Inhabit: God Dwells With His People

We’ve been tracing some biblical history on this journey to see what it looks like to dwell, and a key component is the Fall. At one point, we imagined how perfect life was before the Fall–for Adam and Eve to live in a creation with no death or pain or sorrow–in the presence of their Creator. God walked and talked with them. No mediators or intercessors. Just humanity and their God. 

But, after sin enters the picture, humanity lives separated from their Maker in a world as cursed as they are. God even posts mighty cherubim at the gates of Eden to protect this holy space because humanity has lost its holiness.

The good news actually begins here–because God doesn’t end the story here. Instead, He begins implementing what Dr. Sandra Richter calls the Rescue Plan, His plan to redeem humanity to Himself. 

It starts with choosing a people to call His own. So, let’s return to that era when His chosen people live in the wilderness, inhabiting tents. It’s here we can see how God makes a way to dwell among humanity again.

The Tent of Meeting

After Moses meets with God on Mount Sinai to hear the Ten Commandments, he makes the trek back up the mountain, staying forty days to receive instructions on how to make a mobile tabernacle. God tells Moses, “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8, NIV). Then for seven chapters, God has Moses list every detail needed to make what Eugene Peterson calls The Dwelling (Exodus 25:9, MSG)..

Tucked into these passages of preparation is this promise:

“So I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.”

Exodus 29:44-46, NIV

God brings His people out of Egypt so that He can dwell among them. Yes, for their freedom. Yes, because He heard their cries. But most importantly so He could be with them. 

How many times do we avoid the Old Testament because we’ve only ever viewed God as wrathful and vengeful. Yet when we slow down and look at His words, we see His heart. It’s never changed. He has always longed to be with His creation, but sin has been humanity’s undoing–a true barrier for a most holy God to be present with His created.

With Moses, however, God has found a man willing to do what it takes to make these people as holy and clean as humanly possible so that their Creator can dwell among them in the Tent of Meeting. 

The Ark of the Covenant

The very first set of instructions about the Tabernacle describes the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22). It’s first because it is the very place God’s glory dwells. The Ark is a wooden box covered in gold. Inside is laid the tablets containing the details of the covenant. Its lid, called the atonement cover, is put in place and watched over by two cherubim–gold ones this time–but with the same protective purpose.

The threads of Eden weave into this next chapter of God’s redemptive story. He makes a way to be with His people. Yet, unable to meet with them face-to-face as He did in Eden, He brings in mediators like Moses and his high priest brother, Aaron. When the sacrifices create a clean, holy people and place, God’s glory descends into the Tent of Meeting, directly into the Holy of Holies. And there, God’s glorious presence hovers over the atonement seat to meet with Moses.

This is where the veil comes in–that mighty curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Tabernacle. No one crosses beyond that curtain and lives unless they are appointed and anointed to be God’s mediator–because it is the place of God’s presence.

Tabernacle of Moses, From Hebrew4Christians.com

For all those wilderness wandering years, this traveling tabernacle makes every move the people of God make. And the point of it all? For God’s people to learn and demonstrate sacred set-apartness as a means of dwelling with the One True God. God’s way stands in stark contrast to the world’s way, which He tries to prepare His people for as they stand at the Jordan River, ready to cross into the Promised Land. 

“When the Lord your God goes ahead of you and destroys the nations and you drive them out and live in their land, do not fall into the trap of following their customs and worshiping their gods.”

Deuteronomy 12:29-30a, NLT

“The Lord has declared today that you are his people, his own special treasure, just as he promised, and that you must obey all his commands. And if you do, he will set you high above all the other nations he has made. Then you will receive praise, honor, and renown. You will be a nation that is holy to the Lord your God, just as he promised.”

Deuteronomy 26:18-19, NLT

Covenant secured, leadership appointed, and plans set, Joshua–Moses’ successor–follows God’s ways. So, as instructed, the Ark of the Covenant, carried by priests, is the first into the Jordan River:

“The priests will carry the Ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth. As soon as their feet touch the water, the flow of water will be cut off upstream, and the river will stand up like a wall.”

Joshua 3:13, NLT

The very object that represents the presence of God goes before the people, just like the cloud and fire in the wilderness. As they cross the riverbed–reminiscent of the Red Sea–they step into the Promised Land and the next chapter of life as the children of the Almighty.

The Temple

Fast forward to a time when King David has brought God’s people into a season of rest and prosperity. He’s built a mighty palace for himself and enjoys the fruit of his years of battling labor. But then he reasons to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” 2 Samuel 7:2, ESV.

The seed of an idea is planted, and David’s son, King Solomon, brings it to fruition, building an ornate, holy Temple in Jerusalem, the very city God appoints as His holy hill (Deuteronomy 12:11; Psalm 15). On the very mountain, Moriah, where God withholds his wrath against His people when David intercedes and confesses his sin (2 Samuel 24:15-25; 2 Chronicles 3:1). That same Mount Moriah where God asks Abraham to take Isaac, his only son, for sacrifice (Genesis 22:2). 

No detail is left undone. God’s story builds on itself, circling the same places, centering on the covenants He has made with the people He loves. 

In this chapter of the story, the Temple becomes the place for God to dwell among His people as they inhabit the land He has given them (Acts 7:45-47). Just as the Tent of Meeting–that holy Tabernacle–contained the Holy of Holies, so does the Temple. The Ark of the Covenant remains in its sanctified space with the same set of standards and sacred ways, all so that the God of the universe can inhabit a place among His people.

Amazingly, that same holy hill remains today. The Temple is long gone, destroyed in 70 AD as Jesus foretold (Matthew 24:1-2). But the mount stands firm. The place is still revered as holy by thousands of Jews and Christians who visit the Western Wall–the closest we can get to the Temple as it would have been–every single day.

Why? Because it’s where the presence of God dwelled for thousands of years, and where we hope to meet Him again.

Prayers at the Western Wall (I’m in the white on the right)

Game Changer

As sacred as that space is within the walls of current-day Jerusalem, we don’t need a holy hill to find God anymore. The veil has been torn. Death has been defeated. New life is offered. The Holy Spirit sent. Because Jesus.

When I step back and look at the story from this big-picture view, I see a God who has always been motivated by the love He has for His crowning creation–humanity. This is the Mighty One who has never given up doing everything it takes to make a way to dwell among His people. 

The question for us becomes, then, are we doing everything it takes to dwell with Him?

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  • The question I ended with is not meant to evoke within us some idea of works-based righteousness. Scripture is very clear that we’re made righteous when we put our faith in Jesus (Romans 3:22). What I am pointing us toward, however, is a more purposeful pursuit of God’s presence. I’d love to hear what you do to dwell with God!
    • Write a prayer in your journal this week to God, confessing barriers that keep you from entering His presence on the regular–busyness, fear, doubt, regret, pride, etc. Once confessed, they are laid at the cross, and our way is made clear to sit with God, soaking in His love. What a miracle! What a gift!
  • Our Dwell Playlist continues to bless me as we move through this history of what it looks like for people and God to inhabit spaces and places. We have two more weeks of this Inhabit series, then we’ll take a wee break from dwell as our focus so that we can immerse ourselves in the season of Lent.
  • There is so much more to the Old Testament story that I don’t cover here, but I can continue to recommend Epic of Eden* to anyone whose curiosity is piqued. I’ve never read or heard anyone describe God’s great Rescue Plan the way Dr. Richter does. The way she uncovers details throughout this story helps us see how Jesus is the final step of God’s redemptive plan, which we will get to in more detail!

Featured Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash, of Lutheran Church of The Ascension, Bull Street, Savannah, GA, USA
*indicates an affiliate link, so with any purchases made I earn a little something

Inhabit: A Place to Dwell

I’m not sure what I felt, exactly, as I watched the scene through our bus window–a heap of concrete where a house used to be. A home bulldozed by soldiers acting on behalf of their government, ”officially” because the family failed to wait for approval before adding a room. But really because of their ethnicity.

Maybe I felt shock. Or dismay. Or anger at the injustice. But I had no time to process because there were more.

The next pile of rubble had a lone chair sitting on top of it, perhaps a symbol of the home it once was, a reminder of the people who were now homeless. And, the next concrete heap came with a story about a family who barely made it out of the house before the bulldozing began.

To say my American sensibilities struggled to comprehend the reality I witnessed is an understatement. These dwellings–these homes–no longer existed, and their inhabitants no longer had a place in which to dwell.

A Place to Inhabit

The people I describe had dwelled in their homes. They’d inhabited a building that housed, shielded, and protected them. When we take this imagery and apply it to our faith, we begin to understand why God is called a shelter and a refuge (Psalm 91:1-2).

For much of the Old Testament, God’s people wander, having no permanent place to call home. They possess the first mobile homes–wherever God leads, they follow, then pitch their tents. Not only do they have no solid, four-walled dwellings but no land to claim as their own. Yet, there is beauty to be seen in their dwellings:

“When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came on him and he spoke his message:

How beautiful are your tents, Jacob,
    your dwelling places, Israel!
Like valleys they spread out,
    like gardens beside a river,
like aloes planted by the Lord,
    like cedars beside the waters.”

Numbers 24:2, 5-6, NIV
Tent Camps Of The Twelve Tribes Of Israel Arranged
Artists: Jan Luyken And Willem Goeree

Though transient and temporary, these shelters hold beauty–especially as they circle in perfect order around the tent at the center: The Tent of Meeting. God’s Tabernacle. The Almighty’s earthly dwelling place.

Eventually, God appoints Joshua to lead His people into the Promised Land, and there Israel steps into the blessings of home ownership–each tribe assigned a portion of the land, each family given a home that no longer requires assembly each night.

After hundreds of years in slavery to a foreign Pharaoh, plus forty-one years wandering the harsh wilderness, the people of God finally dwell in a place they can call home.

No Place to Dwell

But, over time foreign religions influence the hearts of God’s people. Twisting their loyalties and breaking their covenant, the people of God turn their backs on the Holy One of Israel. They take their homes and land for granted, forgetting the One who gave it to them. Prophets warn them to change their evil ways and come back to God:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.”

Jeremiah 7:3, ESV

God always keeps His word, so when Israel fails to amend their ways, they lose their land, their homes they’d waited so long to inhabit. Exile comes first to the northern kingdom of Israel, and Judah follows suit years later, not having learned vicariously from their brothers and sisters to the north. 

Sitting along the shores of the desolate lands of exile, God’s people lament. They begin to see and understand that without God as their shelter, they truly have no place to dwell. 

At last they turn their ears to the prophets–and as they listen, their hopes heighten:

“Thus says the Lord: Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt on its mound, and the palace shall stand where it used to be.”

Jeremiah 30:18, ESV

Some live to see God’s promises fulfilled when a remnant returns to rebuild Jerusalem. But even as homes pop up around the city, the hearts and eyes of God’s people stray from Him. Same mistakes are made. Similar patterns of behavior emerge.

All because they fail to make God their dwelling place.

God Our Dwelling Place

Jewish tradition holds that the famous poem, known as Psalm 91, flows from Moses’ pen in response to God’s presence filling the new Tabernacle.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
    the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

Psalm 91:9-10, ESV

Moses understands what few do: When we make God our dwelling, we inhabit the very best of shelters. When we look to God to be our safe place and home, we enter into a residence that can never be shaken. It cannot be destroyed.

And maybe equally important is that when we make God our dwelling place, He makes room for us. He opens those mighty arms and envelopes us into His secret, holy shelter. God becomes home. By no striving of our own can we achieve such a dwelling–only by His grace.

We live in a world that is as full of distractions and false idols as in the days of Israel’s Promised Land years, so we must put our faith into practice, pursuing Jesus wholeheartedly. With the aid of the Word and the Spirit, we can amend our ways––breaking old habits, creating new patterns of behavior, and keeping ourselves firmly in His presence.

Because when we choose to make Him our dwelling place, we settle into a fortress of stability and protection. But even more than all of this, God’s home is one of love–unconditional, unchanging, agape love. We enter His dwelling and immediately become hidden in the safety of His love (as sung by United Pursuit in “Hidden”). 

We’re not talking about ducking into a shack to get out of a storm. This house, God’s home, is one of abiding presence. This is about making Him our forever home. 

And, because we are children of the Most High God, we never have to fear losing our Home. We can rest because we know that when we dwell in Him, our Place of Refuge can never be knocked down, never taken from us.

God is our place to dwell.

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  • Respond in your journal and/or in the comment section: How does it look to dwell in God, to make Him your dwelling place? What are some practical steps you can take to do so?
  • My opening story happened in 2017 when I got to be part of a group that went behind the walls into Bethlehem. It truly was an eye-opening experience, seeing the inequality and injustice firsthand. Perhaps more than anything, I was surprised (and humbled) by the Christians who live there that choose to live peaceably amidst such hardship. They find ways to open schools and help those without homes. I think of and pray for them often. It never feels like enough.
  • I included a link to that amazing drawing of the Israel Tent Camp so that you can check out their work and maybe purchase a greeting card to support them. 🙂
  • I found the perfect hymn for this week’s topic/concept of making God our dwelling place. But, it’s not on Spotify, so I couldn’t include it on our Dwell Playlist. It is, however, on YouTube, so I’ve included a link in the title below. The lyrics are incredible.

My Home Is God Himself

My home is God Himself; Christ brought me there,
And bade me dwell in Him, rejoicing there;
He bore me where no foot but His hath trod,
Within the holiest at home with God.
O holy place! O home divinely fair!
And we, God’s little ones, abiding there.

A long, long road I traveled night and day,
And sought to find within myself some way,
Aught I could do, or feel to bring me near;
Self effort failed, and I was filled with fear,
And then I found Christ was the only way
That I must come to Him and in Him stay.

O wondrous place! O home divinely fair!
And I, God’s little one, safe hidden there.
Lord, as I dwell in Thee and Thou in me,
So make me dead to everything but Thee;
That as I rest within my home most fair,
I’ll share my God in all and everywhere.

Lyrics: Frances Brook, adapted
Music: Henry Thomas Smart (1813-1879)

Featured photo by me 🙂 This is the Mar Saba Monastery just east of Bethlehem, built into a breathtakingly steep cliff of the Judean Desert. It’s a Greek Orthodox Monastery originally built in the fifth century by St. Sabas. While this beauty has not always withstood earthquakes, I think it represents one of our best attempts in creating a dwelling that lasts. Of course, only God is forever. 😉

Inhabit: God Dwells in the Garden

Every once in a while you finish a book and somehow know it’s changed your life. Epic of Eden is that book for me. Five good friends took a chance one summer and read it with me. An Old Testament textbook used in seminaries, this tome intimidated us, but courageously, we did our best to absorb everything Dr. Sandra Richter had to say about the Old Testament, which she calls the story of God’s people, that is to say – our story.

I can’t begin to list here all the reasons Epic of Eden is so incredible, but for our purposes on this particular journey of learning what it means to dwell, we can grab hold of what Dr. Richter says so simply – from Eden to the New Eden, God’s ambition is to BE WITH US. 

The Garden

In the beginning, God creates everything on earth, including a particular “garden in the east in Eden” into which He places Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:8). We are given clues as to how magnificent this garden is – filled with every tree that looks good and tastes even better, a mighty river, animals that Adam names, and most importantly the garden is a place God inhabits with His creation. Eden is without blemish and contains everything God had in mind when He began creating. 

The writer(s) of Genesis help us see how perfect the world is before the Fall, more so than most of us realize. Recently I heard Dr. Richter teach that Eden’s flawless, flourishing trees are more than food and the river more than refreshing water. Throughout Scripture, they become symbolic of God and humanity dwelling together.

Images of trees, flowers, and fruit throughout Scripture point us back to the days of the perfect Garden. Visions of a river of life in Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22 echo the cosmic river of Eden that flows fully in the Garden. Rivers and trees weave in and out of our story as captured by the Old Testament writers, and the objective is to remind us of God’s presence with His creation in Eden.

Photo by Zeynep Açıktepe on Unsplash

In summarizing Eden, Dr. Richter says the people of God thrived in the place of God, and they dwelled in the presence of God. THIS is God’s original intent.

The Fall

But, we know how this story goes. Turn the page and Adam and Eve give in to temptation, defying God. Paradise and its picture perfect world, where God and humanity dwell together, are shattered:

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’”

Genesis 3:8-11, ESV

Cast out of Eden, all of humanity lives the consequences of the Fall. Yet our hearts are created for Eden, which is why when bad things happen, we feel as though it’s wrong, often lamenting, “it’s not supposed to be this way.” Because it isn’t. The fallen world is not God’s original intent.

The good news, in the middle of the mess and misery, is that God doesn’t let the story end here. We can trace God’s redemptive plan through each great moment of Old Testament history to find all the ways God works to rescue this relationship between Him and humanity, each becoming a step toward the ultimate reversal – Jesus Himself – so that by the end of the story, Jesus returns and ushers in Eden-restored. 

It seems a bit ironic that we don’t get a glimpse of what the relationship between Adam, Eve, and God is like until after they eat the fruit, but we do get to observe God walking in the Garden with them. He looks for them and at them. He talks with them. He provides for them (Genesis 3).

This scene evokes much curiosity within me — God inhabiting a garden, on earth, with the people He created. After what we learned last week about the incinerating qualities of God’s holiness and our inability to enter His presence in all of our sin – lest we die – it’s awe-inspiring to see what our hearts yearn for so beautifully depicted.

Intimate is a walk in the garden with the One who loves us fully.

Our Hope

That little line in Genesis 3:8, “the Lord God walking in the garden,” embodies God’s design and desire to dwell with His people. So our hearts break when we realize just how much is lost when sin comes into the world. 

But it’s also why our hearts grow three sizes bigger when we sing hymns like “In the Garden” – because the chorus gives us a picture of what we long for and of what’s to come in the New Eden.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

How beautiful is it to stop and walk in this perfect Garden with our Lord? Even if it is only in our minds today, the image is enough to anchor us in hope for this eternal togetherness.

Lauren Daigle’s opening song to our Dwell playlist ends with this repetitive lyric, “Eternity will almost be enough,” while the background chorus reverberates, “in Your presence.” For me, it captures this feeling we harbor deep in our souls, this longing to be with God. We want to be in His presence so much that, almost jokingly, we join Lauren in saying, eternity will almost be long enough to be with Him. We have so much to look forward to, and for now we can relish this gift, this picture Eden gives us of what dwelling in God’s presence looks like.

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  • Take time in you journal this week to list what you know about Eden and what you look forward to most upon its return!
  • Our Dwell Playlist grows — I added “In the Garden” this week because it too perfectly illustrates God inhabiting a garden WITH US!
  • I highly recommend Epic of Eden.* It really helped to have friends to process it all — it is PACKED so full! And considering it’s seminary worthy, it is quite readable for the rest of us.
    • If you’d rather have Dr. Richter teach it to you herself (which is quite the treat), Seedbed partnered with her to create a small group study based on all the goodness in her book. I’ve read the book, done the study, and helped lead it two more times. And I get all geeky thinking about doing it again.
    • And, it so happens Seedbed is about to start an online study of Epic of Eden on February 7th. You can sign up here. It’s a little pricey, but you get to keep the video teachings, which I promise you’ll value.

Featured photo by Florian Giorgio on Unsplash
*indicates an affiliate link, so with any purchases made I earn a wee bit

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