Advent Day 18 – His Name Will Be . . .

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’” – which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

When my son was young, he loved to go to the playground at the local park which was almost always crawling with boys and girls.  He would join in with one or two children and for some reason he called all the other kids “dude”.  I told him over and over, “Ask them what their names are.”   One day on the way home I gently lectured him on the social grace of using people’s names.  He replied, “I only seen them today and I won’t see them tomorrow so I don’t need to know their name.”   Lecture over as I tried to stifle a laugh.  But he had a point – to know someone and call them by name indicates a relationship, ranging from playgrounds to the intimacy of lovers.

God spoke volumes in the name He assigned to His One and Only Son.  “Jesus” – Iesous in the Greek, yehosua in the Hebrew (translated Joshua) – carried the meaning “Yahweh saves.”  The Jewish people would hear Jesus’ name (and it was a common name at the time) and remember that the Lord had saved His people in the past and He had promised to save them again.  They recalled Joshua in the days of the exodus from Egypt, a mighty military leader and warrior who lead the armies of Israel against multiple enemies on the way to the Promised Land.  They clung to the hope of salvation and restoration from Roman rule.  Jesus was a name that spoke of the power of God.

But Matthew records another name that would be bestowed on this Child – Immanuel – God with us. This name speaks of God coming physically near to His people.  In the Garden, God walked with Adam, until sin came between them.  In the desert, God’s presence was in the cloud of fire, in Jerusalem His presence dwelt between the cherubim in the Temple.  But now God Himself once more walked among his people.  He shared the street with His creation, broke bread together with men, and laid the hand of God on their children’s heads.  He lived among men – and died among them.

In a perfect combination of names, He personally brought the salvation of God to all humanity.  He is the victorious power of God and the intimate love of God.  He is Jesus – Immanuel – the God who came near to save us.

Let the Name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore – Psalm 113:2.

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Advent Day 5 – God With Us

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with us’” (Matthew1:23).

God is all about relationship.  He created man for relationship.  Mind you, God didn’t need humans – there was perfect, unbroken fellowship between the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  But it is clear throughout the Scriptures that God created mankind to share in a unique and special communion.   From the earliest days of creation, God walked with man in a very intimate way. Genesis 3:8 draws a picture of God enjoying daily fellowship with Adam and Eve. But their sin broke that fellowship they could no longer be with God in that special way.

Though man continued to pursue sin and push farther and farther away from Him, God still desired that fellowship, so much so that He commanded the Israelites “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). Once again, God drew close to His people, dwelling in their midst in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and later the Temple.  But, once again, because of sin and rebellion, God had to distance Himself from His creation.  Ezekiel 10 tells the sad story of the Glory of the Lord departing the Temple. But all is not forever lost.  Ezekiel 11 brings the hope of God’s promise of a new covenant and restored fellowship.

God who is forever faithful fulfilled His promise, and the Hope of the world was born.  John 1:14 says “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”  God came once again to live among His creation, this time as a flesh and blood man – Jesus.  He came as a baby, born as any other man, yet born with the divine nature of God.  He came to walk among us, to eat with us, and to touch His creation with the literal fingers of God.  And He came to die for us, to forever bridge the distance between God and man.  He came to restore the relationship that sin had broken, He came to be Immanuel – God with us – that we might be with Him – forever.

Read: 1 Kings 8:6-13

Christmas Presence

presence“I will put my dwelling place among you…I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”  Leviticus 26:11-12

God is all about relationship.  He created man for a unique and special relationship.  From the earliest days of creation, God walked with man in intimacy. Genesis 3:8 tells us that God enjoyed daily fellowship with Adam and Eve.  The second greatest tragedy of their sin was broken fellowship with God.  Their sin meant that God could no longer be with them in that intimate way.

Though man continued to live in sin and push farther and farther away from Him, God still desired that communion, so much so that He commanded the Israelites “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). Once again, God drew close to His people, dwelling in their midst.  But, once again, because of sin and rebellion, God had to distance Himself from His creation.  Ezekiel 10 tells the sad story of the Glory of the Lord departing the Temple. But all was not lost forever.  Decades before, God had promised to make a way that His people could still dwell with Him despite their fallen state.

God who is forever faithful fulfilled His promise, and the Hope of Christmas was born.  John 1:14 says “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”  God came once again to live among His creation, this time as a flesh and blood man – Jesus.  He came as a baby, born as any other man, yet born with the divine nature of God.  He came to walk among us, to eat with us, and to touch His creation with the literal fingers of God.  And He came to die for us, to forever bridge the gap between God and man.  He came to restore the relationship that sin had broken, He came to be Immanuel – God with us – forever.

Holy Father, the lights and carols and tinsel of Christmas are beautiful, but the true wonder of Christmas is Your presence among us, as a baby, as a man, as our Savior.  My hope is in your promise to be “God with me.”  Amen

Where Are You?

“Where are you?”  “I heard You in the garden and I was afraid. . . so I hid”         Genesis 3:9,10

 “Where are you?”

Have you ever asked that question? Perhaps you were looking for your friend in a crowd or frantically searching for your child in the store. I’ve often impatiently asked that question while waiting for someone who is running late. I have an unmarried friend who often cries as she asks that of a future soul-mate. It is sometimes said in frustration or fear or wistfulness. But did you know that the first time those words were spoken, it was God asking the question?

“Where are you?” God called out to Adam and Eve as He was “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). It was their usual habit to meet every day and fellowship together, but today, they were nowhere to be found. I imagine they had always eagerly met Him in their paradise home, but now the two humans had hidden themselves because they had disobeyed God and done the one thing He had forbidden them to do, eating of the tree from which the Lord God had said, “You must not eat.” From their hiding place, Adam answered God, “I heard You in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Gen 3:10).

This is a familiar story and as I read the passages today I was thinking, “Yes, I know this story very well.” Until I came to that question and the answer that followed, and the words lit up on the page as if I were reading them under a laser light.

God is asking Adam the question, “Where are you?” Forever after this fateful moment in time, the question turns, and man has been asking God, “Where are You?” When troubles come we ask God, “Where are You?” In the face of bad news, rejection, grief and struggle, we ask the question. When the world turns upside down and violence and disaster and disease seem out of control, we look up, sometimes with a clenched fist and shout, “Where are You!?” When our hearts are breaking we cry out in a whisper “God, where are You?” God asked the question first, but we have been asking the question ever since.

Adam answered the question, “I heard You…so I hid.” Forever after this fateful moment, God has said, “I have heard you” (2 Chron. 34:27) and “I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). God hears you when you call out His name. He hears your cries. He hears your heart. Hagar named her son Ishmael, which means “God hears,” because He heard her cries in the desert. He heard the grief of His people in bondage in Egypt. He heard their call for help when they faced great armies. He heard David’s pleas for forgiveness. “You heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help” (Ps. 31:22).  He heard the groaning of men’s spirits bound by sin and death. God hears you beloved.

Unlike Adam, when God hears us He does not hide Himself from us. He promises to be with us, and He has kept His Word faithfully to His people. He promised to be with the Israelites as they crossed the wilderness, and as they faced their enemies. He promised to be with them as they settled in Canaan and He promised to be with them even as they were taken away into captivity because of their own sin.   He promised to be with them and redeem them, and He came to be present with His people in flesh and blood; flesh that was torn and blood that was spilled at the cross.   He did this so that we could be with Him forever in eternity.  It is the same promise Jesus made to His disciples and to all who would follow Him, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  He is our Immanuel, God with us.

God first asked the question, and Adam’s answer broke God’s heart. Now our broken hearts ask the question, and God’s answer gives us hope and comfort and peace.

“Where are you God?”

“Right here with you my child.”

“I love you Lord, for You heard my voice; You heard my cry for mercy. Because You turned Your ear to me, I will call on You as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1; para).

Related posts: Hope in the darkness

 

Remember My Words

“I did tell you, but you did not believe.” John 10:25
Do you remember that annoying kid in school, the expert on every subject who delighted in telling you everything she knew? Do you remember how irritating it was when it turned out she was right? Didn’t you just hate to hear her chortle, “Told you so!” Yes, I remember that kid. Truth is, I was that kid. And I would like to apologize to my brothers and my classmates for being such a brat. But let me just remind you – I was right.
The point of this, and there is a point, is how we often fail to recall what we hear, and specifically what God has said to us. This is the first step in the long fall of doubt, and our enemy is the chief manipulator in twisting our thoughts and raising uncertainty about God’s words.
Let’s look at an account in Scripture with Jesus and His disciples. Please stop and read Mark 4:35-40. This is the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm that threatened their company on the boat in the middle of the sea. The disciples are fighting against the wind and the waves and where is Jesus? Asleep in the boat! How can He sleep when there is a “furious squall, and waves [breaking] over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped” (v. 37)?
The fearful disciples awaken Jesus, and “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 38-39). Now listen as Jesus chastens His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). Recently a friend asked me about this passage, wondering what Jesus saw in His disciples that caused Him to rebuke their lack of faith. As I meditated on these words, this is what the Lord brought to my mind and heart. Jesus is not chastising the disciples because they doubted His ability to deal with the storm, the issue wasn’t that they were scared. But go back to verse 35. Jesus told them “Let us go over to the other side.” This wasn’t a mere suggestion, but Jesus was giving them an emphatic direction, and He was assuring them that He was with them – notice the words “let us”. And because He was present, their journey was assured. When the storm came up, their fear caused them to doubt that they would survive. But in truth they were expressing a deeper doubt that Jesus could accomplish what He said they would all do, which is “go over to the other side.” They allowed the storm to drown out Jesus’ words, and all they knew is that the wind and waves meant certain death.
This is Satan’s favorite tool, to cause us to doubt and question God’s Word, His promises, His commands and His authority. We can see this clearly in two snippets of Scripture:
Genesis 3:1 – “Did God really say…?” and  Matthew 4:3 & 6 – “If you are…?   In these two brief lines, Satan is casting doubt on what God has said, first to Eve, and in the Matthew passages to Jesus. Satan was causing Eve to question God’s command in the Garden, and cast doubt on the goodness of God’s heart toward them. Notice that when the serpent questioned Eve about God’s command, she began to get confused and twisted the words of God, “God did say ‘You must not eat from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Gen. 3:3, emphasis added). God had commanded they not eat from this tree, but, in her answer to the serpent, Eve added a little bit of her own thoughts, and the doubt was sown. Have you ever wondered “Did God really tell me this, or am I hearing my own voice and my own words?” This was the beginning of the slippery slope of doubt for Eve – Satan knew it, just as he knows it when we have the same doubts – and he uses it to his advantage. He also tried to cause Jesus to doubt His identity and who God had declared Him to be at His baptism – “You are my Son…” (Mark 1:11). Satan succeeded in leading Eve astray, but Jesus knew without a doubt what God had said, and who He was. Matthew notes how Jesus repeatedly refuted the devil by saying “It is written…” for He knew exactly what God’s Words said – He was their Author.
Now, let’s look at one more – John 11:40 – “Did I not tell you…?” This passage comes from the resurrection of Lazarus. Remember that Jesus had told Martha, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life…whoever believe in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25). He even asked her, “Do you believe this?” Now, when Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away from the grave, Martha questioned Him. That is when Jesus said “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). “Do you remember what I promised you Martha? I am going to fulfill it right before your eyes!” Isn’t it amazing how quickly the warmth of His words cooled in her heart; from the time of Jesus’ speaking until they came to the tomb, Martha had begun to doubt.
God has spoken great and precious promises in His Word, promises for this life and for the life everlasting. He has spoken through the pages of the Bible and He speaks through His Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer. He speaks to give you and me assurance and promise and hope and peace and comfort. He speaks to guide and direct us, leading us into the  “Promised Land” He has ordained for His beloved children. Perhaps God has, at some point, told you that He is going to do something in and through you; and time, circumstances and the enemy are casting doubt on that word. Just as the disciples and Martha forgot what Jesus had said He would do, I wonder if Jesus stands before you and asks “Did I not tell you…?” Perhaps His word to you is right at the cusp of fulfillment. Child of God, will you continue to trust that God will do what He has told you?
Holy Father, when You speak, Your word is fulfilled. Lord, When my mind wanders, when the storms blow, when the enemy tries to cause me to doubt; please help me to hold fast to what You have promised, and to trust You to bring everything You have said to completion. Amen.

The Joy of Emmanuel

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel* – which means, “God with us.”  Matthew 1:23 NIV

Who doesn’t love a good reunion?  It gives us great joy to see loved ones who have been away: college students, military servicemen and women, missionaries, your brother who moved across the country, a granddaughter who lives abroad.  The best television commercials show a family member embraced loved one as he returns home. We all love the videos that show service personnel coming home to surprise their joyful families after being deployed far from away.  I remember running through the airport to welcome my own Dad back home after a tour of duty in Vietnam.

The Bible tells us that God finds great joy in reunions too.  In fact, that is the point of the Christmas story.  God wanted to be reunited with His beloved creation-mankind – you and me.  God created us for relationship, not that we might service His needs, and not to use us in some cosmic chess game.  But so that he could lavish His love on us, and we would respond with love back to Him.  The Bible shows us that God has continually drawn near to man.  In the garden, He had close and personal fellowship with Adam and Eve, walking through the Garden with them in the cool of the evening.  But sin broke that intimate fellowship, and a barrier was placed between God and man.  God commanded the Israelites to make a Tabernacle that He might come and dwell among His people, and He did for hundreds of years, until again, the sin of the nation of Israel became so great that God withdrew from the Temple.  The Old Testament records many visitations of God to Abraham, Jacob, Daniel and others who were devoted to Him.  But these were brief occasions, to impart a message or empower His servant for a specific act.  God desired a deeper communion with man.  And God had a plan.

Galatians 4:4 tells us “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son,” His Son whose is called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”  Jesus came as a baby, all of the fullness and deity of God wrapped in flesh and lying in a rough manger because God loves the joy of being with His beloved creation.   Jesus, the God-man, walked among His creation, though they did not recognize Him.  Jesus brought God near to us, a joyous reunion indeed.  “God with us” means you and I are never alone, if we are trusting in Him as our Savior and Lord.  We have the joy of His presence with us continually in the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Immanuel is with us in storms and darkness and trial and suffering.  He is with us in our times of doubt and fear and loneliness and emptiness.  The joy of Immanuel is knowing that there is no place we can go and no circumstance of life we will face that God is not with us.  Jesus made Himself on of us that we might know the joy of His presence now and for eternity.

I pray that the joy of Immanuel is with you this Advent season.

“Oh, Emmanuel*, Emmanuel, Your name is called Emmanuel God with us Revealed in us, Your name is called Emmanuel.”  Amen

* Some translations spell this word differently, the NIV uses Immanuel, the KJV uses Emmanuel – either way God is with us.

The Promise of His Presence

“I will put my dwelling place among you…I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”  Leviticus 26:11-12

God is all about relationship.  He created man for intimacy, a unique and special relationship. As we Hope in God’s promises this Advent week, let’s focus on the promise of His presence with us.

From the earliest days of creation, God walked with man in intimacy. Genesis 3:8 tells us that God enjoyed daily fellowship with Adam and Eve.  The second greatest tragedy of their sin was broken fellowship with God.  Their sin meant that God could no longer be with them in that intimate way.

Though man continued to live in sin and push farther and farther away from God, He still desired that communion, so much so that He commanded the Israelites “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). Once again, God drew close to His people, dwelling in their midst.  But, once again, because of sin and rebellion, God had to distance Himself from His creation.  Ezekiel 10 tells the sad story of the Glory of the Lord departing the Temple. But all is not lost.  Ezekiel 11 brings the hope of God’s promise of a new covenant and restored fellowship.

God who is forever faithful fulfilled His promise, and the Hope of Christmas was born.  John 1:14 says “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”  God came once again to live among His creation, this time as a flesh and blood man – Jesus.  He came as a baby, born as any other man, yet born with the divine nature of God.  He came to walk among us, to eat with us, and to touch His creation with the literal fingers of God.  And He came to die for us, to forever bridge the gap between God and man.  He came to restore the relationship that sin had broken, He came to be Immanuel – God with us – forever.

Holy Father, the lights and carols and tinsel of Christmas are beautiful, but the true wonder of Christmas is Your presence among us, as a baby, as a man, as our Savior.  My hope is in your promise to be “God with me.”  Amen

The Everyday God

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”  Psalm 68:19

 ”Believing in God is not practical in this modern world we live in.”

 “This is no big deal – it’s too little to bother God about.”

“God is way up in heaven; He is too far away to notice me.”

You may have heard – perhaps even said – statements similar to these.  I know I have thought and said some of them myself.  It is hard to believe that God, who created and ordered the sun, the moon, the stars and this earth, would concern Himself with human beings and our seemingly insignificant lives.  Is it even practical to believe that God will help us? Isn’t “faith” nothing more than wishful thinking?

While the three opening comments seem to come from different directions, they really are rooted in the same false beliefs about God; that He is outdated and impractical and far too removed to notice or care about you and me. It is the world and Satan’s favorite message. But I would like to share with you from Scripture and experience why I believe God is real, practical and intimately involved in our everyday lives.

Our post-modern society has pitched us the false theology of “self-empowerment,” that we have within ourselves all the power we need to overcome anything we might face and become anything we choose to be.  It is the world’s way of telling us that we don’t need God; that faith is for weak people who rely on superstition and religion as a crutch.  In fact, even within the church, we are espousing a twisted version of Philippians 4: 13 which says “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  We focus on the “I can do all things” part, and forget that the source of our strength is the “through Christ” part.  After His resurrection, Jesus told the Disciples, “You will be My witnesses” and called them proclaim the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.”  But he also told them “wait…you will receive power.” (Acts 1:4- 8)  He was saying –“Don’t try to do this on your own – My Spirit will help you. Wait for it.”  Jesus even said “By myself I can do nothing;” (John 5:30)  If Jesus knows that He can do nothing without the power of His Father, what on earth makes us think we can? Friends, there is no verse that says “God helps those who help themselves.”  I have read the Bible through several times, and I cannot find any Scripture where God chastises people for relying on Him too much.  In truth, God chastises those who don’t depend on Him, those who think they don’t need Him.  He calls that pride, and pride is perhaps the greatest offense against Him. God created man for an intimate love relationship, for a unique oneness that He couldn’t have with any other creation.  He created us to love Him and to need Him. And that goes against everything the world wants us to believe.  It is only when we come to the end of our own strength that we realize we do need Him, and we find that He is more than able and willing to help us.

Then there is the thought that God should not be bothered with our insignificant problems.  We tend to put our needs into different boxes “too big for me,” and “too little for God.”  We call for prayer when Grandma is near death, our child is hurt in an accident, or when there has been a national or world crisis; but seem to think that God does not want to be bothered with our petty problems.  Does He really care that your washing machine has quit working?   Should I even bother Him about my boss snapping at me?  Why would God be concerned about a teething baby who has kept you up three nights in a row?   He does care about your everyday needs, He wants you to come to Him about your frustrations and the demands of your day that wear you down.  1 Peter 5:7 says “Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.”  In Moses’ address to the people of Israel, He reminded them “During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, not did the sandals on your feet. (Deuteronomy 29:5)” If God was concerned about their clothes and sandals, I think it is right to say that He cares about your everyday needs as well. Jesus said “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things. (Matthew 6:25, 32) He knows what you need every day, and He promises to provide.  In the prayer He taught to the Disciples, Jesus said “Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11, emphasis mine)” Daily bread, daily needs – He is a daily God.

Proverbs 5:2 says “God is in heaven, and you are on earth.” So does that mean He is too far removed to notice us? Not at all.  Remember, God created us for an intimate love relationship.  He told Moses “Have [the Israelites] make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)  He said “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be mu people. (Leviticus 26:12) The very name of Jesus tells us God’s heart is to be with His people – “Immanuel – which means ‘God with us. (Matthew 1: 23)” It has always been God’s desire to be near us – even in the earliest days of man, “God walked in the garden…among the trees. (Genesis 3:8)” The original context of the words in this verse indicate this “walk in the Garden” was God’s daily custom, as He enjoyed fellowship with Adam and Eve.
It is easier to dismiss someone’s needs if we distance ourselves from them, but when we draw closer, when we get to know them, their needs become evident and our hearts are moved to help.  God, your Creator, wants to be involved in the “everydayness” of your life.  He has committed Himself to be with you, to care for you and about you.

God has not left you to manage this life on your own.  He has drawn closed to you and sees the big and small issues you face.  He cares about the most intimate details of your life.  He is near, as near as your next breath.  He is as near as your whispered prayer.

Holy Father, You are high and exalted in heaven; but you gave it all up to be my Savior and my everyday God. Please help me to remember today that You are near. Amen