IMMANUEL IS GOD WITH US

“’Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” Matthew 1:23

I never grow tired of hearing the Bible’s perspective about the birth of Jesus Christ. It truly is good news! In the gospel of Matthew, we learn of the humanity of Jesus as proven by the fact that He is a legal Descendant of King David (Matt. 1:1-17; 2 Sam. 7:16). But Jesus is also God as proven by His names and manner of conception (Matt. 1:16, 18, 20-21, 23, 25). 1

When Joseph discovered Mary became pregnant while engaged to him, he assumed the worst and sought to put her away to avoid public disgrace for them both (Matt. 1:18-19). Before Joseph could act, God showed up to him and addressed him as a descendant of David (“son of David”) through whom the Messianic King would come, telling him not to be afraid because Mary’s pregnancy was supernaturally produced by God the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20). This Son Whom Mary would bear was to be named “Jesus” (Yahweh is Savior) “for He will save His people,” Israel, “from” the physical (Zech. 9:9-10) and spiritual (Acts 10:43; 16:31) consequences of “their sins” (Matt. 1:21). 2

Jesus’ virgin birth fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) that a virgin shall be with child – a supernatural sign that would indicate an unusual “Child” was to be born because of His divine nature and presence (Matt. 1:22-23a). A virgin birth through the Holy Spirit explains Jesus’ sinless nature (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15). The sin nature is passed on through the human father. Romans 5:12 states, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (cf. Rom. 5:18).Although Eve sinned first in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-6), Adam is held accountable for sin’s entrance into the world.

The Bible also teaches that God visits “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations” (Exod. 20:5; cf. Deut. 5:9). Generational sins are passed on through the fathers, not the mothers.This implies that the sin nature is transmitted through the fathers, not the mothers or both parents.

“Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes: one member of each pair inherited from the mother and the other from the father. This suggests that when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary (Luke 1:35), and Jesus was conceived in His mother, God miraculously supplied the other 23 chromosomes to make the matched pair with Mary’s. These would normally have come from a human father.” 3

“And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:35). Since God the Holy Spirit took the place of the human father and brought about the conception of Jesus, His 23 chromosomes “overshadowed”Mary’s, causing Christ to be the only human being ever to be conceived since the fall of Adam and Eve without a sin nature. The Greek word translated “overshadowed” (episkiazo) occurs in all three accounts of the Transfiguration where the cloud overshadowed those present (Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34). 4 The Holy Spirit “overshadowed” Mary with His presence to bring about this supernatural conception.

“This delicate expression rules out crude ideas of a ‘mating’ of the Holy Spirit with Mary.” 5

“The deity and preexistence of the Son of God required a miraculous conception. His virgin birth resulted in His assuming a human nature, without giving up His divine nature.” 6

The virgin birth qualifies this infinite Person (Jesus) to bear an infinite number of sins for all humanity on the cross 7 (cf. John 1:29; I John 2:1-2). Only a perfect sacrifice could remove the sins of all humanity forever. In the Old Testament, emphasis is given to “perfect” animal sacrifices “without blemish” (Exod. 12:5; 29:1; Lev. 1:3, 10; 3:1, 6; 4:3, 23, 28, 32; 5:15, 18; 6:6; 9:2-3; 14:10; 22:19, 21; et al.) as foreshadows of the perfect Lamb of God Whose shed blood on the cross would perfect forever those who believe in Him (John 1:29; 3:14-18; Rom. 4:5; 8:31-39; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:1-10:18; I Pet. 3:18)!   

Since Jesus is fully human (John 1:14; I Tim. 2:5), He can empathize with our human struggles (Heb. 4:15). And since He is fully God (John 1:1, 18; Titus 2:13; I John 5:20), He can heal our brokenness (Exod. 15:26b; Psalm 147:3). Jesus is “Immanuel” which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23b). We often focus on this verse to emphasize that Jesus is “God,” but in so doing we can easily skip over the word “with.” The Greek word translated “with” (meta) refers to God being “among” or “in the company of” someone in a supportive way. 8 

Jesus Christ is not “God against us,” “God condemning us,” “God judging us,” “God punishing us,” “God pushing us,” “God shaming us,” or “God shoulding us.” The God of the universe is saying, “I am God WITH you.” The Lord is with us in our pain and struggles. He moves toward us with compassion and love so we can feel safe from being criticized, judged, or shamed. This can help us relax and let Jesus heal the deep wounds that we have buried deep within our souls to protect us from rejection and ridicule.

Jesus is “God WITH us.” He is“God HELPS us.”He moves toward broken humanity with compassion, not against them with condemnation (Matt. 11:28-30; 12:20; John 3:17).

Unfortunately, Christians may not experience Christ in this way when it comes to their “church” experience. When they struggle with anxiety, depression, loneliness, rejection, sadness, or suicidal thoughts, well-meaning Christians may move against them by saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way. Just trust God.” Then they quote a Bible verse to support their should’s. What this communicates to the struggling believer is that it is not okay to feel that way. It also reinforces the lie that says, “Good Christians don’t have negative emotions.”

I believe when a hurting believer gets exhorted by other Christians with should’s, it is often because the exhorting believer is uncomfortable with their own feelings that are activated when they hear someone else talk about negative emotions. But instead of facing their own feelings, the exhorting believer focuses on the feelings of the hurting person in a critical or judgmental way to get them to stop talking.

The result is the struggling Christian learns that it is not safe to talk about their negative emotions in a church setting. So, they work extra hard to know the Bible and have all the right answers. They faithfully attend prayer meetings, volunteer to teach Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, and go on mission trips so they don’t upset God and other believers. It is not wrong to do these things per se. But when we do these things out of fear instead of love, it causes more isolation and pain. We can do all these right things without any close connection with God and others.  

You probably realize that I am speaking from my own experience. I have been on both sides of this equation. I have been the exhorting Christian who moves against the hurting believer with should’s and lots of Bible verses. And I have also been the hurting believer who has been the recipient of many Bible verses and should’s from well meaning believers who unknowingly moved against me.

This serves as a reminder that all people, including Christians, need Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can move toward us with perfect love and compassion regardless of our condition. Perhaps you are struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, rejection, sadness, self-doubts, stress, or suicidal thoughts. You can draw near to Jesus this Christmas season with confidence that He will help you and heal you. He wants all people to experience “God with us” both now (Matt. 28:20) and forever (Rev. 21:3)!!!

How can you experience God’s loving presence in your life if you are not a Christian? Jesus wants you to understand your need for Him. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). All people (except Jesus) are born with a sin nature that desires to live our own way instead of God’s way. All of us are like sheep who “have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6a). All people have rebelled against God and disobeyed His laws.

Since God is absolutely holy and righteous, He cannot be around our sin. Therefore, the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23b). The word “death” means separation. Our sins separate us from God. Jesus tells us that the final punishment for our sins is death in hell or the lake of fire forever (Mark 9:43-48; cf. Rev. 20:15). I think you will agree this is bad news.

But Isaiah’s prophecy also has good news!  “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6b). Hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth, the prophet Isaiah tells us that Christ would be punished for all the sins of the world through crucifixion (“pierced through for our transgressions” – Isaiah 53:5).  

God loved you and me so much He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place on the cross and rise from the dead over two thousand years ago (John 3:16a; I Cor. 15:1-6). Jesus is alive today and He invites you to come to Him on His terms when He says, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16b). What are Jesus’ terms? He says, “whoever believes in Him.” He does not say, “whoever lives a good life… prays… has religion… turns from sin… meditates… loves God… surrenders… gives his or her life to God… is baptized with water, etc.” Christ says simply to “believe in Him.”

To “believe in” (pisteuōn eis) Jesus means to be persuaded that He is speaking the truth and is therefore worthy of your trust. 10 Are you convinced Jesus was speaking the truth when He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”? If you are, then believe or trust in Him alone to give you His gift of everlasting life so you will not perish in hell.

If you believed Christ’s promise, He wants you to know with absolute certainty that you now have eternal life (I John 5:13)! Jesus now lives inside you forever through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39; Gal. 2:20) and He promises never to leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5). You can now experience “God with us” every day of your life as you learn to talk to Him in prayer (John 15:7) and obey His Word (John 15:4-5; I John 3:24).  

The best part is we will experience God dwelling with us in perfect harmony on the new earth in the eternal state where there will be no more barriers to fellowship with Him (Rev. 21:3-4). Anything associated with the fallen world will “have passed away,” never to return (Rev. 21:4). The sin that caused tears, pain, and death will be forever removed! We can enjoy uninterrupted fellowship with God and with His people for all eternity.

Prayer: Hallelujah Lord God Almighty! Thank You for giving us Immanuel that first Christmas season so we can experience God with us both now and forever the moment we believe in Jesus for everlasting life. Thank You Jesus for moving toward us with compassion and love so we can feel safe from criticism, judgment, rejection, and shame. Use us to move toward other broken sinners with the same love and compassion You have moved toward us so they can discover You alone are the Giver of eternal life. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

 ENDNOTES:
 
1. Hal Haller, Jr., Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 14-15.

2. Ibid., pg. 15. 

3. Randy Alcorn’s and Julia (Stager) Mayo’s August 26, 2013, article entitled, “Did Jesus Have a Sin Nature?” at eternal perspective ministries (https://www.epm.org).

4. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on Luke, 2022 Edition, pg. 46.

5. Ibid., cites Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), pg. 73.

6. Ibid., pp. 46-47 cites Erwin W. Lutzer, Christ among Other gods (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), pp. 64-74.

7. Haller, pg. 15. 

8. When meta (“with”) occurs with the genitive (hēmōn – “us”), it expresses supportiveness as in “God with us,” “God stands by us,” or “God helps us.” See Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 636. 

9. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2017 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 567. 

10. Bauer, pg. 816.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? (Video)

This is the third video in a series entitled, “Real Solutions to Real Problems.” In this presentation you will learn from the Bible several transforming principles for climbing out of the pit of discouragement.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. Digital images are used with permission from FreeBibleimages.org, Goodsalt.com, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, or they are creative common licenses.

How do I defeat my worst fears? Part 2

“And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” Exodus 3:14

We are looking at the five major things we fear that keep us from doing God’s will. Each of these fears is demonstrated in the reaction Moses had when God told him to go back to Egypt to free the Israelites (Exodus 3-4). Last time we looked at Moses’ fear of inadequacy which expressed itself through the question, “Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11). God responded to Moses’ fear with the assurance of His presence (Exodus 3:12a).

Next, we see Moses’ fear of embarrassment when he says to God at the burning bush, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” This fear expresses itself by saying, I am afraid of looking stupid before all these people if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to. I am going to feel foolish!” At least Moses was asking the right question.

When we are afraid and God says I have got something for you to do, we don’t ask “Who am I?” We ask, “Who are You?” It is not who we are, it is who God is. Moses says “Who are You God? What’s Your name?” 

God’s response is profound! 14 And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.” 15 Moreover God said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: “The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.” (Exodus 3:14-15).  

What does that mean “I AM WHO I AM”? If somebody came to your company’s office and said, “I need to see your CEO.” And you asked him, “Who sent you?” And he said, “I AM WHO I AM.” You would call security to take him away for psychological evaluation. “I AM WHO I AM?” 

We need to remember that in the Bible they named people for their character. When God says, “I AM WHO I AM,” what does He mean and how would that relieve my fears? It means four things: 

1. It means God EXISTS. God is real. He is not saying, “I was that I was.” Aren’t you glad God is not dead? That is a stress reliever to know that we are not living in a world without Somebody Who is ultimately in control. It is present tense. “I AM WHO I AM.” God is alive. He is not dead. This gives us security especially in a world that seems to be so out of control these days.

2. It means God is ETERNAL. He is timeless. “I AM WHO I AM.” God has been the same forever and He exists forever. God is outside of time. He can see the past and the present and the future all at once because God has created time. He is not surprised by tomorrow’s headlines.

3. It means God is TRUE. When God says, “I AM WHO I AM,” He is not saying, “I am what you want Me to be.” God is saying, “I am My own character.” The problem today is God made us in His image and today people try to make God in their image. On TV talk shows, people say “I like to think of God as…” So what? You are just guessing. What matters is not what you think God is. What matters is Who He really is. The Bible reveals the true character of God. We live in a world where the Devil deceives people into thinking God is made in our image instead of us being made in His image.

4. It means God DOESN’T CHANGE. When God says, “I AM WHO I AM,” He does not mean, “I am what I used to be” or “I am not what I am going to be.” He says, “I AM WHO I AM.” He is unchanging. In a world that is constantly changing, we need Someone in our lives who remains the same. And that Person is God Himself!

These four things about God are enormous fear relievers when you understand there is a God. He is eternal. He always tells the truth, and He never changes. God is the only thing in our lives that does not change which is the only foundation for a fear-free life. The world changes, we change, our relationships change. If we build our lives on anything else except God we are going to live in constant fear of the next change, the next tension, the next stress, the next loss. Only God is unchanging. The more we know God, the less we are going to be afraid because God is the antidote to fear.

Therefore God says, 10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand… 13 For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:10, 13). God’s unchanging presence in our lives is is foundational to defeating our worst fears. We were never meant to do life alone. Take time today to get to know the Self-Existing God Who said, “I AM WHO I AM.”

The best way to get to know “I AM WHO I AM,” is to get to know Jesus Christ. Jesus made several “I AM…” statements in the gospel of John to demonstrate that He is the same God Who spoke to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus said:

– “I am the bread of life.” John 6:35

– “I am the light of the world.” John 8:12

– “I am the door.” John 10:9

– “I am the Good Shepherd.” John 10:14

– “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” John 11:25

– “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” John 14:6

– “I am the true Vine.” John 15:1

When we look at Jesus Christ, we are looking at God in human flesh. To see Jesus, is to see God because Jesus is a perfect reflection of God the Father. This is why Jesus told Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9). This also explains why Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me.’ ” (John 12:44-45). Christ is a perfect reflection of God the Father because He has the same divine nature as His Father.

To know God more intimately as the great “I AM WHO I AM,” we must begin a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us we must recognize our need for a Savior. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all have disobeyed God with our thoughts, words, and actions. The penalty for our sin is “death”or separation from God (Romans 6:23). We all deserve to be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

But God does not want us to die forever in hell, so He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ to earth to die for our all our sins and rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Only Jesus can save us because only Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins in full when He died and rose from the dead.

God now invites you to believe or trust in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). Look at the eternal contrast here. The one who believes in Jesus “has”everlasting life. The one who does not believe in Jesus has God’s “wrath” that “abides” on him forever! The decision is yours: Believe or not believe in Jesus? Heaven or hell? The moment we believe in Jesus we are saved from hell forever (Acts 16:31) and we have eternal life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Christ guarantees that no one can snatch a believer out of His and the Father’s hands. We are secure forever the moment we believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life.

After you come to faith in Jesus, get to know Him by talking to Him through prayer (Philippians 4:6-7) and listening to Him as you read and apply the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17; James 1:22). Take time to love and be loved by hanging out with other Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25). And begin telling others who do not know Christ, how they can begin a personal relationship with Him (Matthew 4:19).

Prayer: Father God, thank You so much for Your response to Moses when his fear of embarrassment came out. When You said, “I AM WHO I AM,” You affirmed that You truly do exist, and You are eternal. Nothing takes You by surprise. You always tell the truth, and You never change. You are the only thing in our lives that does not change which gives us a solid foundation for a fear-free life. The world changes, we change, our relationships change, but You do not change. The more we know You through the Lord Jesus, the less we are going to be afraid because You are the antidote to fear. Thank You, Father, for revealing Yourself to us through Jesus. Please lead us into a more intimate relationship with You. In the loving name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 6

And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ ” I Kings 19:9

After his incredible victory on Mt. Carmel the prophet Elijah descended into the pit of discouragement following a death threat from wicked Queen Jezebel (I Kings 18:20-19:2). In response to Jezebel, Elijah isolated himself in the wilderness and asked God to take his life (I Kings 19:3-4). Although Elijah had plunged into the depths of discouragement, God had not given up on him. The Lord was slowly bringing His prophet up out of this pit of discouragement by providing rest and food for him through an angel (I Kings 19:5-7a). But Elijah also needed to spend time in the Lord’s presence to get back up on his feet, so the Lord gave him a journey to take to Mt. Horeb about 200 miles away.

After traveling forty days and nights on foot, Elijah arrived at Mt. Horeb “and there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ ” (I Kings 19:9). What method of communication does the Lord use here? A question. Why does the Lord ask a question He already knows the answer to? To get Elijah to share his feelings.

And Elijah answered truthfully: “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” (I Kings 19:10). Elijah is saying, “Lord, I’m angry. I’m the only one serving You among Your people. The rest don’t care about You. I’m all alone and I’m afraid they’re going to kill me!” God was not shocked by Elijah’s feelings. He allows His prophet to let off steam. This is our next principle for climbing out of the pit of discouragement: GIVE YOUR FRUSTRATIONS TO THE LORD (I Kings 19:9-10). Verbalizing our feelings can clarify our thinking. Stuffing emotions can distort our spiritual perspective.

There are at least six emotions that Elijah has been feeling since Jezebel threatened his life:

– Fear: “And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life.” (I Kings 19:3a).

– Hopelessness: “And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life…’ ” (I Kings 19:4a).

– Guilt: “… for I am no better than my fathers!” (I Kings 19:4b).

– Anger/Resentment: “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword.” (I Kings 19:10a).

Loneliness: “I alone am left.” (I Kings 19:10b).

Worry: “and they seek to take my life.” (I Kings 19:10c).

When we combine fear, hopelessness, guilt, anger/resentment, loneliness and worry, and keep them all pent up inside us, we are asking for discouragement! So God draws these pent up emotions out of Elijah by asking a question. He says, “Elijah, what’s frustrating you? What’s eating you up?”

When we are discouraged, this is exactly what we need to do – give our frustrations to the Lord. Unfortunately, many Christians have been taught that feelings are wrong. “Good Christians do not feel afraid, angry, depressed, hopeless, lonely, resentful, or worried,” they are told. Or worse, they are taught that their feelings are actually demons. “You have a demon of fear… anger… depression… guilt… hopelessness… loneliness… resentment or worry.” Their feelings are spiritualized by well-intentioned, but misguided believers.

What these misconceptions have done is keep Christians from healing their wounds. God knows that we must feel to heal. This is why He recorded the writings of King David in the Psalms. Even though King David was an adulterer and a murderer, God still assessed his life “as a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22). What was it about this man that led God to speak so highly of him? I believe one reason God said this about David is because he was very honest and open before the Lord. And God was so impressed with David’s honesty and vulnerability in the Psalms that He refers to him as a man after His own heart.

How can we give our frustrations to the Lord? Like David, we need to talk to the Lord about them. If you are not sure how to verbalize your feelings to the Lord, pray some of the Psalms back to God that express…

– Anger/Resentment (Psalm 4, 5, 6, 10, 13, 17, 35, 37, 42, 52, 54, 58, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 137, 140)

– Fear (Psalm 3, 4, 9, 16, 23, 27, 31, 32, 34, 46, 56, 62, 91, 112, 118, 121)

– Grief/Sadness (Psalm 6, 23, 25, 30, 42, 59, 61, 86, 116, 118, 147)

– Guilt (Psalm 25, 32, 25, 40, 51, 85, 86, 103, 130

– Hopelessness (Psalm 5, 25, 27, 33, 34, 37, 39, 40, 42, 43, 46, 52, 57, 60, 62, 65, 71, 91, 94, 108)

– Loneliness (Psalm 17, 23, 25, 27, 39, 68, 73, 102, 142, 147)

– Worry (Psalm 4, 9, 16, 23, 25, 27, 31, 34, 40, 42, 46, 55, 56, 61, 62, 84, 91, 94, 103, 112, 116, 121, 139, 145)

You may want to write down your prayers to God which can help you release your emotions to Him. Carrying unprocessed feelings inside us can contribute to our discouragement and stress.

Early in life, our brains discerned if the world was safe or dangerous. If our brains determined that the world was dangerous, it created protective personalities to keep us from being hurt. So instead of learning to trust others and God, we concluded that we did not need God or others to avoid being hurt. Our tendency is to avoid taking risks and being vulnerable before God and other people. But this only leads to more discouragement and stress.

God understands this and He wants to set us free from these protective walls we have created for ourselves. We can learn from Elijah the importance of giving our frustrations to God. We do this by being vulnerable before Him. The Bible tells us, “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8). We can trust the Lord with our feelings because He is “a refuge for us.” He is safe to be transparent and vulnerable with. He is benevolent and understanding. He sympathizes with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).

Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, thank You for asking Elijah what he was doing in that cave. Elijah’s response showed that he needed to release all the pent up emotions he had been carrying since Queen Jezebel threatened his life. Like Elijah, we can stuff our emotions down inside us and experience discouragement and distress as a result. Lord, please show us if there is anything in our lives that we need to release to You. You already know the feelings we have and You are eager to hear us talk to You about them. How we feel does not change Your love for us. Some of us have learned to avoid our feelings because it was not safe to identify them or share them with others when growing up. Help us see that we are safe in Your presence now. We can be vulnerable before You with our emotions just like Elijah was. In the gracious name of Jesus we pray. Amen.  

Receiving Life Freely – Part 7 (Video)

This is the seventh video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the seventh miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John involving the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45).

The movie clip subtitles are from the Good News Translation. All other Scripture are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from  www.GoodSalt.com, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, www.LumoProject.com, or they are creative common licenses. The copyrights of the images of the movie belong to Jesus.net. The Gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.

God’s solution to anxiety

6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

As we begin 2021, we may be overwhelmed with anxiety. Perhaps we are anxious about the future especially with all the political and social unrest connected to the upcoming change in our government’s leadership in the USA. Many are anxious about the ongoing impact of the global pandemic. Our needs are greater than ever before. Due to social distancing and isolation, we cannot connect with one another as easily as we did before COVID-19. We may have greater physical needs due to the loss of our health, the loss of a job, and/or the loss of financial security. The additional stress caused by COVID increases the chance of conflict with one another. Emotional needs are much greater during this pandemic. There is more depression. More people feel hopeless and think of taking their own lives. All of these factors can increase our anxiety.

How does God want us to respond to these anxious times? The Lord gives us a solution to this struggle in Philippians 4:6-7, where the apostle Paul writes:

6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  

God says, “be anxious for nothing” (4:6a). What does God want us to worry about? Nothing. “How can I worry about nothing?” You might ask. God says “in everything by prayer” (4:6b). We can worry about nothing by praying about everything. The word “prayer” refers to talking to God. When we are “anxious” or worried about something, God instructs us to talk to Him about it through “prayer.” When was the last time you got alone with God and talked to Him about what you are worried about? Talking about it helps to diffuse the power of worry. But it does not stop there.

Then God says, “in everything by… supplication” (4:6c). The word “supplication” means to tell God what you need. Few people ever identify what they need because they are so busy worrying.

For example, some of us may be worried about our health. So we talk to the Lord about that. And as you do that, ask God to help you identify the underlying need. Perhaps we need protection from illness especially during COVID. Or perhaps we are afraid of death because we are not prepared for it. So we need assurance of life after death. Ask God to give you the assurance that there is everlasting life both now and after death through believing in Jesus (cf. John 11:25-26). So talk to the Lord about what you need from Him.

Next, God says, “with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (4:6d). Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” The word “delight” means to lean into God.Just as a house plant leans in toward the sunlight coming through a window to get nutrients from the sun, so we need to lean into God during these challenging times to nourish our souls, and He promises to give us the desires or dreams of our hearts. So talk to God about your desires or dreams. Ask God what He wants to do in your life.

Notice that God wants you to pray with “thanksgiving.” He wants us to have a thankful heart. Why? Because when you trust God to supply your needs and wants in advance during difficult times, you can accept those circumstances and respond more appropriately. Also, gratitude stimulates the release of dopamine (happy chemical) in our brain which decreases our stress and enhances sleep.

Keep in mind that gratitude is a skill or learned behavior that is independent of our circumstances. Many people are overwhelmed with all the bad news in the world today. But it’s important to understand that we can increase our gratitude without seeing improvement in our situations. Try taking time each day to be aware of moments you may be tempted to overlook and thank God for them – such as your beating heart, each breath you take, the taste of Talapia (fish), the sound of birds in the morning, or the smile of a colleague. Take time to thank people during the day because it will also stimulate more dopamine to be released in your brain. It will also create stronger neuropathways in your brain containing thoughts of gratitude, so it will become easier to be grateful the more you practice this skill. What would happen to your anxiety if you spent time each day thanking God for His goodness in your life? No doubt your anxiety would decrease significantly.

As we talk to God about our anxiety, needs, and desires with thanksgiving, He promises that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (4:7). The “peace of God” is like a deep calmness in the midst of life’s storms. For example, the water underneath the surface of the ocean remains calm during a storm (see above photo). We can experience a deep-seeded calmness in our souls when we surrender to God in prayer as we face these challenging times.

The phrase “will guard,” pictures an armed soldier walking back and forth in front of the city gate, protecting the occupants inside the city from intruders. God’s peace constantly protects those who choose to talk to Him about their worries, and ask Him for what they need and want.

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for the unchanging promises of Your Word. When I focus on what is happening around the world, my heart can easily be overwhelmed with anxiety. But when I get alone with You and talk to You about my worries, You help me to identify the need underneath those worries so I can ask You to meet that need. There is no need in my life that is too great for You to meet. Thank You for reminding me to lean into You during these challenging times so you can nourish my soul and grant me the desires or dreams of my heart. There is so much to be thankful for at all times because of Your constant goodness to us! What peace fills my soul as I talk to You with thanksgiving about my worries, my underlying needs, and desires or dreams. Thank You for giving me Your peace which surpasses all human understanding when I surrender everyone and everything to You in prayer. In the name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.