Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Glorified Footprints

The steps leading to Caiaphas' house don't look fancy at all. Simple stone steps lead upward to a courtyard. Neither the design nor the construction are remarkable. 

What's remarkable about the rustic stairway is that Jesus walked there. This is the path over which He was led to the trial with Caiaphas before His crucifixion.

More than 2000 years later, these simple steps are one of the most treasured sites in the Holy Land.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, Isaiah wrote, "And I shall make the place of My feet glorious." (Isaiah 60:13 nasb) 

The word translated as "glorious" is kabob and indicates a weighty glory. I believe Isaiah was prophesying about these steps, among others, over which our Lord's feet passed.

Thousands of people come each year to see the steps and literally walk where Jesus walked. I've walked there, too. It is a glorious place, and beautiful in a heartbreaking way, for the journey up the steps was not a pleasant one for Jesus.

How much more glorious it would be, though, if, instead of walking on the steps that Jesus walked, we walked in the steps that Jesus walked. 

He walked into the room of a dead girl and invited her back to life. 

He walked into the darkness of a blind man and restored his sight. 

He walked into the forbidden space of one leper after another, touched them, and healed them. 

We, too, can walk in His glorious steps, loving and serving as we go. It's a choice we must make, but oh, the glory we'll see as we serve Him 

Jesus searched out the ones who were most in need of Him and headed their way. 

He's blazed a glorious trail for us, but we'll never follow unless we make a start. So let's step out of our comfort zone, look for the path that leads to the need, and head out. One step at a time.

"Come and see," Jesus said. "Walk this way...Follow Me."

This Christmas season, let's do exactly that.

n case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Stealth-Bomber Savior

If God leads you to help support this ministry, (prayer and outreach, both digital and in-person) you can use this link: Support Leanna's Ministry (use account #4841)
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Friday, December 16, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Stealth-Bomber Savior

One of my favorite word-pictures is of God rolling up His sleeves and wading into the fray to bring redemption. There are two passages in Isaiah that speak of this kind of "rolling up the sleeves and getting to work" intervention of God.

"The Lord has bared His holy arm 
in the sight of all the nations,
that all the ends of the earth may see
the salvation of our God." 
Isaiah 52:10

"Now the Lord saw, 
and it was displeasing in His sight
that there was no justice...
Then His own arm brought salvation to Him;
And His righteousness upheld Him."
Isaiah 59:15-16

God has not overlooked any of the injustice of this world. He has seen every unkind deed, every evil act, heard every impure thought, every wrongly spoken word. 

He knows.

And He has moved. He rolled up His heavenly sleeves, bared His divine arm, and waded in to bring salvation. 

When I think of someone wading into the fray in such a manner, I think of a free-for-all fist fight that ends up with blood on the floor and a roomful of demolished furniture.

Not so with this divine intervention.

The salvation God's bared arm brought was Jesus.

Imagine that. The battle-plan of God was a baby in a manger. A heavenly stealth-plane kind of Savior who was so insignificant-looking that the hardest heart among us could see the child and feel safe. 

Hard hearts aren't safe in the presence of Jesus, though. He comes wearing righteousness and salvation, wrapped in zeal, equipped to change the heart of stone for a heart of flesh.

That's the Savior we celebrate this Christmas season.

So let us offer all the hardness in our hearts to the lowly gentle One who can melt the stoniest places and fill us with the righteousness of God and the softness of a babe.

Let us make room in our hearts for the Christ child and allow Him to do His best work in us. 

Bare your arms, Lord, and wade into our hearts today.
p.s - the photo above is the only one I could find of bared arms...
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Chain-breaking, Sin-carrying Savior

If God leads you to help support this ministry, (prayer and outreach, both digital and in-person) you can use this link: Support Leanna's Ministry (use account #4841)
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Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Chain-breaking, Sin-Carrying Savior

Few passages in Scripture are as beautifully poignant as Isaiah 53. It's a word-picture of our Suffering Savior. We usually read these words at Easter, but they are equally suited to Christmas as a reminder of why Jesus came.

These words aren't an after-the-fact description; they're a prophecy of what would come. 

"He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him." (Is 53:2) 

Jesus didn't look like a king, but He is Lord of Heaven and earth.

"He was despised and forsaken of men..."  (Is 53:3) 

He wasn't the one men chose, but He is a friend of sinners everywhere.

"He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." (Is 53:3)

He wasn't loved, yet He is love.

"Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried." (Is. 53:4)

He was the grief-bearer, but He is also the joy-giver.

"He was crushed for our iniquities." (Is. 53:5)

He was smashed by the weight of our sin, but He is the chain-breaker.

"But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." (Is. 53:6)

He was the sin-bearer, but He is also the sinner's Savior.

No one looked at the baby in the manger and recognized all He meant for us. No one looked at the man on the cross and understood all He'd done for us. We can't even look at the empty tomb and comprehend what it means for us.

But one day we will. 

Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

As we enjoy the music of the season, shop, decorate, and celebrate with loved ones, let's hold on to the truth of our Chain-breaking, Sin-carrying Savior whose manger only matters because of His cross.
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Listen-Up Good News

If God leads you to help support this ministry, (prayer and outreach, both digital and in-person) you can use this link: Support Leanna's Ministry (use account #4841)
#advent #Jesus

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Listen-Up Good News

My morning routine begins early. I head downstairs for a cup of coffee, grab a quick (and portable) breakfast, and climb back in bed with my Bible. This morning was no different.

Propped up in bed, Bible open on my lap, I began to read. I sipped my coffee, read a few verses, squirmed about to smooth a wrinkle from the back of my robe, and read another verse. 

The wrinkle was still there. More squirming followed.

My reading had progressed to the next page during the wrinkle-war. After a few more verses, I realized I had no idea what I'd read.

"Lord, please speak to me. I can't hear a thing in these words," I prayed, and flipped back to the beginning of Isaiah 51. Three phrases were underlined in those four verses. In the squirming, I'd missed them entirely.

"Listen to me."

"Pay attention to Me..."

"Give ear to Me..."

Those words caught my attention. If God was that interested in us hearing what came next, it must be worth paying attention, I thought. 

It was.

"I will set My justice for a light to the peoples. My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth..."  (Is. 51:4-5)

He was speaking about Jesus. Hundreds of years would pass between the writing of this prophecy and the appearing of the Christ-child in the manger, but it was as good as done already. 

His Justice was set as a light for the peoples... His righteousness was near... His salvation did go forth... And His name is Emmanuel. God with us. Jesus.

When we pray, God answers in that same way.

He doesn't put us on the answered-prayer-waiting-list. He speaks and it happens. It may take years for that answer to be visible to us, but it's always visible to God. 

There's one more "listen up" in that passage.

"Listen to Me, you who know righteousness..." He's speaking to us, children of God, and what comes next is pretty wonderful.

"Do not fear... For My righteousness shall be forever, and My salvation to all generations." (Is. 51:8)

This verse speaks specifically of not fearing the reproach of men, but God's Word is so full of "fear not" that I believe we can generalize the fearing. 

It doesn't matter what we face. 

God's righteousness and salvation are forever and for everyone. All generations. His promises are as true today as when they were first spoken. 

No matter what we face, we serve a God who can handle it. His salvation extends to cover it all.

Including the circumstances of my life. And yours.

He's got this world and our specific part in it, so fear not.

It was a beautiful word that I needed, but I nearly missed it because of a wrinkle in my robe. That's a word for us, too.

The preamble to the celebration of Christ's birth is one of the busiest times of the year. We can easily miss the voice of God in the midst of our busyness. How tragic is that? 

Let's make time for Jesus. 

Be still and spend time with our God. 

Listen to Him. He has something to say to us, and it's worth hearing.
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The No-Shame Gift of Grace

If God leads you to help support this ministry, (prayer and outreach, both digital and in-person) you can use this link: Support Leanna's Ministry (use account #4841)

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The No-Shame Gift of Grace

This morning, I reached another of my favorite sections of Isaiah. It's a Messianic prophecy and it speaks of Jesus' last hours before His crucifixion. 

"I gave My back to those who strike Me,
And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard;
I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting,
For the Lord God helps Me,
Therefore, I am not disgraced;
Therefore, I have set My face like flint,
And I know that I shall not be ashamed.
He who vindicates Me is near..."
Isaiah 50:6-8a

It's hard, amidst the sparkle of lights and the glitter of ornaments, to remember that these verses are at the very heart of Christmas, but they are. 

Our precious, kind and loving Jesus wasn't taken. He was given. He wasn't forced. He submitted.

From the moment He burst forth from His mama's womb, Jesus was headed to the cross by way of the striking, plucking, spitting humiliation. 

He could've refused, but He didn't. 

Jesus set His face like flint because He knew that, in the end, He would be vindicated, not ashamed.

He knew what none of His disciples could have ever anticipated. When He rose from the dead and the stone rolled away, all the shame would be gone. No humiliation. Only victory.

It was a hard price to pay, but He paid it for me. For you. 

In a burst of divine mercy I'll never be able to understand, He embraced the beating. The crucifixion. The death. He pressed on because He knew what was on the other side of the pain. He knew what came after the humiliation.

Victory. Joy. Freedom. Reconciliation.

No matter what we face, we, too, can press on because of His example. Life may not be easy here, but one day we'll see the victory. Joy. Freedom. Reconciliation. When we do, it will all be worth it.

Today, let's celebrate the manger and embrace the cross. The Savior has come. The cross has been borne. The grave has been emptied. The work has been done. The no-shame gift of grace has been given. 

Hallelujah what a Savior!
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: We Are Not Forgotten
If God leads you to help support this ministry, (prayer and outreach, both digital and in-person) you can use this link: Support Leanna's Ministry (use account #4841)
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Monday, December 12, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: We Are Not Forgotten

The Christmas season is a time when family and friends gather to celebrate the love of God and their love for one another. Many people, however, spend the season alone. 

It's heartbreaking to feel forgotten at Christmas.

I know a little about that, because I've spent a few Christmases alone. During my residency, I often worked the holiday for the extra income I desperately needed. Since I was single, it was easier for me to work than for those with children. 

My family always accommodated my work schedule, and we always celebrated at a different time. The holiday, spent with desperately ill people who had delayed seeking medical treatment until they couldn't wait anymore, was still a lonely one. I wasn't forgotten, of course, but a part of me still felt like it.

That's how God's people felt. They weren't forgotten, but they felt like they were.

Hard days were ahead for Jerusalem, Isaiah said. The people had sinned in terrible ways. They had built shrines for false gods and worshipped at them. Mingled idol worship with the worship of Almighty God. Sacrificed their children to the idols, literally burned them alive. 

God's people equated material blessings and prosperity with the favor of God.They failed to recognize that his discipline was a sign of His great love for them. He disciplined with the goal of heart-change, not merely suffering. He would watch with eager anticipation to see that the hard times accomplished the work of repentance. 

When judgment and discipline arrived, they would bring sheer agony. God knew it would be a terrible period in the history of Israel, and He anticipated their discouragement and depression.The people of Zion (or Jerusalem) would say, "The Lord has forsaken me... forgotten me." (Isaiah 49:14)

"Not true," God said. "I will never forget you." (Is. 49:15 - Leanna Paraphrase)

"Can a woman forget her nursing child, 
and have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
"Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me."
Isaiah 49:15-16 nasb

Our Lord cannot forget His people because they're inscribed on the palms of His nail-scarred hands. A constant reminder of all those He purchased at Calvary. 

Savor this for a moment:

We are never forgotten. Always known. Always loved. Always remembered.

No matter how lonely, forgotten, or discouraged we feel, God cannot forget us. He has not forgotten us. When we call to Him, He hears. Responds. Loves.

Take heart today, child of God. 

We may forget Him, but He never forgets us. We may abandon Him, but He never abandon us. His nail-scarred hands serve as a constant reminder of the rebellious children who were redeemed, bought back from the slavery of sin, on Calvary's cross.

We are remembered, and we are loved.
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Blessing of Desolation and Barrenness

If God leads you to help support this ministry, (prayer and outreach, both digital and in-person) you can use this link: Support Leanna's Ministry (use account #4841)
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Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Blessing in the Inheritance of Desolation and Barrenness

After two decades of Decembers spent in Isaiah's book, he's become like family to me. I'm familiar with his words and they're like hugs, reminders of God's love and gracious care. They aren't usually surprising, but today I was stopped in my tracks by an odd phrase.

It was a conversation between God and Jesus, in which God promised to make Jesus a covenant (Matthew Henry calls this a "peace treaty between God and man"). The purpose of this new covenant would be to "restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages." Isaiah 49:8 nasb

I read the phrase "desolate heritages" and envisioned an inner city wasteland surrounding an abandoned warehouse. Trash everywhere. Ugly graffiti. Dried out weeds. Burned out cars. It didn't seem appealing at all.

I'm ashamed to admit this, but I prayed, "Lord, you're gonna have a hard time getting takers for a desolate heritage. Who would want that?"

The Still, Small Voice in my heart gave me a two-word reply. "You would."

If that was true, I had clearly missed something. I turned to commentaries and a closer reading of the passage, and I found a beautiful truth.

Without Christ, our only heritage was desolation. We were destined for utter destruction in Hell. 

When we accept the Lordship of Christ, God will take the most barren places in our lives and turn them into fruitfulness. 

He will speak a word, and we who are bound will go forth in freedom.

He will speak to us in the darkness of our souls, "Show yourself." We will step out of darkness into the light of God's love. 

We, formerly in bondage and darkness, will travel along the roads of life and, even though we had nothing, we will have all we need.

Our pasture will be on the bare heights. Does that sound impossible? It would be, if not for the peace treaty of Christ.

Even where there seems to be nothing, God will make a way. We, his freedmen and freedwomen will not be hungry or thirsty. The sun will not "scorch" or overheat us. He will guide us to springs of water. He will make the path clear and the direction unmistakable.

The best part of the treaty is that He, who has compassion on us, will lead us and guide us. We don't have to make our journey through life alone. We don't have to figure it out. 

Our God will help us.

"He who has compassion on them will lead them, and will guide them to springs of water." Isaiah 49:10 nasb

Who would want a desolate heritage? I would. You would. If we understood what God offered in that gift of desolation and barrenness, we'd embrace it with joy.

Today, let's take our eyes off our brokenness, our chains. 

Instead, take a look at the freedom, light, direction, and comfort available. When we allow our chains to fall to the ground, we can step into the light of love. 

It's a beautiful possibility, hard-bought by the Babe in the manger who chose brokenness so that we might be whole.

Christmas is not about a baby in the hay. It's about the peace treaty that snapped our chains and set us free. 

Let's choose freedom and all the presence, provision, and direction of God that come with it. 

Lead, Lord. We want to follow.
ps - the photo above is of the Dead Sea. It's as barren as it comes, but the minerals in the water and the mud are wonderful for your skin. Even there, God brings healing from barrenness. 
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Gift That Was More Than Enough
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