Emmanuel - God with us! His name is Jesus! Suddenly the fog lifts and you can see the destination and you no longer have to rely on the street signs to know the way. The whole story had been pointing to Jesus all along! When we read the Bible, we don’t read it to learn how to conquer our enemies like Joshua, be brave like David, how to have integrity like Daniel. We fall short of what the Bible is teaching us if we don’t realize that these stories and heroes first and foremost point us to Christ.
Until that time comes, we would do well to stoke the fire of anticipation, especially in the midst of the sin and suffering within us and around us. We’ve already been told how this grand story turns out and it’s a wonderful ending! If the new heavens and new earth are our future, then how we live in the meantime reflects our hope in the one whom we’re anticipating.
Why would we who were undeservingly rescued from God’s wrath and who were brought into his family as sons and daughters embody anything other than the grace that’s been given to us? Grace is the dress in which we’re clothed; grace is the music of our processional.
So, then, retelling and rehearsing the gospel of grace in our churches, our families, our marriages, our friendships, in every aspect of our lives, isn’t merely a matter of duty and obligation. More importantly, it’s a matter of letting our hearts overflow with anticipation that gives way to celebration over the coming of our Bridegroom, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
As we read about these Old Testament rituals and sacrifices, and the lengths people had to go to to approach a holy God, we must recognize what an incredible gift the access we have through Christ is. Through Jesus the Lamb and Jesus the High Priest, we draw near to God. And we don’t have to come like they did in the Old Testament. We come with reverence, but also boldly, wrapped in the righteousness of Christ and confident in His intercession.
As I read about this, I was struck by the fact that I don’t take advantage of this incredible access I have to God….
The overall theme of the book of Hebrews is the superiority and preeminence of Jesus Christ. Those big words mean that Jesus is better than anything that was before or anything that is to come. He is better than any person, institution, ritual or sacrifice in the Old Testament. Jesus is the “once for all” better!
To make sure we don’t miss this point, every chapter of Hebrews either alludes to an Old Testament person or concept, or quotes directly from it. Perhaps the most obvious are the references to the tabernacle, the Old Covenant, and the blood sacrifices. As the author unfolds this Old Testament history lesson, his exhortation is clear, for he mentions it six times: “draw near.” For he says, “…the law made nothing perfect; but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God (7:19).”
But is drawing near to a holy God even possible? And practically, how do we do it?
The Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is not only about things lost and found, it’s about open and hidden sin, and grace lavished on the least deserving. Isn’t it just like Jesus to offer hope even to those who have gone astray, who have chosen the wrong road? In this story, Jesus was saying “whoever you are, My grace is sufficient; wherever you’ve been, My truth will search you out, and whatever your sin, there is a Way home.”
The obvious sinner in this story – the son who demanded his inheritance then watched the gleaming gold coins flow like water through his fingers – was ultimately repentant. He’d lost all he’d been given and found himself face down in regret and despair, feeding pigs and abandoned by his “friends” in the far country. Yet, it wasn’t his dire circumstances that woke him up; it was the memory of his father’s goodness. It was the memory of the love his father showed even to his servants that righted his heart and set his sights on home…
About five years ago, I read Tim Keller’s Prodigal God and, for the first time, saw the parable of the prodigal in Luke 15 as a story of not one, but two lost sons. I learned more about the elder brother: how his “goodness” and striving, his bitterness and self-importance, kept him from a relationship with his loving father.
A few years later, I found myself struggling with “elder brother” anger and bitterness. We had moved many times - from Texas to China to Texas to California - trying to be faithful to God’s calling on our lives. When it became clear that another move was on the horizon, and things were not easy, I became angry with God. I didn’t necessarily say it out loud, but I was functionally thinking “God, we scratched your back, now you scratch ours! God, we have been faithful and have given up so much for you…Is this what we get?” It was pretty ugly.
But guess what? God comes out to meet both sons!…
Caroline had a clear vision for the artwork from the start: a very simple sketch depicting a path that leads to the distant mountains and a burst of color in the backdrop, signifying the Kingdom that has come and is coming.
Originally, I was sketching out vast mountains in the background with a starting path towards it, as if the person was just beginning their faith journey. For some reason though, I was really struggling with these sketches. My attempt at encapsulating the valleys and hills (symbolic of the Christian life) while having the mountains in the background and a path leading to the top was really challenging….
We all have these moments when the realization of our sin-sickness dawns on us in shocking ways. We realize the finery we wear simply covers a diseased self and no matter how much of this world we’ve gained, our soul is still lost. We look to our right and left, and find ourselves surrounded by fellow sinners and realize: we’re who they’re looking at too, just as broken, just as sick, and just as much in need of Jesus. Most of us in those moments, try to find something else to cover us, fig leaves like the first man and woman after their original sin, a boat in the other direction like Jonah, a cave like Elijah—anything to get away from the stigma of sin-sickness. Anything to spare us from the hospital of the broken. But Jesus, sweet Jesus, pulls back the veil and reveals just how sick we are and in the same moment says, “Yes. This is why I have come.”
If you remember from Jesus’s birth account, John the Baptist was Jesus’s cousin, filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb and set apart for the Lord. God called John the Baptist to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, a voice crying out “in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God!” (Isaiah 40:3-5).
When a king traveled the desert, workmen preceded him to clear the debris and smooth out the roads to make his trip easier. In the same way, God called John the Baptist to pave the road and clear the debris, to prepare the way for the Messiah, this new King who would bring salvation.
Isaiah 40 prophecies that a voice will cry out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, & every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, & the rough places a plain.” As I read these verses, I was captured by the word picture here: a seismic shifting of mountains & valleys into a level plain.
So, repentance is like the asphalt we pour on a rough road to make it smooth. Let no pride or sin obstruct the King from coming & reigning in our lives. We want the gates flung wide open (Psalm 24:7) for the King of glory!
…In Psalm 16, David reminds us of two powerful truths that speak directly to our pursuit of pleasure and protection: every false god will fail us, but the true God fulfills us…. Every false god will fail us. In verse 4, David tells us that those who run excitedly and urgently after any god other than God Himself will be met by sorrows. While these false gods promise joy, what they truly deliver are sorrows. These sorrows are similar to the painful spots found on Job’s body while he was afflicted. The gods allure us by claiming they will satisfy us, but the truth is they eventually will inflict pain on us! False gods always over-promise and under-deliver.
So, why? Why do we get up every day? Are we brave enough to ask that question? Brave enough to explore the boundaries of life and the point of it all?
The writer of Ecclesiastes was. But his findings weren’t that encouraging. In the end, he says, it’s all pointless. It’s futile! All is vanity. Generations come and go, but nothing changes. All of the rivers flow into the sea but the sea is never full. The rivers just keep flowing to the same place, over and over. And there is nothing we can do to change that. Lest we disagree, remember this was written by a guy known for having in abundance the two things that usually are able to bring about change: wisdom and wealth. But the writer of Ecclesiastes is ultimately tearing down to build up. He is demolishing our man-centered worldview and rebuilding a God-centered worldview...
I started "All is Vanity" way back in 2011, the first year I began intentionally writing songs from scripture. But, when I went into the studio to record the Blood + the Breath, the song didn’t exactly fit thematically. Years later, I began to see that the new album - what would eventually become a Home & a Hunger - would center on themes of ache and homesickness. So, I circled back to this song and added two things: a last line to the chorus that says “you feel eternity, and it’s beating in your chest. So you know in your soul it’s not all meaningless.” I also added the bridge speaking of restlessness and rest, hunger and fullness....
When I was reading through Exodus, I was so struck by the story of God’s people “stranded” at the edge of the Red Sea. These are the same people that had just witnessed God’s power on display in the form of the plagues. They had been miraculously rescued from a 400-year slavery in Egypt. And they were being led by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. But suddenly, their faith is put to the test: they were squeezed between an impassable sea and a fast- approaching army of Egyptians and they didn't see any good way out.
This devotional comes from Tim Keesee's journal when he was at the Red Sea. For the past twenty years, Tim has reported on the Church in the world’s difficult places and how the gospel is at work across the world through a ministry called Dispatches from the Front. Our prayer is that in reading Tim's journal, you would be encouraged by the boldness of our brothers & sisters in the Middle East. Our God is still the great deliverer, setting slaves free and making a way to His Good Land when there seems to be no way through.
“Finished out my last day here with a swim in the Red Sea. The water is bracing, and after a week in the Jordanian desert, it is like a long, cool drink. From the Egyptian side of the waters, the sun is swift and brilliant, covering the Red Sea in amethyst light and burning above the mountains of Sinai like a pillar of fire..."
One thing I love to do when I write a song from scripture is to take an old, familiar story and try to see and feel it from a specific character’s perspective. "Eve's Lament" is the story of the fall in Genesis 3, written from Eve’s point of view.
Eve and Adam were surrounded by the beauty of God's creation, untainted by death and decay. Their relationship with God and with each other was perfect, unaffected by the poison of sin. And then a snake slithers into the picture, twisting the truth and playing on their pride.
I'm not sure about you, but whenever I see a snake on TV, I physically feel a creeping, eery sense of danger. So, as I wrote, I tried to include as much "serpentine" language as possible in the lyrics. The melody and instrumentation is also purposefully "creepy" and aching. My hope in this song is that the listener would not only intellectually understand the storyline of the fall, but would feel that prowling menace and the consequent ache.
"The first hiss of doubt tricked the woman’s soul. Perhaps God’s words cannot be trusted. Perhaps there is a better word than God’s. Perhaps we should be the judge of God.
In Eve’s reply, we hear the arrogance of a legalist. She minimized the freedom God had given them to freely eat and answered the Serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:2). Next, she made up her own rule about not touching the fruit, and then she minimized God’s judgment from “You shall surely die,” to “Lest you shall die” (Gen. 3:3). Satan affirmed Eve’s doubts by saying, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4–5)..."
Having young kids exposed my sin patterns and selfishness again and again. It felt impossible to “perform” well in this role, to not lose my temper, to hit my “good mom” standard. I would yo-yo between beating myself up and then pulling up my bootstraps, determined to do better. I hit a rock-bottom several times; I was so frustrated. Why did I have to keep struggling with the same things - losing my patience, raising my voice, and just not being the mom I wanted to be moment to moment? Why, oh why, was I such a sinner?
God mercifully used this season to help me realize - again and again - the truth of the gospel. I had always said "I'm a sinner," but now I keenly felt the weight of my sin. And as I came to terms with it's weight, I continued to realize just how good the gospel really is...
While the world’s economy rewards those who trust their own goodness, God’s economy of grace rewards those who recognize their spiritual poverty. God honors the poor in spirit, the spiritual beggars with open hands, acknowledging their need for salvation. He invites the hungry, the thirsty, and the one without money to His feast, saying “come, buy wine and milk without money and without price (Isaiah 55:1).”
Only those who realize their brokenness rejoice when He comes to bind the brokenhearted. Only those who realize their captivity rejoice when the prison door swings open.
a Home & a Hunger: Songs of Kingdom Hope is a journey through scripture, beginning with the Fall and the first “hunger pangs” in Genesis 3, and ending in Revelation, when God will make His home with us forever. It tells of exile and Eden, of restlessness and rest, and of God’s beautifully “upside-down” kingdom.