Category » Hope
Immanuel. A beautiful name that means “God with us.” It’s a name that we associate with Christmas, for it’s mentioned in Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ birth. But Immanuel was actually someone who lived a long time before Jesus.
Approximately 700 years before Jesus’ birth, God’s people had divided themselves into two nations. A man named Ahaz was king of the southern kingdom, Judah. His kingdom was being threatened by two powerful enemies: Israel, the northern kingdom, and Syria. God sent the prophet Isaiah to Ahaz, encouraging the king to trust in God instead of making alliances with other foreign powers.
Isaiah told Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refused. So Isaiah told him what the sign would be:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
The prophet explained that before this young boy was weaned, the nations Ahaz feared would no longer be a threat, while the ally he sought would turn out to be a more powerful enemy.
So a little boy was born, named Immanuel. He was a living sign from God, a reminder that God is with his people. Because Ahaz wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t put his trust in God, his nation would suffer defeat. But he had in this young boy the constant reminder of God’s presence and willingness to help.
The name Immanuel took on a new meaning when a virgin gave birth to a son. God’s presence among his people changed from a spiritual reality to a physical reality. The Word became flesh. God dwelt among his people as a human.
When Jesus left this earth, he left with a promise: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) We know that God is still with us.
Yet like Ahaz, we find it hard to trust. We see the problems around us. We face crisis after crisis. We come to believe that the only solutions available to us are human solutions. We’re blind to the fact that those solutions will bring their own problems.
And we forget the reality that God is with us.
December is a nice time to have that reminder. God came to us. He lived among us. And he promised to never leave us.
Immanuel. God with us. May we never forget.
I love Christmas. I love family gatherings, giving gifts, and sharing meals together. I love it that our world talks more about Jesus during Christmas. I like nativity scenes. I love the manger displays. Away in a Manger is a great song. So much talk about God sending his son to be born. For so many people, that is the only message they hear. Cute, baby Jesus. But that is not all there is to the Christmas story.
Baby Jesus grew up. Jesus lived as a real man in a real world. He lived among us so we would see how to treat others. He left an example so we would know what following God means in a real world. He taught us about God, about living in community, and about telling our world the good news of the Kingdom of God.
Baby Jesus grew up and died. We killed him. It was our sin that cost him his life. He died so we could live. That is the real Christmas story. Jesus came to earth to die. The cross is not cute, nor is it cuddly. But it is life. It is life because God raised him from the dead. He will never die again.
Jesus invites us to die with him. If we do, we will never die again. In fact, the death that this world fears so much becomes the door to forever life for us Christians.
The coming of Jesus is worth celebrating. Not just as a cute baby at Christmastime, but as the man who came to die for us. The baby grew up, then died, then was raised, and now lives. And because of that, I too have died, been raised, and will live forever. So can you.
There once was a king named Jehoshaphat. His story is told in the book of 2nd Chronicles in the Bible.
In chapter 20 of 2nd Chronicles, we read the story of a time when Jehoshaphat’s kingdom came under attack. A great army, with soldiers from three different nations, marched against the city of Jerusalem, where Jehoshaphat had his palace.
God’s temple was also in Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat believed in God. He went to the temple and prayed in a loud voice, in the presence of many people, asking for God’s help. One of God’s prophets was there and gave Jehoshaphat God’s answer:
“Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.” (2 Chronicles 20:15–17)
Jehoshaphat and his people believed God. They believed that God would protect them and defend them; they were willing to merely watch and not fight.
As an act of faith, Jehoshaphat sent out some “special forces” ahead of his troops. The Bible says:
“After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever.”” (2 Chronicles 20:21)
The special troops that the king sent out were singers! These men marched at the front of the army, singing and praising God. They celebrated the victory that God had promised, even before it happened.
And God kept his word. The enemy forces begin to fight among themselves, eventually destroying one another. When the Israelites arrived on the scene, the only thing left to do was gather the spoils. God had already done the fighting.
That had to be hard. It had to be hard to sing praises while marching against a more powerful enemy. It had to be hard to trust that God would fight the battle.
It’s easier to depend on ourselves, to trust in our strength, to put our faith in what we see and know. But faith requires that we trust that God will keep his promises.
I recently watched two very different people walking. One was Nik Wallenda. I viewed his walk on a video clip, not in person. He walked on a tightrope between two buildings in downtown Chicago, the windy city. The tightrope was even slanted upward at an angle. It was courageous, amazing, and inspiring. It was a feat that simply would not be attempted by almost anyone else. He had trained for it. He worked at it. I know it helped that he grew up with a family heritage of tightrope walking, but still…
The other walk I witnessed was an older man crossing the street in a mid-size West Texas town. He had to use a walker and he could not move very quickly. Each step seemed to take a great deal of effort. It was courageous, amazing, and inspiring. Cars waiting at the light, impatient drivers drumming their fingers on the steering wheel. It seemed to take forever. Just stepping up and down on the curb was a major undertaking.
One of these made me think about my life as a Christian, and it may not be the one you think it is. Christians often refer to our life in Christ as a walk. What we mean is that our life on this earth is a journey with the ultimate purpose of living forever with God. What Nic Wallenda did is not really how Christians live. We do not walk above the clouds. We are not on a journey that is impossible for the average person.
Our walk is more like the gentlemen I watched crossing the street. Life is hard. We live as believers in a world full of unbelief. Evil abounds and Satan has made this life dangerous. There are excuses and objections to overcome if you want to follow Jesus. But we walk on with purpose. We have a destination ahead of us. We overcome the obstacles. We walk through the danger. We do not stop till we reach the other side. We are following Jesus right to the throne of God.
He had been the apprentice, assistant, the adjunct for years. Now it was time for him to be the leader of the raucous, nomadic, and hard headed group of under achievers.
Now he was responsible…for everything. Whatever he decided would affect the lives of the people, his people.
Then God told him FOUR times to Be Strong and Courageous.
Joshua, along with Caleb, had been Moses’ “go to guys” during their time in the wilderness. He had seen the things that caused Moses so much frustration as the people did not do what God wanted.
Now they were his responsibility, he was to lead them into the land promised long ago. He had to fight fierce warriors and giants. He had to lead the people in the way God wanted them.
No wonder God affirmed Joshua to Be Strong and Courageous.
Then God reminded Joshua of the promise: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
As evil further envelopes this world, with wars, rumors of wars, beheading and horrors, the words said to Joshua resound for us today.
Be strong and courageous. Live life as God Almighty has planned for you.
Be strong and courageous. Face adversity knowing God will never leave you.
Be strong and courageous. Know that all you have to do is persevere; God will see you through the rest.
Be strong and courageous! God will be with you wherever you go.
How is God encouraging you to be Strong and Courageous? And what specifically is he asking you to be Strong and Courageous about?
If you’re going to spend over $650,000 building a new house, there’s one important thing to do before you begin: make sure you are building in the right place.
That’s the lesson a Missouri couple learned the hard way. While building a luxury home in a beachfront development in Florida, they accidentally constructed on the lot next to the one they owned; they built on land belonging to someone else. The initial survey of the property was wrong, leading to the misplaced construction. Hopefully an acceptable agreement can be reached with the neighbors on whose land the house was built.
If the story sounds familiar, you may have heard the news a few months ago about the Rhode Island developer that mistakenly built a $1.8 million house on public park land. Again, the survey was wrong. The error came to light when prospective buyers had their own survey done of the property. In that case, no settlement could be reached, and the Rhode Island Supreme Court ordered the house removed from public land.
Jesus talked about two men that built houses; one who built in the right place, one who built in the wrong place. We read the story in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 6:
“I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:47–49)
If we build our lives on the teachings of Jesus, we’ll have a solid foundation that will see us through even the hardest times. If we choose to build somewhere else, we may very well find ourselves with a life that can’t stand up to life’s trials.
Have you stopped believing in God? Maybe you quit when he did not hear your prayers. That is what I hear sometimes. It happens after marriages break up, or businesses fail, or children die. It is what people think when life seems so unfair. Or when the hurt and pain seem too much to endure. And you prayed. You begged God for relief. You asked him for a different outcome. And he did not hear you. At least that is what it felt like to you.
So why are you reading this? Maybe deep down you wish you could believe. Perhaps you are hoping someone somewhere can provide the answers you so desperately want and need. But it is hard to see God through the pain. So you blame God, resent God, even hate God. But there is still that part of you that wishes He was true. You long to believe there is someone bigger than yourself; someone who can make sense of this broken world.
I do not have any easy answers. But I can tell you that you are not alone. I can tell you that those of us who still believe have to wrestle with why things do not happen the way we ask. And I can share with you some ideas that have helped us keep clinging to our faith in God.
- We cannot understand God. Trying to explain God is a futile exercise for any of us. He is the Creator, we are the creation. Even were God to explain things to me, I would not understand. Which comforts me in an odd way. I have to believe that God understands what is unfathomable to me.
- God knows best. He acts, he allows, he prevents, he causes, he does act. And all of these are for the good of his kingdom. He knows what is best. And if he does not, if all the pain in this world is random and pointless… then can anyone face life with any sense of peace or purpose.
- It will all be better someday. That is one reason we Christians keep believing. A better life waits for us after this world. That is the hope we have.
I cannot tell you why God answers us the way he does. But I do believe he loves us, does what is best, and is preparing us for a better life that never ends.
“Choose this day…” Joshua, the leader of God’s people, was addressing his countrymen. They had conquered the land that God had promised to give them and were ready to settle in their new homes. Now Joshua calls on them to make a choice.
“Choose this day whom you will serve…” This was about loyalty. This was about allegiance. Joshua spoke to them about getting rid of the idols that their parents had served and dedicating themselves to the Lord. If that seemed unacceptable, they needed to choose who they would serve: the old idols or possibly the new idols they had found in the land were they were living.
“Choose this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15) Joshua had already made his choice. He and his family would serve God.
To a man, Joshua’s people cried out that they wanted to do the same, that they wanted to serve God. Surely that made Joshua happy, right? He had given such a persuasive talk that everyone wanted to join Joshua and his family in serving God. But Joshua wasn’t satisfied:
“But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.”” (Joshua 24:19–20)
You can’t do it, he tells them. God won’t put up with your indecisive ways. God won’t agree to be one god in your stable of gods, one more deity in the pantheon. God is holy. God is jealous. He won’t tolerate unfaithfulness. If you decide to serve God, you have to serve God alone.
And the people replied, “No, but we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:21)
So I offer to you the same choice today. Choose who you will serve. Will it be money? Will it be passion? Will it be power? Will it be a company or a country or a political viewpoint? Will it be your spouse or your children? Will it be a habit or a vice? Will it be any of the myriad distractions that our society offers?
Or will you put God above everything else? Will you love him above all, loving your neighbor as yourself, but pledging your allegiance fully to God?
Choose this day whom you will serve. If you choose to serve God, serve him with all your heart.
Ebola. It is the latest disease to strike fear into much of the world’s population. People are dying in Africa from Ebola. Now it has appeared in the United States. Even with precautions now being taken at US entry airports, people are frightened. How can I avoid contacting Ebola? Can I survive if I do? And if I can avoid Ebola, what about MERV? Or what if Avian Flu comes back? Or the Black Plague?
If I manage to avoid catching some deadly disease, what about car wrecks? Plane crashes? Industrial accidents? What if terrorists strike where I live? How about school and work shootings? Murders? The possibility of death is everywhere. And we have not even mentioned tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, fire, and earthquakes.
Even if you manage to avoid all of these threats, there is still the deadliest one of all: old age. It will get you if nothing else does. Let’s face it, we are all going to die. Me, you, everyone. How can anyone live in the face of certain death, and with no certainty about when it may happen? All your plans, hopes, dreams crushed. Everyone you love gone forever.
Unless you believe in Jesus.
Christians believe that when Jesus rose from the dead he conquered death. He defeated the enemy of life. Because we believe in Jesus, we too will live again. We believe that we will be raised from the dead. We believe that we will live with our Christian loved ones forever. We believe that our life here on earth is under the control of Jesus. We believe this world is not the end, it is not our home. We are aliens and strangers here. That is why Jesus followers remind each other to not be afraid. Not to be afraid of anything in this life… even death.
And that is our hope for life. Because we believe.
I have an interesting family heritage. My Dad’s family lived in New York City and on “the Island”. I have ancestors who fought in the Civil War, some on the Union side, some on the Confederate side. Between my sophomore and Junior years in high school, I moved from the Northeast, from a city of 8 million rooting for the New York Yankees to a Southern town of 800 where my new high school team was the Southland Rebels. This would be the last time I would be in New York for over 40 years.
In September, I traveled to Long Island and was able to have dinner with one of my cousins and his wife. I had no idea what he looked like, because all my memories were of a very young teenager. But as soon as he walked in the door, I knew him. He looked just like his father, and he said I looked like my Dad. As we talked that evening over fantastic Italian food I noticed that some of his wording, mannerisms, even the way he held his head were just like his dad’s and that he and I shared some of those same things. I’ve called them “aBrantthing”. Between us there was a family resemblance.
For those of us who claim to follow Jesus, there should be a family resemblance between each of us and God and Jesus. We should not look like the people around us, but we should be uniquely different and by our look we should be part of God’s family.
Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in the knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Knowing Jesus is to transform us from what we are into the image of He who created us. Being a Christian means we are to be Christ like. We are to have the family of God resemblance.
Do who do you resemble in your physical family?
And who do you resemble in the Spiritual family?