Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Immanuel: All He ever wanted was to be God with us

Christmas isn’t about Santa, $5 gift exchanges at endless holiday parties, and elaborate trays of special cookies and candies.

I think we all know that.
Christmas isn’t about family either, though. It’s isn’t the blessing of being together with loved ones. It’s not a child’s eyes as she bursts into the living room on Christmas morning. It’s not dinner around the table with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.

I’m not sure we all know that, though.
Perhaps that’s why the holidays disappoint for many year after year. We dread that one relative that will point out everything wrong in our family relationships. We stress over the one child who eagerly tears open the gift only to be upset he didn’t get what he wanted. We worry the table may not look like the pictures on Pinterest. We remember the family members who aren’t with us as bitterness and unforgiveness have pulled us apart.

We invest a lot of time, money, and energy trying to find fulfillment in areas that can’t fulfill. We place expectations on people and situations that can’t live up to them.

So What’s the Point?

Enjoy the blessings of Christmas – the joy of giving, the comfort of a special meal, the connection of beloved family members. You can enjoy these moments when you don’t enter the holiday expecting them to fulfill your dreams of a magical holiday.

We find the joy, the comfort, the connection, and the abundance of blessings when we focus first on Christmas as seen in one biblical word – Immanuel.

 

Immanuel

It’s a Hebrew word only used a few times in the whole Bible. God inspired Isaiah to call the awaited Messiah by the name Immanuel. Later, Matthew confirmed the fulfillment of the prophecy in his gospel when he wrote of Mary’s baby, Jesus. Matthew wrote, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel” (Matthew 1:22-23).

Immanuel; it translates to English as “God with us.” Hebrew is a pictorial language so sometimes we can see another level of significance in the letter pictures the ancient Hebrews used to form the words. This one has given me reason to sit and reflect as I write this article. The Hebrew shows pictures of a God who experienced chaos, life, and nails. Wow.

You see, God was in heaven enjoying the glory of ultimate, sinless beauty and perfection. Yet, He chose to leave that place of divine triune intimacy and experience the chaos of a world thrown out of whack by sin. He chose to experience life. The experience of life meant He would also experience death because of the permeation of that same sin corruption. He chose to experience the nails pierced through His hands and feet because of the condemnation of sin. He chose to be God with us in the midst of all of our chaos, sin, pain, life, and death.

God with us

That had been the plan all along, though. In the beginning, the plan of God with us didn’t include the chaos, death, and nails brought in by sin. In the beginning, He was God with us in a perfect garden free from the destruction of sin. It was there that God walked with Adam and Eve as they experienced relationship together. However, what was a place of peaceful interaction became a place of fear and hiding as Adam and Eve chose the pleasure of a sinful moment (Genesis 3:8). From the beginning, God desired to be God with us. We blew it.

So God inspired Isaiah to write that the Son of the virgin would be Immanuel. That way He could be God with us once again. Even if being God with us meant joining us in our own chaotic mess of life to experience the nails.
He became God with us in our mess to restore the peaceful interaction of our former garden relationship; to create the opportunity for that relationship once again in the glory of eternity. He became God with us to experience our chaos so that one day we will experience “God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

God experienced the chaos, life, and death of the nails so that we wouldn’t have too. He experienced them so that He might remove them from our lives and someday wipe away our tears, grief, and pain. He became God with us so He could be the fulfillment of all our hopes and expectations.
“The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Joy to the World: Finding Christ in the songs of Christmas

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I can come out of the closet. I can admit the truth to people besides my daughters who were guilty accomplices right along with me.

Here it is – the Christmas music started early in our house this year. The first Christmas carol rang out from our iTunes Christmas playlist at least two weeks before we roasted the Thanksgiving turkey.

I worked around the house one day while “Silent Night” lulled out through the speakers. The second verse caught my attention – especially the last line of the verse.


How many times have we sung these words penned centuries ago? So many times, perhaps, that their power now falls on desensitized ears. The Christ – the Savior of our souls – is born! Four thousand years of prophesied waiting climaxed in the cry of a newborn baby!

I decided it’s ok to listen to Christmas songs early. Geez, listen all year if you want. These are some of the greatest praise and worship songs ever written! Why limit them to a couple weeks of the year?

“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” along with those of us who are adopted in as children of Abraham.

“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free…” for we long to live set free from sin – to live free in relationship with You.

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head…” Creator of the universe – humbled in a manger. The Word made Flesh – limited to the cries of a newborn.

“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…” for we have fallen so far away from the life of joy and triumph promised to the faithful.

“Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King: Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled...’” because right now as always, we need to know your peace. We need to see sinners reconciled with holy God as only Jesus can do so they too may know peace.

And my personal favorite,


“Joy to the world! The Lord is come: Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room” for we need to receive Him more than any other gift this holiday season. He came – He gave all so that we might finally find the joy that nothing else in cursed creation can offer us.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Priorities: Finding a way to give thanks in a messed up world

As a family, we give thanks before each meal. We bow our heads and one of us – we take turns – prays a simple prayer of appreciation for the meal. I remember when my youngest could barely speak. She’d pray, “Baby Jesus, for this food. Amen.” We never figured out why she prayed to Baby Jesus, but she’s outgrown it now.

I doubt if any of us send up a prayer of appreciation for our clothes before we get dressed each morning. 
Or how about every time we get in the car and it starts? What about when we pay bills and the money doesn’t run out before we pay the last one. Do we think a prayer of thankfulness every time a thought of a loved one comes through our minds?

It seems so odd to me. We can be so rigid about the necessity of giving thanks before a meal but not express any appreciation the rest of the day.


What are some other things for which we can be thankful?

A lot of conflicting stories abound on every issue out there. I’ve learned to rely on Scripture to help me prioritize what’s important. Based on that, in no particular order, I’m thankful for…


  • The transforming power of the Word of God; 1 Thessalonians 2:13. (ß Spend some time in God’s Word; read the verses to help you prioritize your season right now!)
  • God’s gift – the sacrifice of His Son; 2 Corinthians 9:15.
  • The peace of the Messiah; Colossians 3:15.
  • The privilege to enter the presence of God; Psalm 100:4.
  • Victory, because it is all about winning when it comes to eternity; 1 Corinthians 15:57.
  • God’s grace and the privilege to pass it along; 2 Corinthians 4:15.
  • The hard times God uses to help me grow; 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
  • The part I have in God’s eternal kingdom; Colossians 1:12.
  • Wisdom and power of God that are available to me; Daniel 2:23.
  • Prayer that conquers worry; Philippians 4:6.
  • God’s eternal goodness and love; Psalm 106:1.
  • The amazing works of a loving God; Psalm 107:8.
  • God hears us, answers us, and saves us; Psalm 118:21.
  • The righteousness of Holy God; Psalm 7:17.
  • The unlimited power and eternal nature of Almighty God; Revelation 11:17.
  • The faith of believers all over the world who do their part in God’s kingdom; Romans 1:8.
  • The teaching of Christ who points us to all truth; Romans 6:17-18.


You see, it’s ok if you burn the turkey or dump a pie on the kitchen floor (already had that one happen this year). It will even be ok if one of your relatives isn’t able to be with you this year. News of riots, wars, and nuclear talk failures can't even stop thankfulness. Why? Because even in the midst of daily stresses, relationship difficulties, and world turmoil, we have much for which to be thankful. We are thankful because God reigns, He gave His Son to restore our relationship with Him, and He and His kingdom will stand victorious for all eternity.

May some of these be added to your list of thankfulness this holiday season. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Intentional: Living as a force for good

It’s that time of year here in the Midwest. It comes every November.

No, not the time of family gatherings, stuffed turkeys, and thankful thoughts. It’s the time of camouflage coverings, early mornings, and deer stand hangouts.

I’m not a deer hunter. I’ve never tried it, have no desire to try it, and probably never will. But I’ve been happily married to a deer hunter for two decades. Over those years, I’ve come to appreciate his hobby, the happiness it brings him, and the food it provides for our family.

However, a group of us deer widows was talking at church the other day. And well, here’s the story…

We came across these verses while studying the actions of evil in Psalm 37, “Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him; do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way, by the man who carries out evil plans. … The wicked person schemes against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him.” (Psalm 37:7, 12).

We started discussing the two actions of evil listed in these verses.


  • Men carry out evil plans.
  • The wicked scheme against the righteous.

They plan and scheme against us who follow Jesus. The forces of evil plan how to bring down the righteous. They actually take the time to think about it and come up with ways to plot evil intent. Evil is highly intentional about causing destruction in our lives (Hebrew: zamam).

My husband is a good man – a true, dedicated, and devoted follower of Christ. But I’m going to compare him to the forces of evil for just a minute. Sorry, honey.

Because here’s the deal that the other deer widows and I started to discuss…

My husband has been planning his deer hunt for weeks. He scouts early in the season for scrapes from the deer antlers. He hangs a motion sensor camera in the woods so he can find when and where the deer are traveling. He applies the deer scent stuff that I think stinks but I guess smells alluring to a buck. He layers on the camo clothing so nothing will see him perched in the tree. He practices making the right noises so he sounds like a deer grunting or antlers rattling. He invests money in a tag, ammunition, gadgetry, and specialized clothing. This year, he even downloaded an app that utilizes Google satellite images of the region where he hunts. On the image, he marked where his tree is, the trees of the men with whom he hunts, any deer markings they found while scouting, and probably more stuff I don’t know about. The app even tells him the direction and speed of the wind.

Alright…you get the point. He’s very INTENTIONAL about his deer hunt. He doesn’t wake up some morning, decide to grab his rifle, and hike off into the woods. He plans, schemes, and invests to make his hunt successful. He covers his body, his scent, and his noise in order to DECEIVE all the senses the deer uses in self-protection.

Based on Psalm 37:7, 12, Satan and the forces of evil are doing the same thing to us. Psalm 83:3-5 says it this way, “They devise clever schemes against Your people; they conspire against Your treasured ones. They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation so that Israel’s name will no longer be remembered.’ For they have conspired with one mind; they form an alliance against You.”

Satan is out to get you, friend and fellow follower of Christ. He’s planning and scheming to bring you down. He doesn’t decide on a whim to kind of trip you up a little bit. He is investing in every tool, opportunity, and gadget at his disposal to make his hunt successful.


What are we going to do?

We have to be just as intentional. We can’t wake up one morning and decide, “Oh, I think I’ll do something good today. Maybe I’ll go to church or read a Bible chapter.”

I’m not knocking church attendance or scripture reading, but we’re going to have to be more intentional than that.


Bible reading

The Word of God is the power to transform your life. The Word reveals truth in a world that is so messed up we have Muslims worshiping in a Christian cathedral, schools raising children instead of parents, and babies that aren’t safe in their own mother’s wombs.

Casually perusing a verse or two a day won’t do much for you though – kind of like eating a bite or two of food in a day won’t do much to sustain you. Intentional Bible reading studies it, learns what it says, and applies it to life. Intentional Bible reading figures out the hard parts – not skims over them.


Prayer

You can talk to God – right here, right now. The One who created the universe waits to hear what’s on your mind. The Savior of all mankind wants to know what’s bothering you. Yahweh who knows everything wants to know how your day went.

But He’s not an overpaid psychiatrist or a priest in confessional who can’t really do too much in response to your pleas. He can summon the angels and dispel the demons. He can provide from infinite riches and protect beyond imagination.

Intentional prayer goes beyond meal time thankfulness or casual conversations during mundane tasks. Those are good times to pray but intentional prayer takes it up a notch. It carves out part of the day and declares it as time to prayerfully enter God’s holy presence for a time of praise, thanksgiving, and intercession. Intentional prayer makes that time regular and frequent.


Invest in others

I know you’re hurting right now – so is the person next to you at work, at church, or in the grocery store line. It’s easy to invest in your best friend, spouse, or children but can we invest in those who think differently than us? Or look different? Intentional investment steps outside what’s convenient and easy. Intentional investment extends a word of encouragement, offers some help, or serves another when it’s hard to do so and maybe even dangerous.


That’s all I got – maybe you can think of more ways we can live intentionally as a force for good. If so, please share in the comments.

The forces of evil intentionally fight to bring you down – to destroy your story. We must counterattack with intentional living for Christ as a force for good. Remember, “You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Rock: It's Jesus

Yes, Jesus is the Rock. And, “The Rock – His way is perfect” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
I’ve been hinting at it in the two previous articles but there it is in all its complex simplicity. This powerful name – The Rock – links the God of the Old Testament with the Messiah Jesus of the New Testament.
He is the rock of the Old Testament in Psalm 95:1-11. “Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation! Let us enter His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout triumphantly to Him in song. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. … Today, if you hear His voice: Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on that day at Massah in the wilderness where your fathers tested Me; they tried Me, though they had seen what I did.” (Psalm 95:1-3, 7-9; Meribah and Massah were the names of the location where God first brought water from the rock in Exodus 17:7.)
He is the rock of the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11. Now I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).
He is the Rock of our salvation.

The Rock of Salvation

Despite all God did – He gave us life and created a perfect planet on which we might live – we rejected Him. We ignored Him and followed after what we thought was best. Yet because He chose us and cut covenant with us, He provided a way of salvation so we might still spend eternity with Him. Salvation came through the sacrificial death of Jesus.

The Rock of Provision

Jesus is the Rock that provides living water. Jesus even said, “Whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again – ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life” (John 4:14).
In Exodus 17, Moses struck the Rock causing water to flow. We, in a sinful state as defined by the Law of Moses, struck Jesus; blood and water flowed from His pierced side. He gave His death that we might live.
In Numbers 20, Moses struck the Rock when God commanded him to only speak to the Rock. How many times do we allow sin to manifest in our lives as we strike Jesus again – repeatedly – with our selfish sin? Jesus died once and for all; we must only speak to Him and living water will flow once again. We come before Him with a humble heart as we present our need. The blessings will flow once again like a river of living water.

The Rock of Protection

Moses couldn’t behold the glorious face of God despite his desire to do so. God hid Moses in the Rock to protect him as God passed by behind him. Likewise, we can’t stand before the glorious presence of God. Yet the righteousness of Christ covers us.

Jesus – The Rock

I stood before a massive cliff at Banias in northern Israel. Ancient ruins remained where people had once carved a temple of idol worship into the side of the massive cliff. The smoke of sacrifices still blackened a cave all these centuries later. At one time, water gushed from the cave although today it only trickles out beneath the bedrock. This was one of many locations where Israelites and Greeks alike had worshiped their little rocks, forsaking the Rock whose way is perfect.

Jesus and His disciples also stood at this location 2,000 years ago. At that time, water probably still gushed out from the cave in the rocky cliff. Jesus asked Peter at that time, “‘who do you say that I am?’
“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!’
“And Jesus responded, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:16-18).
I believe Jesus stood there with Peter and took in all the activities of idol worship under the crags of the rocky cliff. He started with general questions but quickly made it personal. He point blank asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” In other words, am I one of these little rocks?
Peter, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, recognized Jesus wasn’t a little rock; He was the Rock. He was the promised Messiah, the Son of God.
What better place for Jesus, after Peter’s confession of belief, to point to him and say, “You are Peter (petros, a rock or a stone).” To then point to Himself and continue, “and upon this rock (petra, a rock, cliff, or ledge) I will build my church.” Finally, to sweep His arm toward the temple and finish by saying, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 NIV).

Jesus was declaring, I am the Rock and My way is perfect. I am your salvation. I am your protection. I am your provision. The forces of Hades will not overpower Me. The gates of hell will not prevail against Me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Rock: Finding protection and provision in God

The last article began a look at Deuteronomy 32; a key point to this chapter is Moses’ introduction of a new name for God.

He spoke, “For I will proclaim Yahweh’s name…”

  • “The Rock – His work is perfect” (verse 4)
  • The Rock of salvation (verse 15)
  • “The Rock who gave you birth” (verse 18)
  • The Rock who fought for you (verse 30)
  • The Rock above all other rocks (verse 31)

Moses didn’t randomly choose an aspect of nature to create a word picture for the people. I think he had some pretty powerful memories going through his head as he declared “The Rock” as a name for Yahweh. Moses had spent the last 40+ years leading the people out of Egypt and through the wilderness. During that time, he had some powerful encounters with rocks; each one taught him a little more about God’s provision and protection.

The Rock – Our Provider

Moses was about to die. A past sin in his life would keep him from entering the Promised Land with the people. The sin? He exalted himself in an encounter with the Rock.

Exodus 17 & Numbers 20 – Read both of these chapters if you want the whole stories. Twice during their forty years of wandering the people settled in new regions that had no water. Both times, the people became a little – ok, a lot – gripey.

The first time – in Exodus 17 – God told Moses to strike a rock with his staff and water would flow from the rock for the people to drink. Moses obeyed and all was well.

The second time – in Numbers 20 – God told Moses to speak to the rock and water would flow. Moses decided he knew better than God, however. He spoke to the people instead of the rock before striking the rock twice with his staff. Not only did he speak to the people, but he did so arrogantly as he presented himself as part of the worker of the miracle. He said to the people, “Listen, you rebels! Must we bring water out of this rock for you?” (Numbers 20:10). We? No, God is the One who brought forth the water. No we, just an All-Powerful Me.

Rather than recognize God’s sufficient provision, Moses took matters into his own hands. He then tried to take credit for the act. Moses’ pride reared its ugly head as he positioned himself as God against the people who angered him.

Regardless of our situation, we provide nothing. Our pride makes us think we have done so much but we read in the New Testament, “Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).



The Rock – Our Protector

Exodus 33:12-23 – Again, read the passage for the whole story but, in short, Moses had another encounter with the Rock. He was getting a little unsure, a little demanding. One request led to another climaxing in the request, “Please, let me see Your glory” (Exodus 33:18).

God answered, “I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim the name Yahweh before you” but “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.” He continued, “Here is a place near Me. You are to stand on the rock, and when My glory passes by, I will put you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:19-22).
God couldn’t allow Moses to see the glory of His face so He hid Moses in the cleft of a rock while He passed by behind him. The rock surrounded and protected Moses.
We also can’t behold the glory of God; we’re entirely too sinful and spiritually filthy to behold His glory. And yet, we will stand in His presence because the Rock protects us as well. The Rock covers us with His righteousness to protect us from the wrath of God.



Moses’ view of the Rock

Experience taught Moses that God was the Rock that provides our every need and protects us in our most dire moment. As the end of his life neared and the people would enter the Promised Land without him, he could confidently stand before them and declare, “The Rock – His work is perfect!”


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Rock: Rejecting the truth to follow a lie

“Pay attention, heavens, and I will speak; listen, earth, to the words of my mouth.
“Let my teaching fall like rain and my word settle like dew, like gentle rain on new grass and showers on tender plants.
“For I will proclaim Yahweh’s name.

“Declare the greatness of our God!
“The Rock – His work is perfect; all His ways are entirely just. A faithful God, without prejudice, He is righteous and true” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
Gentleness and tenderness build to a dramatic proclamation as Moses declares to the people a new name for Holy God.
The chapter continues with powerful words to the people as they have allowed corruption and deceit to permeate their lives. They did so despite all that God had done for them. He created them as God but He also sustained them as would a Father (verse 6). He pulled them out of desolation to make them His chosen people (verses 9-10). He was God to them – Most High over all other gods (verse 12). He blessed them in abundance (verses 13-14).
And yet…, 
I shake my head as I see myself and our culture in their response.
Despite all God did for His people, they gorged themselves on the provision rather than the Provider. They became fat and bloated on it (verses 15). They ignored the God of their fathers as they followed after foreign gods and deceptive demons (verses 16-17).
“They ignored the Rock who gave them birth; they forgot the God who gave birth to them” (Deuteronomy 32:18 paraphrased).
They ignored the Rock – and the response didn’t go well for the people of Israel (verses 19-27). They never realized weak earthly attacks couldn’t come against them “unless their Rock had sold them, unless the Lord had given them up” (Deuteronomy 32:30).
They followed their little idols not realizing that “their ‘rock’ is not like our Rock” (Deuteronomy 32:31).
And yet, despite all their gorging selfishness and their love affair with the idols of Satan, “the Lord will indeed vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants” (Deuteronomy 32:36).

Why on earth would He do such a thing?

God’s mercy and grace pour out on His people because they are just that – His people. Their sin is ugly – horrifying, really – but Holy God cut covenant with them. If He went back on His word and didn’t provide for them, then He would be an untrustworthy liar. That’s not going to happen. Not only that, but if He doesn’t protect them, then those who brought down His people would take credit for their destruction. Or, in other words, Satan would get the glory for bringing the defeat of God’s people. Again, not going to happen. (See verses 26-27. Did you notice the italics on provide and protect? Remember those words because they’ll be important in the next part of this series.)
“See now that I alone am He; there is no God but Me. I bring death and I give life; I wound and I heal. No one can rescue anyone from My hand (Deuteronomy 32:39).

Why do we care?

We care because we see ourselves in the Israelite people. God didn’t only create them – He created us. He didn’t only sustain them as would a Father – He sustains us. He pulled us out of desolation and chose us as His people – adopted in as children of Abraham. He is our Most High God with abundant blessings.
And we said, “Screw it. I don’t care. I want my own way. I want to pour my passion into the ‘rocks’ because I know better than the Rock does.”
Even still, He has compassion on us. Even still, He provides with the Rock of living water in the desert. He protects us in the cleft of the Rock. This is going to get good…please continue on for the next part.