Will You Choose to Hear the Bells?

Last night after an amazing First Wednesday worship service, Greg and Jackie Stewart sent this to me from their devotional (Glimpses of God’s Grace, Donahue):

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was no stranger to the sufferings of war. During the Civil War near the Christmas of 1863, he found out that his son had been injured in battle. How could he bear being so far away from his son on Christmas Day when he desperately wanted to be at his side to help and comfort him?

In spite of his despair, Christmas bells penetrated his sorrow and made him aware of God’s gracious love–a love that could be with him and his son at the same time. As he listened to the chimes, he penned the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

No matter how many wars are fought, no matter how many battles are lost or won, God is near, helping, comforting and guiding those who trust Him. There is no limit to His powerful healing and grace. There is no measure to his love. Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned during such troubled times is that Jesus truly is our Lord of lords, our Prince of Peace.

So I have a new tradition (started it about 5 years ago actually). Every Christmas I google this Youtube video. Yesterday, in the middle of a hectic day, I stopped to listen to the bells. Since 2010, almost 49 million others have done the same! Maybe it will bring peace in the midst of your chaos.

Ero Cras

I am no Latin expert, not by a long shot.  However, one of my favorite Christmas carols is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  Consider the first verse:

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

The outline for the entire hymn dates back to a thousand years ago. A week before Christmas,  Monks would chant poetic verses to commemorate the arrival of Jesus. In the 1800s John Neal took those chants, turned them into a song and called it “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.” The significance of the Gregorian chants are their names for Jesus: wisdom, Adonai (Hebrew name for God), root of Jesse, key of David, dayspring, King of the Gentiles, and Emmanuel.

If you take the first letter of these words in Latin, and read them backward, they spell “ero cras,” a Latin phrase meaning, “I will be present tomorrow.”

That’s the point of Christmas. Christmas is a promise that God will be present tomorrow. Belief that God will be present in all of our tomorrows makes today more bearable. We worry about tomorrow. We fret over the unknown. What if you had a choice: you could either know all of your tomorrows or you could have God with you in all of your tomorrows. You couldn’t handle knowing all your tomorrows at once. The weight of the suffering and the anticipation of the joy would overwhelm you. Having God with you through all of them–that enables you to enjoy today and anticipate tomorrow.

For today, thank God that He is the God of tomorrow.

The Spirit Empowered Life

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. (Romans 7:7-13 ESV)

Paul asks a question: “Is the law sin?” “What a ghastly thought!” Of course not. The law showed him what sin was. He illustrates with coveting. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” What happened when the law said, “Don’t covet.” He wanted to covet—as a matter of fact—coveting of every kind.

In verse 9, he says: “I was once alive apart from the Law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”   In other words, before there was a law, I had no conscious awareness that coveting was a sin. But when the law came, I became aware and I began to sin. And that sin resulted in death for me.”

Notice the purpose of the law—its purpose was to bring life, not death. However, when sin got hold of the law, sin said, “The law says you can’t do this, but you really can and you will really enjoy it. As a matter of fact, the only reason the law says, “no” is because you will have so much fun doing it. So, go ahead. Have a great time. Covet your neighbor’s wife. After all, everybody else is doing it. And your neighbor doesn’t treat her wife quite right anyway.” What has happened? Sin has taken the commandment, “Do not covet,” and turned it into the most desirable thing to do.

Did that which is good then bring death to me? By no means!”   The law did not cause Paul to sin. What then, did the law do? The law simply pointed out what sin was. And not only that. The law made sin look exceedingly sinful.

I love the way Spurgeon explains this.

Paul here calls sin “sinful beyond measure.” Why didn’t he say. “exceedingly black,” or “exceedingly horrible,” or “exceedingly deadly”? Why, because there is nothing in the world so bad as sin. When he wanted to use the very worst word he could find, to call sin by, he called it by its own name, and reiterated it: “sin,” “sinful beyond measure.” For if you call sin black, there is no moral excellency or deformity in black or white. Black is as good as white, and white is as good as black, and you have expressed nothing. If you call sin “deadly,” yet death in itself has no evil in it compared with sin. For plants to die is not a dreadful thing; rather it may be a part of the organization of nature that successive generations of vegetables should spring up, and in due time should form the root-soil for other generations to follow. If you call it “deadly,” you have said but little. If you want a word, you must come home for it. Sin must be named after itself. If you want to describe it, you must call it “sinful.” Sin is “exceedingly sinful.”

That’s what Paul is talking about. The law says, “Do not touch.” We want to touch. And deep in us is a great desire for sin (called the flesh) and the flesh longs to be satisfied. The law simply pointed out sin. Sin used the law to make sin even more attractive. Look back at verse 6. There you see the new motivation. “new way of the Spirit.”

The law is an external, objective standard to which we conform. The Spirit is an internal, subjective Person to whom we relate.

Under His Wings

He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9 ESV)

At the very heart of God is His desire to cover you. God’s wings protect you from life-threatening enemies.

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me. (Psalm 17:8-9 ESV)

God’s wings protect you from the destructive storm.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. (Psalm 57:1 ESV)

God’s wings give you rest.

Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah (Psalm 61:4 ESV)

God’s wings form a canopy of praise when your life is good.

for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. (Psalm 63:7 ESV)

God’s wings shield you from nightmarish nights and difficult days.

He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. (Psalm 91:4-6 ESV)

Jesus’s wings gather you from your wandering ways into the family of God.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34 ESV)

Run to God. Hide under his wings.

Bold Requests of God

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a king,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit,
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine own sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

This favorite Advent carol has six bold requests. Charles Wesley revealed his deep longing for God when he penned the words. I challenge you to make these same requests your own:

Come thou long expected Jesus. Do you really want Jesus to invade your space? To call your heart His home? To become your boss? To be Lord of all of your life? Ask Him. I dare you.

From our fears and sins release us. What is your worst fear? Your greatest temptation? Do you believe He can set you free from it? Do you believe he can break the chains of sin that bind you?

Let us find our rest in thee. Are you weary? Tired of the rat race? Frustrated with the hectic season called Christmas? Tired of trying to keep up with your neighbors, outdo your coworker, impress you relatives? Rest in him. Jesus himself said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.”

Now thy gracious kingdom bring. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…on earth as it is in heaven.” What kingdom thwarting habit are you practicing? Who has been reached through your obedience?

Rule in all our hearts alone. This is a bold request. “Jesus, rule…alone!” No one else. Nothing else. No selfish ambition. Just Jesus.

Raise us to thy glorious throne. Jesus, change us from the inside out. Replace hopelessness with hope. Fill our emptiness with your fullness.  David talked about this in Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:1-3 ESV)

Notice when David was raised to God’s glorious throne–after he patiently waited.  If you are in a pit, put your hand in his and let him draw you out and raise you to his glorious throne. He’ll change your tune! (my paraphrase of “he put a new song in my mouth.”) Then many will see and fear and say, “What happened to her! What’s up with him!”

Today, pray those six requests of Wesley’s old hymn. The next time you sing it, be careful what you ask for!

God is With Us

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:10-14

Ahaz was king of Judah and found himself in a difficult spot. He was threatened by Israel and Syria to the north. Their kings threatened to join forces and invade Judah to the south. God wanted to speak to Ahaz regarding this but Ahaz was afraid to ask for a sign from God. God gave Ahaz infinite parameters: the sign could be as high as heaven and deep as hell! Ahaz saw asking God for a sign as putting God to the test.

God ignored Ahaz’s hesitancy and answered him anyway! As a matter of fact, the language suggests that God was wearied by Ahaz’s refusal to ask for what he needed. So God answered the question Ahaz never asked! His answer: I will be with you. The sign was both for Ahaz and for us.

For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. Isaiah 7:16

In Ahaz’s day, a woman conceived and gave birth to a boy and named him Immanuel. By the time the boy was weaned Israel and Syria had fallen and were no longer a threat to Judah. God made a promise and kept it.  Tomorrow we will see how Joseph struggled just like Ahaz…and again God showed up and answered.

What do you need to ask God for today? What are you afraid to mention? Embarrassed? Shy? Hesitant? Don’t weary Him…ask!