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.

Immanuel: Our Christmas Babe

*This was the piece I looked for the other night. Still applicable. Enjoy.

Sweet was the babe
Who, in innocence lying,
In the manger was placed
There to save you from dying.
What a quest, what a trek
That was laid out before him
To face all that tempts
And still live without sin.
Yet his Father did promise
We should see such a savior
So we could love without question
Our God and our neighbor.
So God, as Himself,
Came in form of a babe
Though no one could tell
It was Him who would save.
So esteeming Him not
Our ancestors scorned
Beat Him and killed Him
While just a few mourned.
What a sad fate to have
For such an innocent child
But in what other way
Could God reconcile?
We’re deserving of death
And eternal damnation
Yet God chose to save us
And offer salvation.
He turned the world on its head
With one simple birth
By the stroke of pure God
He brought heaven to earth.
Receive or reject Him
Those your only two choices
But there’s only one way
To hear angels’ voices.
God paved the way
On that one starlit night
Correcting our sins
With the one Way that’s right.
God chose to save us
Through the life of His son
From birth unto death
God’s handiwork done.
Born that man
No more may die
Hear one simple truth
Not a long, complex lie:
God chose to oppose
All the plans of his foe
Rescue you from your sins
All your faults and your woes.
So let the babe that He chose
Wrapped in swaddling clothes
Be the reason you sing
For the whole world to know.

Immanuel: Our Living Water

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” John 4:10

There are moments along our journey when we need to hear those same words: “If you knew the gift of God..” For they are all around us, always, but we often miss them. Pass them by in an attempt to grab more of what we think we have less of. And the gift slips through our fingers.

One of those gifts is time. We know that we are not promised tomorrow, but we still plan for next week. I don’t believe that God is entirely against planning, but we live a lifestyle that is a far cry from His Son, precious Jesus who lived daily dependence upon his Father. Please show me the passage where Jesus told someone, “I’m sorry but I can’t do that. I have plans.” Jesus lived responding to needs, and trusted his Father to make provision. Jesus never needed more time. He always had enough.

I recently picked up the book One Thousand Gifts again. I have a tendency to think that I understand “the point” of a book and subsequently fail to finish it. However, I recognized that I would have time – eight hours to be exact – to read while I worked a third shift. The chapter “A Sanctuary of Time” was hitting the nail on the head. She described preparing a gift of food for her children and found herself lost in the thoughts of everything that would still need to be done. Even as her children enjoyed the treat, her mind raced through the new list: washing the plates, picking up the toys, making another meal, preparing children for bed, picking up again and crawling in bed exhausted. If only there was more time, right?

But later in the chapter she realizes that no one needs more time. We only need enough time. And we already do, but sometimes we miss that gift from God. The author makes the point of saying that time is not money, but “time is life.” So true. And I used one of the only things I remember from Geometry class to help me understand that more: If time is life, and life is living water, then time is living water. (If that’s not how geometrical proofs work, don’t ruin it for me. It works in my head.)

Time, to me, has all the properties of a liquid. First, it is not something you can hold in your hands without another object. Think of photographs, which essentially capture time. But in the present, you cannot hold time. You also cannot manipulate time on your own. In fact, when you step into time, you are immediately surrounded by it. As you move, you create ripples that go out from you. And when you step out of time, it will be as if you were never there. Think about it. Tell me one person who has left a hole in the substance of time. Now some have left some pretty big waves, that is true. And the energy of their waves pushes up against the shore of infinite time, affecting those in their path, and then carry the energy back into the ocean of time. I will grant you that Jesus changed the pH of the water – the acid no longer eats at us – but that is only if we consume the living water.

So if time is liquid and time is living water, what can we do? We can consume it. We can have enough of it. Consider the following symptoms: thirst, loss of appetite, fatigue (beginning stages); increased heart rate, increased body temperature, headaches, extreme fatigue (5% loss); dim vision, confusion, chest and abdominal pain, racing pulse (10% loss). Have I described to you the symptoms of dehydration or the symptoms of spiritual dehydration – or are they the same? Is your fatigue from lack of water or lack of living water? Is your pulse racing because you need to hydrate or need to consume Jesus? Do you experience confusion because you ran out of cups, or because you refuse to let your cup be filled to overflowing?

This hit me so clearly yesterday. A day when I only had a nap after working a third shift. How could I feel so good when I should be so tired? Because I was drinking living water. I used my time to read from the Word, from One Thousand Gifts, and from The Jesus I Never Knew. I was spiritually hydrated. But guess what? Unless you have a hump on your back that you have not told me about, you cannot store up water. So you cannot store up living water. It needs constant replenishment. If you drink nothing today, you will certainly notice it tomorrow. If you have increased activity today, you will need hydration before the day is done. So why have we allowed ourselves to think we can drink for an hour or two on Sunday and get through the week? You are bound to experience confusion, and heatstroke is right around the corner.

Even though I felt great yesterday, that was yesterday. My hydration needs will be different today, and I must recognize that. I even recognized that this clever title of “Rooted and Reaching” is a miss of the mark. I must be rooted to be reaching. A tree does not will itself to grow. No! It drinks of the water and turns the absorption of the sun into life. But I cannot tell you how many times, how many days, I have tried to make my branches go where I want them to go. Now, today at least, I know that I should allow my roots to drink. God will provide the growth.

If time is life, and life is living water, it is also possible that we could consume too much. So consider these symptoms: loss of emotional restraint, impaired judgment, confusion when facing tasks requiring thinking, memory loss, unable to be aroused, comatose, possible death. Here have I described progressive symptoms of intoxication, or someone who consumes too much time too quickly – or both? This is no indictment on alcoholic beverages, but simply a mirror to ask about your consumption levels. Your life consumption levels. Some of us put too much into too short a time. Some of us draw false energy and false freedom from the wrong sources. And we crash. We have impaired judgment. Maybe it is time to be cleaned out.

I don’t know why it has taken me this long to recognize the purpose in our body design containing so much water. But at least I see it now. You see, every thing that we consume is an attempt to fill a void. And one of the biggest voids we have is a thirst for affirmation. For love. If you look deeply enough, you will see that almost every thing we do is driven by a thirst to be affirmed, approved, loved. Again, the enemy lies and asks, “Did God actually say He would love you – even after what you did?” It’s the fear of Adam and Eve played out over and over, again and again. “Surely” we think, “God cannot love us now.” So we drink the world’s affirmation. We make ourselves more appealing, we believe. We cater to needs. We try to make ourselves better, to have more. Even in my giving I have recognized a thread of this. I give to be well-thought of, to be well-liked. I don’t trust that I can be loved if I have nothing to give.

Hmm.

If we have nothing to give. Sounds like serious dehydration, or intoxication. When did Jesus ever ask for more than what was already there? He only ever asked for what was already there. He told his disciples, “Follow me.” He gave the loaves and fishes that were already there. And he simply asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. She was already coming to draw water; Jesus simply asked her to redirect her purpose. To use what she thought she needed for herself – and give it to him. If we knew, if we only knew God’s gift, we would not miss this.

Even Christ followed this principle. He gave what he already had – his life and his love – and redirected its purpose. And what was the result? He received in return the gift of living water from his Father. Christ’s love now is multiplied exponentially through us, the “little Christs.” His life was given over for eternal life, so that he will never thirst again.

You have been given a gift. Time. And now you have been asked to redirect its purpose, to give what you thought was for you over to the One who can give something better. My oldest son just told me his cup of water tastes like “dishwater.” I advised him that if he allowed the water to become colder first, he would like it. As he hesitated I pointed out, “Or you can keep drinking water that you don’t really want.” Is that what you’re doing? Are you drinking the world’s affirmation even though it tastes awful? Or are you drinking the living water so that you will never thirst again? Each day, each moment is liquid. It’s up to you what you choose to drink.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst again. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” John 4:13-15

Immanuel: God’s Child

Some of you know that I received a subpoena to appear at a court hearing last week. The hearing was the contested termination of parental rights. A client who had previously been on my caseload was now in a position where she might lose rights to her nearly two-year old daughter. I had given a lot of thought to what I would say if called upon. A lot has changed for me in my years of working with children. That was evident in my response to a statement in an interview last week. The statement was: “The worst home is better than the best placement.” Although I have worked in and around a placement setting for much of the past 15 years, my answer is, “Yes, in the heart and mind of a child, it is.” No matter how loved, how safe, how cared for a child is in a placement, they always will see it as temporary. And there will always be a heart cry for mom and dad.
So, with that in mind, I was not ready to see this former client lose her rights to her daughter. But she did. Everything was worked out in the conference room. She and the girl’s father had little room to argue, unfortunately. The mother has just begun a new placement in a treatment facility two hours away. The father of the little girl is in jail – again. And the girl has been in out-of-family placement for over a year. And the family that cares for the little girl is very loving. In many ways it seems like the best thing to do. But some day, that little girl will be old enough to wonder. Old enough to seek. Old enough to hurt. And, as the parents signed the forms, they were already hurting. With tears in their eyes, their attorneys asked everyone but family to leave the courtroom.
I had to find some redemption in that event. So I did what I do – started to write. And as I did, I noticed some rich parallels to what God might have said as He let go of His son. For most of my life I have failed to consider that Jesus coming to our world might be “difficult” for God. It’s easy, right? Just drop Jesus down to save us, pull him back up, and all is well. If I believe that it was easy, then I have trivialized the gift. Minimized the sacrifice. And that is exactly what I have done most of the time. Writing this put some perspective on that for me. I know the sacrifices I make for my children. And I know that I bear God’s imprint. So if I cannot bear to think of “giving up” my child, then how did my Father look at it when He gave His only son? I will never fully know the depth of that on this side of heaven, but it deserves my time and our consideration. The first piece here is written as the young mother signing away her legal rights to her daughter. The second piece is written as a way to consider God sending His only son to our world. Give that some thought today.

I put my name on the paper
To say you’re not mine
I put a smile on my tears
To say that I’m fine
Heartbroken, heart breaking
I don’t want to do this
Heartbreaking, heart broken
Let my tears be my kiss
You were born unto me
But now another will claim
You’re now given away
And I whisper your name
Some say this is better
Some say it’s for you
Some say you’ll soon see me
And I hope that it’s true
Child, oh child
Our world is so broken
Why must I give you away?
If this is how
Our love is spoken
What else is there to say?
Can you hear
The shedding of tears
Or the sound of a breaking heart?
And how will you know
Of the cries you won’t hear
As we stand in our worlds apart?
Child, you’re mine
Always. Forever.
Child, you’re mine
Another’s? Never.
The fabric of you
Is the fabric of me
So when you’re cut and hurting
It’s my blood they’ll see
As a babe you were held
As a babe you were loved
And now you’ll grow fully
From my heart’s empty glove
We were made to fit together
Hand to hand
And cheek to cheek
In your heart you’ll always search
For my love
You’ll always seek
I know this will hurt you
For the moments
We’re apart
But some day you’ll be with me
Until then
Hold my heart
So I will let them have you
Because right now
It’s the best
And some day once again we’ll stand
Heart to heart
And chest to chest.

I made Mary your mother
Even though you are mine
To make you fully human
And yet you’re fully divine
Heartbroken, the world
Stands in need of your kiss
Heart broken and breaking
I will give them this:
Born to another
You will bear my name
Though I give you away
Very soon I’ll reclaim
I know this is better
For the children like you
I know you’ll soon see me
And you know this is true
Child, oh child
The world is so broken
That I must give you away
For they must see
How true love is spoken
And child that starts today
As you shed your own tears
And you break your own heart
The world will know that you love
And though for now
We stand worlds apart
I will always be pleased up above
Child, you’re mine
Always. Forever.
Child you’re mine
That bond cannot be severed.
The fabric of you
Is the fabric of me
And when you’re the one broken
It’s my heart they will see
As a babe you’ll be held
As a babe you’ll be loved
But what happens next
Will break my heart up above
On a cross you will hang
With pierced hands
And pierced feet
And you’ll want to fight back
But for love
Take defeat
I know this will hurt
For a moment
Apart
But soon you’ll be with me
And never again
Will we part
So that is why they must have you
Only then
Can we rest
So we bring them all home
Your life
Conquers death.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only son..”