I saw a movie last night and cried for the joy in it. It felt like heaven broke through to earth, and I found even more joy when I realized that this movie isn’t stirring my heart in-and-of itself, but because it echoes the joy of that Far Country, where we will sing and dance for joy all our days.
We cannot imagine more joy than is real and waiting. Happy endings are what we long for because they are what we were born for. Eternity will be the happiest ending ever, so happy that even our best tries at capturing it, like this movie, pale in comparison to the reality.
It was a wonderful way to feel at the end of a hard year. And it reminded me that while a new year would begin the next day with its unknown highs and lows, the sure and certain end of life as we know it will be this: very great and eternal joy.
Revelation’s last words from yesterday still resonate, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Yes. This.
“And God said…”
God, you’ve said quite a lot. You’ve been speaking love and life into existence and telling us how to live it since the beginning of time. You’ve been communicating your plan for saving us to every generation as far back as Adam and Eve. And you’ve made sure that your words were written down. But your word isn’t just the printed words on the pages of the Bible, handed down from forever ago. Though of course, it is that.
Your word is also The Word who was with you in the beginning, the same Word who was made human and lived with us, the Word who now lives inside us, the One who makes your words come alive to woo and scrub and guide us, 1 Jn 1; 6:63; 1 Co 2; He 4:12.
It’s fitting on this first day of a new year and on the first day of a year-long read of God’s word, that we begin with the beginning of everything that came into existence by God’s word (in Genesis) and with the beginning of Jesus, God’s Word-made-flesh (in Matthew), and with the benefits of being planted in those words (in Psalms and Proverbs).
Besides God’s word as a connecting point between the One Year Bible passages today, there’s also the mentioning of trees. In Genesis, God puts two trees in the middle of the garden, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Whether or not the first family heeds God’s words about them profoundly impacts the rest of humanity and will set in motion God’s saving plan.
In Matthew, we read of the Word of God made flesh, the man of God’s saving plan. Jesus’ family tree of human ancestry is given and then the story of his birth and worth is told. And in Psalms, we read of a tree planted by water that never withers because it drinks in God’s words and delights in them.
But the Bible is more than simply a history of the Jews and of Jesus or a “How-To” for successful living. It is that, but it’s a bigger and better story than just that. It’s the story of a loving, holy God who reaches out for intimate relationship with the people he’s made in the world he’s given them.
The story in Genesis begins with a setting–God’s creation of the world. He includes the characters–a husband and wife made “in his image” and commanded to fill, rule, and subdue the earth as God would, for good. It’s a story of God’s intended rich-and-full life for all, connected to one another and to him.
And like all good stories, there’s also a dilemma. The perfect couple refuses to know God and to live his way. They choose instead to know evil as well as good, something God never meant they should.
Their choosing sin (in tomorrow’s reading) is the context for God’s intervention—the best part of the story. The Son of God would come and live and die to rise and give life all over again as God originally intended—rich-and-full life for all with him.
And like all the best stories, there’s a happily-ever-after end. In fact, this story is really the model for all stories with happy ends. The very last words of the Bible are said by Jesus, who promises to return to begin the life that never ends, and by God’s people who wait for him, “‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen,” Re 22:21.
Today, the grand story of the Bible begins and is told by three different writers, all guided by God’s Spirit: Moses writes of Adam and Eve in the garden, Matthew writes of Jesus’ ancestry and birth, and the psalmist writes of the one who drinks God’s words like water.
God’s main message in his story is that he is for us even when we’re against him. We know this is true because he gives us the Savior, Jesus, and his words in the Bible, both of which help us to find him. The Bible tells many stories of God’s patience with his forgetful, wandering people, those who have to repent over and over again. These stories show us the unfathomable kindness of the Father, who never misses the chance to show his love to people who don’t deserve it, Ro 8:31; 1Jn 4:19; Lk 15.
“And God said” or “Then God said” is written nine times in these first two chapters of Genesis. It was God’s creating and powerful Word that made everything we see and are, and it’s his creating and powerful Word that makes us right with him again, despite our sin. Because of Jesus, God keeps his offer on the table and his door open for anyone who wants to come in.
What God says and writes to us matters. While some of his words are cloaked in mystery, there are many more that are plain and clear. Will we hear? If you’ve ever lived without the words you most need, you know how precious they are when you finally hear them. They are life giving, healing, soothing. God’s words are like this, too.
But they’re more.
The words I read that get my attention are the ones that comfort, that resonate. These are the ones God highlights for me. But sometimes they reach off the page and knock me upside the head. These are the ones I need, too. God’s words are gentle and warm. Tender and intimate. But also sharp and penetrating. Convicting. Hard. They are all of these things and more. And why wouldn’t they be? They are just like him–like a harbor in a storm and a jackhammer that breaks up hard ground.
I haven’t always experienced them like this. They put me to sleep for a lot of years. But since I’ve been reading through the Bible with my pen and paper (or computer) in hand, something changed. For one thing, I stopped falling asleep. And for another, I’ve begun to feel a personal connection with them. I don’t know how this happened, but I assume it’s what God’s Spirit does, who lives in his word, Ze 4:6; Jn 6:63; He 4:12.
What I’m sure about is that when I sit down, I’ve got nothing with me, not even the desire to begin. What I have is my time and my One Year Bible and my empty self, asking to be filled again. Sometimes I’m distracted by the gag reflex I feel, by “what’s wrong with me?” when I begin, but I remind myself this is just part of my human condition, of being allergic to God and his word.
The spark and the flame I need come from him.
Like Frodo who said, “Speak friend and enter,” the Doors of Durin creak open for me because when I come to God, I come in the name of The Friend who gives me access to him. This is the One who gives me the family pass into the throne room, the One who made me God’s beloved daughter, the One who made the God-of-the-Universe my tender Papa.
In the same way the manna in the desert spoiled and didn’t hold over until the next day, the lesson and the love I find today won’t hold over into tomorrow. No matter how good my time is in God’s word today, when I get up in the morning, I’ll be empty again. Even when I read back over what I gather and write now, tomorrow it will feel flat, the fresh air of God’s presence all leaked out.
It’s hard to have to start over everyday and come empty, God. But I’m grateful you give me what I need. Thank you for your words and for getting me up to read them. How lost I would be without them! How lost I sometimes feel, even with them! Open my eyes and ears and heart to more of the treasure and beauty they are.
Dazzle me again this year with the feast you set before me. Keep me on my knees enough so I will need you and read what you’ve written. Thank you for the gift of Jesus and for giving me your Spirit as well as your presence.
“And God said…” is one of my favorite things about you. Let your words be the ones I listen for and live by.
(The movie I saw was “Mary Poppins Returns.” 😬)
Here is the genealogy of Jesus. Looking it over, I see that it begins with Abraham and ends with Jesus, and is written mainly as an ancient “father, of the father, of the father” family tree, and I think, let’s get on with the story.
But when I read more closely, I see there are some mothers mentioned, too, and I’m stunned. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, “Uriah’s wife.” These mothers?
Wasn’t Tamar so determined to have a child, she pretended to be a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law? Wasn’t Rahab a whore? Wasn’t Ruth from Moab an immigrant, an alien from a pagan nation? Wasn’t “Uriah’s wife,” Bathsheba, the rooftop bather David seduced, an adulteress? These are the ones I’d hide on a back branch if they were in my family tree.
But then I think, maybe this is the story. Jesus was a friend of sinners, after all. He reached out to the blind and broken, to the promiscuous woman at the well, to the demon possessed Mary Magdalene, to the despised Zaccheus. He was criticized by the goody-goodys for hanging out and eating with the riff-raff and the nobodys. Jesus’ people have always been the ones others overlook. Fishermen. Children. Outcasts. Crooks.
Jesus never cared much for who was cool or for spiritual show-offs. He called the religious people of his day hypocrites and white washed tombs, Mt 23:27. Jesus wasn’t exactly making friends at the synagogue. When he came to town, he went to the sick and the poor and the scoundrels, not to the who’s who, not to the pious.
He said it was because they didn’t think they needed him. “…Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,'” Mk 2:17. They weren’t sick, so they didn’t need healing. They weren’t sinful, so they didn’t need a Savior. Jesus doesn’t twist anybody’s arm. He usually just goes where he’s wanted. I know I do. Often times the ones who want him, just happen to be the ones who know they need him. Their doors are wide open.
It was your idea to include these women in Jesus’ geneology, God, and I’m not sure of all the reasons why, but maybe they were just the kinds of people Jesus was born to save. At least two of the women came to real faith in you. You weave into Jesus’ story the stories of all who came before him, a tapestry of broken men and women, some of whom come to great faith and others who don’t. You’re not an arm twister either.
I’m encouraged that you aren’t looking for the good people, the beautiful people, the ones who seem to have it all together. I’m thankful that you value immigrants and the poor and the homeless and the hookers. I’m thankful because my story isn’t clean either. I’ve thought I was too-good-for-grace for most of my life, and then fell from it in a deliberate backslide into my dark side. And then I just wallowed for a while.
Thank you for extending grace to anyone who asks for it, no matter how long it takes them to ask, no matter what they’ve done. I read the other day that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” in Romans 5. What a comfort that is. I can’t outspend your bottomless bank account of grace. I get to keep repenting and returning to you over and over, and you keep paying out and forgiving, pouring your costly love all over me.
But isn’t that dangerous, like leaving piles of cash lying around the house? I mean, won’t people take advantage of such extravagant grace? Maybe. Paul said your “kindness is intended to lead [us] to repentance,” not sin, Ro 2:4.
And for those who take advantage of it, deliberately sinning, cheapening grace, well, Paul has some sobering words for them, too. They are “storing up wrath against [themselves] for the day of God’s wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed,” Ro 2:5.
I think that’s Greek for “ass whuppin’.”
This psalm reminds me that the one who delights in your word and chews on it day and night will be blessed and watched over. I want your blessing and protection, God. I want more than just a New Year’s resolution of hope and good wishes for the year. I want a straight up guarantee of the best life you’ve got for me. Psalm 1 sounds like one.
For one thing, you say that this person is like a tree that’s never dry–it’s fruitful and doesn’t wither. And that whatever she does prospers. As I’m looking forward to my 63rd birthday this year, I think, hey, this kind of perk for being in your word appeals to me. No drying up and shriveling!
Also there’s the prospering. I like prospering. And there’s blessing and protection. Your idea of blessing is pretty intense, if I remember it right. It includes “always being at the top, never at the bottom,” De 28:13. That speaks.
And so does this part of Psalm 1:
“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners’ take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither–
whatever they do prospers…
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.”
Psalm 1:1-3, 6
I’m thinking now about the movie last night and the wild joy I felt watching it, and right here in Psalm 1, God says I can find blessing and a joyful life by delighting in his word.
The Kellers agree, saying “…to know how to meditate on and delight in the Bible is the secret to a relationship with God and to life itself,” (Timothy and Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus). If I’m blessed the way the Bible talks about blessing, the way you yourself have written of it in Deuteronomy 28, there will be no end to joy in this life–and the next.
No end to joy?
What’s more, my story gets woven into Jesus’ story, like Rahab’s and Ruth’s, because my faith in Jesus puts me smack dab in the middle of his family tree. I’m God’s adopted child and a co-heir with Christ, and I get to share his glory, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us,” Ro 8:16-18.
Sometimes I struggle with what happens day-to-day. Thank you for your promise to bless me and watch over me and make me prosper, Ps 1:1,3,6. Thank you for your promise that nothing today will compare with the glory that’s ahead for me, Ro 8:18. Help me to believe your words so deeply that I feel them.
My take away today is the hope of having no end of joy one day. While life today has stabs of joy along the way, it’s never a life without suffering. But one day, Paul says the glory that will be revealed in us will be so great, it will make our sufferings of today feel minor by comparison.
And until that day comes, I have God’s words. He speaks a rich story of forgiveness and grace from Genesis all the way through Revelation. And he promises that delighting in his words will make me blessed. Thriving. Vibrant. Alive. [This sounds like a retirement plan worth looking into].
And I have assurance from his Spirit that I’m his child, a member of his family, a co-heir with Christ. What do I really have to worry about with the King of Kings as my Dad, and me his Glory Child?
Thank you, God, for the forever joy I have in you. For the blessings all around and pouring down because of Jesus. For lavish, extravagant, stacks-of-cash kinds of grace. For the hope of a future full of glory with you and all the blessings you bring today.
I thought wild joy was plenty, but OK, I could get used to some incomparable glory, too.