Welcome to a sacred place!
For what looks like words may be life. And what is spelled out in black and white may be transformative.
“…what happens in the next few minutes borders on the holy…The quietness will slow my pulse, the silence will open my ears, and something sacred will happen. The soft slap of sandaled feet will break the stillness, a pierced hand will extend a quiet invitation, and I will follow.”
~ Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, p. 19
The day held a sense of expectation. As I took my place in the pew at the Beth Moore simulcast, I knew God was going to do something great. But, as each session slipped by, so did the hope that God would speak to me in a personal way. Until the afternoon session…
After lunch, I engaged a woman who had prayed the opening prayer, mostly because I was interested in receiving the Bible study she had written on Nehemiah. We chit-chatted a bit and then an unusual thing happened. She looked me dead in the eyes and said, “May I pray for you?” Not knowing how life-changing the next few moments would be, I answered, “Sure”, in a rather nonchalant way. What transpired in those few moments has become the impetus for this website.
She prayed a powerful, Spirit-inspired, prophetic prayer over my life. I have no accurate recollection of the specific words that were spoken; I just had the awesome sense of being in the very presence of God and hearing Him speak directly into my soul. She prayed over my ministry. She prayed over my family. She prayed over my future, but most importantly, she prayed an answer to a prayer I had been winging toward heaven for close to six years. I had been seeking God for something I could do for the Kingdom that was tailor-made for me and this stranger named my specific niche in ministry. She called it out from the hazy boundaries of my subconscious and the oblivion of my fearful desires and she birthed in me a monumental dream: a dream of writing.
The Lord joined this dream to the trauma I had experienced through my lifetime to create something new, something bold, something transformed. He formulated a vision in me of how that dream might play out, “You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isa 48:12b)
God has taken me on a number of detours since that day: a left-turn at heartache, an underpass of pregnancy in my 40’s, a bridge out sign directing us to move countries, and a traffic jam of waiting on God. Another almost-six years have passed me by since that startling day and God is calling me out again. This call feels similar – to inhale His truths, to breathe out life through the medium of words – and yet different, because I am different. God has broken me down and has begun His good work of rebuilding me brick by painstaking brick.
I am humbled by this opportunity and greatly conscious of my inherent weaknesses. But I invite you to join me as I write with passion, with trepidation, and with, what I feel, is a powerful undergirding of the Spirit. Will you join me in helping to rebuild some walls in our lives and in the lives of those who are broken around us?
The Sun is Healing
Part 2 of 5
Don’t stay in the sun too long! Put on your sunscreen! Make sure you wear a hat!
If you are a mother, you’ve probably repeated words similar to these at one time or another. The fact is: sunlight is very strong and can be very damaging. I remember a certain trip to the beach when I was in about fourth grade that left me and two other friends covered with blisters. We all had to stay home from school for a couple of days due to pain and fever, sleeping on the cold cement floor because of its welcome relief. Both the lack of protection from the sun and the lack of caution about the amount of time spent in the sun can be very costly mistakes.
But did you know that the sun’s rays can be very healing? Exposure in small increments over a period of days is actually very important to the body’s overall health. Check out these ways that the sun can be a healing influence in the body:
- Sunlight can help prevent certain types of cancer and diabetes.
- Sunlight can help build stronger bones by increasing the vitamin B content in your body.
- The sun’s light kills bad bacteria.
- Sunlight can help skin disorders heal.
- Sunlight can lower cholesterol and blood pressure
- Sunlight increases oxygen in the blood, enhancing stamina and muscle development.
- The sun’s rays can cleanse the blood and blood vessels.
- Sunlight builds the immune system.
- Sun exposure improves sleep quality.
- Sunlight increases the growth and height of children, especially babies.
- Sun exposure relieves aches and pains.
- Sunlight can cure depression, especially seasonal affective disorder (SAD), by increasing serotonin.
- The sun can help you fight stress.
- Sunlight boosts fertility.
- Sun exposure improves brain function.
- Sun can help you lose weight.
Many doctors have used light therapy to improve mood, shrink tumors, and help build up the immune system. Going out in the sun three times a week for about 15 minutes each time helps build up the body’s tolerance without overwhelming the skin. It is also important to avoid the sun when it is at its zenith. People in Asia use umbrellas to shield them from the sun, which is quite effective, by the way. The key to good health is always to exercise moderation.
A Brief Review
“Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
Welcome to the second Sunday of Advent, where we are looking at the Christmas story and some of its main characters through a different lens this season. Usually, thoughts are centered on love, joy or peace as these truths relate to the Nativity, but this year, we are viewing the manger through the eyes of Zechariah, as seen in Luke 1:78-79. Here, Christ is depicted as a rising sun. Last week, we saw that the Rising Sun came because of the tender mercy of our God. We studied how Mary encountered that mercy and was enabled to move forward in faith, despite some formidable obstacles.
This week, I want to spend some time zoning in on a beautiful description about this Rising Sun. We will actually be camping in another corresponding passage, drawing from the Old Testament, which will further enlighten our Christmas passage. We’ll find this incredible augmentative passage in Malachi.
Turn with me to Malachi 4:2, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” Notice briefly four principles with me:
- This Sun is righteous.
- This Sun rises with healing in its wings.
- The result of the rising is unbridled joy.
- These blessings come for those who revere God’s name.
Righteousness: This is a very interesting word, meaning “rightness, rectitude, justice, virtue, prosperity.” It has a lot to do with justice as used in government; for example, justice having to do with the law. It speaks of God’s character as being altogether right and truthful. But it also speaks of justification, vindication and salvation. It comes from the root word, “to be or make right, to cleanse, clear self, to be turned to righteousness, to be justified…” (ESV Strong’s).
In short, this righteous Sun - this holy, pure, and just Sun - is rising with a very strong purpose in mind: to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9). All our righteous acts are like filthy rags, Isaiah 64:6 declares, so God, in the form of a purifying Sun, is rising to burn away our “righteousness” and give us His imputed righteousness. Folks, this is the message of the gospel, and it is clearly seen in how this Rising Sun approaches Joseph (We will look at this in a few moments.)
Healing: This is the thought I want to camp on mostly today, but suffice it to say, God’s desire is not to destroy us because we are unrighteous, which is really what we deserve. Instead, God wants to heal us from the inside to the outside. His goal is one of restoration and renewal.
Joy: Picture a bunch of immature calves bawling at the gate to their pasture. They are shoving and lowing because they know that freedom and satiation are coming. Then comes the moment of release and they cavort and kick up their heels for joy due to their new-found freedom.
This is the picture of the end result of God’s righteous healing process. After the Rising Sun comes to heal us from our unrighteous lifestyle, there is joy and gladness and singing. We can literally kick up our heels like young, free calves, excited by the process of refining and healing because we experience the end result: true freedom.
Reverence: The root word here - and the word that is translated into many versions - is the word ‘fear'. It literally means “to fear, to revere, to frighten” (ESV Strong’s). To know God is to fear Him; those who know this Rising Sun stand in awe of Him. They honor, respect, revere and fear His name.
The people that live life in the fear of the Lord have so much to look forward to: imputed righteousness; healing from sin’s ravages; and ultimately, freedom and joy. Those who do not fear God’s name cannot claim any of these amazing promises. Reverence is the door that unlocks these rich treasures.
The Sun Is Healing
In the introduction, I shared with you some ways that the sun’s rays can literally heal sickness in our body. Of course your realize that, while these facts are true, they are not the type of healing that is intended in Malachi 4:2. The healing that needs to take place in our lives is spiritual, and can only be done by a divine Surgeon, with supernatural ability in His “wings.”
Today I want to look at Joseph’s point of view, especially as He is confronted with the Rising Sun. I want you to see that the Sun’s rays, when they alighted on this righteous man, were intended to heal thoughts, motives, and actions that were sick to Joseph’s very core, despite his being a devout-looking and upright-appearing man.
This same Sun desires to heal us in similar ways, even though we may look like we have this spiritual life downpat. In truth, we desperately need the Sun’s healing in our core every bit as much as Joseph did. We find Joseph’s story in Matthew 1:19-25. Step with me into the Sun’s healing warmth...
The Sun Heals Us From Disgrace
Disgrace forms a gloomy background to the whole Christmas story. Almost every one of the characters are steeped in it, hopeless to rise from it. Guilt. Condemnation. Shame. Ostracization. All of these contribute to the darkness that desperately needs the Sun’s healing rays.
Elizabeth knew disgrace. As old as she was and still barren? Barrenness was akin to lovelessness, uselessness, lack of productivity. Elizabeth had tried year after year, I’m sure, to conceive, to no avail. Imagine her feelings as nieces younger than her married and conceived. Think about the guilt she felt in her marriage, not being able to give her husband what he desired. Conceive of the shafts of pain that stabbed her heart every time a child ran to his mother in her immediate vicinity. Her empty womb disgraced her publicly and privately.
Zechariah, though a respected Levite, understood disgrace. To have been chosen to make sacrifices in the Holy of Holies was a once-in-a-lifetime honor. He stood in the very presence of God. He sacrificed for the sins of his people. He talked with an angel and yet, he still did not believe. Struck dumb by a righteously angry God, he exited the temple, disgraced by his lack of faith. His silent mouth announced his disgrace to a watching world.
Mary had to have experienced disgrace. Having a child before she was married was an act punishable by death, yet there she was: no marriage consummation, no husband, no understandable explanation, and a very round belly. Imagine the stares that bore into her back on the street. Think about the whispers that followed her in the marketplace. Conceive of the suffering caused by the rejection she must have felt at Joseph’s shocked face when she told him. Her pregnancy clothes augmented the disgrace of bearing a child out of wedlock.
The shepherds lived in disgrace. Shepherding was not a job for the rich and wealthy. Even though sheep were common in a Judean countryside and shepherding was a common living, shepherds were considered to be the lowest dregs of society. Smelly. Uneducated. Seemingly purposeless. A job, even a child could do. To tend sheep was to tend a dead-end life. A shepherd’s crook told the tale of a lifestyle ornamented with disgrace.
Anna was a God-fearing, upright woman. She is described in glowing terms in her short story in the Bible, yet she was a widow. Luke 2:36 tells us that she had lived with her husband seven years from the time that she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. While widowhood is not a disgrace in and of itself, there are no children attributed to her in the scriptures. Without a son to carry on her husband’s name, she probably faced some of the same disgrace that Elizabeth did. Not only that, but as a widow, she was probably more dependent on others around her for food, shelter, and clothing. There were no life insurance policies back in those days. Her years of widowhood and the lack of an heir signified barrenness, just as disgraceful in biblical times as a marriage that was childless.
And then there was Joseph. Joseph had done everything by the book. Matthew described him as a just and righteous man (Mt. 1:19). Imagine his surprise when Mary told him her story. Think about his dilemma as he began to count the cost of either having his wife-to-be stoned or divorced quietly. Conceive of his suffering. This was the woman he had pledged himself to live out the rest of his days with. He had chosen Mary from among every other woman. He had hoped she would bear him children to carry on his family name. Now, all was lost, or so he thought. Mary’s burgeoning belly signified untold disgrace to his good name and an end to all of his precious dreams.
Life is full of contrasts. A beautiful rainbow marches across the sky only when rain clouds begin to scurry out of its way. Water, a mostly tasteless entity, becomes incredibly sweet and refreshing when a person is dying of thirst. A baby’s cry sounds like a trumpet call in the midst of an otherwise silent night. In the same way, light shines brightest when life is darkest.
How can we see the sun’s rays more clearly if we have not first experienced the blackness of the night? How do we appreciate the sun’s warmth if we are not first chilled to the bone? How does the sunlight guide our footsteps if we have not just been stumbling in the dark? It can’t. The reality of the sun becomes even more poignant when a person has been living out the opposite experience, marking time in the dark.
God allowed hopeless tendrils of disgrace to wind their way into everyone’s lives so that they would more clearly see His healing rays of grace. The lifting of Joseph’s shame began when an angel appeared to him in a dream (Mt. 1:20). God reached down and pulled back the curtains of reproach that veiled Joseph’s eyes, illuminating them with His rays of mercy. Grace acted to lift Joseph’s disgrace and begin the healing process, the process that would then motivate him to act with grace toward Mary and others.
The Sun Heals Us From The Law
Joseph is described in the Word as a righteous man (Mt. 1:19 - NIV). This word means “equitable (in character or act); by implication, innocent, holy...just, righteous.” My ESV Strong’s goes on to give some more information on the type of person Joseph was: “I) righteous, observing divine laws, A) upright, keeping the laws of God, 1) of those who seem to themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves in their virtues, whether real or imagined, 2) Innocent, faultless, guiltless, 3) Used of him whose way of thinking, feeling and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life.”
The first definition seems to correspond to our word ‘self-righteous,’ one who sees himself as good and prides himself on being right. I do not believe this is the quality Matthew wants us to remember about Joseph. Instead, I believe he is purporting the second thought, that Joseph really tried his best to conform to God’s laws and didn’t really have any sin in his life that got in the way of his obedience.
His righteousness was not going to help him in this case, however. After Mary told him her story, which I don’t think he really believed, he felt he had two options. (The fact that he did not contemplate marrying her shows me that he did not really believe that the child was born of God.) The law stated that a woman pregnant out of wedlock was worthy of death. Joseph was a righteous, law-abiding man, so he was not really interested in this option. There would be too much public disgrace, for him and for Mary.
He clung to the caveat in the law, his only other option. That same woman could be divorced quietly so both parties’ reputations could be protected. This option was the one toward which he was leaning because he was a righteous man. He wanted to do what was best for Mary and keep within the confines of the law.
But the Sun’s rays shone on still a third option, not necessarily the one that seemed righteous. Joseph could believe her words, marry her anyway, and absorb all of the shame she carried. He could literally do what Jesus would do: love her in spite of appearances and affirm the words she spoke by taking her to be his wife, taking the dishonor she bore upon himself.
You see, this is the way of the Rising Sun. To live out every jot and tittle of the law is not always the most righteous thing to do. Jesus hung out with sinners. He “worked” on the Sabbath. He did not teach His disciples to fast as other rabbis did. All in all, the Most Righteous One appeared unrighteous to the self-righteous because He chose to obey God rather than men.
This was the path to which the Sun led Joseph. Grace over justice. Obedience over appearances. Imputed righteousness over self-righteousness. And this is the path Joseph chose to walk. Waking from his dream, he took Mary home as his wife (Mt. 1:24). He obeyed the voice of God rather than the earlier-prescribed laws of God and this brought joy to his family and complete, unfettered freedom to you and me.
The Sun Heals Us From Fear
The angel brought up an interesting word in his address to Joseph. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…” (Mt. 1:20b) Do you see that word ‘afraid?’ Think of fear as the gas that drove Joseph’s engine of righteousness. He desired to be righteous, appear righteous, live in just-ness, but the motivation was incredibly common: fear. He was driven by fear to do the right thing, which, ironically, almost pushed him to do the wrong thing.
I talked about this topic last week when we looked at Mary’s story, but the theme continues here, so I will mention it again. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 Jn. 4:18)
The righteous, law-abiding choice for Joseph was punishment. He was to either have her killed or he would divorce her quietly. The angel told him not to be afraid. Why? Because God’s love, if he embraced it, would cast out any fears he might have about their union. As he abandoned himself to God’s love, he would become complete within the confines of that love. Complete enough that he would then be able to embrace any shame or disgrace others might feel, without becoming unrighteous in God’s eyes.
I just finished a relatively new book called Outlaw by Ted Dekker (2013). The setting is Irian Jaya in a made-up valley called Tulim. (I could identify with much of this book for I was born in Irian Jaya and lived on the same mission station as Ted Dekker’s family, a station close to the made-up tribe that Ted calls the Tulim. He even used the Dani language in his book, the language of the people of Karubaga, where I lived for almost five years.)
Ted weaved a story of a woman called by a dream to go to a particular tribe. She obeyed the dream and began her journey with a two-year old son. A storm capsized her boat and she was then captured by a fearsome tribe. Thinking her son was lost to her, she gave up on life. Then, while her life hung in the balance in so many ways, she encountered the Lord in a most awesome moment. This changed her life and gave her the ability to make a choice regarding her son that was still within the confines of the Warik’s law.
In the end, change came to this valley, a stronghold of Satan. Change came through Julian, the fear-filled slave. She sang a song of love, even forgiving her captor and tormentor of eighteen years. You see, fear fueled fear. The unknown fueled fear. Punishment fueled fear. Suppression and oppression fueled fear, but in the end, love broke down fear. Her son, Stephen, submitted to love and began to coach her into submitting to God’s love. In the end, Satan’s stronghold was decimated.
In a similar way, the stronghold of fear in Joseph’s life was broken by the mercy and grace of God. The angel showed him a new way, a love-filled way, and when he believed God’s Words, he came to truly understand God’s love. This love cast out the fear in his heart, replacing it with a confident desire to do God’s will.
The Sun Heals Us From Sin
At the end of the angel’s monologue, he says these words, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt. 1:21) This might not make much sense until you know the meaning of the word Jesus: ‘Jehovah is salvation’.
Now what is a bit confusing is how this name refers to the name, Immanuel, which is stated in verse twenty-three. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” - which means, “God with us.” (v 23) This is a quote from Isaiah 7:14 so Matthew brings this verse out of the past to indicate the type of birth Jesus would experience. But the Messiah is not called Immanuel, but Jesus. What is happening in this passage?
Nobody says this better than Tyndale…”The point is not that Jesus ever bore Immanuel as an actual name, but that it indicates his role, bringing God’s presence to man. This meaning is related to that of his actual name, Jesus, in that it is sin which separates man from God’s presence so that salvation from sin results in ‘God with us’” (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries).
In that incredible dream, the angel told Joseph that the Rising Sun would become “God with us.” Christ, the healing Sun would come near and by that proximity would save all mankind from their sins. In that moment, Joseph believed all that the angel told him. He knew his life was rife with sin, despite his righteous appearance. He knew he needed God to be with him...always. And so he accepted this truth, believed it enough to do the seemingly “wrong” thing, and acted in the light of Jesus’ coming salvation.
We know this truth as well. Salvation, by way of justification, has redeemed us from a lifetime of sin. It is a done deal for those who are in Christ Jesus. But salvation still works its way throughout our lives as we apply it daily. As we receive the Word implanted in us, it continues to save our souls on a daily basis (Jas 1:21b). Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, and this Jesus, our Savior, lives within us and is presently working to continue to heal us from the ravages of daily sin. We are truly, continually, “saved by His life!” (Rom. 5:10)
What a promise! What a restoration! What potential for healing!
The Dream of Saint Joseph
Philippe de Champaigne came from Flanders and was born and trained in Brussels. He moved to Paris in 1621 and began his career working on the decoration of the Luxembourg Palace for the queen mother. He was later employed by Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, for whom he painted a number of very famous portraits. He was also well-known for his religious paintings, such as The Dream of Saint Joseph, painted in 1642-3 (content borrowed from www.nationalgallery.org.uk).
Notice with me a couple of key elements in his painting (www.theguardian.com/). The first is that Champaigne clearly felt it was important for us to know Joseph’s livelihood. At the forefront of the painting lay a number of carpentry tools, demonstrating both Joseph’s possible financial status and his work ethic. It’s almost as if Joseph had been working so hard building something that he was exhausted and fell into a deep sleep. I love that conscientious, hard-working image given to us by Champaigne.
Next, notice that the angel came to Joseph in a dream. Joseph had three such dreams: this first to tell him to take Mary as his wife; the second to warn him to flee to Egypt; and the third to let him know it was safe to return from Egypt. Mary met the angel face to face, but this is not the case with Joseph. Why so many dreams and why this method of communication? Might it be that Joseph was a man of great faith. He did not need to see an angel to believe; he just obeyed based on a dream. God spoke to him through dreams because Joseph acted on them. This says a lot about Joseph’s character.
The last thing I want you to see is that Mary is depicted as sitting in the background. Now, we know this is probably not true, since she and Joseph were not living together yet. However, I think Champaigne was trying to make a point. He is letting us - his viewers - know that Mary, who is huddled with arms crossed protectively across her chest, was the subject of Joseph’s dream. That fact that she is in a protective, vulnerable stance tells me that she is scared, scared because she knows that the outcome of her future rests fully on Joseph doing what the angel hovering above him says he is to do.
The last two verses of Joseph’s story tell us so much about the man, Joseph. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” (Mt. 1:24-25)
There are three actions of obedience that I want to highlight quickly. First, Joseph obeyed when he woke up. There is no delay mentioned in this verse, though that might have been a possibility. Joseph woke up with new vision, new clarity, and it moved him to act quickly on what he had heard in his dream. He obeyed promptly.
Secondly, notice how understanding he was. He took Mary home to be his wife, but he did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to Jesus. Nowhere in the angel’s commands to him does it say that he was to abstain from her until her birth, but Joseph knew the Scriptures. “The virgin will be with child” (Isa 7:14). He was spiritually aware enough to realize that a virgin could not give birth if he had relations with her. His cognition went further in that he wanted to add veracity to the truth that what was conceived in her was through the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:20) Joseph obeyed perceptively.
Lastly, his obedience was total and complete. He was not afraid to take Mary home as his wife. He had no union with her. And he gave his boy the name Jesus. Everything he was asked to do was done. Even things he was not commanded to do, were thought out and obeyed. Joseph obeyed perfectly.
Is there anything God is asking you to do this Advent season? Healing from the Rising Sun comes to those who revere His name (Mal. 4:2). Just like Joseph, we show our reverence to God by obeying what He tells us to do. This season, take a lesson from this righteous and godly man. Obey your heavenly Father promptly, perceptively, and perfectly. Then watch for the healing to come in areas of disgrace, the law, fear, and sin. You may even do a bit of skipping for joy like the calves cavorting on a hillside of green.
Healing. It’s the goal to which the Christmas Season is reaching.