Inhabit: God Dwells in Light

Have you ever stopped to wonder why sunbeams shining through a cloud make us think of heaven? 

Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash

Every. Single. Time. I see the sun’s rays radiating through the clouds, and I imagine heaven breaking in. And, if I let my thoughts move further down that rabbit trail, my mind’s eye sees more light, more shining, more glory.

And there it is. Glory. It’s why we equate light with heaven. Throughout Scripture, light shares the same spaces as God. In the beginning… God says, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). And there’s light. Darkness has to move over, making room for light. Night gives way to Day. 

Moses climbs the mountain to meet with God, and his face radiates, literally glows. Not a sunburn or a sparkly reflection of the sun. His actual skin shines for all to see. And it scares the people, so he covers his face–with a veil (Exodus 34:29-35). He glows because he’s been in the presence of God, and somehow that light of glory soaks into Moses. And it shows.

Moses goes on to build the Tent of Meeting–a holy, moveable Tabernacle. God’s instructions are specific and laborious, but everyone pitches in so that God has a place to dwell among them (Exodus 25:8). On opening day, everything is in its rightful place, including the Ark of the Covenant that has as its lid the Mercy Seat–the very place for God’s presence to sit. All of which is hidden behind the curtain, the veil. And it works: 

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

Exodus 40:34-35, ESV

God’s Unapproachable Light

But before we get too carried away with these incredible light lessons, it’s important to pause and reflect on the extreme unapproachability of God’s kind of light.

From that glory-filled mountain with Moses, God warns the people not to come too close or touch the mountain–because they’ll die. And, despite his time with God, Moses later asks permission to see God’s glory. To which God responds, humans can’t see my glory and live (Exodus 33:17-23).

In the Tabernacle’s Holy of Holies, that hidden place behind the veil where God’s glory periodically dwells, no one–not one person, beyond the High Priest on the Day of Atonement–enters that space. Because God is so very holy, no unholiness comes near His brightly-lit presence and lives. He’s like a burning fire that instantly disintegrates the unholy. 

Paul understands this.

“He alone is immortal and dwells in unapproachable light. No one has ever seen Him, nor can anyone see Him. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.” 

1 Timothy 6:16

The simple truth–God, in all His holy glory, inhabits light. But we cannot enter that light.

At least, not without Jesus.

Photo by Benn McGuinness on Unsplash

Jesus Is the Light

Consistently, Jesus turns our worlds upside-down. We see it happening in the stories recorded in Scripture: Jesus–the Holy One–seeks out sinners and eats with the unholy. He touches lepers and heals the unclean. He lays hands on dead bodies, raising the untouchable to life. Everything that His world has deemed unholy, Jesus makes holy. 

Then, very publicly, Jesus flips everything Jewish believers have known about God’s light on its head, calling Himself the Light.

Before Jesus, God embodies unapproachable light.
Before Jesus, no one enters God’s holy, glory-filled presence.
But now this man, Jesus, calls Himself Light, the very essence of God.

It’s good for us to pause here and take in what we in twenty-first century America miss in this scene: the context, which is the joyous annual celebration called the Festival of Tabernacles.

A holy festival that lasts eight days in the fall, the Festival of Tabernacles (aka: Feast of Booths) is both a celebration of the end of harvest and a commemoration of God’s faithfulness during the wilderness-wandering years. In all of the celebrations, dancers, singers, and speakers pull in imagery of water and light throughout all they do. We’ll focus on the aspects of light.

In Jesus’ day, every night of the festival included the lighting of four huge menorahs (lampstands) that stood about fifty yards high, each holding seven lights. Their light symbolized God’s past faithfulness as He led the Israelites through the wilderness by a pillar of light and God’s future deliverance by the coming Messiah.*

Try to picture this scene in your mind’s eye. The lights of the menorahs glow so brightly they illuminate the entire city of Jerusalem. Jews have travelled from all over, so the place is packed. Joy is high. But so is tension–because Jesus has been teaching at the Temple despite death threats, saying things like, if anyone is thirsty, they can come to Him and drink (John 7:38). Confusion. Chaos. Conflict.

This is the context in which Jesus stands on the last night of the Festival and speaks:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12, ESV

With this simple yet profound pronouncement, Jesus changes everything. By calling Himself the Light, when God has been the only One to ever dwell in light, He names Himself God, and that’s really hard to understand after thousands of years of God saying He is the only Holy One.

Living In the Light

John picks up the thread of Jesus’ declaration again in his later letter, and his words beautifully integrate the truth of the Light:

“If we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

1 John 1:7

I’ve read this verse many times, but only now do I clearly see “as God is in the light.” I begin to grasp the perfect, holy connection of old covenant and new. God has always inhabited the light. People never could. But, now, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, anyone who believes in Him can live in the light. We can inhabit the Light. 

We, you and I, can enter into the holy presence of God. 

Jesus changes the game. In Him we are made holy. Because of Jesus, we can go behind the veil and dwell in the glory of God. We can step into the marvelous light. And darkness once again gives way to Light. Praise God!

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  • What aspects of God dwelling in light have you considered, believed, or wondered about? Spend some time in your journal soaking in the truths Scripture has given us today about God’s light, His glory.
  • I have never forgotten how I felt the day I read about Jesus’ declaration at the Festival of Lights. Lysa TerKeurst’s* descriptions of the setting held my attention and stirred my heart. For the first time I was able to grab hold of how HUGE Jesus’ statement would have been. And how public. And how confusing. Knowing Jesus as the Light had become so normal and natural for me that I failed to comprehend how world-changing its truths were. And are. We still need light. And the Light ALWAYS defeats the darkness.
  • I added a song, “God With Us,” to our Dwell Playlist because of the middle bridge’s lyrics. (You’re welcome :)).

You are here
You are holy
We are standing
In Your glory

*indicates an affiliate link, which if used to make a purchase, I earn a wee bit.
Feature Photo by Marty Finney on Unsplash

Inhabit: God’s Dwelling Place

It turns out my word of the year, dwell, has a few meanings, so for this series we’ll focus on one of them: inhabit. The Hebrew word most used to mean inhabit is yashab, defined as to sit, remain, or dwell–as in to have one’s abode. Translated as dwell over 400 times in Scripture, yashab can be found in many of the early stories. The Israelites inhabit the Promised Land. Adam and Eve inhabit the Garden of Eden. But even before that, there’s God. He inhabits heaven. So, that’s where we’ll start.

God dwells in Heaven–a place we actually know little about and, yet, assume we know much. For most of us, I suspect what we know about heaven has been more influenced by Hollywood than the Bible. For instance, George Burns’ Oh God, Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait, and one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams, have given us the idea that heaven is run by a kindly old man, that we earn angel wings when we get to heaven by doing good deeds, and that, well, heaven is in the middle of a cornfield in Iowa. This is not a commentary on movies–this is my realization that none of these capture the heaven of Scripture. 

God in Heaven

From the opening line of our Bible, we’re given some notion of there being a heaven. Genesis 1:1 says God created heaven and earth, which in the Hebrew means “heights” (heaven–shamayim) and “land” (earth–erets), Used together, however, heaven and earth imply the entire universe. 

But, the idea is planted. There is something up high, beyond where we are, that God has created. Moses helps us understand that heaven is God’s home, “Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel” (Deuteronomy 26:15, NIV). 

The Psalms contain references to God living in this lofty place:

“The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
   on all the inhabitants of the earth”

Psalm 33:13-14, ESV

The prophets describe God’s dwelling place with similar language:

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place….’”

Isaiah 57:15, ESV 

Christianity’s first martyr, Stephen, delivers a speech moments before he is stoned to death, giving us a glimpse of the place he will soon occupy:

“…the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.’”

Acts 7:47-49, ESV

And, the book of Hebrews describes God’s home as “Mount Zion…the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22, NLT). 

Throughout Scripture the picture is consistent. God dwells in heaven. He resides in the heights. 

Photo by Kaushik Panchal on Unsplash

Heaven Matters Now

On the chance this feels frivolous, it’s important for us to take the time to investigate God and His dwelling place because heaven is core to our faith. Jesus leaves His home in heaven to come to earth (John 6:32-35)–to live and die, to resurrect and ascend to heaven. A place. The place God inhabits. In His resurrected body, Jesus sits at the right hand of God–in heaven (1 Peter 3:21b-22). 

It’s from heaven that Jesus awaits the day of His return to earth (Hebrews 9:13). It’s in heaven that Jesus intercedes for us night and day (Romans 8:34). 

Picturing heaven is seeing our Lord’s home. And that gives us a location to look forward to inhabiting one day. It is our future hope! One we cling to as we lose loved ones and face hardships that are unfair and overwhelming (1 Corinthians 15:58). 

And, as I’m learning, heaven can give us a different perspective while we live on earth. We can look to heaven for vision and purpose in our lives:

“Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Colossians 3:1-3, NIV

To set our hearts on things of heaven is to seek first the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 6:33). Seeking Jesus and His kingdom–those things of heaven–means we’re making heavenly priorities our own, doing our best to live as Jesus does. When we press onward toward the heavenly prize, we’re living with heaven in our sights today (Philippians 3:12-14). 

To set our minds on things above is a shift of focus. To live for heaven now is to see as God sees, which shapes our thoughts and feelings, our actions and reactions. Instead of allowing the circumstances of life to swallow us whole, we redirect our eyes and focus on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). And when we, like Peter, move our eyes off the waves and onto our Savior, everything within us changes (Matthew 14:22-33).

Having heaven in our sights helps us live with Jesus’ priorities and perseverance. It helps us put our eyes on Him so we can be like Him. Here and now.

When Heaven Meets Earth

When we set our hearts and minds on heaven, our spiritual lives flourish–because in our heavenly-mindedness, we hunger for Scripture, immerse ourselves in worship, and pray with greater expectancy. We have encounters with the holy, and they move us to tears, quiet our souls, and quicken our hearts. We discover in those more-heaven-than-earth spaces that we are in the presence of God

And, friends, that’s where we want to dwell. Heaven gives us a vision of where we want to be–not just in eternity but in the present. Our spirits long for those moments when heaven meets earth. Barbara Brown Taylor describes “the membrane between heaven and earth” as being “so thin you can almost see through it” (Home by Another Way, 20). The ancient Celtic tradition calls it the thin place. Richard Rohr terms it as the edge. A liminal space. A holy place. The very place Stephen stood as he was dying: 

“Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”

Acts 7:55-56, NIV

Old hymns and current worship songs describe this place as the veil, as in the Holy of Holies where God’s glory dwells. This is the veil that tears in two as Jesus dies–so that by His blood we can now enter that holy space.

When I think about what it means to dwell, this space where heaven and earth meet is what I want to inhabit. I think it’s this desire that has propelled me to investigate and understand all that it means to dwell.

And it all starts with God in heaven. We can never forget the One who dwells on high because it’s when we put our eyes on Him and align our hearts with His that we can inhabit this earth in holy, lovely ways.

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  • What other thoughts do you have about heaven as God’s dwelling place? Or about how we can live for heaven now? Comment and/or spend some time in your journal processing all this with God. Writing this post helped me grow in my understanding of both, so I encourage you to think on it a while, too.
    • I’d also love to hear your thoughts about that thin place where heaven meets earth!
  • Oh, the songs. I’ve spent weeks curating our Dwell Playlist because there are sooooo many great songs about DWELLING. I suspect this is not the finished product, but it does represent many of the places we’ll go this year as we seek to dwell with God more.
    • Except for the opening song, the first several songs contain allusions and imagery of heaven. I’ve loved leaning into their lyrics and learning more about the place God inhabits and how we’re invited to dwell with Him there–for eternity, yes, but also in the now.
    • Here’s something I didn’t realize. The modern song, “Cornerstone,” is basically the hymn “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less.” I knew I loved that line “my anchor holds within the veil” for a reason! I found a chapel version of “Cornerstone” that makes for a great modern hymn.
    • Feel free to share the Playlist link with friends. Music goes a long way in helping our hearts enter into that sacred space with God.
  • Speaking of friends–invite friends to join us on this journey of learning to dwell. It’s good for us to have companions walk with us. We can shape and challenge one another. Plus, it’s more fun!

Featured Photo by Mert Atakan on Unsplash

This Year I’m Gonna Dwell

Choosing a Word of the Year might be a bit in vogue among Christians. There are, after all, websites created to help you find your word, Instagram posts that encourage your choices, and bloggers (like me) who mention it frequently. It’s true–sometimes we choose a word to keep us free of FOMO–that fear of missing out. And, having a Word of the Year can be a fleeting fetish or a momentary mania that might only make it with us till March. 

But. I love having a Word of the Year. I’ve had one for eight years now, and each one has impacted me. Some more than others. And as the years have passed, I’ve become more intentional in my pursuit of God to see what He has for me, relative to that word. I awaken to the word’s use in what I read and sing and hear. I seek it out in Scripture, as well as in books and blogs by trusted authors. I create playlists based on the word’s themes so I can further immerse myself in its truths. I even journal about the lessons learned and have written a blog series on all the Words of the Year I’ve ever had.

Words like communicate, my first Word of the Year back in 2015. I had assumptions about how God would use that word in my life, and it looked nothing like I expected. Turns out He wanted me to slow down and, literally, communicate better–with Him, with my husband, with my sons, with co-workers and friends. My year with communicate was simple. But much needed.

Or the year anchor anchored itself in my heart and mind. To this day (four years later), the word pops when I hear it and jumps when I see it. So I pause. I notice. I take-in whatever might help me grow and mature as a believer. 

And, many of you were around last year as I journeyed with joy. I dug. I researched. I poured over Scripture. I shared it with friends. I created a blog series on it. I found it in places I wasn’t looking for it. Even now, I persist in learning more about joy as it continues to weave itself in and out of my readings and conversations. 

This week, however, I had a pastor-friend challenge me on this whole Word of the Year practice. Basically, to avoid the trite, trendy, and trivial. AND, most importantly, to refrain from relying on my word but, rather, on God’s Word. Amen! Challenge taken!

My Word for 2022

In November of last year, I got to be part of an amazing team that put together a Women’s Retreat called Flourish. And while our focus tended toward all things flora–soil, seeds, plants, and fruit–the truer message of the weekend was that of abiding, of learning what it means to abide in Christ.

As one of the speakers, I spent a lot of weeks in preparation for my part of the weekend and in conversation with the other speakers as we crafted these conversations and sought truths of abiding that we could pass on. I left that weekend with a sense of knowing that my searching had only begun–that God, in fact, was calling me into an abiding posture with Him. As I prayed about what that looked like for the near future, the word dwell kept coming up–in my thoughts, in songs, in Scripture, in Bible studies. I started circling it and noting it in my journal till it dawned on me. My 2022 Word of the Year is DWELL!

Once the decision was made, the word continued to make appearances in everything I was seeing and doing. Dwell was the very first entry in a new and gorgeous book I’d just begun by Ruth Chou Simons called Gracelaced. It adorned titles of Advent posts about Immanuel coming to dwell among us. It came up over and over again in my Advent study of Hebrews. If ever I doubted dwell as my new Word of the Year, I doubt no longer. I embrace it! And just as in 2021, I’m opening the New Year with a blog series based on my new word.

And, to go along with my word is God’s Word for me for 2022:

Psalm 91:1-2, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

It’s actually the very first passage that came to mind as I thought about the word dwell, so to turn to it in the Psalms and see not only the word itself but its partner, abide, as well as a past Word of the Year, trust, I knew this was the passage. I looked no further.

A page right out of Ruth Chou Simons’ book, Gracelaced

Come, Dwell With Me

I don’t know your opinion of the whole Word of the Year craze, so I’m not asking you to choose one for yourself. That’s truly between you and God. But, what I am doing is inviting you along for this next series–this next opportunity to go deeper with God and others who desire to do the same. Come, dwell with me. Haha. That just sounds wrong. Because you won’t, obviously, dwell with me. The whole point of this sojourn into the Word is to learn to better DWELL WITH GOD. 

This New Year jaunt will take us on a meandering journey through Old Testament passages that show us what it looked like for the people of God to dwell on earth long ago and for God to dwell among them. Then we’ll turn our sights to the New Testament to witness the huge transition of God’s way of dwelling with us, His people. All this uncovering of the way of dwelling will help us find our path into God’s shelter, His shadow. We’ll better dwell with Him–on good days and bad. And in our dwelling in His presence, we’ll find a peace, a hope, and a joy that we can find nowhere else. Only with Him.

And, maybe the most beautiful part of all this exploring will be our grasp, our deeper understanding, that as we dwell with Him, He dwells with us. With that bit of magnificent truth, I’ll send you off with a Word containing a word from our recent Advent series, which pairs well with this very promise. From Jesus to you:

“Behold, I am with you always.” Matthew 28:20 

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  • Next week our Dwell series begins. We’re going to do a deep dive into what it looks like to INHABIT. Don’t miss a post by following my blog–just fill in your email! Or follow me on Instagram.
    • And–invite a friend to be part of all our searching and learning and growing by either sending them a link to this site or by forwarding this post from email. I know this deep dive into dwell is one we’ll all want to be part of.
  • I mentioned Ruth Chou Simons’ book, Gracelaced,* a couple of times. I have no words to describe its beauty–artistically and heartfully. It’s a hardback book that’s an investment financially and spiritually, taking readers slowly through an entire year of thoughtful readings and reflection prompts. Each section focuses on each season and what God holds for you there. I’m only in Winter, but–oh my! And, the deluxe edition* is on sale… I have it. It’s GORGEOUS. Makes my eyes and heart happy. 🙂
  • I’ll have the new Dwell Playlist ready next week!
  • While there are Word of the Year Websites designed to help you identify a word for your year, I highly recommend a more personal approach–sitting with God and asking Him. You may not hear His response right away, but as you listen and look and read His Word, He’ll give it to you. But, truly. Feel no pressure to adopt a Word of the Year. No FOMO here!! 😉 😉 Like my friend, JD Walt said, what’s more important is the Word of God!!

Featured Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash
*denotes an affiliate link, where if purchases are made, I’d earn a little in return. 😉

Behold: New

Scrolling through Instagram today turned out to be good for my mind, my heart–my soul. Kinda crazy, considering I rarely scroll for very long, but I did today because a friend’s post grabbed me. She did this clever year-in-review that captured their miraculous journey from positive pregnancy test to birth through the merriest of holidays with their loooooong awaited baby. Her pictures captured the raw emotions and the pure delight.

Her 2021 story has been years in the making, and now she and her husband are living out the new God has for them.

Scrolling on, I read a post from a newer friend who penned a personal story about her beloved Bible being made new by her father. The process was months-long and tedious as he restored the stained, folded, and loose pages then re-glued it all into the renewed cover. Talk about a labor of love and a gorgeous restoration. Yet my friend had resisted when her father first asked to take on the task, afraid she’d be lost without her Bible. Even when she relented, the wait stretched slowly, and she wondered if it would be worth the cost.

But now, holding the like-new Bible in her hands, she looks back over the interminable months and knows it was totally worth it.

I’ve carried both these stories around with me for a while now, and even as I type, I discover that I’m moved more deeply than I first realized, and I’m learning something about what it means to live in the new, to be made new. And, I can’t help but think of one more behold passage:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

2 Corithians 5:17, ESV

Living the New

Moves, births, deaths, aging, illnesses–these are but a few catalysts that bring change to our lives. And whether the change is deemed good or not, it has a way of ushering in new that challenges our sensibilities and capsizes our comfort of the known.

2020’s big move for our family brought changes that propelled us into unknown futures at warp speed. Navigating such abrupt newness led me to a crossroads of sorts, that of choosing to continuously lament all the losses OR to focus on God and what He has in mind for my future. In similar fashion, 2021’s illnesses slowed me down and forced me to face fear head-on, effectively challenging my faith in an invisible God with equally unseen plans and purposes.

Living in the new these last two years has allowed me opportunities to flex my faith muscles in ways I hadn’t had to before. And the lessons are shaping and strengthening me in ways I didn’t know were possible.

I’ve discovered beauty in solitude. Like the petals of a flower opening in the spring, my heart opens in the warmth of God’s love. I no longer resist the quiet, the alone times, the long hours stretching before me. Instead, I’ve learned to lean into the silence, seeking more of God, noticing more of His world, and observing more and more of my own tendencies.

I’m finding ways to rest in His presence. Like the waves of a calm sea, my soul seeks to ebb and flow in rhythm with God’s grace. So, rather than trying to force my plans onto every stressful situation, I’m learning to pause and refocus my eyes on the author and perfecter of my faith. It’s a process. It requires practice. It takes grace with myself. But I am beginning to see my reactions to life’s circumstances with more clarity and humility.

Photo by Tim Johnson on Unsplash

Maybe what I’m finally figuring out is that all this change isn’t without strain and suffering. Maybe what I need to learn next is how to be okay with that truth. Because with Jesus, there is always purpose in the pain and the process, in the waiting and the wondering. And, it’s worth it.

As we face the changes life puts in our paths, Jesus offers a power that can only come from Him–not ourselves, not other people. Just Him. When we reach for Him and allow His goodness and grace to enter our beings, we’re better able to lay down our ways for His. We’re more likely to opt for flexibility as the changes challenge our equilibrium. But more than anything, as we live in the new, we are changed. We are made new.

Made New

Most theologians–if not all–agree that becoming a new creation, as Paul describes it, is the metamorphosis of a person who has come to know Jesus Christ in a personal, real way. Matthew Henry says that when a person is truly IN Christ, a regenerative grace enters that person. And like a caterpillar that goes through the extraordinary transformation in the cocoon, we burst forth as a new creation. Only for us, it’s a continual process, one in which we learn to:

See the world differently–as God sees it.
Love people more fervently.
Feel our emotions more fully–and healthily.
Desire things more holy.
Surrender ourselves more willingly.

Because we’re made new.

In fact, the old has passed away. We are shedding the sin layers. We are laying down our selfish ambitions. We are turning in repentance toward this new life Christ offers.

BEHOLD! Paul calls us to stop. To see. To perceive.

Behold, the new has come! Our hearts are new. Our souls are new. Our perspectives are new. Our inner lives are re-newed, so our outer lives become something different, changed. New.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

The Choice

Looking back has power. It can reveal to us the ways we’ve successfully navigated change, grabbed hold of our anchor that is Christ, and walked by a faith that gives us hope despite all the unknowns. Yet, as another new year arrives, we don’t want to have eyes only for the past. Yes, learn from past mistakes and glean from the lessons of the past year (or two), but we must turn our eyes toward Jesus and the future He has for us, stepping into it with a hope and a faith that speaks of all the new we’re living into and made for.

Just as each of my friends chose to trust, to release, and to hope, we have a choice. Each day of the coming year, we get to choose Christ. We get to choose how we respond to all the changes and challenges we know life will bring. When we’re in Christ, His regenerating grace will help us become all He has made us to be.

And, with that grace, we’ll walk each day with renewed hope and strengthened faith. Because we are made new in Christ.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:16-21, NIV

Behold: Joy

Today is a day for rejoicing! 

After all the festivities and frolicking and fellowship with family and friends, it is easy for us to crash into despondency and even disappointment the day after Christmas. So, instead, let us choose to set our minds on Jesus today–to look on Him with grateful hearts for all He is and all He’s doing. Let us behold Jesus with joyful hearts.

A Year of Joy

If you’ve followed me for a few months, you know that joy has been my word of the year. As I turned the corner of 2020, another year full of challenges and change, I determined to live with more joy–having no idea that in many ways 2021 would hold as many struggles as its recent predecessors. Unable to see the future, I had no way of knowing just how much I would need joy.

I started the year sick, only to get COVID in February. By April I started coming around, but by May I hit more health speed bumps, which required many rounds of antibiotics and steroids (for which I’m grateful). To say my life has become sedentary would be an understatement. Ha! So, my body is fluffier and less willing to go the long hauls, but I can sincerely say I’ve only had momentary bouts of self-pity or pouting or pleading with God for healing. Because in my seeking joy, I have found its source.

Jesus.

And He’s been teaching me that as my source of joy, He needs to be my focal point. In Him I’m to remain. To abide. To dwell. To draw near. To behold consistently.

Looking Waaay Back

Turns out, Jesus’ way of joy is not new. Prophets have been calling people to joy for millennia. I’ve loved looking through Scripture this Advent for ways its writers use the word behold–and joy–a great bringing-together of two words that have come to mean so much to me and my faith journey. Here’s a good one:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Zechariah 9:9, ESV

Rejoice is a call to be filled with joy, to sing and shout out that joy to the Lord. So when Zechariah, a prophet to God’s exiled people, commands them to have joy, it is strange, even awkward, because of the exiles’ dire and desperate circumstances. But its message of hope holds much to be rejoiced over. It delivers word of a righteous king who is coming to be their Messiah! 

On the foal of a donkey.

Photo by Zachary Kadolph on Unsplash

I can almost hear the cheers at the news of a coming king, one who would deliver them and help restore their nation, but I wonder at their response to the mode of his arrival. Most kings in history rode into cities with great fanfare and upon the most regal of horses, so surely this would have had the exiles scratching their heads. 

Because we have the gift of living later in history, we know who this donkey-riding King is. Yet, the strangeness of His entry can be missed by us because it’s a story we know so well. All four gospels, in fact, capture the details of this special and unique event. Both Matthew and John take it a step further by quoting Zechariah–that weaving-in of Old Testament prophecies as a way to point out their fulfillment in Jesus (Mt 21:5, Jn 12:15). 

Every Palm Sunday we celebrate, rejoicing in Jesus’ “triumphal entry.” But, how many times do we wave our palm branches and sing the hallelujahs without truly beholding Christ? When we put our full focus on the One riding the donkey, the One who in doing so puts Himself intentionally in the sight of people who want Him dead, our breathing speeds up and a lump forms in our throats–because we see. We see what this king is doing. And we recognize that it is for the joy that is set before Him that He does this (Hebrews 12:2).

So, when I look back to Zechariah’s words to people in much worse circumstances than I have ever faced and see a call to rejoice–when I look upon Jesus riding toward His death for joy’s sake–I realize that joy is not situational. This rejoicing, it comes from an inner place, soul-deep and Christ-focused. Much like the peace that passes understanding, the joy of the Lord transcends earthly conditions and emotions. And they’re both best perceived and experienced when we are focused on Jesus and surrendered to His upside-down ways.

Ours to Behold

Even as I write this, I’m realizing that to behold Jesus is the way to experience this kind of joy. Full attention. Full release of assumptions. An un-grasping of what I think I need (to have, to be, to do). 

Friends, when we behold Jesus, we perceive Him more fully and are better able to choose and embrace the joy He offers.

Maybe that’s why when the angels light up the sky with God’s brilliant glory to deliver His message to a group of lowly shepherds, they launch into the news with “behold” and speak of joy:

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’” 

Luke 2:10, ESV

Behold! Jesus is that good news. And that should bring us great joy–no matter what day it is or what our circumstances are.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

So, on this day that feels like the end, let’s, instead, turn our eyes to behold Jesus–the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. And, let’s rejoice! Because we know that Jesus lives. He saves. And He continues to work and move and live among us!

Come and behold Him, born the King of Angels!
Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies!

  • I constantly have our Behold playlist going in the background as I write, and the lyrics of these songs inspire and keep me focused. I love that some of our most beloved carols capture the truths I’m just now coming to understand more fully–like those in “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Such a beautiful coming together.
    • The last few songs on our playlist consistently repeat the refrain to behold the Savior, to behold the Lamb of God. And in that beholding, rejoice! Sing those hallelujahs loudly with soul-deep joy! Then, tell others. And keep Him crowned the king of your life.
  • The New Year us upon us! I know my new word of the year is dwell. So, I’m sure it’ll be showcased in my upcoming New Year series. I hope you’ll resolve to make Jesus the focus of all you will do this coming year. And, I humbly hope that you’ll continue to meet me here and invite others to be part! Because together, we can keep learning to behold Jesus as our King of Kings, our precious Lamb of God.
    • What’s your word of the year for 2022?

Featured Photo by Tanya Trukyr on Unsplash

Behold: Messiah

After losses and what felt like lots of waiting, we finally held our newborn son. My heart loved him the minute we conceived him, but gazing at him somehow deepened that love. When my eyes connected with his, something changed within me–as if the bonds that held us together became more spiritual than physical. 

I know now that in those first minutes, hours, and days after the birth of our son, I was beholding him. Yes, regarding him with my eyes, but also perceiving him with my heart. 

While my analogy helps us better see what it means to behold, it fails to capture the extent of what it means to behold Jesus. However, the comparison of mother and child does help us understand that looking upon Jesus as our Messiah goes beyond outward glimpses. In fact, the eyes of our hearts can begin soaking in the truth that beholding Messiah means putting our full attention on Him and yielding our deepest selves to Him (JD Walt, Daily Text, 2/9/17). 

Prophets and Stubborn Cycles

In the Old Testament, centuries before Jesus comes on the scene, God’s people consistently seek deliverers. They cry out to God in their enslavement in Egypt, and God sends them Moses. In the years of the “judges,” the Israelites fall into a cycle of disobedience that always leads to oppression, and in the depths of their despair, they beg God for someone to save them. And, He faithfully sends them a new judge (aka: Deborah, Samson, Gideon, etc) to lead them out of captivity. 

In the era of the kings, a similar cycle ensues. Again and again, kings lead the people into immorality and idolatry until God finally allows His people to be swept off to exile, where they repent and begin to seek God’s deliverance.

Through it all, God raises prophets to speak His word over His people, and we can scour their words for the same promise-giving nuggets that glisten a golden hue, illuminating images of the Messiah, God’s once-and-for-all Deliverer. 

God’s prophets call their people to behold Messiah.

God beckons us to behold Him, as well. One way we do this is by reading God’s Word, which reveals much about Jesus, our Messiah. To uncover truths about Him, we can mine through the major and minor prophets, digging for hints of His character and signs of His purpose. In all, we’ll find about 324 specific prophecies that Jesus fulfills, two of which we’ll look at today.

Behold, the Virgin

Photo by Walter Chávez on Unsplash

One of the most well-known messianic prophecies comes from Isaiah. Tucked in the midst of conversations between the prophet Isaiah and Judah’s King Ahaz is this word about the promised Deliverer:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Isaiah 7:14, ESV

For the original hearers, these words become a sign of God’s promise. For us, we know these words as part of the Christmas story. In fact, we can turn to Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:31 to see them repeated:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” 

To our overly accustomed ears, we can miss the power of God’s message. Instead, if we allow ourselves to pause and behold, releasing what we think we know in order to perceive Him more fully, our minds can grasp the miraculous: a virgin shall conceive. 

Have you ever tried counting how many virgins have given birth over the centuries? One. Only one, ever. Behold! This is a miraculous sign that God is at work! By sending His only Son to be the only baby birthed by a virgin, God is keeping His word. God is demonstrating His love. The newborn in a manger is so much more than what our eyes can see–that’s why God sends angels to deliver the message of His birth so that shepherds can look upon Him. It’s why kings from far eastern countries travel to give Jesus gifts and to see with their own eyes the One the stars tell them about. These shepherds and kings, they do more than see. They behold their king, their Savior. They behold the long-awaited Messiah. 

Behold, the Days of the New Covenant

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

In those years of exile, when Israel’s misery is at its peak, God sends word of hope through his prophet, Jeremiah: 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

Jeremiah 31:31, ESV

As familiar as we have become with the language of “new covenant,” this is bold news to the weary, weakened people in exile. All they’ve ever known are the old ways–the law. But now, through Jeremiah, God is promising a new way, one in which His law will be written on the hearts of people (v.33). This new covenant is ushered in by Jesus:

“After supper he took another cup of wine and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.’”

Luke 22:20, NLT

The writer of Hebrews understands this connection between Jesus and the new covenant. And he greatly desires his audience to see it, as well:

“But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it.”  

Hebrews 8:6-7, NLT

Then, the writer of Hebrews throws in Jeremiah’s prophecy to help his audience remember that this change, this coming new covenant, has been foretold:

‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah.’”

Hebrews 8:8, ESV

The writers of God’s Word intentionally weave Old Testament words throughout the New Testament to demonstrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of messianic prophecies. They want their readers–then and now–to see that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s promise fulfilled.

A Time to Behold

No one has to put it in writing that the last two years have been, collectively, the hardest our generation has seen. And, yet, if we don’t pause to see the wilderness we’ve been living in for what it is, we’ll fail to see our need for Messiah. If we don’t look for Him, we’ll certainly never behold Him for all that He is. 

I’ve heard it said that the more we look, the more we’ll see. That’s never more true than of our Messiah. It’s why when John the Baptist says upon seeing Jesus, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29), he recognizes for the first time who Jesus is–the Messiah. John looks, then looks again to behold more of Jesus. 

We can do the same.

Wherever you find yourself on this last Sunday before Christmas–lost in the busyness, gripped by grief, drowning in disappointment, distracted by all the fun–remember that Jesus came for you. Look to Him with purposeful eyes, to see beyond what you’ve noticed before. Let go of what you think you know and allow all He is to wrap itself around your heart and give it new life. This Christmas, yield all of yourself to your Messiah. 

Behold your King. Behold Messiah.

  • Two simple words, “behold Messiah,” inspired a lot of this series and most of this post. First, I heard Lauren Daigle sing these words in her song, “Light of the World.” Then, this year, I heard Kari Jobe sing the same two words in her song, “Messiah.” They didn’t say behold “the” Messiah or “our” Messiah, just “behold Messiah.” As I heard the two words together, something shifted in my soul. There is only One Messiah. It is who Jesus is. So, maybe Messiah is more than an attribute or description or title–it is His name! So, behold Messiah. I’ve included both of these songs on our Behold playlist.
    • Lauren’s song reminds us of the need we still have to behold Messiah:
      “For all who wait
      For all who hunger
      For all who’ve prayed
      For all who wonder
      Behold your King
      Behold Messiah”
    • Kari Jobe’s song might be newer to you, and I think that works to your advantage. I pray we’ll hear the words afresh. All the same truths, sung a little differently, just might open the eyes of our hearts.
  • Even as the busyness ramps up, determine to pull your journal out this week. List the prophecies you know of that He fulfills and let that list be your springboard to write about how you see Jesus as Messiah. It might help to have the playlist going as you ponder and process. 🙂 Then really let that list soak into your soul–and behold Messiah!

Featured Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

Behold: Love

One morning this fall, wrapped in a warm blanket and settled in my cozy chair, I set out to read my daily Scriptures and devotion, having no clue that the prayer at the end would ignite in me a new searching, a new longing:

“Come, Holy Spirit, and help me learn to behold Jesus in such a way that You can make me like Him.”
JD Walt

I remember just sitting there with tears rising in my eyes, everything in my spirit resonating with these words. So moved, I captured my thoughts in that moment:

“I read that prayer and wonder how to behold Jesus in such a way. What do I need to see in Him? What facets of His being and character do I need to behold so that I can be like Him?” 

These questions have been driving me toward greater understanding for weeks now. And, what I’ve been discovering is…love is the key. When we behold Jesus “in such a way,” we’ll see His love–for God and for us. And, it’s that love that helps us become like Him. 

Men Who Model Such Love

We can look to the Old Testament to discover the love we hope to understand and have. First in Moses, then in Abraham.

In Numbers 14, Moses lives out godly love. He steps up and intercedes for the grumbling Israelites who have not shown one ounce of love for their leader–or their God. God is ready to be done away with the people and start over with Moses. But Moses looks to God and asks for mercy on behalf of the people he leads. He calls on God’s abounding love to forgive the sins of the people. 

And God listens. He hears Moses’ heart and forgives the Israelites. 

Moses’ intercession is motivated by the love God has shown him. Moses has known God’s love firsthand, so instead of turning his back on the grumbling people, he loves them with the perfect love he’s been given. And that very love compels God’s patience and kindness. 

Abraham, another man of faith, demonstrates his love and trust of God when he willingly lays his only son on a sacrifice altar at God’s request. At first glance God’s demand seems anything but loving, but as we read the entire encounter, we realize with relief that it was never God’s intention for Abraham to kill Isaac (Genesis 22). This was a test of faith and love. 

Hear the faith and love in Abraham’s response to Isaac’s questioning:

“And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together.”

Genesis 22:7-8, ESV

Isaac’s inquiry is preceded by our word, behold, and its inclusion aids our understanding of Isaac’s confusion. It also helps build the tension in the scene–our breathing catches and our minds race with similar questions as we await the climax:

“Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.”

Genesis 22:10-13, ESV

Abraham’s obedience demonstrates that his love of God is greater than his love of Isaac, which is how God knows Abraham’s loyalty and faith are pure and holy. Fittingly, behold, announces the miracle of the ram’s appearance. We’re meant to see that God steps in and supplies the sacrificial animal.  And Abraham’s beholding of the ram becomes his understanding, his clarity. He sees that his faith is not misplaced. God does provide.

Photo by Mauro Sbicego on Unsplash

Love for people–it is motivated by God’s love.
Love for God–it comes from a heart that trusts God fully.  
Love from God–it is the source for making us more like Jesus.

God Who Lavishes Such Love

God demonstrates His love most completely when He sends His only Son to earth, weak and humble, to live among us. Just as God brings the ram to Abraham at the just right moment, He also sends the Lamb of God to be the world’s ultimate sacrifice–and His timing is perfect. 

Jesus’ baptismal scene becomes for us a marker of God’s intention, an anointing of the Messiah–the Savior God promises, the holy sacrifice we need. 

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Matthew 3:16-17, ESV

As we read this passage, the word behold catches our eye and causes us to anticipate the coming actions and truths. Behold. The heavens open. The Spirit descends. Behold. A voice says, “This is my beloved Son.” Two beholds for the pivotal moment in history when this man, Jesus, is made known as the Son of God. Sent out of love, for love. And given for the world (John 3:16).

Beholding Love

Moses and Abraham understood this kind of anchoring, perfect love. It kept their hearts tethered to the heart of God. It enabled them to obey with a trust that defies worldly common sense. 

Jesus came to earth with such love, embodying the love of His Father for the world’s good, for our benefit–even when that love compelled Him to endure humiliation, persecution, and execution. 

This is the love we’re called to behold during Advent. This kind of patient, kind, and humble love empowers us to obey God just as our forefathers did. This kind of God-honoring, trust-building love makes us able to behold God more fully. And, each day, as we allow this love to be our motivation for all we say and do, we become more like Jesus.

Behold, the love of God has come down to us!

  • For me, some albums are a must-hear during Advent–or it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. And Point of Grace’s “A Christmas Story” is one of them. While writing the final paragraphs of this post, I kept thinking of the phrase “love came down.” I finally decided it was a song and went in search of it. Turns out, there are several, but imagine my surprise to see Point of Grace’s song, “When Love Came Down” on the list. Subconsciously, this song poured out its truths as the words filled my page. Haha! So, I’ve added it to our Behold! playlist. Enjoy!
    • You’ll also want to hear what Maverick City Music says about beholding–that we become what we behold. Hello. But, what that tells me is that if we want to become like Jesus, we really do have to behold Him!
    • And, Francesca Battistelli’s song, “Behold Him,” implores us to lift our eyes and behold Him so that we’ll feel the thrill of hope and remember we are not alone. Our worries shrink in His presence. Our faith grows. Because love.
  • In your journal this week, write about where else in Scripture you see the perfect love of God working in and shining through someone. I mentioned Moses, Abraham, and Jesus. I’d love to hear who else you think of. 🙂 Post your thoughts in the comments.

*Featured photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Behold: The Word

Years ago coffee percolated through a contraption that took time and effort. I remember my grandma pouring water in the bottom half of her aluminum coffee pot then putting in a pole-like-contraption topped with a basket, into which she measured out coffee grounds — usually from a red Folgers can. She’d put on the lid and turn up the heat. It took several minutes for the water to boil and start flooding its way up the pole. But eventually, we could see brown liquid splashing against the clear knob in the lid. When the percolating finished, Grandma would fish out that basket-on-a-pole and pour herself a hot cup of coffee. At last.

I feel like this is what I’ve been doing for the last four years, slowly percolating on the little word behold. It’s not a word I paid much attention to in my life. In fact, except for Christmas songs and a few phrases, like “lo and behold” or “a sight to behold,” there just wasn’t a lot of beholding happening around me. That is until 2017 when I read an Advent series about what it means to behold

I invite you to percolate on this word with me as we pause in the midst of busyness this Advent season to behold our Savior.

Behold: A Word With a History

The modern definition of behold is “to perceive through sight; to see; to gaze upon,” which stays pretty true to the Hebrew and Greek words used in Scripture for behold. What’s interesting, however, is that most modern Bible translations either completely drop the word, behold, or substitute it for something else — like remember (Matthew 28:20, NRSV) or here am I (Isaiah 6:8, KJV). When I search the NIV for behold, there is ONE use (Numbers 24:17), compared to the King James Version, which has 1,298. So, I’m grateful for the English Standard Version because it has modern language and the word behold  — at 1,069 uses. 

Maggie Ross in her book, Silence, describes behold as a liminal word, one whose meaning is barely perceptible and creates a threshold where paradox thrives. As such, behold can infer that in order for a reader to grasp, she must first ungrasp (p.129). I love this because so much of what Jesus calls us to as believers is to let go — of assumptions, of impure motives, of unhealthy habits, and of preconceived ideas — because He wants to do something new (Isaiah 43:18–19).

Behold signals us, as readers, to recognize when God is calling us to see something special. Behold heralds newness and importance. 

O, come let us behold…God’s Word.

Behold: A Word in God’s Word

God has called us to behold since the very beginning:

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Genesis 1:31, ESV

When we read this verse, behold nearly trips us up. The flow feels interrupted — and that’s the point! Behold calls for a pause so we can ready ourselves for what God has next. So, as we slow down at the conclusion of this creation story, we see with awakened senses that after creating humans, God stops to admire His handiwork and announces, “behold, this is very good” (emphasis and additions mine). God’s spoken word has brought into existence everything in creation, and we’re meant to know, without a doubt, it is good. 

Consistently, the idea of God’s word holds a place of utmost authority and esteem and is often announced with behold. As you read each of these verses, allow behold to grab your attention to see what God’s word is saying or doing:

  • “There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” 1 Kings 19:9, ESV
  • “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’” Jeremiah 1:9, ESV
  • “‘Behold,’ they say to me, ‘Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come!’” Jeremiah 17:15, ESV
  • “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.’” Amos 8:11, ESV
  • “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:38, ESV
  • “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” Revelation 21:5, ESV

Beholding becomes our means of percolation. It gives us pause to see how the word of the Lord encourages and restores a faithful prophet and how God conveys His word to another. It enables us to hear the desperation in the voices of God’s people who are missing His word and the conviction of God as He doles out the consequences to those same faithless people. It allows us to hear with awe and wonder the voice of our Sovereign God announcing that He is doing something new, that His words are trustworthy and true.

Photo by Jessica Fadel on Unsplash

And, behold opens our eyes to the heart of an obedient servant, the mother of Jesus, who trusts God’s word above everything else. The way God employs this ancient verb sheds light on complex ideas, as well as passages that have become familiar — like the story of Mary’s annunciation. We’ve read or heard the Christmas story in Luke so many times that it’s easy to miss its depths, but when we pause — behold! — to see Mary, an unwed teenage girl, say YES to the God she loves without hesitation, we recognize the many excuses she laid down in order to trust His word.

The Drought and the Word

Behold, one of many threads woven throughout God’s Word, draws attention to the word of God and pulls God’s story together — from beginning to end. For instance, that famine of God’s word, predicted through Amos (8:11), stretched on for 400+ years. No one — not a single person — heard from God for four centuries. Then, God breaks-in — at just the right time — with His word, speaking first to Zechariah (Luke 1:8-23) then to Mary. The famine is over. Behold, God is speaking! The feast of hearing from God begins!

Lauren Daigle’s song, “Light of the World,” opens our Behold! playlist for lots of reasons, but here’s one, tucked into her lyrics. Do you find the allusion to Amos 8:11 and its source of deliverance?

The drought breaks with the tears of a mother
A baby’s cry is the sound of love
Come down, come down, Emmanuel

Oh, He is the song for the suffering
He is Messiah, the Prince of Peace has come
He has come, Emmanuel

God’s Word reveals His words, threading their way from the old covenant into the new. Through His Son, perfectly defined by John as the Word (John 1), God keeps His promise of a Savior. He holds true to His word and sends the Messiah — the Deliverer for all the world. 

The story of Jesus coming to the earth as a tiny baby is at risk of being too familiar, too recognizable to capture our reverence and awe — unless we pause to behold just how miraculous and perfect and unbelievable it all is. When we behold, we can ungrasp what we think we know, opening ourselves to all the new that God has for us.

Behold, the Word became flesh. For all the world. For you and for me. 

  • Here’s a great playlist to help you Behold Jesus more this Advent as we seek to pause and percolate in His presence more than stress over all the things we still need to do or grieve the losses of the past year(s). The Word of God came for us! In Him is all we need.
  • Using a journal helps us to sit with hard ideas and emotions and bring them before the Lord Jesus — all of which helps us be made whole in Him. Try spending a minute today making a list of what keeps you from beholding Jesus in this Advent season. What blocks your view of Him? Once identified, ask Him to help you remove that obstacle so you can see Him first and most!

Featured Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

True Belonging: Anchor

When I write a blog series, I work up a general outline before I launch into the actual writing of it. And, so far, each series has turned into a reflection of the spiritual journey God has me on at the time. So, as I’ve wondered — at first in my head, then here on the blog — about belonging, God has revealed more than a few significant truths in these last couple of months. But maybe the strongest anchor for my soul has been the wisdom of Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 

  • I belong to Jesus because I was given to Him — in love, for love
  • I am a treasured gift of the Father’s, and He’s given me the holy gifts of His Son and Word
  • I’ve been given God’s name, which means I’m covered by His protection and power
  • I don’t belong to the world — a truth I needed to be reminded of
  • To be one in Christ requires that I abide in Him, and when I abide in Him, I am better able to be one with other believers — and those are Jesus’ greatest desires for me
  • This life isn’t about me but God — all I say and do should be for His glory

I really don’t have a way to adequately describe how little I understood all these truths until I began investigating Scripture, my own heart, and the words of trusted believers who have gone before me. I stand amazed at the way a surrendered heart can break open to all that God has. And, lest you leave yourself out of all these truths, don’t. Jesus’ prayer and all these bits of wisdom are for each of us. Even you.

John 17:25-26

Which brings us to our final stanza in this great prayer of Jesus — the final words of His final prayer.

“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

John 17:25-26, NLT

Like the passage before it, we sense a pulling together of all the themes that have already unfolded, emphasizing every message one last time. For instance, the world. In the busy and the brokenness, in the disheartening and the disappointing, Jesus wants us to remember — we don’t belong to the world but to Him. The world won’t make sense because the world doesn’t know the Father. So when we get caught up in the whirlwinds of the world’s creation, we can push pause and remember. 

Jesus knows God. We know Jesus. We belong to Jesus.

I love that Jesus speaks again of the Already and Not Yet — He has already revealed God to us. When we pause and pay attention, we see Him in the intricacies of the leaf that has lived its full life, its glorious green color giving way to vivid yellow then to lifeless brown. We hear Him in the words delivered by a friend who courageously speaks a word of life over us. We smell the goodness of God in the air of a fall morning full of mum’s fragrance and dew’s droplets. 

But then Jesus says, “and I will continue to do so.” The Not Yet — the promise of His presence dwelling within us through the person of the Holy Spirit who will evermore speak, convict, and pray. What a beautiful promise to cling to as we move into the holiday season and all it holds. Jesus will continue to reveal the Father to us. Let’s keep looking for Him!

Then is a transitional word that connects what came before it to these realities: We know God sent Jesus. We know Jesus is with us. So, when we live out of all this knowing, then we’ll also remember that God’s love for Jesus will be in us. This love — it’s key. When we abide in God’s love, we rest. We feel secure. We are able to share that love with others. This is the perfect picture of True Belonging.

But Jesus’ final words, “and I will be in them,” say it all. Continuously. Twenty-four-seven. Wherever we go, Jesus will be with us. For those of us searching for True Belonging, there are no better parting words to hear. He will be with us. In us. Always. Forever. If we anchor ourselves in that truth, we remain secure in our belonging.

Photo by Matthew Wheeler on Unsplash

Joy, Belong, Dwell

We began this series with a quote from Henri Nouwen, and when I went back to reread it, I saw it with new eyes: 

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death can take God away from us.”

Henri Nouwen

My word for 2020 has been joy, and somehow in my desire to discover joy’s depths and truths, I uncovered my own need for belonging. This quote beautifully wove the two together, helping me understand that to find true joy I must first grab hold of the One to whom I most truly belong. And, in this most recent reading, I saw a word I hadn’t noticed before: refuge. In the perfect, miraculous way that only God can, He went before me and wove in a third idea, that of dwelling in Him. When we say God is our refuge, we’re claiming Him as our safe place, a good place in which to abide or dwell. Dwell. The word I’d already felt could be my word for 2022. Well, now I know it is so. And how AMAZING to see the way dwell wrapped itself in where I’ve been and becomes the vehicle for where God is taking me.

One More Pomegranate

While I can’t promise it’ll be the last you’ll hear from me on the only fruit I’ve ever connected with spiritually, this is the final pondering of the pomegranate for now. 

My fascination with this fruit began with a book Sue Monk Kidd wrote with her daughter, Ann, about their literal journeys through Greece, France, and other cool places, but really the book was a moving intersection of both their searches for belonging — in the world, in their relationships, in their careers, and in their faith. 

The bond of mother and daughter strengthened as they explored historical sites, and those places, symbolized by the pomegranate, kindled in them an awareness of who they really were and who they were created to be. Their stories resonated within me, so as I finished the book, I decided to adopt the pomegranate as the symbol for my writing and ministry. Even if I didn’t fully understand why at the time.

Now that I’ve researched this particular fruit’s role in history and in my own life, the pomegranate is coming to mean to me the pursuit of purpose and place, which is what my writing does. Writing allows me to dig deeper within myself, God’s Word, and this spiritual journey I’m on — with the desire to grow deeper with God and the hope of helping others on their journeys. So, pomegranates. 

This week I picked up that copy of Sue and Ann’s book, Traveling with Pomegranates, and flipped to one of my marked pages to find this perfect portion of David Whyte’s poem:

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all other worlds
except the one to which you belong. 

Jesus died for each one of us so that we could experience such freedom. Free from the entanglement of sin and all its nearest relatives (bad habits, spiraling thoughts, addictions, negativity, comparison, pride, and you fill in the blank). Free from our own doubts and fears — because Jesus claims us as His own. Jesus freely gives us the love of the Father. And with that love, we’re better able to find where we most belong and to share that love with the world, the world that is so lost. So confused. And more hungry for this kind of love than we, or they, realize.  Friend,

You belong to Jesus. 
You belong to this grand fellowship of believers.
You. Belong.

So, anchor yourself to Him.

Now, who can you reach out to in order to be the one who perpetuates this gift of True Belonging?

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  • In your journal, list ways you feel adrift. Then dig a little deeper — to what or whom are you anchored? Finally, list one way in the coming days and weeks you can choose to anchor yourself to Jesus.
  • Our Belonging playlist has faithfully played words of truth and hope over us for a few months now. What song meant the most to you on this journey? In what ways have you begun to embrace your True Belonging to Jesus? (comment below!)
  • Thank you for journeying with me through this search for True Belonging! Today is the first Sunday of Advent, so I pray that this final post of this series launches you into this holy season of anticipation well — because you KNOW that you belong to Jesus! We’ll be here again next week as we seek to BEHOLD our Savior.

Featured photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash

True Belonging: Glory

With Thanksgiving before us, it’s natural to look ahead to Christmas. If we’re intentional, these next weeks can become for us a season of gratitude for all we’ve been given, including Christ the King. John, the beloved disciple, had a way with words, describing this gift, Jesus, with poetic power:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”

John 1:1-4, NIV

There’s no brilliantly composed Christmas story in the Book of John. Instead, he takes us back to the beginning. The very, very beginning. Then leaps ahead to Jesus among us:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1:14, NIV

And, when we take another leap with John, landing in Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17, we discover that we — you and me — have been given this glory, God’s glory. Here’s today’s passage:

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!”

John 17:22-24, NLT
Photo by Sammie Chaffin on Unsplash

It does feel like a bit of a leap — us having been given God’s glory — but the beauty of true belonging is that we get to share in the goodness and fullness of God. Even His glory.

Glory makes its final appearance in this passage and draws our eye toward the heart of this prayer, and it seems to come in two parts, the Already and the Not Yet. 

Glory in the Already

So, what is this glory that God offers us now, in the Already? It helps to recognize that glory is multi-faceted and is used to indicate either God’s presence, brightness associated with God’s presence, or worth and praise and honor. For example:

  • God’s presence, His glory, filled the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34)
  • God’s glory shone as a brilliant light in Jesus at Transfiguration (Luke 9:29-32)
  • And, in our verse (22) today, “the glory You gave me,” is based on the Hebrew definition, referring to the good opinion, the honor and worth God gave Jesus. The Harper’s Bible Commentary takes it a step further, explaining that in John’s gospel, glorification means revelation. “Jesus glorifies God in revealing Him to humanity, in His ministry and in His death and exaltation” (pp.1070-1). 

As we think about John 17, we can see that the more we know Jesus — not just informationally, but in a personal way — the more we’re made holy in Him (v.19) and are able to attain this glory. Gary Burge explains that this kind of glory happens in our lives when we are made one in Christ (v.22), made joyful in the midst of suffering (v.13), and made holy like God (v.17-19). He goes on to say this is “not just a superior moral effort but something deriving from the holiness of Christ, in whose presence we are to live” (The Baker Illustrated Bible, p.1154). 

Jesus clearly states that He has already given us this glory, so living in the good opinion of God for the honor of God is ours to do when we live in and for Christ. I love this because I think I have only ever associated glory as something just for God, not me. I’ve mistaken God’s glory for the vainglory of the world. Both desire good opinions — but from different sources and for different purposes. 

My own pride in writing battles the temptation of vainglory when I desire to succeed in my writing for my own glory, for the honors and praises given by people. What I long for most, however, is God’s glory, so daily I place myself in God’s presence in order for my heart to desire what He desires. I pray that by recognizing the emptiness of vainglory that I’ll only ever write for God’s glory and the good of others. 

I think because I have this inner battle, I am most astounded by Jesus’ gift of glory. In the now. In the Already. He has GIVEN US HIS GLORY. Not for our praise and honor but for God’s. This is a truth we can humbly rest in and live by. 

Glory in the Not Yet

Implied in verse 24 is that someday we’ll be with Jesus where He is — and when we get to heaven, to eternity with Him, there will be another level of glory. I picture it as the purest kind of glory where we forever live in the brightness of God’s presence without fear of death and without need for sunglasses or clefts in a mountain (Exodus 33:22). Instead, the bright Shekinah Glory of God’s presence will light every moment in eternity (Revelation 22:5). 

Photo by Evi T. on Unsplash

Did you notice Jesus also says we’ll be able to see this glory? Here on earth, this kind of intangible glory is not visible, so what will we see in heaven? Some scholars think this glory is God’s presence — so, we’d see God. Others suggest it could be the bright light of His presence. I’m thinking, yes! Yes, the glory we’ll see in heaven is all of that!

Before we move from this idea of glory, let’s just sit in these truths a minute. Think of the angels who came to shepherds in heavenly glory to announce the birth of the Messiah (Luke 2:8-10). Think of Jesus, who at age 33, prayed this incredible prayer over His disciples (John 17) — He who came to earth without visible glory so He could give that glory to His followers. Glory that is God’s good opinion and His presence. All of that — it’s been given to us.

In Love

Our passage also carries with it a heralding cry of love. God loves us as much as He loves Jesus (v.23). We, who are not messiahs and certainly not perfect nor divine, are loved as much as the One who is all those things. We’re meant to accept that love, friends. 

And on the chance we needed clarification about why Jesus would ask all this and His Father would say yes, verse 24 explains it’s because God loves Jesus — and has since before the world began. All of this uniting and giving and glorifying is done out of love, with love, and for love. 

My own experiences with the person of Jesus has come with a recent exhortation to root myself in His love — to stop rooting myself in false beliefs, distractions, and things like fear. As I’ve explored this idea of God’s love, I have been learning that everything He does always comes from a heart of love. When we live rooted in His love, that love will become our source, our motivation, and our truest place of belonging. And in the process, we’ll realize that we do, indeed, have His glory.

I’d love to end with one more quote — this one from Matthew Henry in his commentary on this John 17 chapter as relates to the glory we’ll see in heaven. “We shall not only be in the same happy place where Christ is, but the happiness of the place will consist in his presence; this is the fulness of its joy.” 

Love. Glory. Joy. It’s starting to sound a lot like Christmas!

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  • Today start a list of things and people you are grateful for in your journal. I pray rich blessings on your Thanksgiving — wherever you are, whoever you’re missing, and whatever is on your table. We have a Savior who gives us His love and glory — that is much to be thankful for, indeed.
  • Our Belonging playlist includes a song by Selah called “I Belong to Jesus” that beautifully captures the Not Yet part of glory:

I belong to Jesus
Oh, hasten now the day
That I behold Your glory
And look upon Your face

Robed in holy splendor
Like thunder we will stand
The voice of every saint declaring
Worthy is the Lamb

Featured photo by Sebastien Gabriel on Unsplash