

Whether I am crying out to him from a place in my heart with pure intentions, or a place with ugliness and self-righteousness – either one, the Lord can handle it. He doesn’t want us to wait and come to him when our hearts are perfectly “right” and aligned… He wants us to come to him when we are still in the middle of the grief and the mess. When the emotions are raw and rambling, and filled with “oh, and another thing”!!  I love this real example of Asaph in verses 1-11, crying out and processing his grief and anger WITH God. Can you see some of your own pleas in these verses?

And then when you continue through this chapter, you see a turning of his heart. In verses 12-23 you see the focus moving from the wrongs committed against Jerusalem and God, and instead the focus is all about God’s power. What God can do and what he has done in the past. Asaph concludes this psalm by resting in his hope that God has the power and track record to wisely handle their enemies, in the way and timing that’s best.

God can use our lamenting and pleading and turn it into a remembrance and time of praise. He wants us to come wherever we are and cast our cares on Him. He’s big enough, wise enough, patient enough, to handle our sorrow and grief.

Whether your situation is 5 minutes old or from 5 decades ago, go through your heart’s play-by-play with the Lord.

I Believe: Testimonies

The faith of three amazing women really blessed me – humbled me, really – this past week as our paths crossed and they spent time with me.

Their lives couldn’t be more different – but in each one I saw a living example from our scripture today, mirroring David’s heart in Psalm 62. 

My friend’s body has been attacked by cancer for years now, each new diagnosis bringing another physical challenge to tackle. She has absolute confidence in God’s ability to heal her completely, and balances that with putting her trust in his perfect will for her life. As she stands in the waiting of the latest round of test results, plans her own funeral, and all the while lugging around her oxygen – her soul and eternity rests in the Lord.

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
    my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

A second friend, abused over decades, found strength in the Lord to speak out and seek protection. Protection for herself, and protection for others. This has come at a great cost to her and her family, both emotionally and physically. Every day she fights to bring darkness into light, despite the repercussions it brings.

How long will you assault me?
    Would all of you throw me down—
    this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Surely they intend to topple me
    from my lofty place;
    they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
    but in their hearts they curse.

Lastly, a friend that was once weighed down by addictions of this world is overcoming! She has spent the last few years rebuilding and restoring relationships, at the same time she faces the earthly consequences of her past choices. Hard consequences – that most people would be bitter about and question why they still have to face them even though they are repentant and forgiven. But not her. She has the best attitude and she even said to me, “people may judge me but I can’t worry about that – I just have to focus on what God knows about me”. I think this is exactly what David is saying in verse 7:

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God[c];
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

As I read through this passage again this week, each of their testimonies came alive through this passage. These women all put their trust in the Lord, and each day they get up and fight another day. Their strength and perseverance can only be explained by an in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. They each testify that it’s God working in them, and not anything they can boast about. And they also each admit their own moments of fear, things they’re working on, etc. Their roads aren’t always perfect – but they are met with a perfect God who walks with them, even at their lowest. At a time when they could hole up and let the enemy weigh them down, they’re choosing to follow Jesus. To stand. To speak. To share.

Thank you Lord, for giving us Psalm 62, and you perfect timing for these testimonies this week. I pray you will continue to strengthen and be a shelter for each of these daughters of yours, and they will know how loved and chosen they are. I pray for healing, protection, and peace for each of them. Thank you for these  overcomers – because of Jesus’ blood and their testimony of your work in their life, just as Revelation 12:11 says! Amen. 

I Believe: Obedience > Sacrifice

Have you heard the phrase “obedience over sacrifice” before? When I first heard this term – I didn’t know what exactly it was referring to, and almost twenty years later, the Lord is still using it to teach me.

Back then, a mentor was encouraging me to let go of my works as a way to earn salvation. Through prayer and study, he was able to help me more fully understand, that the perfect sacrifice was already completed for me on Calvary. None of my striving was going to be enough – Jesus was enough, and the only sacrifice acceptable.

I’m sure this mentor saw some questionable patterns in my life and identified some growth opportunities.

Logically I knew that God didn’t work like a bank account, adding up our deposits (sacrifices and works) and comparing them to our withdrawals (sin), and look for a positive balance in order for us to earn heaven. While I knew this mentally, some of my behavior would indicate I had bought into this theology found in the world. “Just be a good person”, “Do more good than harm in your life”… those all sound positive and pleasant enough. But that’s not what we are called to as Christ followers.

God’s kingdom is set up completely opposite of that.

From the beginning, when sacrifices were made for our sins, shortly thereafter, the people started abusing it. Empty sacrifices without a heart change.

Then God gave us Jesus, who made the ultimate sacrifice for each of us. By believing this and accepting this gift, we let go of the constant attempts to obtain salvation by our own doing.

Our reading today in Psalms 50 is God’s response to sinners that are stuck in the cycle of sin and sacrifice. Those that are making sacrifices in vain and using the best of their flocks as a free pass to sin. As you read through this chapter, you can see where God wants our hearts – in a state of gratitude. He wanted the people to have a grateful spirit and let that be their sacrifice. Go through the heart change – which is much more challenging than giving up an animal. And while we might not be picking out a sheep each week, I’m sure there are similar practices or things we give up that we treat as sacrifices, similar to David’s time.

And these practices or holy habits can be great expressions of our faith, when our heart is right. God is calling us to let go of our “sin band-aids and justifications” of giving more, serving more, being more… he can see right through it.

In 1 Samuel 15:22, Samuel tells Saul, The Lord delights more when we obey his voice than he does in burnt offerings and sacrifices.

If you’ve ever had to follow through with a tough consequence given to your own kids, you just wish they would have obeyed from the start. You’d rather see them making wise choices, than watch them lose their phone for a week. You’d rather them experience an “ah ha moment” of heart change, than lose out on time with friends.

In Paul’s letter to the church of Ephesus (Eph 2:8-9), he explains that we are saved because of our faith in Jesus, and NOT because of any of our own works or actions. This salvation is a gift from God, and we can’t earn it – and none of us have any reason to boast.

One last scripture I will share related to this topic – in God’s perfect timing, the Bible App’s daily scripture popped on my phone this week:

To do justice and judgement is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3.

This was such an awesome study for me this week! I know there are areas I still hold on to my “easy out” with sacrifices. Maybe not overtly, but deep down there are thoughts and even “well at least I…” or trade offs I will make with myself, to try to soften the blow to my own sin. But you know the only thing that actually does that? Jesus. Relationship with him. Drawing us to heart change and complete gratitude for what he did on Calvary.

David Believes: Confession

In the 38th chapter of Psalms, the depth of this belief in confession is on display:

There is no health in my bones
    because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
    like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

My wounds stink and fester
    because of my foolishness.

He continues by sharing how he is impacted by his sin:

I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
    all the day I go about mourning.
For my sides are filled with burning,
    and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and crushed;
    I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

We don’t know where exactly in David’s lifetime this Psalm should be placed, but we know David was a man after God’s own heart, who also struggled with sin. If you’ve been following along with the life of David, you know there were many ups and downs – and this confession of his sin could be at multiple points in his life. Just as in any believer’s life.

The cornerstone of Christianity is the saving blood of Jesus Christ. Without it, there is no salvation, no eternity with God. There isn’t a way to earn this gift – but it does have to be accepted. We have to believe and accept this, through a confession of our faith. Part of our confession of faith is the need for this salvation, because of our sin.

Our “coming to Jesus” experiences all look a little different – from alter calls to accepting Jesus into your heart, from a church camp declaration to a deathbed profession. One thread across all of our personal experiences of coming to Christ, is this need of a savior and a turning away from sin. And that’s exactly what confession is – declaring what in our life is against God’s ways, and asking him for forgiveness and help.

Like David, I believe the practice of confession is a holy habit for Christ followers to continue – throughout our lives, not just once at the start of our faith journey.

Sure, the Lord already knows it – all of it. But do you recognize the benefit of saying it out loud to him, recognizing the wrong and why it was wrong, and seeking forgiveness? It takes the power out of the sin and brings it to light. Confession is both humbling and freeing. He promises to forgive us – and loves us through all of it!

If you’re a little rusty on the practice of confessing your sin, here are a few things to guide you in your prayer time:

  • Get specific. More than the midwest ope or ‘scuse me, be straightforward about your sin and call it by name when you’re talking with God.
  • Recognize why this is against God’s design for us and the impact the sin has.
  • Actually ask for forgiveness. “God, will you forgive me for xyz”. Thank him and believe in his forgiveness!
  • A truly repentant heart is one that is resolved to change and not continue in that sin. Ask God to help you and guide you to ways of true change. Is there any restitution or restoration that needs to occur with others, because of your sin?

Here are some additional scriptures on confession and forgiveness that encouraged me this week:

If we claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:6-9

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah. Psalm 32:1-5

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:8-12

 

Heaven & Jesus

The critical question for our generation—and for every generation— is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?  John Piper

I first asked myself this question about twelve years ago, when Francis Chan quoted Piper in his book, Crazy Love. Our small group was going through Crazy Love, week by week, being stretched and challenged in new ways. Having the hard conversations with ourselves and with each other.

This one hurt.

This one pointed out some ugly in me.

I wanted the security. The happiest fam reunions. The comfort. The peace of heaven. The stress-free living. The forever home without crime or sin. The place where everyone always got along. I wanted the forever-ness of salvation that I was still trying to earn at times on earth. I wanted the tear free, cancer free, poverty free life. I want to rest without playing the what-if game with endless scenarios and anxiety. An existence free from the wiles of satan. I wanted kids to be kids without illness or kidnappings. And let’s be honest, I even wanted all the endless snacks without kitchen clean up on the daily. And Jesus was a part of all of these things.

But when I stopped and processed heaven – and really dug deep, I cared so much about all of those aspects of heaven, and not enough of Jesus, THE CENTER of it all. He was in all of it – but as part of it. Not IT.

The depth of my relationship with Christ hadn’t reached the point, where together with him was the ultimate. Having him, and only him, wasn’t in  the forefront of my mind when thinking of eternity.

It was humbling (sad, really) to realize the self-focused nature that I somehow built heaven to be in my mind.

So then what? I mean, shoot, am I even a Christian then??

You know what’s cool about God? He knows. He knows and yet he loves. And guides. And sanctifies – which is just a religious sounding word to describe the process of becoming holy through faith in Jesus.

If you ask, seek, and knock, he will answer.

I prayed and asked for Jesus to be at the center of my heaven. For my relationship with Jesus to grow so deep that nothing else in heaven mattered but him. I prayed that my heart would long for him, not just the security he brings.

It wasn’t an immediate and overnight change, but a transformation in my heart took place over time. He is so faithful to answer our cries.  The depth of my love for Jesus has grown, and my longing for a forever home with him at the center has been solidified in my heart. Definitely stronger than it was, and I’m confident it will continue to grow. He promises to continue the work in us that he has started.

Our reading today is Psalm 26. David shares the depth of his love for the Lord and longing for heaven with him is evident:

Lord, I love the house where you live,
    the place where your glory dwells.
Do not take away my soul along with sinners,
    my life with those who are bloodthirsty

I believe, like David, the place where the Lord dwells is lovely, and exactly where I want my soul to be. With him, forever.

 

Cover photo: painting by Kerolos Safwat, First Day in Heaven

Why I Believe: Psalms 14

fool  /fo͞ol/  noun

a person who acts unwisely or imprudently

David’s seven verses in Psalms 14,  give us a glimpse of a fool.  The fool.

The fool says in his heart,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
    there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven
    on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
    any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.

Do all these evildoers know nothing?

They devour my people as though eating bread;
    they never call on the Lord.
But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,
    for God is present in the company of the righteous.
You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
    but the Lord is their refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When the Lord restores his people,
    let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

I love how David directs us to the heart. God knows what we are saying and feeling on the inside. For me, that thought can be comforting. And sometimes it can be convicting. He KNOWS it all!

He knows the heart that is denouncing his existence, and he knows the heart that is questioning and seeking – and he knows the difference.

When I look back at my faith journey, while there were seasons of rebellion, I can honestly say that I never had thoughts or feelings in my heart that there wasn’t a God.

Did I have seasons of questions? Absolutely. Do I still wonder the whys and the hows? For sure. But the existence of God was something I learned at a young age, that I then independently confirmed as I got older. I confirmed this through prayer, scripture studying, and so many God-instances that the world might call coincidences. But he has continued to show up – on my darkest days, during my low points, and has shown me he is true. He is real. He is love. The God on the mountain is the God in the valley!

Unfortunately, during those rebellious seasons, my actions may have looked like I didn’t believe in a God – but sinning isn’t a sign of denouncing God. He is so merciful to forgive and restore. Don’t get discouraged and confuse sin with unbelief, but stand on the promises of that if you confess your sin he will forgive. He will continue his work in us – sanctifying us for his purposes.

Verse four says that the foolish devour God’s people like eating bread. Like a normal, routine everyday thing – eating bread and devouring the faithful. And here’s the key, the last part of that verse says – these foolish unbelieving hearts  NEVER call on the Lord. They’re not seeking God. They’re not praying. They’re not asking for help. They’re denying God’s existence, continuing in sin and corruption like its routine, and they’re definitely not calling on him.

I love how this scripture comes together and points to the way they could get out of their foolery – Seek God – CALL ON HIM – pray for revelation of his existence.

If you are questioning the existence of God, take a step in faith and ask him. Simply spend time each day and ask him to show you if he is real. Day by day, I believe he will reveal himself to you – as he has to me, and so many others.

Over the next few weeks as we read the Psalms and draw out our own stories of belief, I hope you’re encouraged. Whether it’s these journal entries, or articles and books from scientists that confirm a world created by God or an amazing sermon you hear… there are statements of faith and personal creeds all around us.

Ultimately, your own personal testimony of the Lord is what captures your heart. Your unique experiences with him. Your ah ha moments. The overwhelming peace he brings. The sweetness in your soul. I have no doubt he will show himself to you, as he has millions of others.

This chapter wraps up with a promise from the Lord. He is the refuge for those  that believe in him and made righteous through their faith! If you are experiencing corruption and sin at the hands of fools, God is your comfort. He will restore his people. This chapter ends with rejoicing in his salvation! Hallelujah!

The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus comes that we may have life, more abundantly! John 10:10

I Believe: Begotten

In the best known scripture in the world – have you ever wondered about…

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

…have you ever wondered about begotten? I’ve always accepted it as had, or a word for possession. Simply, God gave His Son. Which is true.

I was intrigued and enlightened to learn more about this word.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity explains that this word represents Jesus as the same being as God, from before all worlds was even created. He contrasts begotten from created… Begotten being the same as the begotter, and creation being different than the creator. People beget people. Squirrels beget squirrels. God created earth. A bird creates a nest. I create a painting. But God beget Jesus, His Son, who is also fully God in his image.

So what’s the big deal? Does this begotten matter?

Back in 325 AD, apparently it did matter – there was a large discussion (debate?) within in the early church, which resulted in the Nicene Creed (the first half is below). Nicene, because it happened in city of Nicaea (present day Iznik, Turkey), and Creed, which is a fancy word for statement of beliefs, usually in the realm of faith.

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the begotten of God the Father, the Only-begotten, that is of the essence of the Father.
God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made; of the very same nature of the Father, by Whom all things came into being, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.
Who for us humanity and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate, was made human, was born perfectly of the holy virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.
By whom He took body, soul, and mind, and everything that is in man, truly and not in semblance.

So, the question I ask myself, do I truly believe in Jesus as fully God, begotten, not made. Born from a virgin birth. Or have I accepted this as a sweet traditional story during Christmas, folklore almost? And does this differentiation matter?

Here’s what I’ve come to, and I am curious about where you land.

I believe it does matter. This is the basis of Christ, who He is, why He came, and the sufficiency we have through Him. Without the virgin birth – without the begotten – He wouldn’t be fully God, and able to be the perfect and full sacrifice for our sins. Without this, we aren’t able to live in eternity with the Father.

What proof or why do I believe this? Sure, I can go with “it says so in the Bible”, but without the belief in the inerrancy of scripture, or taking God’s word as truth, it might be difficult to stand firm in this belief in the begotten Jesus. Like other questions of faith, it requires prayer. Persistently asking the Holy Spirit to guide you to truth. In this you might land where I did – begotten Jesus is in sync with other truths God has shown us. Collectively and personally. The consistency of the begotten Jesus reaffirms salvation available through a perfect sacrifice. Personally, this sacrifice has been life changing. This side of eternity, I experience salvation and life as a new creature. This personal testimony can only be attributed to the begotten Jesus.

This belief is also woven all through scripture. In the first chapter of John, it’s noted that In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus is the Word, and He was both with God and fully God. Mind blowing. Perfect. Complete.

In Psalms 2, which is our reading for today, you can read through the passage and see these themes:

        • Verses 1-3 Our sin and rebellion
        • Verses 4-6 God’s response
        • Verses 7-9 Begotten Jesus’ authority over all
        • Verses 10-12 Our response

I love how Psalms 2 ends in a charge for us to respond. Be wise, serve the Lord, humble ourselves.

How do you answer this question in your own faith journey? Do you recite John 3:16 or the Nicene Creed in a routine manner, without having explored your true and full belief in the begotten Jesus?

I’d love to hear your reflections and thoughts. I’m praying for each reader to feel the promptings of the Holy Spirit – to identify your belief or areas of doubt as we journey through the Psalms. Don’t be afraid to recognize those corners of your heart that have questions. I’m praying that each of us has a renewed conviction to search through the doubts we carry. A desire to ponder our uncertainties. Through this we can develop our own personal creeds.

Revelation 12:11 says that we will overcome by the blood of the Lamb (thank you Jesus) and the word of our testimony. Our personal testimony of who Jesus is and what he has done in our life.  I can’t wait to testify together in 2021. Creed on, friends!

Begotten References

        • John 1:18 begotten Jesus is declared by God
        • John 3:18 condemnation through  disbelief in the begotten Jesus
        • Hebrews 1:5, 5:5 and Acts 13:33 reference to Psalms 2
        • 1 John 4:9 begotten Jesus is a manifestation of God’s love

 

A Thrill of Hope

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:14

I wonder how this landed on people seven hundred years before Christ came. We may accept this prophecy as known and believed today, but based on the responses in scriptures, they didn’t seem to. God With Us?  Could they imagine it or understand it?

When you zoom out from this moment with God, King Azah, and the prophet Isaiah, the landscape is heavy. Isaiah served as a prophet to the people of Judah and during the reign of four different kings. This time period experienced war  after war, and all the while Isaiah counseled the kings to trust only in the Lord. Wait on the Lord. But his advice fell on deaf ears resulting in defeats, captivity, and exile.

All the while, the people had turned away from God – their hearts weren’t in it. Interesting enough, they were still going to the temple and making sacrifices for their rebellion. They knew they weren’t following the Lord, but rather than truly repent and change, they tried to quick-fix their sins with worthless sacrifices. These sin and hypocrisy cycles continued for decades!

You know what I love about God and how he used Isaiah? In the midst of all of the disobedience from the kings and leaders of the nation, to the disobedience to the everyday people – at every level they had turned their backs on the Lord – but he remained. He still continued to give them hope. He didn’t leave them. He provided prophets to point the people back to himself. The thrill of hope is woven all through the book of Isaiah!

Isaiah is truly an amazing foretelling of Jesus. God used this one prophet to share so much hope and truth about our Messiah. The need of a savior was apparent, and Jesus Christ is our perfect provision!

        • The coming of Christ is announced in Isaiah 40:3-5
        • The virgin birth of Christ is foretold in Isaiah 7:14
        • The Good News through Christ is positioned in Isaiah 61:1
        • Christ’s death and sacrifice for our sins is outlined in Isaiah 52-53
        • Christ’s return and reign in Isaiah 60:2-3

These are just a few of the many recorded and fulfilled prophesies from Isaiah about the life and ministry of Christ.

When we zoom back in to what is happening specifically in Isaiah 7, we find King Azah too rebellious and too proud to ask God, or “test God”, even though God commanded him to. God wanted to have his whole heart and be fully trusted. Even after King Azah’s excuse to not ask God, God still offers him a sign of the future to come. A future of hope and salvation through Jesus. If the people would just trust the Lord and have faith! Today we can do exactly that. We can trust. We can follow the Lord. We can let go of our empty sacrifices and rely solely on the saving grace of Jesus.

As we continue looking toward the birth of Jesus, we can trust the one who sent him. He wants us to believe. He sent Jesus so He can be with us again. I’m praying that we all experience the thrill of the hope we have in Christ!

Harmony

Have you spent more time outdoors in the past year? Camping, hiking, and fishing have exploded as people are looking for available activities. Our own family has spent more quality time in nature exploring and learning. I find myself lost in bird watching, monologuing baby racoons, and identifying animal tracks – like never before.

This summer the nature adventures may have gone next-level when “animals eating human meals” became a focal point (I blame a book I read called a Day in the Life of Squirrels). In a nutshell, think “feeding swans spaghetti”, and planning a taco Tuesday for the opossum.

It’s been such a fun family activity and we have all enjoyed these silly little goals and sightings in nature (the kids especially).

It will come to no surprise that on a challenging day in the current world, my daughter and I were in town and came upon a grey squirrel. He carefully dragged a sweet potato fry out of a carry out container in a garbage can. We followed Grey Squirrel a couple of blocks and watched him make his way to a safe place up in a tree to indulge in his trophy. Walking hand in hand back to the car (after spending way too much time watching Grey Squirrel savor his sweet potato fry), my heart was full. In that moment it felt like God gave us Grey Squirrel as a little nod. He put a distraction in our path and a smile on our face. We couldn’t have planned or planted this ‘animal food goal’ better if we tried! It was something so small but it sure blessed us that day.

I admit that all of this sounds so incredibly goofy (borderline crazy?) but for us, nature and animals have been a source of peace. Getting outside has brought us harmony and a symbol of escape from worldly challenges.

As I began preparing for this week’s passage of the foreshadowing of the Messiah, of course verses 6-9 stood out. It’s a perfect picture of the harmony between the relationships of living things, both humans and animals. Right now, the swans mostly hiss at the idea of a Lady and the Tramp spaghetti moment. But this passage gives me hope that one day, harmony will be restored, as it was originally designed in the garden of Eden. Jesus, in his righteousness, will bring relationships together in a way that only he can. He can heal like no other. He has dominion over all. At his name every knee will bow.

Maybe, just maybe, God wrote this desire on our hearts. He gave us this family activity and space to yearn for harmony. He gave us time to experience his creation, the life he breathed into existence at his very word.

At the same time that he gave us a heart for harmony and unity, he also created us uniquely and each with a different person. Without the perfect wisdom, understanding, might, and fear of the Lord, we can never strike this balance like Jesus can. Until his return, I get to work on relationships here, looking to the Word for examples of love, and patience. Grace and forgiveness. Humility and long suffering.

With our Messiah, he makes a way for us to have perfect harmony in eternity.

What a day that will be! And I’m not talking about animal food goals – but true harmony among all people and all living creatures! The absence of sin and the enemy creating enmity. Perfect. Freeing. Peace.

As we look toward celebrating his birth this month, we can also praise him for the perfect harmony he brings!

Isaiah 11:1-10 The Righteous Reign of the Branch

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
    and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
    and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.