The True Glory of Christmas

The Christmas season is one of the busiest and brightest times of the year. Houses and store windows shine with twinkling lights, while smart phones and televisions are lit up with dazzling advertisements for the latest and greatest goods. During the month of December, there’s no shortage of hustle and bustle, festivities and feasting. We decorate, cookie-bake and fill our days with parties, programs, and present-shopping. Whether these activities excite or exhaust us (or both), we can agree that the Christmas season is significant, not only in our culture but in our hearts as well. Although it has been commercialized, there is a glory or “weight” to the season as it completely invades an entire month of the year and our lives as well.

As Christians, we know “Jesus is the reason for the season.” We recognize that all the bright and beautiful traditions and celebrations of December should point us and our children to the ultimate glory of God himself–the God who took on flesh and entered history as a human baby to save sinners. Yet, while we know what is true, the gloriously good news of Christ’s first coming often seems a bit muted next to the flashy glories of the holiday season itself.   

Let’s be honest. The events, traditions, and “stuff” of Christmas tend to enthrall our hearts and consume our minds more than the reality of the long-awaited Messiah and King, who came and is coming back for us again. Our children are more quickly and easily enamored by tales of Santa Claus, with his flying reindeer and bag of shiny new toys, than by the story of the Christ child in the manger. And that’s really not too surprising if all they hear is a serene story about a baby born in Bethlehem thousands of years ago to save them. Save them from what? Santa brings kids stuff they can see, touch, feel, and enjoy right now! What does this baby of old have to do with their lives (and their parents’ lives) today?

The answer is: everything. We just need eyes to see it. In his book What is Biblical Theology? James Hamilton writes: “What we think and how we live is largely determined by the larger story in which we interpret our lives. Does your story enable you to look death in the face? Does your story give you a hope that goes beyond the grave?…The world does have a true story. The Bible tells it.”

Jesus Christ is the hero of the world’s true story–a story that’s epic, true, and able to bring meaning, purpose,and hope to our own stories. The world’s story is really God’s story, found in the pages of Scripture and told through many smaller stories that all connect to form one grand narrative. This narrative begins with the creation of the world in the book of Genesis and ends with the consummation of all things in the book of Revelation. Between these bookends, the story climaxes in the life, death, and resurrection of the story’s hero, Jesus the Christ–the one who changes everything about our lives.

Jesus is the connecting thread who binds each individual story and book of the Bible together to reveal something greater. So, when we disjoin his nativity from the larger narrative, it loses its luster, so to speak. In fact, the birth of Christ really makes no sense when removed from the context of the larger story. When we read it and teach it to our children as an isolated event, we fail to realize the personal and cosmic significance–the sheer glory–of Christ coming to earth and taking on human flesh. Without the whole story, we don’t understand why we needed him to come in the first place. 

Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible is a daily advent reading for the month of December that seeks to help individuals and families see and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ within its proper context of the Bible’s big story. Written with children, teenagers, and adults in mind, it begins looking back at the creation of the world in the book of Genesis and ends looking forward to the new creation in the book of Revelation, tracing the glory of Jesus Christ from start to finish. In each day’s reading, there is a key scripture to look up, a devotional commentary to read, a helpful summary highlighting the key point and showing how that particular Bible passage points to Jesus, and questions to prompt discussion with your families. 

Tracing Glory was written to help my children and others see that the Christmas story we read in Luke chapter two is much more than a sweet tale of a baby lying peacefully in a manger under the warm glow of the stars. The birth of Christ is the pivotal event in history and the climax of the Bible’s storyline, a story full of captivating themes like good and evil, power, love, war, sacrifice, redemption, mystery, death, victory, and glory. It’s all there, and it’s all true. As we start to truly grasp God’s big story, it draws us in and enables us to make sense of our own individual stories. It tells us why we’re here, what has gone wrong in our own hearts and in our world, and what (or, rather, who) is the solution to our problem.

The reality is that the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ outshines all the flashy glories of this present world, even, and maybe especially, during the holidays. When we truly “see” him, our lives are forever changed. God alone can give us eyes to see, and he does this by revealing the beauty and sufficiency of his Son through his Word and by his Spirit. The goal of this resource is to take you and your family to the Word of God during the Christmas season and help you trace the glory of Jesus Christ from start to finish. As you do, my prayer is that Christ would become more desirable to you and sufficient for you than anything else. In the midst of this bright and busy season, may you and your family more deeply love the story and more joyfully reflect his glory. 

Order “Tracing Glory” here.

The Steadfast Love of God

The Steadfast Love of God

Why is it important to have a deep and accurate understanding of God’s character?

Author A.W. Pink writes: “An unknown God can neither be trusted, served, nor worshiped.”

Bible teacher Jen Wilkin says it similarly: “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.”

To know and glorify God is the purpose for which we were created. The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. The reality is that we cannot glorify and enjoy a God whose character we do not know and trust. It is important to note from the outset that the knowledge of God we so desperately need is more than just intellectual, head knowledge, but it is not less. Every human being’s greatest need is a spiritual and saving knowledge of God through Jesus Christ, but even this saving knowledge first begins with head knowledge. 

It’s through the knowledge of God’s character in the gospel message that the Holy Spirit brings spiritual life to the hearts of many, resulting in saving faith. In the gospel–the good news of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ–believers come to know (first intellectually and then salvifically) who God is. Through the gospel message, we learn about God’s nature. We learn that God is holy, just, and wrathful; He cannot and will not let sin go unpunished. Through that same gospel message we learn that God is gracious, merciful, and rich in covenant-keeping love. He forgives sinners and brings them into relationship with himself forever. The Spirit uses the proclaimed gospel to grant his people a spiritual knowledge of him, and this is his work. Our job is to seek to know God and make him known to others as we share what he has revealed of his character through his word and through his Christ.

Here are three reasons we need accurate knowledge of the character of our God:

  1. The faith of both new and seasoned believers is fortified and strengthened as we learn and  know more of God’s character. 
  2. The more we know the God of the Bible, the more we will trust, believe, delight in, worship and serve him in every circumstance of our lives–both the good and the hard. 
  3. Knowing the character of God will help guard us against deception from false doctrine and despair when our suffering is real and we wonder where God is. 

For this study we are going to focus on one very important aspect of God’s character that is revealed throughout all of Scripture: The Steadfast love of God. Our objective in studying God’s steadfast love is to know, love, and trust him more.

We’ve already talked about how God’s character is revealed most clearly in the gospel, but God revealed himself to his people long before Christ came to earth. Exodus 34: 6-7 is God’s own proclamation of “his name”, which is a declaration of his character. These verses essentially became Israel’s credo about who God is. Before looking at the passage, let’s get some context: God miraculously set Israel free from years of oppression and slavery in the land of Egypt and entered into covenant relationship with them. Under Moses’ leadership, he led them into the wilderness (on the way to the Promised Land) and gave them the law on tablets of stone. It wasn’t long, however, before there was a breach in the covenant relationship. God’s chosen people were unfaithful to him, breaking covenant and committing idolatry by building a golden calf to worship. 

When Moses descended from the mountain to discover this idolatry, he was filled with righteous anger and threw down the stone tablets, breaking them in pieces (a picture of the broken covenant). He then made intercession for the people before the Lord, asking the LORD not to remove his presence and pleading with the LORD to show him his ways and his glory. God called Moses back up to the mountain, where he would write the law on a new set of tablets and proclaim to him his name and his character. Let’s look at the passage.

The Lord passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” – Exodus 34:6-7

Of this passage, Dane Ortlund writes, “Exodus 34:6-7 is not a one-off descriptor, a peripheral passing comment. In this text we climb in the very center of who God is. ” Tim Mackie and Jon Collins of The Bible Project say, “You know how John 3:16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…’ is the most quotable verse in the New Testament? It’s as if these two verses, Exodus 34:6-7, were the John 3:16 of ancient Israel. They come up so much as you read the Bible.

The  passage lists several of Yahweh’s key character traits, but for the purpose of our study, we are going to focus on steadfast love, the one character trait that God mentions twice here. God tells Moses that he abounds in steadfast love and keeps steadfast love for thousands. Since the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, let’s take a look at the Hebrew word that is translated as “steadfast love” in order to get a better sense of its meaning. Here are some things to note:

*The Hebrew word translated as steadfast love in Exodus 34:6-7 is hesed.

*The Hebrew word hesed is used around 245 times throughout the Old Testament 

*The English language doesn’t have one word that fully and accurately conveys all the meaning contained in the Hebrew word hesed.

*Bible translators have used a variety of English words to translate hesed. 

*King James Version uses mercy or lovingkindness

*New American Standard Version as uses mercy or lovingkindness

*English Standard Version uses steadfast love

*New International Version uses love or unfailing love

* Biblical scholars and commentators say that hesed encompasses the ideas of commitment, generosity, and affection. All three are bound  up in the term.

We might define hesed as love in action, a demonstration of promise-keeping commitment and care. It is more than a feeling of affection, yet it is not devoid of affection. Hesed has been described as loyal love by some scholars. It’s a love that is active, full of generosity and kindness, and not conditional or based on the worth of the person to whom it is being shown. Musician and author Michael Card describes hesed in this way: When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything. God’s hesed is very good news for his people!

*Of the (approximately) 245 uses of the word hesed in Scripture, 75% of them refer to God’s steadfast love, while the other 25% refer to humans showing steadfast love to others. 

Let’s take a look at 3 (of the many) passages that speak of the loyal love of God for his people, and we will follow that by looking at a biblical example of a human demonstrating God-like steadfast love to another. The first three passages we’ll look at all focus on the boundlessness and eternality of God’s hesed.

*Psalm 36:5-10:  “Your steadfast love [hesed] O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds…How precious is your steadfast love [hesed], O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings…Oh continue your steadfast love [hesed] to those who know you…”

*Psalm 136:  The Psalmist repeats the phrase, “His steadfast love [hesed] endures forever” twenty six times times. He praises God for his mighty works and loyal love for his people, which began at creation and continued throughout their history.

*Lamentations 3:17-24:  The prophet Jeremiah is grieving the deep losses brought about by Israel’s continual idolatry (attack from foreign nations & exile from their land). In the midst of his deep grief, his hope remains because he is confident of God’s loyal love. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

What we read about in these three passages is God’s promise-keeping, covenant love for his people. It is a love that is as high as the heavens. It’s a love that endures forever. It’s a love that never ceases, in spite of the failures and unfaithfulness of those to whom this love is shown. It is a love almost beyond what we can fathom, but one that, by God’s grace, we can extend back to God and others (albeit imperfectly).

There are multiple stories in the Bible in which humans demonstrate God-like hesed toward others, but let’s take a look at one of my favorite examples. One of the most beautiful examples of steadfast love shown by one person to another is found in the book of Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite young woman who married an Israelite man. After her husband, his brother, and his father all died, Ruth committed herself to her (elderly and destitute) mother-in-law Naomi rather than going back to her own family and native country. When Naomi urged her to go back, Ruth said, “…where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die…” (Ruth 1:16-17). Ruth’s kind and generous act of loving commitment to Naomi is referred to later in the story as an act of“hesed” (Ruth 3:10). If you are familiar with the rest of Ruth’s story, you know that it’s through Ruth’s steadfast love to Naomi that God led her to meet Boaz. Ruth and Boaz eventually married and had a son named Obed, who became the grandfather of King David. It was through the line of David that Christ the Redeemer came.

This is just one biblical story among others to help us see that the steadfast love of God is one of his communicable attributes. This means that, to some degree, we can (and should) possess this attribute. In fact, the Bible teaches that God expects his children to actually love steadfast love. Let’s read Micah 6:6-8:

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [hesed] and to walk humbly with your God?

The Lord is not interested in sacrifices and spiritual ritualism. In response to the steadfast love he has shown us, he desires that we LOVE steadfast love. Our response to God’s loyal love is to believe him and loyally love him back (We love because he first loved us. -1 John 4:19) and also to demonstrate that steadfast love to other people, as Ruth did to Naomi.

As we close out this brief study of God’s steadfast love, I want us to consider how, as New Covenant believers, we see and experience the steadfast love of God in Jesus Christ. I want us to think about how this shapes our identity as those who are wanted, chosen, loved, and secure in spite of our own sin and unfaithfulness to God.

There is no Greek word (the language of the New Testament) that is an exact equivalent of the Hebrew word hesed, but the idea of God’s steadfast love is all over the New Testament. As New Covenant believers, we are the beneficiaries of God’s promise-keeping steadfast love in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Jesus is God’s hesed –his generous, committed, affectionate, undeserved love for his people– incarnate. It is through him that both Old and New Covenant believers confidently rest in the steadfast love of God for all of eternity. Let’s take a look at three New Testament passages that convey the idea of God’s steadfast love for his chosen people.

*Luke 1:54-55: These verses are part of Mary’s song of praise after the angel reveals to her that she will be the mother of Jesus. She recognizes that the Messiah she carries is God’s fulfillment of his committed, generous, loyal love to his people: “He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.”

*Ephesians 2:4-7: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

*Romans 8:38-39: Because God’s hesed in Jesus Christ reaches to the skies and never ceases, NOTHING in all of creation is big enough or strong enough to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 It is through the cross-work of Christ that we see the self-proclaimed declaration of God’s character in Exodus 34:6-7 made manifest. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God extends mercy, grace, steadfast love, and forgiveness to the undeserving while also not clearing the guilty or allowing sin to go unpunished. Bless his name!

I would like to close by praying Micah 7:18-20 in thanks to God for his steadfast love toward us:

Father God, who is like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of your inheritance? You do not retain your anger against us forever because you delight in steadfast love! You have had compassion on us. You have tread our iniquities underfoot. In Christ, you have cast all our sins and iniquities into the depths of the sea. Through your faithful Son, you have shown faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you swore to them from days of old. And through your faithful Son, you have made us sons and daughters, too–the grateful recipients of your eternally unceasing steadfast love.

What is Gospel-Shaped Womanhood?

What is Gospel-Shaped Womanhood?

We are living in the age of the modern, individualistic self–a time when women have both the freedom and the pressure to forge a personal identity. Voices within our cultural context tell us it’s our job and our right to discover and define who we are. We are taught to look deep within to find our authentic selves, so that we can pursue a path in life that aligns with our true identity. In other words, we are living in “find yourself, live your truth, you do you” times–times in which we are (supposedly) free to be whoever we want to be.

But is it really true that identity is ours to create? Do self-discovery and self-definition really bring freedom and peace? At the end of the day, we’re all still desperately searching for answers to the same questions: Who am I, and does my life matter? Am I valuable? Wanted? Accepted? Secure? Am I truly, deeply, fully loved? The world tells women we will discover the answer to these questions within as we incessantly navel-gaze and search our own hearts while rehearsing to ourselves, “You are enough.” But if it’s true that identity is self-made, we’re left with the constant and heavy burden of trying to validate our enoughness. Could it be that what the world markets as freedom is actually another form of enslavement to ceaseless striving? 

In our quest to forge a personal identity, we often seek to define ourselves according to our roles, relationships, work performance, possessions, health, and a host of other fluctuating factors that aren’t stable enough to support the weight of our womanhood. If our worth as women is based on what we do, what happens when we stop doing that thing, or when we fail to do it well? If our security and sense of acceptance are wrapped up in our earthly relationships, a bank account, or a fit and healthy body, what happens when those things are lost? When the sources of a self-made identity are stripped away, we are left totally crushed.

But what if “identity” is not ours to make because we do not actually belong to ourselves? What if we could receive an undeserved but freely given identity that sealed our worth, security, belonging, and the love of another forever? Could this identity grant us permanent rest from the ceaseless striving to be enough? Could it enable us to face our brokenness honestly with the sure hope of true healing and wholeness? If so, is it possible that not being our own is actually good news rather than oppression?

The Bible tells the true story of the God of all creation–the God who made human beings both male and female in his image. As those made to reflect God’s glory in the world, all human beings possess inherent value and dignity. We were made to discover and become our truest selves through a relationship with the one who made us. But, in the beginning, human rebellion and sin against God severed the relationship between the Creator and his first children. As a result, every person born since has come into this world with a sinful nature and, essentially, in an identity crisis. We are born as spiritually orphaned children, dead in our sin and desperate for forgiveness, acceptance, love, and purpose. Sadly, though, we look for these things in all the wrong places. Unable to find the God who made us, we cannot rightly find ourselves.

But the Bible’s story doesn’t end with rebellion and crisis. No, it’s a story that culminates in redemption and grace. It’s a story of identity given, identity lost, and a new identity found for all who respond to the gospel call.  The gospel is the good news that God sent Jesus Christ, his one true Son, to rescue his lost children. Through faith alone in Jesus’ perfect life, substitutionary death on the cross, and resurrection, spiritual orphans are forgiven and brought back into relationship with the Father. And, by grace, all who trust Christ for salvation receive more than just forgiveness of sins. We are given a whole new identity as those in Christ, and this identity powerfully transforms and shapes every aspect of our lives and womanhood.

In Christ, we are those who are chosen and loved by God. In Christ, we are declared righteous in spite of our sin. In Christ, we are adopted, brought into a family, and guaranteed an eternal inheritance. In Christ, we are progressively being made into truly good people. And, in Christ, our bodies and souls will one day be totally set free from sin to live and reign with God forever. These glorious spiritual realities that now define us have practical implications for every part of our lives–our work, our bodies, our marriages or singleness, our motherhood, our friendships, and our suffering– and these implications are lived and worked out over time as we grow up in Christ.

So, in a world that tells us to find ourselves and be whoever we want to be (while simultaneously pressuring us to be all things), may we as women find hope in the good news that Jesus Christ brings us lasting rest. He enables us to stop striving to build our own identity and prove our worthiness. He releases us from the endless striving to be enough. Most significantly, his cross-work frees us from the incessant impulse to earn favor with God. It’s this true rest in Christ that fuels us to carry out the various good works God has called each of us to do in the world. Our work doesn’t save or define us, but, in Christ, it is eternally significant and purposeful. It matters greatly.

The grace of God in Christ is the catalyst for both deep rest of the soul and meaningful life work. Gospel-shaped womanhood is about learning to rest and work by the power of that grace as we remember that only the love of Christ tells us who we really are and transforms us into who we were made to be. This love is ours to freely receive, and that is very, very good news.

Adopted For Life

On April 22, 2021, we received the gift of a fourth son. Cameron James became legally and forever ours through the gift of adoption. It was a beautiful, joy-filled day as a judge made official the familial relationship we’d been living out in our hearts and home for quite some time. The day brought forth a host of different emotions for me, emotions that aren’t necessarily new but are feelings I’ve experienced to some degree throughout the entire twenty months Cameron has been in our home. Why? Because adoption is complex. It’s gift and tragedy, joy and sorrow, love and war. Adoption is beautiful and hard because it tells a story bigger than that of just one family and one child. 

It wasn’t until early in our marriage that my husband or I ever considered adoption to be much more than “plan b” for those unable to have biological children. During our time in seminary, we sat under the teaching of Dr. Russell Moore (adoptive father and author of the book “Adopted for Life”) and watched three of our closest friends adopt children. Through these means ,God began to change our hearts. We began to see that the adoption of orphaned children into families pictured God’s mission to rescue spiritually orphaned rebels through his Son and make them sons and daughters in the family of God. Stated simply, we began to understand that adoption is a visible picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And bringing children into homes where they will hear this good news proclaimed regularly is an integral part of gospel mission. Adoption boldly proclaims the lavish love of God for sinners, and this is why the powers of darkness rage against it. This is why adoption is war

As we grew our family through three biological sons in the years following seminary, adoption was always a thought in the back of our minds. Maybe one day. We weren’t sure if we would actively pursue adoption through an agency. We weren’t sure if we would foster to adopt. We weren’t even sure we would adopt at all.  We just knew that if and when the Lord showed us the path to take, we would say yes to the journey (you can read more about why we decided to say “yes” here). Around the time our third son turned three, I began to strongly sense that our family was not yet complete. I wasn’t sure if this meant we should try to have another child biologically, or if we should pursue adoption. Adam and I began to talk and pray about it. We met with a couple of adoption agencies, and we honestly didn’t feel a clear sense of the Lord’s leading in any particular direction. So, we asked God to make it clear. Lord, show us what to do. If there is a child who needs a home and a family, we’re willing to say yes, but we need you to show us. 

Not long after we began to pray this prayer with regularity, Adam had a providential encounter with an old  friend from high school who (seemingly randomly) mentioned a new baby she knew of who was potentially in need of an adoptive home. Talk about a direct answer to prayer! Without even needing to talk to me first, Adam was ready and able to say that if this child needed an adoptive family, we were ready and more than willing. Less than a month later, we met two-month-old Cameron for the first time, and less than two months later, Cameron came into our home and our care. 

I wish I could say all was smooth sailing from there, but it hasn’t been. The constant care of a young child with extra physical and emotional challenges has been both physically and emotionally taxing. The grief over the brokenness of Cameron’s birth parents’ situation has been heavy. Learning to trust the Lord in the waiting, the wondering, and the unknowns has been stretching. The legal battle has been long and grueling. I have often felt crushed under the weight of my own emotions and exhaustion. And, at the risk of sounding dramatic, I will say with honesty that the war in the spiritual realms being waged over us and this child has felt palpable at times. 

Yet, through it all, the Lord has so faithfully gone before us, and he has carried us. He has carried Cameron. In his faithfulness, he has provided for our every physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial need. In the midst of the war raging around us, oh how love has grown! And love will ultimately win because “…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world! We just adore our Cameron with his big cheesy grin, tight squeezes and joyful babbling and humming. What a gift to hear him call us “ma-ma and da-da” and to see the joy when he greets the other boys and our dog “Yeia” (Leia) when we bring him downstairs in the morning. What a privilege to have watched him take his first hard-fought steps and to know his favorite books and songs. What grace to hear a judge legally declare him to be Cameron James Rice–our son forever–and to remember anew that, in Christ, redemption follows loss. 

Over the past twenty months, one of my frequent prayers over Cameron has been this: Lord, make him a part of our family and make him a part of yours forever. The Lord has so kindly answered the first part of this prayer, and we will continue to pray with faith for him to answer the second part. Adam and I know very well that we are not Cameron’s rescuers or his Redeemer. But we know the one who is. And we get the daily privilege of pointing him to his true Father. God the Father’s heart for orphans led him to give up Christ, his one true Son, so that we who were separated from him by sin might be received back into his family forever. By faith, we are adopted for life! May our family’s story tell this bigger and better story.

Beware the Myth of Independence

We’ve all heard (or experienced) the story of the young child who threatens to run away from home. A friend just told me about a proclamation her four-year-old child recently made in a fit of anger: “I’m leaving!” This friend proceeded to question her daughter on how she would eat, wash clothes, or get to preschool on her own. “I’ll walk on the road, or maybe even the sidewalk!” the little girl retorted. “And where I’m going, they’ll have grocery stores and washing machines.” Her mother replied, “But will you be able to reach the washing machine to put your clothes in?”

We chuckle in amusement when we hear these common “run away from home” stories because the folly of the child is so evident, and the threats are so ridiculous. Any rational adult knows that a four-year-old child marching “free” on the open road is a child marching defiantly toward her doom. Children are only truly free to flourish within the boundaries of a safe home and under the  authority of loving parents. Yet, in the moment of her rash declaration, my friend’s child evidenced her own embrace of the lie every human being believes–the lie that freedom from the constraints of authority is the way to the good life. 

The parent/child relationship is a parable built into the creation order to teach us something about God as Father and ourselves as foolish, rebellious children. In it, we see the myth of independence that we’ve all believed, but we also get a taste of the grace-driven dependence that leads to freedom and flourishing. You see, to run away from the boundary walls of home is to simultaneously run away from the rest, comfort and safety that only a home can provide. The two are inextricably interwoven, and that’s by design. So this leads us to the questions: What is true freedom? And how do we obtain it?

The Myth of Independence 

The world defines “freedom” as self-determination, or the ability to sovereignly control one’s own life without the constraints of a higher authority or objective morality. This is a “you do you” concept of freedom in which the individual alone decides how to think, act, and be. Justice Anthony Kennedy summed it up well in his majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” 

This concept of freedom as self-determination isn’t new. It’s the same myth the first humans believed in the beginning—the age-old lie whispered by the serpent in the garden: “The path to true happiness is freedom from the constraining rules of that Creator of yours. Freedom is the wisdom to determine what’s right and wrong for yourselves. It’s the power to create your own identity, make your own rules, and chart your own course.” Our rebellious first parents sank their teeth into the beautiful forbidden fruit, but, instead of finding freedom, they found themselves slaves to corruption–a corruption they passed on to all people in all generations. 

God’s word teaches that no human is truly “free” in the libertarian sense of the word. We are slaves to whatever we obey, either sin leading to death or obedience [to God] leading to righteousness (Romans 6:16-17). The will is never unfettered to the nature. And the human problem is that our nature is corrupted by sin. We’re children running blind–hell-bent on maintaining the independence that leads to death while desperately trying to satisfy our seemingly insatiable desires. This is the essence of slavery to sin–being locked into the endless chase for what our souls crave and never finding it, never finding Him.

James K.A. Smith writes, “When we imagine freedom only as negative freedom–freedom from constraint, hands-off liberty to choose what I want–then our so-called freedom is actually inclined to captivity… Insofar as I keep choosing to try to find satisfaction in finite, created things–whether its sex or adoration or beauty or power–I’m going to be caught in a cycle where I’m more and more disappointed in those things and more and more dependent on those things. I keep choosing things with diminishing returns, and when that becomes habitual, and eventually necessary, then I forfeit my ability to choose.

 So, if the endless quest for independence enslaves, how does one break free? 

Freedom as Dependence

The first step toward real freedom comes when our eyes are opened to see the chains that bind us in our pursuit of autonomy. True liberation comes through realization of need and the desperate cry for help that follows. The path toward freedom is found when the runaway child on the street, a moment ago so exhilerated in her quest for independence, realizes she cannot live without her parents after all (and doesn’t want to). So, she turns around and runs back home into their arms with tears of humility in her eyes. And she’s received warmly, not because she deserves it, but because of their gracious, unconditional love.

Our Heavenly Father has only one true Son who never rebelled and ran away from him– only one child who obeyed him perfectly and lived within the boundary lines of his perfect will and love. Yet, the Father turned his back on his perfect Son that he might welcome every rebellious son and daughter willing to run home into his arms through faith in that perfect Son. Grace is the answer. Our dependence upon God’s grace in Christ is the only path to true freedom from sin. It’s the only path to satisfaction in the God who made us. 

Smith says, “It is the posture of a dependence that libertes, a reliance that releases. Once you’ve realized you need someone not you, you also look at constraint differently. What used to look like walls hemming you in start to look like scaffolding holding you together.”

Fully Free Forever

Freedom is the gracious gift of a new nature through which we desire to turn away from sin and run back to the Creator we’ve scorned. It’s the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit within us, enabling us to obey the Lord. But freedom from sin is progressive. By faith in Christ, we’re freed from sin’s power, but we’re still plagued by its presence in our lives during our time on earth. Not who we once were, we are still not yet who we will be. This is why Paul reminds believers that sin has lost dominion over us while still exhorting us to “present [our] members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:14;19b). It’s why he declares,” For freedom Christ has set us free” and, in the same sentence, exhorts, “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

By grace, believers have been welcomed back into the family of God. Hidden in Christ by faith, we’ve turned away from the wide path leading to destruction and have begun our journey along the narrow way–the way to our forever home where our freedom will be full forever. Augstine writes, “What shall be more free than free choice when it is unable to be enslaved to sin?…The first freedom of the will was therefore to be able not to sin; the final freedom will be much greater: not to be able to sin…The Christian life is a pilgramage of hope. We live between the first and final freedom; we are still on the way.” 

Wherever you are on the road, dear pilgrim, keep running heavenward in the freedom of Christ. In him alone, restless souls find rest. In him alone, runaway rebels know the freedom of being forever home. 

***Quotes taken from On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts by James K.A. Smith

Lament With Hope

Lament With Hope

I’ve felt a heavy sense of sadness lately. Sadness about all that has been lost because of COVID and cancer and a host of other sicknesses people face. Sadness because everything in our world feels heavy right now. Sadness because anxiety, depression, addiction, abandonment, violence, and unrest are such realities. Sadness because so many people, including people I know and love, are blinded to the truth and walking in darkness—like sheep without a shepherd. It’s so clear to me that the effects of human sin are more catastrophic than we could have ever imagined; the suffering is often deeper than we can bear.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I’m in the book of Lamentations in my Bible reading plan, and I’m thankful for the reminder that God welcomes lament: “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!” (Lam 2:19). The prophets knew what it felt like to grieve the deep losses brought about by sinful idolatry as they watched evil foreign nations ravage God’s people and their land: “For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears…” (Lam 1:16a). The prophets knew the crushing discouragement of being misunderstood in a world where evil seems to have the upper hand: “My children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed” (Lam 1:16b). Lamentations is heavy reading.

But! Tucked in the center of five chapters of deep sorrow is a thrill of hope.

In the midst of catastrophe and grief, God’s covenant remnant is never ultimately consumed because we are swallowed up by something greater: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:22-23).

In the midst of his grief, the prophet’s hope is renewed by calling to mind God’s “hesed” (translated “steadfast love” in this passage). Commentators say the English language doesn’t have one word that fully encompasses the Hebrew word hesed. It’s used some 240 times in the Old Testament and most often describes the undeserved loyal-love, mercy, kindness, and goodness of God toward his people. Hesed is an active word in which “doing” is implied.  And knowing something of God’s hesed is crucial to our grasping real hope.

In his own self-description to Moses in Exodus 34:6, God says he abounds in hesed or steadfast love—a love that forgives iniquity, transgression and sin, but will by no means pardon the guilty. The steadfast love of God for his people is more than a mushy sentiment, and it doesn’t turn a blind eye to what he has called sin. So, who is this God of unceasing love and grace who both forgives sinners and punishes the guilty? And how did the prophets find hope in Yahweh’s hesed while experiencing the aftermath of his intense judgment for Israel’s sin? *They waited for what they couldn’t yet see.* The prophets put their hope in God Himself, basing that hope on his past faithfulness and future promises. Even (and especially) when circumstances were far from promising, the faithful remnant believed God’s own declaration of his merciful lovingkindness to be true, and they rested in him.

As the new covenant people of God, we too have the hope of God’s self-revealed, boundless “hesed” to cling to in the midst of our personal lamentation. But we get to see God’s steadfast love more clearly than even the prophets did because we see it in the face of Jesus Christ! In his kindness, God the Son put on human flesh. As he hung on a cross in the place of rebellious idolaters, he showed the world just how the God of Israel pardons the guilty without letting sin go unpunished. Then, Jesus rose and gave his Church the firstfruits of the Spirit so that we might have hope as we groan in the wilderness of this world while waiting for something much better to come—something we can’t yet see.

Sadly, in this life here on earth, there will always be sin and suffering. There will always be grief. But in the midst of my own feelings of heavy sadness, I call to mind the hesed of God toward me in Jesus Christ, and I have HOPE. I declare with the prophet: “The LORD [Christ] is my portion…therefore I will hope in [wait on] him” (Lam 3:24).

When Good News is Especially Good

When Good News is Especially Good

As Holy Week commences, I’m feeling a sense of sadness that we won’t be able to physically gather together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate Easter this year. So much of life has changed in the past few weeks. Our schedules, rhythms, traditions, and sense of normalcy have all been turned upside down, and it’s hard. This week of the year in which we remember Christ’s death and celebrate his resurrection won’t be “normal” either, and in one sense that’s really depressing. But, in another sense, it brings a depth to our hope and richness to our joy. I cannot remember another Easter in my life when I have felt the need for redemption and longing for resurrection as poignantly as I have this year.

Here’s what I mean: Good news is always good, but it’s especially good when the bad news is very apparent. And there’s no bad news like a worldwide pandemic. When all is well and life feels comfortable (or even just manageable) we can easily sanitize the truth of the human condition in our minds, but a health crisis of this capacity shouts our frailty and brokenness as if through a megaphone. A microscopic virus can decimate our bodies because a disease called sin first decimated our souls and our world. And Jesus Christ is our only hope for ultimate healing.

Finished Atonement 

I don’t know if I have been exposed to COVID-19, but I know that it has exposed me. Having my personal world turned upside down by this crisis has brought sinful idols buried deep within my heart to the fore. My husband is working from home. My very active (read: wild) little boys are home all day every day, needing (read: wanting) to eat all. the. time. and needing constant instruction and correction. 

There are unending opportunities to love and serve my family with joy while exuding the peace that comes from faith in Christ, and I have fallen unbelievably short. Rigidity, anxiety, worry, impatience, harshness and more ugly things have been flowing from my heart and lips in the last few weeks. And maybe I’m not alone? Maybe the fallout of this virus has painfully exposed the depth of your own sin sickness, too? If so, the good news of Christ’s finished cross-work for sinners will be the same sweet balm to your soul that it is for mine–even sweeter than when we heard it last. 

This morning, our pastor said, ‘The cross shouts the completeness of forgiveness, total and unalterable reconciliation to God.” When Jesus uttered his last words, “It is finished” (the Greek word translated “tetelestai”), he declared that he had done everything necessary to forgive and heal our sin-sick hearts. Christ met the perfect requirements of God’s law in his life and satisfied God’s just wrath against sin in his substitutionary death on our behalf. Thus, he secured–for all who would trust him in faith– forgiveness, approval, and acceptance from God the Father. 

Just as Christ has finished his work, God promises to finish the good work he began in us through the Son: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Christ’s finished work of atonement gives us real hope as our sin is continually exposed in the heat of this pandemic. Our righteous position before God is secure, and, as we repent of sin and look to Jesus in faith, he continues his work of making us holy in practice. 

Al Mohler recently said “Christianity is not about adding a little meaning to our otherwise pitiful lives while we live. It’s not about giving us mere pastoral comfort in the midst of a pandemic. It’s about God’s decisive act to save sinners through the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ and to save those sinners to the uttermost.” 

Promised Resurrection 

If the story of atonement ended on Good Friday, then we absolutely could not call the day good. The apostle Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17,19). But the story doesn’t end on Friday, and, praise God, our hope is not in this life only. Christ not only conquered sin; he conquered sin’s sting: death.  Whether through the coronavirus or by some other means, death will come to all of us. But for those in Christ, resurrection follows death: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep…For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 22).

The good news of the gospel is not only for our souls but also for our bodies and our world (Romans 8:18-24)! These perishable, earthly bodies we have are just a breath away from death at any given moment. Death is unavoidable, but one day our lifeless bodies will burst forth from the graves, raised to life imperishable in Christ. From that day forward, we will never be susceptible to cancer or coronavirus or any other form of sickness leading to death. All will be right, all will be well, and we will sing in fullness, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?… Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55,57).

An Especially Good Easter

So, as we move through this Easter week, it’s ok to mourn all that has been lost because of COVID-19. It’s good to remember that this world is not as it should be and that we are not yet as we will be. The truth is that it’s always been this way, but we are acutely aware of it right now. When our souls are downcast, may this drive us to hope in God and rejoice in his steadfast love for us in Christ. The good news of the gospel shines brightest in the dark, and that means Easter 2020 is going to be really, really good. 

Sisters, We Need More Than Female Empowerment

Sisters, We Need More Than Female Empowerment

Female empowerment. It’s a hot buzz phrase right now, especially after Sunday night’s Super Bowl LIV Halftime show, but there is clearly some cultural confusion about what it entails. Are women empowered by being told we can be and do anything we want? Are we empowered by the belief that there are really no gender distinctions? Are we empowered by a “no rules” sexual freedom that isn’t suppressed by taboos or the patriarchy, or by following and admiring women who are sought after sexual icons because of their beauty, fame, and self-objectification? How ironic that feminism’s message says women are more than what we can offer a man sexually, while the world’s functional message to women through every media outlet is, “You sure better have a good body and sex appeal!” The world sends mixed messages about female empowerment because the world doesn’t know a woman’s (or a man’s) true source of worth and power.

A Secure Identity

Whatever female empowerment means to the world, Christian women know we have a better word and a better source of power that grounds our God-given identity. We are certainly not less than our femaleness, but we are so much more.  We have been created female in the image of God, and his immeasurable worth secures for us automatic and intrinsic worth. Although we have marred God’s image in us by seeking to find identity and validation in our rights, achievements, bodies, sexuality, and relationships, God sent his Son–His very image made manifest in human flesh–to redeem us from the idolatry of “finding ourselves” in the gifts rather than the Giver. By faith, we have a new identity in Christ that sets us free from the need to define ourselves and our story by the oppression and injustices we’ve faced, or by the sin patterns that have characterized us. In Christ, we are defined as those “radically beloved by God.” Because of this new identity,  we can give thanks for the freedoms, rights, and educational opportunities we have as women in this country without bowing down to them as gods or believing they define who we are.

An Upside Down Power

As Christian women, we don’t need to endlessly pursue “ female empowerment” because we have a greater power living within us. This is an upside down kind of power that enables us to live for something so much bigger and better than ourselves and our own glory. Women have proven our gender’s ability to shatter glass ceilings, but it takes Spirit empowerment to be able to quietly and joyfully lay down our lives for “the least of these” day after day. As women, we have proven we have the God-given intellect and work ethic to become successful doctors and lawyers and teachers and entrepreneurs, but no amount of female empowerment can protect us from calculating our worth by something as unstable as career success or financial security. Female empowerment has given us (the illusion of) complete control over our bodies, sexuality, and reproduction, but only the Spirit of God gives us the self-control to deny gratifying every sexual desire of our flesh. He alone helps us refuse to use beauty, immodesty, and sex appeal as sources of power over men, or as means to secure our own feelings of validation. It’s the Holy Spirit who enables us to believe and find comfort in the unpopular truth that real sexual freedom and joy are found only when we live within God’s good boundary lines for our sexuality–the ones outlined in his word. And it’s by the Spirit’s power that our spiritual nakedness is clothed by Christ’s righteousness and we are able to repent for glorying in our shame.  Female empowerment teaches us to use all of our energy to fight for our rights as women, but the Spirit empowers us to pursue restoration by dying to self and seeking first the Kingdom of God while trusting Him to bring justice. 

A World Made New

I do not pretend to believe that women have not faced real injustices, abuse, and oppression in this broken world—some much more than others. Millions of women around the world have not been privy to the freedoms, rights, educational opportunities, and God-like love that the three girls pictured above have experienced in our lives. No, things are not as they should be in our world. But no amount of female empowerment or mojo or women’s rights can set all things aright because women can’t fix the human condition. Women cannot cure sin-sick hearts (including or own). We cannot heal all the wounds of abuse and set every captive free. Female empowerment cannot ultimately bring perfect justice for the sins committed against women or for the sins women have committed against others, but make no mistake, justice will be done. Sin will be paid for–either through the cross-work of Christ on Calvary or by the sinner in the life to come. We can trust God with this.

So, our hope is not in (broken) girls running the (broken) world but in Christ ruling a world made new. In this new world, there will be no thought of female empowerment and no perceived need for it. Male and female will live together in perfect harmony and love as brothers and sisters– co-heirs of the grace of life. Sisters, we need something better than female empowerment, and it is ours in Christ Jesus. His is the power and hope we proclaim. 

 

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion. God’s love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth. – Brennan Manning

 

 

 

2020: Eyes on a Better Country

A new year has dawned —a season for reflection on what has been and fresh resolve for what will be. There are so many things I could say about 2019. It was a year that brought unexpected change and blessing for our family…a year that brought deep need and abundant provision…a year of being poured out for others and poured into by the Body of Christ. 2019 was a life-shaping year as I learned more each day how to die with Christ in order to truly live. 

As I look forward to 2020, there are so many things I could resolve to do, or resolve to do better. But rather than making a list of goals or choosing a word of the year, I find myself looking further down the road, beyond 2020 and even beyond my life here on earth. As a Christian, I know my best life is not now: For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14). But do I seek it? Do we seek it?

C.S. Lewis so aptly described the human ache for something more than this world can give when he wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” So much of Lewis’s writing is otherworldly. It seems he had his sights set on a better country, knowing this is the only way to truly persevere in the Christian life while living in a world corrupted by sin.  

Perhaps we feel the ache of the world’s brokenness—of our own brokenness—at times. It’s clear that all things are not as they should be, and none of us can avoid the curse that sin has brought. But do we ache for the one true resolution, or do we simply hate the curse while deeply loving the sin itself?  Are our eyes set on a better country ruled by the only true and good King? Or are we desperately striving to build a bigger and better kingdom for ourselves here on earth? 

Beauty and Brokenness 

Human life on earth is an inextricable juxtaposition of beauty and brokenness, joy and sorrow, light and darkness. Beauty, joy, and light are present and experienced, to varying degrees, by all humans on earth because God has not removed his common grace. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). While the gift of common grace keeps humanity from being fully given over to sin, it cannot fix all that sin has broken. 

We see the reality of these juxtapositions play out in a million ways, big and small. In the span of a few short months in 2011, I experienced both the great joy of new life in the birth of my first son and the great sorrow of loss in the death of my beloved grandmother. On Christmas morning, I watched my sons squeal in delight as they discovered their new toys, and I listened to sobs of (slightly dramatic) despair less than an hour later when a new toy was accidentally broken. In this life, joy and sorrow always mingle. And while the gift of common grace cannot reverse the curse or cure hearts, the gift of God’s special grace through Christ is freely offered to all who will receive it.

No darkness is too dark for the light of Christ to penetrate, and no sorrow is so deep that it can drown the true joy he brings. On earth, no fracture is irreparable by the beauty of his grace. But life on earth is not forever, and in eternity, the once inextricable realities are finally set free from one another. In eternity, beauty and brokenness no longer mingle. Hell is the total removal of God’s presence, the withdrawing of both his common grace and the offer of his saving grace. Those in Hell are given over to what they truly want and love: sin and self apart from God.

Go to Jesus Outside the Camp 

The scary reality is that left to ourselves, we all want Hell. We want to rule our own kingdoms apart from God. And though we may hate its fruit, we love the darkness of sin. But the Son of God put on flesh to free us from our depraved love: So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured (Hebrews 13:13).

Jesus shows us that this world is not ultimate; He is ultimate. The maker of the world who came to save the world was hated and killed by the world as an outcast. The longing we can’t seem to satisfy with any worldly success, relationship, pleasure, or material possession is a longing for him. And he offers us himself, forgiveness of sin, and every spiritual blessing with Him for all eternity. He offers us an unshakeable Kingdom free of sickness, sin, pain, insecurity, loneliness, and death. In this Kingdom, toys no longer break and people are no longer broken. But we must forsake the world and flee to Christ outside the camp. Christ’s offer is not a “both/and” proposition. It’s “either/or.” We cannot have Christ and the world because we cannot serve two masters. 

Nothing is Lost

Lewis writes: If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven, we shall not be able to retain even the smallest most intimate souvenirs of earth. I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) was precisely nothing: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in “the High Countries.”

As Christians on earth, we have a message and a mission to steward for the glory of the King as we wait to take hold of the glorious, unshakeable Kingdom in its fullness. He has prepared good works for each of us to do (Ephesians 2:10), and these good works will require us to die daily in service to others. They will cause us to look strange to the world. Our faith in Christ will not exempt us from the inevitable suffering that results from life in a cursed world. We will share in Christ’s sufferings and death while we await resurrection glory. But eternity will show that nothing we have given up was truly lost. Heaven will one day reveal that all things have truly worked together for our ultimate good. 

Lewis writes: [This] is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backward and turn even that agony into a glory…

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17). 

I don’t know what 2020 will hold for me or for my family, but I know that I can face every joy, sorrow, blessing, and trial with expectant hope because I am on a journey to a better country–a country where the Lamb who was slain will reign as King, dry every tear, and make all things new. My eyes are on him.

The Christmas Story: Consummation

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In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you! . . . Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end. 

For four hundred years, no prophet spoke for God. The remnant of God’s people who had returned to their land from exile languished under the control of the Roman Empire with no sign of the promised Messiah. But, one day, the long silence was broken by an angel who delivered a pregnancy announcement—two pregnancy announcements, actually!

The first announcement came to an elderly priest named Zechariah, whose elderly wife Elizabeth had been barren for many years. The childless Elizabeth would give birth to a son named John, a prophet of God who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah!  The second pregnancy announcement came to Mary–an unwed teenage virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph from the house of David. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary would conceive and give birth to a Son, who would be called Jesus…the Son of God…a child both human and divine! This Son was the long-awaited child of promise–the victorious King, who would crush the head of the evil snake and reign on David’s throne for eternity.

God’s Kingdom was coming on earth through two unexpected pregnancies to two unlikely women because nothing is impossible with God! Although the nation of Israel had been like a barren woman, failing to bear fruit by mediating God’s blessing to the nations, God would still keep his promises. The virgin conception signaled the inbreaking of a new covenant! The barren woman Israel would now have children…many children from many nations…children with new, clean hearts with the law of God written upon them. God would accomplish his plan to fill the earth with his glory through his people!

The story takes another unexpected turn when Mary gives birth to Jesus in an obscure stable in Bethlehem, and the good news is first announced to lowly, dirty shepherds while watching their sheep at night. Wouldn’t a palace full of important people have been a better place for the birth of the Messiah? How odd for the King of Kings to enter this world quietly among animals! Then again, it’s not so odd when you remember that this baby King was also a lamb–the Lamb of God, born to die for broken, helpless sinners. 

You see, Jesus’s birthplace was no surprise to God. God was showing the world that he was coming down, even to the lowest of places, to rescue his children and live with them again. But this time, the Creator wasn’t going to live among his people in a garden or a temple. He was going to live among them in a human body…a body just like theirs…a body that would one day be broken on their behalf and resurrected to eternal life— the firstfruits of many who would follow through faith in him,

The God-man Jesus Christ was an embodied picture of God’s glory for the world to see… the exact image of the invisible God…-the one who perfectly kept God’s righteous law, yet died a brutal death in the place of sinners. After his death and resurrection, he ascended to the right hand the Father where he now reigns through his Spirit in the hearts of his people, the Church…the mystery finally revealed! 

Jesus Christ is the better Adam, the better Noah, the better Israel, and the better David–God’s one and only true Son! And one day, he’s coming back to finish what he started. The cradle that led to the cross still awaits the consummation of the glorious kingdom on earth. There, Christ will mend all that is broken, dry every tear, and reign in righteousness for all eternity! This is the hope of Christmas! 

So, the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price…and live forevermore. Come, thou long-expected Jesus!