Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Greatest Name

The Bible is full of names for Jesus and/or God. They all have meaning, and can mean more at different times in our lives. Hungry? He is the Bread of Life. Scared and alone? He is the Rock. Lost? He is the Good Shepherd. Songs are written using different names: "Jesus, Name Above All Names"." Rock of Ages"." I Call Him Lord". The song, There Is Something About That Name", with the beautiful Gloria Gaither recitation points out that there is something more special about the name of Jesus than any other name on earth.

There is a name that means more to me than any other name used for Jesus or God. It's one that is mostly mentioned at this time of year. Emmanuel, which means "God with us". I think all too often, it gets shelved with the Christmas story from January through November, and brought out in December. Isn't that what it was all about? Jesus in the manger being "God with us"?

Ah, but it means so much more than that. Yes, up until that time, God dwelled in temples. He really wasn't a personal God. He spoke to people through prophets and mighty men of God. But then Jesus came as an innocent, helpless baby. The world was changed, and so was the relationship between God and man. Jesus was "God with us" for 33 years as He lived out his purpose on earth - to die on a cross. If that was the end of it, it would still be awesome, that God had actually stepped into His creation, and become one of us. But that isn't all Emmanuel means.

Emmanuel lives 365 days a year, 24/7 in our hearts. He is with us no matter where we go. In the words of the Psalmist, if we ascend to Heaven, or go to the depths of hell, He is there. I lose sight of that sometimes. That is why I like to focus on the name "Emmanuel". Life can get rough. We can go days, weeks, even months, that life is so dark and we wonder where God is. Is He really there, or has He walked off to let us fight the battles alone? But He is there. The same God who laid in a manger 2000 years ago dwells in the heart of those who believe, and He never leaves, unless we walk away from Him - and then He is just a prayer away.

Just as there are songs written about other names of God, there are some written about the name Emmanuel, or Immanuel, as it is sometimes spelled. Though my first love in music is Southern Gospel, my friends may be shocked to hear me say this, but 2 songs that stand out at Christmas, and are my favorites when talking about Emmanuel, are CCM artists. The first, simply titled, "Immanuel", by Michael Card, has a line in it that I love: "and if God is for us, who can stand against us". And topping this song, and most Christmas songs - and I have to say, the CD it is from "The Music of Christmas", is one of my favorite Christmas CDs. The song is "Our God Is With Us", by Steven Curtis Chapman. The one line in the chorus that has meant so much to me in the years that I have owned the CD is "and we will never face life alone, now that God has made Himself known, as Father and friend, with us to the end".

Any single person knows what it is like to be alone. To feel alone. Sometimes it seems like the whole world has someone, but us. You go to a wedding, and YOU feel like smashing the cake in the bride & groom's faces - ok, I actually never had that urge, but you get the point. Being alone isn't always fun. Sometimes it is a good thing, but life can be lonely for a single person, but loneliness is not partial to singles. Anyone can be lonely. Even though I was raised in a Christian home for most of my life, I have found myself skeptical of the idea of not being lonely if you are a Christian. To paraphrase a story I heard about a little girl wanting her mom or dad to crawl in bed during a storm and being told God was with her, she said "But I need someone with skin on!". I can empathize. Yes, we have God, but sometimes want someone "with skin on", but that won't always cure the loneliness. God will. As the song says, we will never face life alone.

I know we aren't supposed to do it, but I look ahead at the future and wonder how on earth I will survive the rest of my life single. Alone. Others have done it. To be honest, I have so far to go with my relationship with God, sometimes it feels like I am just starting it. For if we have enough of God - not that we can ever have "enough" - but if our relationship with Him is what it should be, then He is enough. We don't need marriage and kids to be complete and not feel alone.

There was a difficult decision being faced by a church board. After much talk and discussion, someone suggested they pray about it. Someone replied with "my, has it come to that?!" How sad that all too often prayer is the last resort. And how sad that we tend to ask everyone else's opinions and advice before we get around to talking to God about it.

I think most Christians could all improve their relationship with God. I don't mean that in a bad way. I just don't think we truly have a grasp at what we have at our disposal. The very God of the universe wants to hear what we have to say. Wow. For me, it is all too easy to feel He doesn't care, and He has more important things and people to care about, but even I have to admit that is not Biblical, and it is my own weakness and lack of faith that causes those kind of thoughts.

The new year is fast approaching. With it will come resolutions, so many of which are broken before January ends. I have a couple things I'd like to work on. Lose weight - that's a biggie, but we all need to resolve to work on our relationship with God. Pray more. Trust Him more. Depend on Him more, and remember that though He is many things, one of the most important things He is, is Emmanuel, God with us. Today in 2008.

He was Emmanuel in the manger 2000 years ago, but even more so, in our hearts and lives today. No matter where we go or what we do. He is still Emmanuel, God with us. And "we will never face life alone". That's something we need to remember not just at Christmas, but all year long.

Our God With Us, recorded by Steven Curtis Chapman, written by SCC & Michael W Smith

One of us is crying
As our hopes and dreams
Are led away in chains
And we're left all alone
And one of us is dying
As are love
Is slowly lowered in the grave
Oh, and we're left on our own
But for all of us who journey
Through the dark abyss of loneliness
There comes a great announcement
"We are never alone"
For the One who made each heart that breaks
The Giver of each breath we take
Has come to earth
And given hope its birth

And our God is with us, Emmanuel
And He's come to save us, Emmanuel
And we will never face life alone
Now that God has made Himself known
As Father and Friend, with us through the end

He spoke with prophets' voices
And He showed Himself in a cloud of fire
But no one had seen His face
Until the One most holy
Revealed to us His perfect heart's desire
And left His rightful place
And in one glorious moment
All eternity was shaken
As God broke through the darkness
That had kept us apart
And with love that conquers loneliness
And hope that fills all emptiness
He came to earth to show our worth



Kim M. said...

Mark, I loved this post! He IS with us... even those times when I have allowed myself to get too busy, I can "feel" Him waiting for me. It's amazing. Emmanuel is what makes our God unique! He is real!