The Relationship Between Panting and Christmas

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.  Psalm 42:1

If my heart longs for God as the Psalmist’s does, then the coming of Jesus has huge ramifications for me.  Jesus is God and all of my longings are satisfied in the coming of the Messiah.

My soul pants for a God who came near as my Emmanuel.

My soul pants for a God who was vulnerable enough to become a baby, only to suffer before saving.

My soul pants for a God who, at 30, saw hypocrisy and hard-hearted rebellion in the religious elite and confronted it head on.

My soul pants for a God who, when presented with a woman caught in adultery, extended forgiveness and love instead of condemnation.

My soul pants for a God who was powerful enough to offer up His life when it was heaven’s time.  He was not a victim, but a triumphant Victor.

My soul pants for a God who told me the truth about my sin so that I could find the joy of forgiveness and the exhilaration of love given without any conditions.

My soul pants for a God who was born to serve through suffering, not to rule through intimidation.

My soul pants for a God who called me friend, not enemy.  Bride, not harlot.  Forgiven, not condemned.  Free, not enslaved.  Loved, not spurned.

My soul pants for You, O God.  In Jesus name, Amen

Believing A Heaven-Kind of Story

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:14

God is so gracious to give us clues that He is still accomplishing His purposes in the world.  His signs are meant for our encouragement.  He’s talking to us all the time but oftentimes we don’t recognize His voice.  His hand is always at work but oftentimes we don’t discern His fingerprints.  We chalk the miraculous up to coincidence or we just plain fail to see the holy in the mundane.

“A virgin will be with child.”  What if I had been a contemporary of Mary’s, a woman in her village?  And suppose I had been familiar with this prophetic scripture from Isaiah.  Would I have recognized Mary as the virgin God was describing?  I am pessimistic. Perhaps I would have struggled to believe her story of virginity.  When she announced that she was pregnant and told others the story of the angel’s visit, I fear I would have reacted like most folks.   I pray today for the ways my heart is closed to His revelation.

I don’t want to miss heaven’s surprises. Scripture is loaded with promises, promises of God’s daily intervention.  Today, may I eagerly look for signs of His handiwork.  A family member may be softer toward spiritual things.  I might understand a spiritual truth never clear to me before.  A political shift might occur somewhere and a world leader implements some of God’s principles of leadership.  A friend’s husband might decide that his wife is a treasure after all, and choose to value her.  An unexpected financial gift might come in the mail, relieving a financial burden that has kept me awake for weeks.

What are signs for?  To keep me on the path marked ‘abundant life’.  Signs reassure me that God is sovereign and I am to walk by faith.  What I can’t see, touch or feel should be more real to me that what is visibly tangible.

Forgive me for my unbelief.  Open my eyes, heart, senses to all of You.   Amen 

Journal: 

Where are you skeptical of God’s miracle?

Isolate the reason why you live in disbelief?

Confess it to God and ask Him for new faith and new promises to live in.

Favor, God’s Presence, and Suffering

And he came to Mary and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.  Luke 1:28

Mary was favored by God, promised His presence, but then, her life was characterized by suffering.  She left her home eight months pregnant.  She gave birth in a dirty barn.  She fled for Egypt with a husband and a toddler.  She saw her son taunted, beaten, and crucified.  How was she comforted?  There was only one way ~ through sound theology and the presence of God.

As she reviewed the stories of her ancestors, she remembered others who were favored by God, promised His presence for their journey, but then suffered greatly as they walked out their calling.  ‘A life of ease’ never characterizes the journey of a disciple.

  • Joseph, shown early through dreams that he was favored by God, was then betrayed and led into slavery and imprisonment.  Many years later, he would see redemption.
  • David, shown early at twelve years of age that he was favored by God, was anointed king.  But over the next decade or two, he hid in caves and ran for his life from a demented king.
  • Jesus, obviously favored by His Father (a voice from heaven declared it so), was immediately led into the desert for testing.  His life ultimately ended up on a cross, by God’s design.

There are more examples than this, too.  So why have I forgotten the Bible stories I learned as a kid?  Why, when I’m suffering, do I wonder if I have found dis-favor with God?  Why do I hide my pain from other believers?  Why do I fear God has withdrawn from me rather than tucked Himself in closely?  The answer is bad theology and the shame other believers inflict because of their bad theology!

Perhaps you are in the wilderness of testing.  You may be ill and the losses that accompany deteriorating health have been staggering.  You may have been betrayed, wondered why God didn’t prevent it and instead of feeling comforted, you feel punished, deserted, and aching.  You feel you set out on a path God carved out for you ~ only to experience one set of crushing circumstances after another.  Most likely, you’ve second guessed yourself so badly that you’ve lost your footing, or you’ve second guessed God’s love and lost all confidence in His promises.  If either is true, shame and guilt are your constant companions.

Suffering does not prove dis-favor and disobedience.  In the life of an obedient believer, it proves God’s favor.  I am not advocating that we wear our pain as a badge.  I am, however, promoting rest in God’s purposes!

The One who favors us is the One who calls us to share in His suffering.  God’s glory, the point of it all, is most clearly seen when His favored ones trust Him through their tears.  Let’s renounce the lies of our accuser and run with confidence toward the heart of the Father who sustained Mary through the tumultuous events surrounding the birth of His Son, Jesus.

I want to be a spiritual giant but I forget their paths of suffering.  Shelter me in your arms of grace.  I declare that I am loved today, not despised.  In Jesus’ name, Amen

Saying ‘Thank You’

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High. Psalm 50:14

Have you ever noticed how few people ever say ‘thank you’? We are, by nature, selfish and entitled. Because we believe we deserve better, saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t occur to us as often as it should. I can also be offended when I think another’s ‘thank you’ isn’t grand enough for what I gave them. Because they didn’t go into enough detail, or because it took them too long to send an acknowledgement, I call them ungrateful. While it may be true in some cases, my propensity to hold a grudge should be checked against my own sin of entitlement.

I’ve heard it said that Adam and Eve’s offense against God wasn’t necessarily pride but ingratitude. They had access to every single tree created except one but they felt that even that one should be theirs.

If I’m going to measure a ‘thank you’ against the weight of the gift that was given to me, then I’m guilty of not expressing a proper ‘thank you’ to God. The level of my acknowledgement is far beneath what it should be. I casually thank Him for forgiving me when I fail to realize what would happen to me if He hadn’t. I forget to thank Him for my health until I languish for a time under a chronic illness. (I’m still recovering from 13 months of Long Covid.). God owes me nothing and yet He gives me everything. I pray that my thanks won’t be just a whisper under my breath but an audible, hearty Halleluiah.  Perhaps my thanksgiving will be contagious and I will help create an environment of gratitude where everyone considers taking part.

So Father, deepen my gratitude for the privilege of being your child. I vow to finish this race well. Like a bride who stands at an altar, I vow to love you all my life. I vow make you my treasure above all other people, and all other things. Amen


Prayer of Thanksgiving

Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them.  Psalm 119:129

Lord Jesus, my soul keeps your Word.  My soul, not my mind.  I don’t walk in your paths through the sheer grit of my will anymore.  I don’t keep your commandments out of guilt.

I remember the many years of my life when I considered your ways confining.  They hemmed me in and eroded a freedom I thought I needed.  I felt trapped by You; too scared to err too badly, too stubborn to obey, and too reticent to open my heart to you completely.

Thank you for showing me Your glory.  Your ways are spacious.  My soul loves them.  My life is no longer about compliance but joyful obedience.  What a difference.

I pledge you the rest of my days.  My heart is alive to Your love.  My mind is expanding to take in the wonders of Your truth.  My will is bent to Your will.  This is the way of everlasting life and I am forever grateful that You wooed me to Your side.

Amen

What Kills a Relationship

They have forsaken Yahweh, spurned the Holy One of Israel, and turned themselves back into foreigners. Isaiah 1:4

A big blowup in a relationship is not what usually kills it. People argue. Some fight passionately. But if both are committed to the each other and also committed to truth, there is understanding and restoration. What is deadly to any relationship, however, is a gradual deadening of the heart. A slow death is much more difficult to turn around.

You’ve heard the phrase, “I feel like I don’t know you anymore.” A ‘foreigner’ is a good description. It is saying, ‘You are acting so strangely that I don’t even recognize you. You may as well have come from a foreign land.’

Amazing that what can be intimate can grow so deeply estranged. In a spiritual sense, this is what happens, more than not, to the children of God toward their Heavenly Father. No wonder there are so many songs about returning to your first love, about stirring the cold embers of your heart. Erosion can happen so slowly that the gradual decline is inconspicuous.

To make sure that it doesn’t happen to me, I want to think about this more intently this morning. What would happen that might show I’ve turned my face away from God to tiptoe in the other direction?

  • I fail to take the sins of my heart seriously.
  • I keep the reading of the Word technically and intellectually.
  • I lose the lump in my throat when I talk about Jesus.
  • The mercy He showed to me becomes a casual thought.
  • God’s wooing is easily ignored.
  • I play it safe to live in unbelief instead of by faith.

I used to believe that some ‘thing’ would happen that would kill my faith. I guess I was wrong. Nothing can do that for me. Isaiah says that God’s children have turned themselves back into foreigners. Circumstances don’t make or break a relationship. It’s whether two people choose to walk together or not. It’s commitment. It’s nurturing the love that exists and never allowing any other priority to eclipse it.

Oh, that I might always say that we are intimate. Amen