Chapter 1

God wants to be the only one.

I have a question for all you readers who are married. How would your spouse have reacted if, on your wedding day, you had said, “Honey, I promise to love, honor, and cherish you . . . but just in case, I’m also going to keep the numbers of all my previous lovers on speed dial. That way, if things don’t work out between us, I’ll have a contingency plan.”

That would bring a wedding ceremony to a screeching halt!

And, if you weren’t honest enough to put it in your vows, how long do you think your marriage would last if you were keeping in touch with all your past lovers, even going out on a date every now and then, just to keep the flame alive? How do you think your spouse would react to that?

That’s exactly what the Israelites were doing with God, and in this chapter, He spelled out very plainly exactly what He thought of such a practice: “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place, the very names of the idolatrous priests—those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the Lord and who also swear by Molek . . . On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.” (vs 4-5, 9)

In this passage, God identifies at least four other gods who were being “courted” in His own temple: Baal, the “starry host,” Molek, and Dagon. You remember Dagon, don’t you? When the Ark of the Covenant was put in the Temple of Dagon by the Philistines, the first day, they found the Dagon idol toppled over on the ground in front of the Lord’s Ark; after propping the idol back up, the next day, they found it broken into pieces in front of the Ark. Some of the pieces had landed on the threshold, and that’s why “to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.” (1 Sam 5:5)

The people of Israel had taken up the custom of the priests of Dagon in the Temple of the Lord. They were also sacrificing children to Molek, worshiping Baal, and bowing down to the stars. All of this while they were still “swearing by the Lord” as well. Unbelievable!

Or is it really so hard to believe?

Don’t we do the same thing? I mean, those Israelites were really just “covering all the bases” when it came to ensuring their livelihood and well-being. I’m sure they believed the God of Heaven was real, but what if Dagon and Molek were real, too? They wanted to do all they could to keep their options open.

We are no different. With our lips, we profess to trust in God, but before the echo of our words has faded away, we are doing everything we can to control outcomes in our lives. We take matters into our own hands, believing that we actually know better than God what is best for us. Sometimes we undertake this

action apart from God. Other times, we treat God Himself as if He is some sort of cosmic vending machine: if we just insert the correct prayers or sacrifices or tithes, we’ll get the outcome we want.

Either way, it’s all idolatry. It’s just like a spouse who keeps all available lovers on speed dial “just in case.” Whatever it takes to ensure personal happiness, that’s what we’re willing to do.

So, how many lovers do you have on speed dial? I’ll let you in on a little secret. God wants to be the only one. He wants you to commit your life to Him for better or for worse, forsaking ALL others. This is what a love relationship entails, and it’s the only kind of relationship He wants to have with you.

Anything less than that is no good. He either has all of us . . . or He has nothing.

Chapter 2

God has a message for you.

Honestly, as I read this chapter today, I thought to myself, Again? Really? Are we going to hear the same message again? Hasn’t the alarm about this impending doom for the Israelites and the surrounding heathen nations been rung enough times by now? Do we need yet another reiteration of the same message? And then, it occurred to me, there were probably a lot more of these messages (and messengers) than the ones memorialized in Scripture. So, if these are the ones we know about, just imagine how many times the message was actually preached to the people. . .

This is a fitting message for Christmas Day, isn’t it? After all, what was Jesus if He wasn’t a Message sent from the very heart of God? He was a Messenger to the entire human race, bringing the message of peace and the assurance of acceptance from our Father in heaven. And although that wasn’t a brand-new message, nobody before had ever told it like Him.

I think it’s interesting to consider how God prepared the people to receive this message—the most important message He’d ever sent to the earth. Certainly, He wanted people to be waiting for the message when it came so they would be able to hear it and understand it.

So, what did God do?

He sent a messenger to announce the Messenger: “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. . . I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’” (Matt 3:1-2, 11)

That was a good idea. Sending a messenger to announce the Messenger would ensure that the people were ready to hear the Message! But God didn’t stop there. He actually sent a messenger to announce the messenger who would announce the Messenger! That’s right. Several hundred years before John the Baptist appeared on-scene, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, ‘Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!’” (Isa 40:3)

Christmas didn’t just happen out of the blue. God sent a messenger to announce the messenger to announce the Messenger! And the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem and all the heathen nations didn’t just happen out of the blue either. God sent messenger after messenger after messenger after messenger to warn His people. And it seems that, even with all that preparation, many still chose not to listen.

God has a message for you. As always, the message of Christmas is that God will do absolutely anything to be with you. That’s all He wants. And if you’re headed down the wrong path, He’ll let you know. You don’t have to worry whether you’ll somehow get lost without knowing it. God will send as many messengers as it takes to make sure you get the message.

Of course, whether you will heed it or not is up to you!

Chapter 3

God sings.

As a musician, one of my favorite verses in the Bible is found in this chapter: “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (vs 16-17)

Human beings possess two modes of communication with their mouths—speaking and singing. And while speaking can be powerful and dramatic, it is often the addition of music that takes the emotional connection to another level.

That’s why, for me, it is interesting to realize that God also does both. He speaks, and with His Word, He creates. But, here, we see that He also sings. And when He sings, it is because He is celebrating us, reveling in our existence, rejoicing in our relationship with Him.

God loves you. Right now. Just as you are. No conditions, no strings attached.

You—yes, you—make His heart merry.

And that’s why He sings.