Immanuel

Our Springs of Joy

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By Linda Rex

Advent—JOY

As one who has suffered on occasion from the blight of depression, I have a sympathetic heart for anyone who experiences living in this dark place. When a person is in the midst of such sadness and grief, it can take all of his or her effort just to do the simplest tasks of life.

This is not a place other people can come to and pull the sufferer out of. It is rather a place where those near and dear can come alongside and offer support, prayer, and encouragement. The best gift a person can offer to one suffering with depression is a constant and faithful relationship—a living presence with a willingness to sit in the darkness with the one struggling.

Sometimes we choose our darkness. Sometime the darkness is a result of other people’s bad choices. And other times, the darkness just is—it exists through no fault of our own. It is merely a result of health issues or circumstances. Darkness—an inner weight of crushing sadness and grief, or just loss of joy—can happen to anyone. Being depressed is not a sin, although it may at times be a symptom of an inner struggle.

For some of us, being depressed comes easily. The negativity through which we see the world becomes a lens which darkens our view each and every moment of our lives. This causes us to miss many opportunities for joy. We can be so used to the darkness that when the light enters, we close our eyes to protect them from its brightness.

Here during Advent, as we approach Christmas and the New Year, we may find ourselves resisting the holiday spirit, and feeling overwhelmed by loss and grief for various reasons. It is hard to feel upbeat when your heart is broken and your thoughts are filled with memories of what was and what could have and should have been. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the darkness during a season which should be filled with great joy.

The Holy Spirit calls to us during Advent to remember the One who joined us in our darkness, who didn’t feel it was enough just to say he loved us, but who actually came and sat in the sadness, grief, sorrow, and death with us. For God it was not enough just to be gracious and loving—he did gracious and loving. He took on our humanity and lived shoulder-to-shoulder with each of us.

God’s judgment on sin and our proclivity to evil and our preference for the darkness was the precious gift of a baby in a manger—the Word of God in human flesh—Immanuel, God with us. God’s judgment on our darkness was a gift of joy in the Person of his Son. He judged all humanity worthy of grace and worthy of salvation, worthy of his presence in the midst of their evil, suffering, and death.

That dark, starry night as the shepherds sat with their flocks on a hill outside of Bethlehem, God entered this broken world welcomed by Joseph and Mary as the fulfillment of the word of God through an angel. This little baby may have seemed insignificant and unimpressive in his humble circumstances, but his birth was the cause of the celebration of the angels. As we read in Luke 2:

“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:8-14 NKJV)

Here was a message from God to his people—a message of peace and good will from God toward his people—a message of joy. These shepherds were astonished and overwhelmed, but their response was to seek out this baby to welcome him.

In our personal darkness, we may feel as though God has forgotten us, or as though we are lost in a dark night, barely holding ourselves together. But the truth we need to be reminded of is that God’s heart toward us has not changed. He is faithful and he still loves and cares for us. God has come into our darkness in the Person of the Word of God, and in Jesus Christ has lived our life, died our death, and carried us from death into life in his resurrection.

And it was not enough for God to join us in our broken humanity. He also sent his Spirit—pouring out on all the gift of life in his Son. The call to faith, is the call to believe in and embrace the joy, the good will of God toward each and every person in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ. God has given us an inner source of joy in the gift of his personal presence in and with us in the Holy Spirit. As the psalmist said: “All my springs of joy are in you.” (Ps. 87:7b NASB)

The reality is, when we are in a dark place such as depression, depravity, or despair, we need a source beyond ourselves to raise us up and deliver us. We need a source of joy which is real and endless, and which will not be squelched by our stubborn desire to remain in the darkness. We need “springs of joy” to draw upon.

And God has given us this in the gift of his Son and his Spirit. We celebrate the breaking in of heaven into our darkness this time of year, and we find in the birth of Jesus Christ the hope, peace, and joy we would never have otherwise. He is the source of our true life, a life which God has lived in for all eternity, a life he is determined to share with you and me for all the eons to come. He calls us to trust—to believe in the truth: God is here. God is near. And he is with us forever. Immanuel—the most precious gift of all!

Dear Abba, thank you! Thank you for the precious gift of joy. Thank you for not leaving us in our darkness, sorrow, grief, and depravity, but giving us a way out—your own Son. Fill us by your Spirit with all your hope, peace, joy, and love—we do not find these things within ourselves. They are a gift. And so we thank you, and praise you with the angels, through Jesus our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.

“O sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonderful things, His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him. The Lord has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout joyfully before the King, the Lord. Let the sea roar and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.” Psalm 98 NASB

Face to Face

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by Linda Rex

One of the hazards of a long-distance relationship is the inability engage a person in face-to-face conversation. Communication tools such as Skype™ and Vsee™ make video-chats possible now, and I love the way we are able to see someone while we talk with them without having to make a long trip somewhere in order to do so. A conversation via computer may not be the same as having a face-to-face conversation, but it is much better than simply having one on the phone.

Face-to-face conversations have the advantage of enabling us to see the body language and facial expressions of the person talking with us. We are able, if we are good at it, to sense the sincerity and intent behind what is being said. Often we can determine a person’s mood, their hostility or friendliness, just by how they respond as they talk.

To some limited extent we can have meaningful and deep conversations over the phone. But in order to have an honest and open relationship, we really need to meet with someone face-to-face. We need to be able to meet with them in person. If we want get to know someone in a deeper way than just an ordinary, casual conversation, we’ll want to get them by themselves, and spend time just talking, face-to-face.

I love the way God made the effort to engage Moses in these kinds of conversations. In Exodus we read about the relationship God built with Moses over time, and how the Lord spoke to Moses “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” As time passed, their relationship grew to where they conversed just like we do when we are talking with a close friend.

We may think to ourselves, that’s just Moses. God doesn’t have those kinds of conversations with ordinary people like you or me. After all, he is God. He has much more important things to do than talk to all the people in the world individually. We can kind of grasp the idea of everyone praying to God, but God replying and having a conversation with each person? Now that’s a different story entirely.

And yet, this is what each of us was created for. When God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, it was a prelude to what he had in mind for each of us. He created you and me for relationship—with him and with one another. He did not intend for us to live independently of him, or of one another. We are created for interdependence, for intimate relationship.

And when I say intimate relationship, I’m not talking about a sexual or romantic relationship. I’m talking about sharing the deep parts of our minds, hearts and souls with another person—sharing life and being at a very deep level.

I believe the current obsession with sexual and romantic relationships of every kind has short-circuited our capacity for true, deep relationships—the kind we were created for with God and one another. Our ability to use social media for relationships is great, but we need to be careful not to let this keep us from building deep, meaningful relationships with the people in our lives through face-to-face interactions. It is very easy to keep people, and God, on the fringes of our lives and never really engage anyone at any kind of a deep level. And this is not healthy.

Going deep with people and with God in this way means becoming vulnerable and facing up to the mess inside ourselves. We don’t want to expose our deepest hurts and brokenness to others, much less to God. And yet, this is the path to healing.

Opening up these wounds to others, to us, or to God, means facing things we don’t want to face. We may have to change or deal with things we don’t want to have to deal with. We may have to do the dirty work of dealing with family dysfunctions or grieving our losses. Sadly, we often prefer taking painkillers and finding other ways to numb our pain rather than facing our issues. But we weren’t created to ignore our pain or to try to hide it—we were created to engage it, and through sharing it with God and others in healthy ways, find comfort and renewal.

Face-to-face sharing is an important part of the process of healing. Getting real with someone about what’s going on at a deep level in our hearts and minds is essential to our mental, emotional and spiritual health and our physical health as well. We need to drop our facades, and our false selves, and just be real with God and one another. And this is not easy to do, much less safe. Not everyone can be trusted with our secrets.

But God understands our need for face-to-face, conversations at this deep level. This face-to-face sharing is so important to God, he came himself to share in our humanity. He became one of us—the Word in human flesh. He experienced what it was like to be born of a woman, grow up as a child, be baptized and live as an adult, and he shared every part of our human existence. God came and met with us face-to-face in an even more personal way than how he met with Moses centuries before.

God wanted to share every part of our existence and be included in it. This was so important to him, he was willing to take on our humanity and share all we experience as human beings, including death and suffering. But he did much more than that.

He brought our human existence to a new level by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, and by sending his Spirit to dwell in human hearts. God’s Spirit in you and me means God dwells in humanity—he meets with us face-to-face within our own human hearts. Nothing can be more intimate than that!

In fact, we cannot escape him now—no matter how much we try. Eventually he will open our inner eyes to see, we have Christ in us, the hope of glory. We have God in us—Immanuel. Better than any Skype™ conversation—we can converse with God in our hearts and have a dialogue in which, by the Spirit, God knows us intimately and we can know God’s heart and mind as well. Our conversations with God can be just as deep and wonderful as those Moses had because God calls you and me friend, and speaks to us in our hearts.

You may say, “How can this be? God doesn’t speak to me. And that’s kind of creepy, you know—someone talking to me in my heart.” Well, perhaps it’s not that God hasn’t been speaking, but rather, that we haven’t been listening.

I was taught to be afraid of that inner voice who spoke in my heart and so I never listened. I ignored it and pushed it away. But when I did finally talk with God and invite him to speak to me and to help me to hear and discern what was his voice (and not the other unhealthy voices), I discovered he was speaking words of love and grace to me all along. I found that God really does want to walk and talk with us, and share all of life with us. And this has been the experience of many others who have sought a deeper walk with Jesus.

God has brought each and every one of us through Jesus and by the Spirit to a place where we are able to have a deep, intimate, face-to-face relationship with him. In growing in our relationship with him, we will find ourselves growing in our ability and desire to have deep, meaningful relationships with one another. And we will be living out who we really are—human beings, created for loving relationship with God and one another.

Father, thank you, through your Son and by your Spirit, you have brought us into deep, intimate relationship with yourself. Thank you for making it possible for us to have close, intimate relationships with one another as well. Grant us the grace to set aside time and space to listen and talk with you and one another face-to-face, for this is what we were created for. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. … And He said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’” Exodus 33:11a, 14 NASB

Indeed, The Lord is With You

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Christmas Day
By Linda Rex

During Christmas we often read or hear quoted the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the Messiah. We are caught by the foretelling of the birth of One who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Into Israel’s darkness, Isaiah said, would come a great light. This prophecy was meant to comfort the nation Isaiah was warning to repent of their sins.

In between these descriptions of the Messiah is a reference to the battle of Midian. I thought this seemed so out of context to the rest of the passage—what does the battle of Midian have to do with the Messiah?

So I went and read about this famous battle in Judges 6 and 7. Typically, the people of Israel had been “doing what is right in their own eyes” and ended up being overrun with armies from other nations. These armies from Midian and other nations would come at harvest time and strip the land of all the food and animals. So the Israelites were starving and had to hide anything they wanted to keep.

Eventually the nation of Israel cried out to God and he sent an angel to Gideon. This man was hiding in a winepress, trying to thresh his wheat while hiding it from the invading armies. He, like the other Israelites, was fearful and just trying to find a way to survive.

I was struck by the conversation Gideon had with the angel, because the first thing the angel said was, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior!” Obviously, valiant wasn’t probably the first thought anyone would have about Gideon. The youngest son of his family, he was hiding in a winepress, hoping no one would find him and his wheat.

His reply to the angel is so classic: “If the Lord is with us, then why has all this happened to us?” It is so like us as humans to blame God when things don’t go well in our lives. Even when the angel told him he would lead Israel to victory over the invading armies, Gideon demanded sign after sign from God—he didn’t believe that God really was with him.

In this story, we see God allowing Gideon to participate with him in his deliverance of Israel. But when he first called the people to battle, God had him whittle the 32,000 volunteers down to only 300. And when those 300 men went down into battle that fateful night, they merely blew trumpets and broke jars covering torches, and shouted “For the Lord and for Gideon!” And God did all the rest. It was only after the enemy was on the run that Gideon called for others to help in the mop-up process.

This story really fits in with the Christmas story because we believe the lie that God is not with us and doesn’t care about the oppression and suffering in our lives. We believe that we are weak and cowardly and without favor in God’s eyes. We deny that our struggles are as a result of our resistance against God and not living in agreement with the truth of who we are as God’s beloved, redeemed children.

But God comes and speaks truth into our lives—he even sends angels. And we still don’t hear him. We question the truth of who God is, if he even exists and if he really cares. God’s Word to us is “I am with you” but we believe he is not. We believe we are all alone and masters of our own fate.

But the zeal of the Lord is to accomplish the coming of his Word to show us once and for all who he is: He is a supernatural counselor, a mighty God, an everlasting loving fatherly ruler, a prince of never-ending peace and prosperity—and he is God with us, Immanuel.

The Word of God to humanity came to Mary (Luke 1:28-38) first through an angel, then through a tiny baby. The angel said to Mary, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!” God spoke the truth into Mary’s heart—she was favored by God and God was with her. And through Mary, God’s Word has come in human flesh—Immanuel—God with us—sharing every part of our human existence.

God cared enough about the suffering and oppression in our lives even when sometimes we deserve it to share it with us by sharing our humanity.

God cared enough about our failure to live according to the truth of who we are that he became one of us and lived the life we are to live perfectly so that we are all accepted in him—the beloved Son of the Father.

God cared enough about us being able to live in union and communion with him as the Triune God that he became one of us, lived our life, died for our sins at our hands and rose the third day, and ascended to heaven, carrying us with him into the presence of the Father.

And that wasn’t enough—he sent us the Holy Spirit so we could share in his abundant life, and have the living, indwelling Presence of the Holy Father and Son right now through the Spirit. God who is Light entered our darkness, the darkness of this world and the darkness of our souls—He shines on us, in us and through us.

He calls us to be heralds of his deliverance—to blow the trumpet and break the jars of our humanity that hide his light, to call others to join us in the battle—and to watch God do the deliverance.

God will finish what he has begun in sending his Son into human flesh and sending his Spirit into the world. He is zealous to bring many sons and daughters into glory—and he will finish this when Jesus returns in glory. One day we will be like him for we will see him as he is. Maranatha! May he come soon!

Hallelujah! You are an awesome and great God, full of all glory and Majesty. Thank you, Father, for sending us your Son and your Spirit—so that you, God, might be with us forever! Amen.

“The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.
You shall multiply the nation,
You shall increase their gladness;
They will be glad in Your presence
As with the gladness of harvest,
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,
The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian.
For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult,
And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”
Isaiah 9:2–7 NASB