God with us

Tuesday Devotional: Zechariah 2

Read Zechariah 2bible

God is for us.  This is often overlooked and often misunderstood.  But God is for us.  There is nothing that God takes more personally than when we, His beloved, are threatened and harmed.  While Jesus tells us that there is no value to a man gaining the whole world and forfeiting his soul, God proclaims to His children that there is nothing that He wants more than us.  He desires to be with us, to live among us, to unite us, to protect us, to lead and throughout all, to love us.  God is for us.  God is for you.  Do you know this?  Do you believe this?

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” This is our news.  This is the news of Jesus Christ.  That God loved the world by sending his only son to carry and bear the iniquities of man’s collective sin in order to save what He deems most precious and beloved.  This is His love and His love is for us alone.  We exist to be loved by Him.  Everything thing we do and everything that we are has been carefully designed for the purpose of channeling the love our God has for us and then to worship Him in return.

We were designed for God and our God is for us.  And if God is for us, who can be against us?  What in this world can harm you if the creator God is on your side?  In the love of Jesus nothing can separate us from the love of our God.  We often reduce God to a helper, assistant, partner figure.  He comes to us ultimately in the name of Jesus proclaiming none of these identities.  He comes proclaiming to be the great “I am” of old and to be the chosen and anointed Christ, the Messiah.  Look upon the face of the savior Jesus and believe that God is for us.

 

Hell: A Place of Loneliness

This reflection series deals with the topic of Hell. Using Jesus’ illustration of the Rich Man and Lazarus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, this week we’re reflecting on hell as a place of suffering.

Read Luke 16: 19-31

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Last week we discussed the suffering of longing and emptiness that all people can relate to. If asked what remains as another fear common to all, most would likely answer, “loneliness.” We humans were created for fellowship. Even before we were brought into this world, God designed us for fellowship with him.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Genesis 1:26-31

Then, being brought into this world by our parents and family, we were born and raised to be “with” people, loved, cared for and nurtured by them.

As we get older and our lives separate from family and home, we find ourselves apart from people more than we find togetherness with them. While independence does have its place in human development and is an integral part of finding unity with the Father who created us, fellowship with people is where we are given the fullest sensation of what we were designed to experience. Thus, being constantly alone is a fate that most are terrified and tormented by.

The Rich Man, aside from his eternal dissatisfaction and longing for relief from his suffering, is completely alone in hell.  He is left alone to ponder both his condition and the absence of a solution to his suffering. He is alone, with no one to listen to his problems, no one to offer any empathy or compassion.

When confronted with Church or Christianity, many people view both as a burden. For many people (especially in the modern Western world), individuality and the freedom it seems to give them is enough to give them the brash and prideful overconfidence to look God in the face and say to him, “I don’t need you! Leave me alone!” But we learn from the Rich Man that hell is a place where we are finally given our way. Hell is a place where God hears our request for isolation and gives us what our hearts desire. In effect, we request to be alone and God ultimately respects our desires and leaves us alone. Therefore, where many people view hell as a sort of large jar with people scrambling like insects to escape, only to find the judgmental, jealous and cruel God firmly tightening the lid, according to Jesus, hell is quite different. Hell is a place that the people residing there have in their heart of hearts requested, and who have received what they demanded.

We are often our worst company, our worst comforter and our worst coach. On the other hand, Jesus Christ came into this world as “Emmanuel.” Jesus is, “God with Us,” and hell could not be more radically different. Hell is “Man with Himself.”

Tuesday Devotional: Hebrews 2

Read Hebrews 2:5-18bible

Man was not created to be alone.  There are far reaching implications of this truth, both for good and bad.  Even times of joy may be followed by emptiness when what is being enjoyed or experienced cannot be shared with someone else.  Similarly, in times of trouble make us desperate when what we suffer cannot be shared with another person who can understand or empathize.  God has not given us the luxury to look him in the face and tell him, “You don’t understand.  You don’t know!”  In times of suffering, our desire to be rescued from our pain is sometimes matched by our desire to be isolated in our suffering, to feel an odd sense of superiority in being the only one who can understand what is happening and what we are feeling.  When we indulge in our suffering, knowing that no one can understand our suffering allows us to avoid healing and rescue, leaving us self-obsessed in our pain, which belongs only to us, and self-satisfied in knowing that only we can understand ourselves.

But God has not allowed us the luxury of wallowing in our misery and claiming exclusive right to our suffering.  The beauty and glory of God being truly Emmanuel is that, despite his majesty and authority, in order to bridge the gap between his creation and himself, he lowered himself so that man would never have be able to claim a sense of advantage or authority over him.  It was in his submission to man’s authority, the authority of the life and death of man, that he sought to firmly establish his everlasting authority over it.  It was in his submission, in lowering himself physically to wash the feet of sinful man, that he ultimately brought all of his creation under his own feet.  Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there is absolutely nothing that we can claim to possess that Christ has not already possessed.  There is nothing that we can claim to have experienced that he has not already experienced to a much higher degree than we have.  There remains nothing that can separate us from the life and love of Jesus Christ. 

This truth was not established to remove our excuses.  This truth was established so that in times of joy and in times of suffering we would always know that the God that presides and reigns over all of creation is a God who is with us, in everything. He gives us permanent and everlasting fellowship in both our joy and suffering.  He suffered, not so that we would never have to, but so that we could come to the realization that this world we live in has been overcome by his suffering and salvation, and we can live in this world being slowly transformed into a new creation, with hope in the life to come.  God does not demand that we come to him and exemplify his perfection.  God came to us.  He came to us taking the form of man, bearing man’s sin and imperfections, so that we could need nothing else except for the truth of himself and his Gospel.

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Timothy 2

bibleRead 2 Timothy 2:1-13

God does not need man.  God desires man.  In order to accomplish his objectives in this world, God does not need us, but he wants our involvement so that we can witness him at work.  The involvement is not assistance, but participation.

We have a distorted perspective of our role in the works of God in this world.  We often bear witness to the works of God in our immediate surroundings and like to inflate our roles in the process.  We reason ourselves into believing that without our openness, or obedience, or righteousness, the outcome would not have been possible.  This is a lie.  The truth is that the healing or change to which we were made privy was prepared and put into effect long before God called us into the picture.  The truth is that God did not need us so much as he included us. The healing or change that we witnessed was as much for our benefit as witness-participants as for the person or situation being healed or changed.  God’s desire to include us ultimately had little to do with the person whose change we witnessed. It has everything to do with us seeing a powerful presentation of the Father and his majesty.  This was a moment we were meant to see, but not so that we could stake any claim in what we saw.  We were brought in to see what we saw so that we could tell the world about it.  Our involvement in the works of God in this world is for us, but is never by us.  God involves us in his work so that we can build our faith with the truth that God is for us and nothing can stand against us.  God desires for us to be involved in his work, and be about his business.  He does not desire to work in private or keep us at a distance.  He provides us every opportunity to see him work, though it would be easy for him to work alone and accomplish his goals in private. From the beginning he walked with us and invited us to work alongside him.  This is because he loves us. He knows that we can only be made complete when we know him to the point of knowing what he is capable of, and are completely overwhelmed by how efficiently and powerfully he works while still making time for his children.  He daily calls us into his work, not for us to help him finish, but merely for us to be with him while he works.

Tuesday Devotionals: Exodus 33

bibleExodus 33:7-11

Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. 11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

Relationship with God is personal.  Of course experiencing the presence of God has always been, and will be, enhanced by the fellowship of corporate worship.  However, the power of God to change exists only in the one on one, face-to-face experience.  One cannot know and be moved by God if knowing and being moved by him requires the presence of other people.  Otherwise, the experience of God will be present in one moment and non-existent in another, completely defying the nature of Emmanuel, God with us to the very end of the age.  God is a God with the ability to bring people to their knees in awe-inspiring corporate worship, but his ultimate desire is to meet us as his beloved children.  A face-to-face conversation requires trust and intimacy, and this is how God chooses to speak to us.   The relationship with God is “ours” as Christians, but it is first and foremost “yours.”  God, the Father, spoke to Moses face-to-face, as a father speaks to a child. Jesus the Son spoke to his disciples as friends, inviting them to “come and see” him for themselves (John 1.39). He showed them who he really was, is, and will always be.  To know God is to know how He sees you, how He chooses to approach you.  His desire is to always be close.  His desire is to draw near.