Immanuel: Our Living Prayer

Immanuel, Christmas babe,
God’s gift wrapped in flesh.
Immanuel, God with us,
Living life, breathing breath.
You came as a Lamb
That was led unto slaughter,
You looked, loving eyes,
At God’s sons and daughters;
You declared, “I’m the vine,
Apart from me you will die.”
You walked, countless steps,
Never once asking “why?”
An example like no other
You lived life as a song
And you promised as the Truth,
To shed light on my wrongs.
Not condemning, but to save,
You examined my wounds,
And to heal them you went
Lifeless, loving, to a tomb.
Fighting battles I cannot,
As my sword and protector,
Went to Hell with white gloves
As my Death Inspector.
With your hands you passed over
My enemy’s home,
And on closer inspection
Found blood there – your own.
With the sword of your Word
Plunged deep into dark,
You entered the courtroom
And poured out your heart.
“Father,” you said,
“It is true he is guilty,
But punish him not,
I have bought him, you see?”
And then you exposed
Nail-pierced hands and bruised feet
And my enemy roared –
The clear sound of defeat.
Immanuel, my King,
No one is above you.
In my eyes and my tears,
Oh, how I love you!
Falling face down
I call you “Good Shepherd,”
My healer and teacher,
You’re my questions answered.
As the Light for my life
You have shown me the way.
As my orphanage now,
In you I must stay.
When my heart breaks, you heal it
By the grace of your touch.
You received from me little,
You have given me much.
As a gift wrapped in flesh,
God gave you to me.
And your life was unwrapped
As you hung on a tree.
Not under, like Christmas,
But on the tree gave
Every breath of your life
For my one soul to save.
So I cling to you, hold you,
Interwoven, our lives –
They must be together –
So that I may survive.
Your victory mine,
You triumphantly returned
And handed over your sword,
Something I never earned.
You told me quite clearly,
“My word is your sword,
I entrust it to you,
And I’ll prepare your reward.”
Undeserving, I accept,
And I’ll fight the good fight,
I’ll hold your light in the dark
‘Til my day turns to night.
When night comes I will trust
That the Son always rises.
In exchange for my life
You give infinite prizes.
God with us, you are,
God with us, my Head,
So that I can have life
You gave yours instead.

Thank you, Jesus.

I love you


Immanuel: Our Head

If Jesus as our orphanage was a new thought that I did not understand, Jesus as our head is one that I should have seen all along. But, on Saturday, as I drove and listened to Israel and New Breed’s cd, I heard that image conveyed. And it clicked. Of course. It makes perfect sense.

Can you live without your head? No. Can you live without Jesus? No.
Where is your sense of direction? In your head. And in Jesus.
Sense of balance? Sight? Ability to hear what is being said to you? All in your head, and all in Jesus. What holds all things together? the head. In short, Jesus told us, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Oh, we think we can. We try. But we are almost as successful as a little pinky toe wandering off to conquer the world. Everything is right when we listen to our head. It takes practice. Training. Falling down more than a few times. An infant does not run right away. It does not walk right away. It does not even crawl right away. The same is true in your recognition of Christ as your head. It will take time for areas of you, of your life, to recognize what Christ is directing you to do and for you to respond correctly. It’s called muscle memory, and there is only one way to get there – trying again and again.

When I type on a keyboard I no longer need to look at the keys (thank you, Mrs. Folkerts and Mrs. Eisenga). It’s automatic. In fact, the more I think about where the keys are, the more confused I become. I simply have to trust my head and my muscle memory. Many of you will plan to establish resolutions. That’s great. But remember two things: 1) there is nothing even close to the rewards of spiritual muscle memory, and 2) every day is an opportunity to try again.

As I start my day, I have knocked so many things down off a shelf in the bathroom. And I am absolutely amazed at how I catch them. There is zero thinking involved, but as one hand sends an object tumbling into the rules of gravity, the other hand instinctively shoots out to exactly where it will be and catches it. It’s pretty impressive, really. And completely impossible without the head. I don’t know what spiritual muscle you want to improve, but just watch what will happen when you keep trying. I cannot tell you how many times I had to type “asdf” in order to get where I am with keyboard skills. Maybe you want to read the Bible every day. Go for it. Maybe you want tithing to be automatic instead of agonizingly thought-involved. Set it up online. Perhaps it is your church attendance. Find one and go. Or volunteering. Or writing. Finally deciding to write every day and putting my muscles to it has been incredibly rewarding to my vision. As I told a dear friend of mine, I was always thinking anyway; now I am thinking on this instead. Spiritual exercise.

Maybe you’re not there yet. That’s okay. Start where infants start. They cannot run. They cannot walk. They cannot crawl. But they can receive love and show love. Do that. That is where all of us begin. And, if we’re honest, we all still have days where we just want to cuddle up close to Jesus and be loved. And we should.

A final point about the physical body correlation. When you cut your hand, or bruise your knee, the experience of pain takes place in your head. Yes, you feel it at your hand or on your knee, but it is because your brain is telling you that you have pain there. Those who have leprosy will be injured but not even know it because of damage to nerves. The experience of the wound stays at the wound because the head does not send out the healing agents. And just as the center of our nervous system is found in our head, so the center of our spiritual nervous system is found in Christ. We, the body, have been cut. That message of pain travels up to our head, and it is received. If your spiritual wounds do not make it to Christ, we will never experience healing. And just as Jesus receives our pain, he also sends out the message of healing so that the wound is restored completely within us. We cannot be healed unless he first receives our pain.

For the spiritual Body, the Church, Jesus is also the head. And we would do well to listen to and rely on his guidance. Too often, we flail about like independent body parts without a single, unifying purpose. We, the Body, have a single unifying purpose – to live and to grow, to love and be loved. But the head must guide in order for that to happen. Recognize the part that you are. Every single part of the body has a purpose. That is also true of the Body. Be the best part that you are. And if you are able to connect with a church body, help them to recognize their role in the Body so that they can work in cooperation with other parts. Crawling is cool. Being loved is awesome. But our head wants us to run!

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1:22,23

Immanuel: Our Orphanage

Up until this thought, most of my Immanuel characteristics made sense to me right away. I could understand Jesus as a Shepherd, Jesus as the Light, Jesus as the Word. But I had never thought of Jesus as an orphanage, so where did that come from? Then, in my wondering, God once again gave confirmation. The next day the news broke that Vladimir Putin enacted a law in Russia which would ban people in the United States from adopting Russian orphans. Thousands of children who await adoption were cut off from their expectant parents.

Hmm. Sound familiar? Perhaps a story from the beginning of the Bible? Or any of the stories that follow after it? All of us, as God’s children, have been cut off from Him. By law. The law that is God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice. The law that reflects back to us our complete and absolute inability to go and be with our Heavenly Father on our own. There’s not a child in a Russian orphanage now that can simply stand up, leave the country, cross the ocean, and find their adoptive family on their own. They cannot. They are bound by the law. So what can they do? What can we do?

Well, when we look in the Old Testament, there is a lot more laid out for the Israelites than only the Ten Commandments. Chapter after chapter follows the giving of the Ten Commandments with more instructions on how to live. Sabbath laws, laws for personal injury, protection of property, and much more. There is also a section titled “Social Responsibility.” When you read through all of the laws and ordinances that were spelled out at that time, you should extend a sincere, heartfelt “thank you” to Jesus for summarizing the law into Law 1A & 1B – love God, love people. Tucked into the “love people” commandments is this passage, which many of you may have heard before: “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” Exodus 22:22-24

It should not surprise us that God is passionately protective of those who cannot defend themselves, because that is all of us. God’s words to Moses for the Israelites was a shot across the bow, a bold warning to the enemy that attempts to claim us. We have all been cut off from our Father. We are all helpless to defend ourselves. And we cried out. God heard our cry. His anger was aroused. And He took His sword, plunged it into the heart of the enemy, and it flowed with the love of God’s sacrifice for us – Jesus. So what now?

Well, as orphans, we need a temporary home. We need an orphanage. Your Heavenly Father is waiting for you to come home, and one day you will. Once the place that is being prepared for you is ready, your Abba Father will call to you, “Come look what I have for you!” What a day of rejoicing that will be! But God will not leave you without a home in the meantime. We need an orphanage. And we have one. Read the words of Jesus as he promises the Holy Spirit, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” John 14:18-19

Isn’t it curious that Jesus told grown men that he would not leave them as “orphans”? Have you ever thought of yourself that way? It was Shane Claiborne, in his book Irresistible Revolution, that flipped on the light switch for me about our orphan status. He wrote very eloquently about a social problem that I have often noticed – fatherlessness. But as he wrote he pointed out that no one really is fatherless. Everyone – everyone – has a Father. But it is true that some have not met Him yet. Framing it that way puts the weight of social responsibility back on the brothers and sisters of that person who have met the Father. We must tell them! But to do that, we must recognize that we are orphans in an orphanage. The difference between us and those who are not there is that the adoption paperwork has been completed. We’re just waiting for our permanent home. Until then…

Until then what?

Until then you, who have a promised permanent home, must tell other orphans about the Father with waiting arms. About the Father with an infinite home and rooms just waiting to be filled. About the Father who has a big, big family.

So let me challenge what might be stopping you from telling other orphans about our Father. It’s what sits sinisterly within me: I’m not an orphan; I belong automatically. For all of my life, I have been blessed to know of God. I was in the church before you could see me. I was digesting the Word in utero – seriously. I have known no differently. It is a blessing to be given such a home, but so was the Garden of Eden. And the enemy whispers to me, “Did God really say you’re an orphan? You don’t need an orphanage – you already have a home – your family here.” Tempting to believe, right? Sounds almost accurate, right? Almost. But if you decide to build a home for yourself here, what will happen when the Father goes to the orphanage He built – the place where He expects to find you? What if the Father goes to the orphanage – Jesus – and asks, “Have you seen ______?” And what if Jesus’ response is, “They were here at the beginning – brought here by other children – but left to have a different home.”? God has an only son. And it ain’t me. I, too, need a “forever home,” and I cannot build one of those on my own.

Jesus called his disciples, those who daily walked with him, saw him in the flesh, saw him perform miracles and heard his voice…”orphans.” Don’t you dare think that you’re not. We are. And if we remember the words of Jesus, we will see the home that the Father has promised. Read these words spoken, as Jesus continued to comfort, “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” Don’t miss the depth of that statement by Jesus. When God heard the cries of His orphans, He was angry. Satan was taking advantage of us. God plunged His sword into him. His sword is His Word. The Word is Jesus. The Word won. And Jesus told his disciples that they would not be left as orphans. By the working of the Holy Spirit, Jesus leaves his life inside of us. We live in him – Jesus – our orphanage, as the ones who undestand our helplessness and await the promise of our permanent home. “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” John 14:21 Jesus, our orphanage, is in God, so that when the day comes for your adoption to be finalized, God will find you right where you belong – in the orphanage.

Understand that you are an orphan. Understand that you are not left that way. Understand that Jesus lives in you and you live in him. And Jesus, our orphanage, lives in our permanent home.

Now, once you understand that, you go back to the words of Exodus 22. “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” Exodus 22:22-24

You will see orphans all around you. Every day. The only question you need to ask is whether or not they have been adopted. If not, tell them about your Father who has promised you a forever home.

10,000 Reasons

240) Trusting God in my pursuit of a mission trip.
239) Cheesecake for breakfast.
238) I am learning to sleep in!
237) For time to relax.
236) Homemade shakes with rainbow sherbert.
235) My dog Boxer was able to follow my directions to become untangled.
234) It’s okay to clear some things out when their purpose is fulfilled.
233) I’m learning to look for God in the moments, and not just in the events.

10,000 Reasons

232) Silence.
231) Strong words if truth in a candidacy sermon. Words that spoke deeply to thoughts that have been already brewing.
230) Singing with the praise team.
229) The parents of a friend welcome me in their home.
228) Laughter with friends and friends-in-progress.
227) Being guided by a full moon while driving.
226) Caleb felt the freedom to sing and be silly.
225) For an extended family that grabs hands and prays the Lord’s Prayer before starting a Christmas party.

An Ark, not lifeboats

I knew this before I went to sleep last night, but I had no words. In a way I am tired of words. I’m tired of my own words. This took place very close to dear friends of mine. The man who died is a cousin of an old friend. I am tired of words. I am tired of grieving. I am certain that none of the recent acts have been random. I am also certain that the enemy laughs while we mourn. Because we need more than words. One person will not stop this – it is not a physical fight. It is the spirit of death waging war against the spirit of life. But you can do something. You must do something.
Last night I drove home on a dark, snowy, two-lane highway and a car was following me closely. Normally this bothers me, especially in less-than-ideal driving conditions. Then I realized this: it was safer for them to follow my light than to be on the dark road alone. I did the same thing to a car on the highway, benefitting from their light and guidance. No matter how bright or dim your light in the darkness is, it is light in the darkness. Someone needs it.
“By faith Noah, when warned about things not seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” Hebrews 11:7
Here is what I see: Everything we see is a copy and a shadow. Everything since Christ has a redirected purpose. Well, in unholy fear, Grand Rapids has labored for 162 years to build boats – two-person lifeboats. Big enough for you and the person you want to let in the boat with you. The Church has become the churches. The Body has become the body parts. We prepare ourselves for the flood, rather than making enough room for those God would choose to save.
You carry a light. Someone would like to be by you to be safe. But if you only lead them to a two-person lifeboat, you will be done. Certainly you will not give up your spot for someone else. But what if everyone who carries the light had the faith enough, had enough holy fear, to guide others to The Church? How long could you go back and forth then – if you knew that God had enough room for all who come?
What you can do: pray. That is what the disciples did first when Jesus ascended. When God’s physical presence was no longer with them, they prayed until God’s spiritual presence came. Pray until the Spirit comes. Without the Spirit, you will drown in the waters because you will be lost in the darkness yourself. Once the Spirit comes, follow. I promise you that there will be directions that take you out of your comfort zone. Follow. I also strongly believe that your instructions will take you out of the churches – the building – and bring you to the Church – the Body. Find body parts and attach them.
The first permanent resident of Grand Rapids who was not of the Ottawa people was a Baptist minister. John Ball called this area “the promised land.” And we believed it. And built lifeboats. And the enemy laughs. Want to condemn, by faith, the darkness that settles? Take your light to the Ark, the only Ark that saves – God.

Immanuel: Our Gift

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am we’ll pleased. Listen to him!” Matthew 16:5

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:22-24

I am not a very good receiver. You can test me on this, or help me practice. Call me up and offer to bring me food and I will try to receive it well. The truth is that I would rather be the giver, but I’m learning. Last year a friend pointed out that I quickly dismiss compliments. In my mind, I thought it was a sign of humility. After discussing it, I realize it is a refusal to receive. And I need to improve that. I get this trait “honestly.” I used to observe my father receive a nice new shirt at Christmas and, not really knowing what to say, offered, “What do I need this for? I already have shirts.” He did not say that to be mean; he just did not know how to receive. He, like my mother, came from parents who lived through The Depression. Families that survived by using and re-using every bit of every thing. So a new gift, in a sense, was excessive. It was unnecessary because they had been forced to be content, and any extra was better served in a rainy day fund. Receiving well is not a strong trait in my family.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of hearing a wonderful speaker at a retreat, and she hit on this very topic. She, too, used to dismiss compliments. Then she learned how to receive them. She receives them as if someone is giving her a flower. So she looks the giver in the eyes, and says to them, “Thank you very much.” At the end of the day she takes all of her “flowers” and sets them at the feet of Jesus – where they belong. I like that.

Twice in the last week I have seen very clear evidence of the truth found in Proverbs 18:16, A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great. On Sunday I tossed a bag of candy to a young man at church. He received them. I have known this young man for no less than five years. And, about two minutes after he received the candy, he came over to me and we had the longest conversation that we have ever had. Today, at our extended family’s Christmas party, events proceeded as normal. Three hours in, the meal, games, and gifts were complete. I made a statement to my cousin, who received his gift from me. It was our first exchange of the day. We then proceeded to have a lengthy conversation and he invited me to participate in something with him and his friends. A gift opens the way – IF it is received.

I have been reflecting on this quite a bit. I will soon be a recipient of a better-running car. The car will be more than what I could afford at this time. The car is paid for. It is a gift from my father. You see, although my father may not have always received very well (he’s getting better – we’re wearing him down), he is a great giver. He sees a need; he meets it. And I have not always received this well. In our society that is so saturated with do-it-yourself messages, I have fallen prey to the belief that I was “less than” if I could not provide something on my own. I was supposed to get good grades to get into college (to get into debt) to get a good job and to get nice things. Right? So in my fledgling adult years, I denied my father his due honor. I did not acknowledge the giver. I did not receive.

Now maybe you do this better than I do. Maybe you don’t have to fight the urge to “earn” what you have. But I would guess it’s a struggle for you also. And I guess that because in order to receive a gift well, you have to truly acknowledge your helplessness. And every day there is a gift extended to you that you would like to believe you can earn. Grace. Unconditional love. Righteousness. I’ll save you the trouble – you cannot earn it, but you can receive it. When I have failed to acknowledge my father as the giver of a car, I have completely diminished his sacrifice. His gift. His love. And that is the same operation at work in your heart when you puff yourself up as if you have earned righteousness.

God was doing more than attempting to do more than terrify Peter, James, and John when He spoke to them from heaven. He was pointing out His gift. His love, wrapped in flesh, delivered to Earth to be received. It was not that God wanted us to simply mimic Jesus. God gave him up – to us – because we need him. We fall desperately short. All the time. It’s not that we have fallen short; we are falling short. Every day. Sometimes we like to tell ourselves that we are ex-sinners. Retired. If no one else has told you, let me be the first to say you should retire again. Yes, sanctification is at work in our lives. Yes, we strive to improve in our walk. But we will never get there!

Even as I wrestle with receiving the gift of a car, I fight the urge to believe that I somehow deserve it. I was and am a “good kid.” Now it’s your turn to tell me – ha. Of course I remember the good parts. But I remember many things that I did wrong in the presence of my father. In defiance of my father. In secret from my father. I have been prone to share here, but I assure you – I am not ready for a tell-all story. I’m not even ready for a tell-some. And I think I deserve a gift from my father? Ha. Or from my Father? Infinity ha.

We will live differently when we start fighting the lie of self-achievement, and when we stop looking at the distorted mirror of self-image. We are in absolutely no position to earn God’s grace. If you don’t believe me, think of the things you have done, knowing you were in the presence of God. Or knowing you were defying God. Or thinking you were hidden from God. You, nor I, deserve this grace, this unconditional love, this righteousness extended toward us.

So here is what can happen when we fully receive a gift. When we stop walking around with a fake receipt like we paid for it. A way is made for the giver, and we can respond in love. Because I’m not pretending that I paid for the car, I can give honor to my father. I can give testimony to his love for me. And someone can see a glimmer of what our Heavenly Father does for us. The name on the title is mine. The pain in the pocketbook is my father’s. The name in the Book of Life is yours. But the price of righteousness – of an innocent life given over – has Jesus written all over it. I don’t think you want to approach the proverbial pearly gates claiming you paid your own way. I think they will ask for the receipt.

If you, like me, are struggling to receive, take a moment and reflect on what has been given to you. Free yourself from the self-imposed pressure to perform. Be a mess, and you will be blessed. God told us all what Jesus was saying: God is well pleased with His son. Jesus is loved. And he is a gift. Acknowledge the giver. Restore His honor. And give testimony to the life and love given for you.