Emmanuel!

Perhaps one of the most profound messages of the Scripture is tucked away in a single verse in Matthew. At this time of the year, the Christmas message is adorned with ribbons and lights and candles and carols. Yet, the real message of Christmas is an eternal one. It is the story of a promise fulfilled in a baby boy on a Bethlehem night over 2000 years ago.

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”

Have you ever really thought about that? God with us! God is not just standing near. He is not in a lofty heavenly place where even a split second is needed for Him to come to us. He is with us! An old song says it well, “He’s as close as the mention of His name.”

The message of Christmas is simple: We are not alone. You are not alone. I am not alone. He is with us. God Himself, robed in flesh, walked among men and women from an infant to full manhood. Three days after what looked to be a tragic end became a triumphant victory as He came forth from the grave alive forevermore. And what He purchased for us with His coming – with His death, His burial, and His resurrection – is the promise that we are not alone and never will be. He Himself said, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Some folks may assume the “amen” was for the end of the book – but maybe it was to make us realize that He is with us to the end of the world – and there is nothing after that we need to know. There are no “if, ands, or buts” about it. He is with us always – even unto the end – period. It finishes there.

As our country stands on the brink of war and there is an uneasiness in all of us as the threat of terrorists acts have been brought to home to American soil, we are not alone – He is Emmanuel, God with us. 

As the holidays come and in the midst of hustling and bustling days of parties and preparations and all sorts of activities, even then, we are not alone. He is Emmanuel, God with us.

In the quiet hospital room, the silence broken only by the steady beep of the various machines that our monitoring a life – there He is – Emmanuel, God with us.

In the classroom, full of boisterous children, anxiously anticipating the holiday vacation – the teacher looking forward to a few days of rest – He is there – Emmanuel, God with us.
Going about the business of the day, pushing a vacuum cleaner, dusting, cleaning, cooking – the solitary housewife may not always be aware of the Christmas gift she possesses all year long. She is not alone. He is there – Emmanuel, God with us.
In the hallowed halls of corporate America – from the mail room busy-ness to the corporation president’s plush office – and everywhere in between – we are not alone. He is there – Emmanuel, God with us.

On the construction site in a city – on the back forty acres of a rural farm – wherever humankind is – He is there – Emmanuel, God with us.

And, in the midst of the holiday madness that Christmas has become for some, He is there, too. He is Emmanuel, God with us. 

Several years ago, Max Lucado, a prolific Christian writer of our time, wrote the following about the Christmas story. I close this article with his words – to remind us – that He is God with us – and that He keeps His promises!

…In reality, that particular moment was like none other. For through that segment of time a spectacular thing occurred. God became a man. While the creatures of earth walked unaware, Divinity arrived. Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb.

The Omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.

God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The creator of life being created.

God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen. He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother.

God had come near…
For thirty-three years he would feel everything you and I have ever felt. He felt weak. He grew weary. He was afraid of failure. He was susceptible to wooing women. He got colds, burped, and had body odor. His feelings got hurt. His feet got tired. And his head ached.

To think of Jesus in such a light is——well, it seems almost irreverent, doesn’t it? It’s not something we like to do; it’s uncomfortable. It is much easier to keep the humanity out of the incarnation. Clean the manure from around the manger. Wipe the sweat out of his eyes. Pretend he never snored or blew his nose or hit his thumb with a hammer.

He’’s easier to stomach that way. There is something about keeping him divine that keeps him distant, packaged, predictable.

But don’t do it. For heaven’s sake, don’t. Let him be as human as he intended to be. Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out.

Listen to him.

“Love your neighbor” was spoken by a man whose neighbors tried to kill him.

The challenge to leave family for the gospel was issued by one who kissed his mother goodbye in the doorway.

“Pray for those who persecute you” came from the lips that would soon be begging God to forgive his murderers.

“I am with you always” are the words of a God who in one instant did the impossible to make it all possible for you and me.

It all happened in a moment. In one moment……a most remarkable moment. The Word became flesh.

There will be another. The world will see another instantaneous transformation. You see, in becoming man, God made it possible for man to see God. When Jesus went home he left the back door open. As a result, “we will all be changed——in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”

He is Emmanuel, God with us. And someday, perhaps sooner than any of us can imagine, we will be with Him!

Thanksgiving

The year was 1621. The season was fall. Winter was again approaching. It seemed that just a few months before the most terrible of winters had been endured. Scores of babies, children, young people, and adults had starved to death. Many of the Pilgrims were to the point that they were ready even to go to England. They climbed into a ship and were in that harbor heading back to England, ready to give up. Then it happened. They saw another ship coming their way. On that ship was a French man named Delaware. On that ship with Delaware were medical supplies, some food, and as one writer put it “enough hope to go back and try to live in the midst of their adverse sufferings.” These are the people who gathered for the first Thanksgiving. Dangers lurked everywhere. The weather was brutal. Their inexperience and lack of expertise in this strange new land was frustrating to say the least. Yet, nothing was allowed to obscure the blessings of God.

John Henry Jowett, a British preacher of an earlier generation said this about gratitude: “Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.” What did he mean? He meant that gratitude, like a vaccine can prevent the invasion of a disgruntled, discouraged spirit. Like an antitoxin, gratitude can prevent the affects of the poisons of cynicism, criticalness, and grumbling. Like an antiseptic, a spirit of gratitude can soothe and heal the most troubled spirit.

It is more important to thank God for blessings received than to pray for them beforehand. That forward-looking prayer, though right as an expression of our dependence on God, is at least partially self-centered. We hope to gain something by our prayer. But the backward-looking act of thanksgiving is selfless. It is akin to love. All our love to God is in response to His love for us; it never starts on our side. I John 4 states clearly that we love because He loved us first. Gratitude is from the same root word as “grace,” which signifies the free and boundless mercy of God. Thanksgiving is from the same root word as “think” so to think is to thank.

Thankfulness – gratitude – is a skill that is developed. And, as with any other skill, “practice makes perfect.” The more grateful you are, the more things you will find for which to be grateful. Sometimes it is good for us to be thankful for losses. As one writer said, “Everyone of us is more blessed than we are hurt.”

The story is told of Matthew Henry, author of one of the foremost Biblical commentaries. He was attacked by thieves and robbed. He wrote in his diary: “Let me be thankful. First, I was never robbed before. Second, although they took my purse, they didn’t take my life. Third, although they took my all, it was not much. Fourth, let me be thankful because it was I who was robbed and not I who did the robbing.”

We may acknowledge our Divine Provider over the roast and mashed potatoes, but how often are we deliberately thankful for the water from our taps? The wood for our houses and our furniture? The paper for our books and napkins and note pads? The brick and metal and fabric and countless other materials we use and enjoy? God through nature made them all possible. We would do well to remember.

Author David Seamands shared the following story in a Christian periodical: Back in the very early thirties, William Stidger was seated one day with a group of friends in a restaurant. Everyone was talking about the depression: how terrible it was, the suffering people, rich people committing suicide, the jobless, the whole thing. The conversation became more and more miserable as it went on. A minister in the group suddenly broken in and said, “I don’t know what I”m going to do, because in two or three weeks I have to preach a sermon on Thanksgiving Day. I want to say something affirmative. What can I say that’s affirmative in a period of world depression like this?” As the minister spoke, Stidger said it was like the Spirit of God spoke to him: “Why don’t you give thanks to those people who have been a blessing in your life and affirm them during this terrible time?”

He began to think about that. The thought came to his mind of a schoolteacher very dear to him, a wonderful teacher of poetry and English literature from years ago who had gone out of her way to put a great love of literature and verse in him. It affected all his writings and his preaching. So he sat down and wrote a letter to this woman, now up in years. It was only a matter of days until he got a reply in the feeble scrawl of the aged. “My Dear Willy.” At that time he was about 50 years of age, bald – and no one had called him Willy for a long time, so just the opening sentence warmed his heart. Here’s the gist of the letter:

“My Dear Willy: I can’t tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my eighties, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely, and like the last leaf of autumn lingering behind. You’ll be interested to know that I taught in school for more than fifty years, and yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning, and it cheered me as nothing has done in many years.”

Stidger noted, “I’m not sentimental, but I found myself weeping over that note.” He then thought of a kindly bishop, now retired. He was an old man who had recently faced the death of his wife and was all alone. This bishop had taken a lot of time, given him advice and counsel and love when he first began his ministry. So he sat down and wrote the old bishop. In two days a reply came back.

“My Dear Will: Your letter was so beautiful, so real, that as I sat reading it in my study, tears fell from my eyes, tears of gratitude. Before I realized what I was doing, I rose from my chair and I called her name to share it with her, forgetting she was gone. You’ll never know how much your letter has warmed my spirit. I have been walking around in the glow of your letter all day long.”

So, here’s an idea for you for this holiday season. Set aside a special time to practice “an attitude of gratitude.” Make a list of things you are grateful for. Send someone a thank you note. Call a minister who has influenced your life and express your appreciation. Once you have developed the habit of being thankful you’ll discover more and more ways in which He has blessed and is blessing your life. Henri Nouwen said, “When we bless the fruits of the harvest, let us at least realize that blessed fruits need to be shared. Otherwise, the blessing turns into a curse.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Stories To Tell Your Kids

The scripture holds a serious commandment to parents in Psalms 78: “Tell the generations to come the praises of the Lord – Tell them of His strength and work.” It says don’t hide them from your children. There are things we want our children to know. The Psalmist went on to give some examples – how He opened the sea, how He delivered us from Egypt. Basically He is saying, “Tell the old Bible stories to your children.”
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Freedom in Surrender

To make the statement “There is freedom in surrender”may make some question your logic. The reality of life in Christ’s kingdom is that very often the “foolish things of the world confound the wise” and the weak confound the mighty. The way up is down. The way to live is to die. The way of freedom requires a cross. Surrender to the cross of Christ brings freedom that can only be described as abundant life in Christ.
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The Old Rugged Cross

Jesus never lured his disciples by false advertising. He said things like, “Deny thyself…” – “Take up thy cross….” He once looked at a multitude and said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple…” With terms like that, there was never a stampede to join Him then. There is not likely to be one now.
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Who Do You Love?

In I John 2:15-17, we read this instruction: “Love not the world , neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
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In The World…Not OF the World

It may sound like a simple question of semantics – grammar – just plain English. Yet “in the world” and “of the world” are two very separate and opposite concepts changing much more than just the prepositions. How can a Christian be in the world – but not of the world? Is it possible to retain our Christian purity and godliness in the midst of this “wicked and perverse generation”?
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