If My People

Several weeks ago, Pastor Matt gave the campus pastors inspiration for a New Year’s Eve weekend service focused on prayer. Something he said stuck with me: “Forget what we’ve done, forget what we’re doing…we need God to move…I want our church to get on our knees and pray.” Yes and amen, pastor!

The idea here is clear: if we want God to move, we need to pray. And this is biblical. The passage that forms the structure of this weekend’s service is 2 Chronicles 7:14-16 (NLT):

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.

If… Grammatically speaking, this 2-letter word typically forms the beginning of a conditional statement. In this translation, the “then” that typically follows the “if” is not present, but it is implied. If my people who are called by my name…then I will…

Understanding conditional statements such as this in scripture is important because we spend a lot of time waiting on God to move in our direction, on our behalf, to bless us or show us the way or answer our prayer. And this, too, is biblical (see Isaiah 40:31, ESV). But, a lot of times, I believe God is waiting on us to move in his direction. One of my favorite examples of this is a crucial exchange between Moses and God as the Israelites are stuck between two impossibilities: the Egyptian army behind them and the Red Sea ahead of them. The Israelites are freaking out, Moses is telling them to chill out, and then this: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me?’ Tell the people of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:15, NLT). This was not the time to wait on God. This was the time for them to move forward in faith, per the instruction God had already given them.

So, how do we move forward as we anticipate 2018? In the 2 Chronicles passage, we are to move toward God by a) humbling ourselves (i.e. recognizing that God is God and we are not); b) praying; c) seeking his face (i.e. becoming aware of the presence of God in and around us); and d) turning from our wicked ways (i.e. repenting from our sins). If we do this, then we can be sure that God is always faithful to do his part. Whatever follows the “then I will…” is as good as done. And who doesn’t want God to “hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and restore their land?”

However, there is one very significant difference between the context for the 2 Chronicles passage and where we stand today. In 2 Chronicles, King Solomon was leading the Israelites in a dedication ceremony for the first, magnificent temple built in Jerusalem. This was to be the singular, unique space for the presence of God to manifest and dwell. The Hebrew word shekinah captures this concept. As followers of Jesus, we experience a grand and mysterious reality that words simply cannot articulate: our physical bodies are now the temple of the Most High God.

This brings beautiful, New Testament meaning to verse 16: “For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.” God has chosen us. God has set us apart to be holy. We are the very place where the name of Jesus is to be honored forever. God will always watch over us, for we…are dear to his heart.

As Sandals Church moves toward God in prayer this weekend, are you ready to humble yourself, pray, seek his face, and turn from your wicked ways with us? Then, we will see God move in and through us, the temple of the living God. And what a sight to behold that will be! Let’s do this, church.

God With Us

The stars were as freckles on the cheeks of the night sky. They danced and hummed like neon; like a vacancy sign. Being a bit nosey, the moon bled its secondhand sunlight through the top of the stable. Reflecting off of a newborn’s eyes that were but minutes old. Underneath those eyes was a tiny chest. Rising and falling.

Inside that tiny chest was a little heart pushing blood to a multitude of organs. A miniature liver, a brand new stomach, and a very young brain to name a few. The baby, a boy, was getting sleepy as he rubbed his eyes. Fingerprints, unique to him, pressed into his finally subdued tear ducts. Showing his gums to the room, he yawned largely.

Also in the stable was a woman and man. The woman was clutching the newborn and rubbing the fuzz on his head. Afterbirth and blood had dried and bound the hay and dirt to her legs and feet. She didn’t mind though, as fatigue was calling her toward sleep. It had already come for the man as he was asleep next to her, propped up against the wall of the shelter.

She got up, feeling how tight her muscles had become and shuffled to one of the mangers. Lowering the baby into the manger, she pulled tight his blanket. Not soon after she waddled back to her spot next to her man the three of them all fell asleep for the night. As the three slept off the night’s events, the outside was peeking in from holes in the roof and walls. It felt as if God was breathing over them and playing metronome for their dreams.

Wretch that I am, with red hands outward, this is the gift that found me. Fashioned cell by cell, in a virgin’s womb and delivered in a manger of hay. This first Christmas’ present was not concealed by wrapping paper nor fanciful bag. There were no bows on my undeserving endowment.

God Himself was made into a human being and born into this world. I rack my brain in search of words that are better to make that statement explode off of the page. There are none that I know. The beginning and end took on a pulse, accepted a mouth full of teeth, to reach me. To reach us.

Magnitude that steps outside of space and around time made himself into an eight pound infant. The hands that knit together DNA, the ones that pulled up mountains and pressed down oceans, became flesh and bone. As a gift, the highest of high was born low for us.

I can’t help but wonder what was worse for God the father that night, the chosen inability to silence the baby’s tears or the known eventuality of his life. For this was the header of a love letter to be punctuated with torture and death. The manger would give way to the cross.

I can’t help but wonder what it felt like to send him to us. Was it like a good friend moving out of state? Was it like a daughter being walked down the aisle? Was it like a son going off to war? Perhaps it was something like we will never know. Perhaps we should be thankful for that.

I can’t help but wonder if it was worth it. I know what evil we are capable of. Things that I have said and the things that I have done have been as spit on that gift. I have refused the present and I have left it unopened. Did you know that as you sent him still? Did you see me refuse it the hundred times before I accepted it? Did it make you think twice?

As I write this now I am looking at ornaments on the Christmas tree in my living room. Each one of them a different memory, a different story. A couple of them are beautiful and made out of blown glass or polished ceramic. Most of them, however, are ugly. They are made out of paper, plastic, and some other mystery material better to be left unknown.

The ugly ones, those are my favorite. They stick out like beacons of light on a foggy coast and they direct my thoughts to memories to very safe havens. Telling stories unique to my life, my story, and my family they make me feel at home. Collectively on the living room evergreen and radiating their worth.

I like to think that God thinks of us, believers, this same way. I like to think that we are all bound together by a tree and safe inside God’s living room. My hope is that God looks at all of us and is flooded with memories of love and adoration. The pretty ones, right next to the ugly ones all equally enjoyed by the one who dressed the tree.

Down at the bottom at the foundation of the tree is a gift. The gift is wrapped in a stable with holes in the roof and walls. It is held in a manger filled with hay. There are three people sleeping inside of it. A man, a woman, and a perfect little boy.

Reflect on this…

  • Imagine yourself being at the side of the manger on the first Christmas. Try to visualize the scene with all five senses. Read Luke 2 while in this mindset.
  • Ponder the magnitude of God’s decision to become like us and into our world. Consider the sacrifice that was made. How does this affect your view of God?
  • If you had a Christmas tree decorated with memories of your relationship with God, what would it look like? What would your favorite “ornament” be?