God With Us: Part I

God with us. God – the Creator, the Powerful One, and the Righteous One. With – Coming down in the form of a powerless, innocent baby. Us – the very imperfect people of Earth, the ones who choose not to recognize His goodness most of the time.

One of the best themes of Christmas, for me, is this idea of Emmanuel. Of “God with Us”.

Most of us will recognize this, primarily Christmas, theme. It’s just in the past few weeks that I’ve made this amazing discovery: The Bible is packed with verses and chapters where “God with Us” is the underlying theme!

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Don’t you get excited when Christmas can happen all year round? “God with Us” is not just a Christmas theme. God is with us every moment of every day. He always has been. He always will be.

This week, let’s focus on Emmanuel.

I want to start by looking in the Old Testament.

Genesis 3:8a

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…”

 

Isaiah 41:10

“Do not fear, for I am with you;

Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

 

Isaiah 30:21

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

Your ears will hear a voice behind you

Saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’.”

Genesis tells us that from the very beginning, God was with us! But, even though we messed up by eating that apple, he still wanted to be with us.

We can find so much comfort in knowing this: God wants to be with us.

We can find so much joy knowing this: God is with us.

Isaiah shows us some beautiful, powerful promises. God is with us so much that He gives us this picture where we find him beside us – holding us up. We can allow Him to carry us. We can let Him take control and move us.

He is right behind us in Isaiah 30:21. He is right there, leading us… helping us.

I get quite speechless when I think about all of it. Which doesn’t work well on a blog. So I’ll just suggest this for today to close:

Spend a few minutes meditating on the idea that God wants to be with you. Allow Him to be right there with you. Feel Him holding you up with His hands. Know that He is there to guide you.

Just feel Him with you.

Because His name is “Emmanuel”.

Summer Christmas

STORYINGCHRISTMASIf you live in the northern hemisphere, you will probably have a very different picture of Christmas than people here in New Zealand. We have summer Christmas.

When I am in New Zealand, my Christmas holidays would be amiss if I did not go to the beach… a lot. When I’m dreaming of a “White Christmas”, the closest I get are the white sand beaches of east Auckland. Instead of pine trees, our pohutukawa trees blossom red flowers against their green leaves.

I love this beach life. I love living near the ocean.

Once you have been to the ocean, you will understand this statement: There are just some days when you just feel the need to drive a bit and sit next to the sea.

Today is such a day.

We can learn so much from the ocean. That’s probably why there are so many songs that use it as a metaphor. Here are some lines you may recognize:

“In oceans deep, my faith will stand.”

“When sorrows like sea billows roll…”

“Oceans will part, nations will come, at the whisper of your name.”

“Set my feet upon the sea ‘til I’m dancing in the deep.”

I think of these songs and then I think of Christmas. There’s a question that I ask myself as I sit here at the beginning of December: Is there anything about Christmas that is like this ocean?

At first, I’m thinking no. That’s a ridiculous question. Then, different themes started popping into my mind.

I’m sure we can all come up with some great answers. You can probably come with more than me. Right now, God is using the sea to refresh, restore, heal, and satisfy me. But, when I think of the sea as it relates to Christmas, this is what I’ve come up with:  POWER.

Yes, the original Christmas story is about peace. A silent night. Wise men quietly following a star. Silent shepherds watching their sheep at night. A sweet baby asleep in a manger. It has all of these things.

But we must never forget the POWER of God when he comes down to man.

The sea sounds so peaceful to me right now. The waves are so small that little kids are going a few meters in. There are people parasailing. But there are no surfers because the waves are just not big enough. The ocean is calm and quiet.

But have you seen the ocean roar as a storm comes in? Have you seen crashing waves leap over boulders and into cliffs? Have you heard those horrible stories of people getting caught in the wild current, being swept out to sea?

So it is with the Christmas story. Peace has come. Comfort and joy have, indeed, come to earth with Jesus. But so does power. Because the Son of God came to our planet that first Christmas day.

God. The Great-I-Am. He came to Earth. The One who is so great and holy that even prophets could not look upon Him and live. To even hear the name of Yahweh garnered fear and trembling. The LORD, mighty in battle, came.

Power.

But in a tiny baby.

Power that made blind men see, deaf men hear, and dead men walk.

Power that rose himself from the grave.

Power that takes away the sins of the world.

I’m glad the ocean reminded me of God’s peace. And I’m glad it reminds me of God’s power. I never want to forget this part of Christmas.

…And Joy

Let’s talk about the other half of the phrase Comfort and Joy. Joy. More specifically, joy to the world.

Christmas is such a time for joy. Glad tidings of comfort and joy. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her king.

But let’s look at the time before that joy. Let’s look at the conflict in the story.

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There was a young teenager named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph. A good man – a man of God. But she becomes pregnant. Imagine becoming pregnant while engaged to a good man. And the baby is not his child. There’s so much grief in that – for Mary, for Joseph, for the families of both, and for the village in which they live. It’s not something that is easy. Nine whole months of people talking about you. They say Mary is crazy and a harlot. They say Joseph should get rid of her, leaving her and her baby to fend for themselves.

There was a man named Zechariah who had no children with his wife Elizabeth because she was barren. They were old and childless, but they had prayed for a baby. That is so hard.

There were shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks at night. They were doing what they did every single day – the lower class life of working and herding sheep. No kings came to them. They had no ambition – no dreams. They could not hope for joy.

Long before any of this, there were these two nations, divided from one nation: Israel and Judah. They had been united in the glory days of David and Solomon and they longed for that time when God would bless them once again. They felt abandoned, punished. All they had was a cryptic prophecy that a leader would rise up and be their uniting king once more. The Babylonians came and the Assyrians and the Romans. They lived in a war-torn land. They were oppressed and afraid. Many were forced to immigrate. They were spread out – families torn apart.

So much pain.

Can we imagine what all of this was like? Can you identify with any of these stories? A couple with an unplanned pregnancy. Another couple with no hope of having children. A lower class citizen, feeling hopeless – feeling that there is no place you can go to escape the life you have. A displaced people, longing for the glory days – or even just for home.

But then, joy.

All of these stories end in joy.

For Zechariah and Elizabeth, God gave a baby. So much joy!

For the shepherds, God sent the Lamb of God – and proclaimed his coming with angels!

For Israel and Judah, God sent the Messiah, the hope for which they had prayed for centuries!

For Mary and Joseph, God sent Jesus – a baby, the Lamb of God, the Messiah. A small child who would take away the sins of the world.

God sends joy to us. He has already done so. And what we see right now as pain, sadness, or hopelessness, we will one day see as joy. What a beautiful thing to remember this season – that in Jesus the baby, we have been given eternal comfort… and joy.

Pause with Four Principles from “Freedom in Christ”

the power of pause four principles

Welcome back to our series, “The Power of Pause”! We’ve talked about why we need to just stop and rest sometimes, what sort of things distract us, and why we need to pause even when it’s painful. Today, we have four helpful principles for you to look at alongside Scripture.

I mentioned a course I did at church by Neil T. Anderson and Steve Goss called “Freedom in Christ”. Today, I just want to share some points from the end of the participant’s guide. There were four out of eight from their “God’s Guidelines for the Walk of Faith” which spoke to me about what God wants from us regarding our time.

None of these points are my own. They come straight out of the book. I’ve just highlighted a few and added some thoughts. You can learn more about Freedom in Christ Ministries here.

Here we go! Pause with these four principles:


PRINCIPLE ONE – Significance comes from proper use of time.

“…their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of every person’s work.”  – from 1 Corinthians 3:13

 

“…if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” – from Acts 5:33-40

 

“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present and the life to come.” – from 1 Timothy 4:7-8

The Bible tells us that what we do (or choose not to do) with our time is important. And not only just important – it will be tested. If the purpose of what you do is of God, then that act is powerful. No one can stop you. Because time is important, we shouldn’t waste it on things not from God – like gossip, for instance. And maybe we shouldn’t click on ridiculous celebrity new articles and videos, either. It makes me want to do good with my time, knowing that God’s good inside of his people is powerful.


PRINCIPLE TWO – Salvation comes from living a quality life.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5

 

“When there were no oceans, I [wisdom] was given birth… when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in humankind.” – from Proverbs 8:24-31

 

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing. – from II Timothy 4:7-8

Wisdom defined could be said to just be delighted with God’s presence – being delight with this world, with creation – and with all the people he has made. Being delighted in how he made you and in how he made others. My best quality of life comes when I find that contentment – being with God and seeing as He sees. And great is our reward, given us by God himself, with whom we have walked intimately – who has struggled alongside us, mourned with us, and danced with us.


PRINCIPLE THREE – Fun comes from enjoying life moment by moment.

“[After dancing before the Lord, David tells a criticizing Michal,] “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” – From II Samuel 6

 

“Am I now trying to win human approval or God’s approval? Or am I still trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ… It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 1:10, 5:1

 

“So whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God, Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by what they approve… Everything that does not come from faith is sin.”  = Romans 14:22

Enjoying life, having fun, does not mean what most of the world wants us to think it means. What we see on TV or Netflix is completely different from true joy. Real “fun” comes from that joy of God’s presence – like David dancing in God’s presence without caring who saw him or how he looked. It doesn’t depend on anything or anyone aside from the creator of fun, the creator of joy and of true happiness and contentment. Once you’ve experienced that joy, clubs and meaningless relationships just don’t measure up. Dancing for God is where it’s at, ya’ll.


PRINCIPLE FOUR – Peace comes from quieting the inner storm.

“From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were hot serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”  – Jeremiah 6:14-15

 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27

 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

 

“The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert, his righteousness in the fertile field. The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.” – Isaiah 32:16-17

We’ve talked about all the distractions in life, and we’ve discussed that it is just plain hard to pause in the middle of all the madness. We want peace, but like in Jeremiah, there’s greed and deceit and false kindness all around. We need to find peace. Our minds are chaos. There’s fear, anxiety, depression, discontent in our minds. It really does feel like a tornado is rummaging all through the head. But Jesus promises peace. I love that last bit – “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.”


If we chase after righteousness by using our time well – by spending time with our Saviour – I believe we can find peace and enjoy a quality life. It’s a worthwhile goal.

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Storying Christmas: Comfort

storyingchristmas“Comfort” is one of the English language’s most warm & fuzzy words. So I think it suits Christmas perfectly. In the middle of winter, comfort is a big mug full of hot cocoa and marshmallows. It’s a red flannel blanket and a well-loved book. Comfort is the feeling of a fireplace; it’s the feeling of a big bear hug.

I’ve really been thinking and praying for a few months on what to write this December – Christmas season. There are endless articles and sermons and memes that seem to represent this month. There’s so much noise out there – mostly consumeristic. I want to quiet the noise with simplicity.

So, let’s do a little series. Let’s call it, simply, Storying Christmas. Let’s just focus on themes within the Christmas story. Because stories are how we see the world. Stories are how we learn. Stories are how we think and begin to hope. And let’s start with the story of comfort.

I haven’t written on A Little Sanctuary in a couple of months. In many ways, these couple of months have been very difficult. This blog is all about comfort – it’s all about finding “sanctuary”, finding rescue in loneliness. So coming back with a post on this subject seems fitting.

It’s early December, but you’ve probably already started listening to your Christmas carols. Like this one:

God rest ye merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

Remember Christ our Saviour

Was born on Christmas Day

To save us all from Satan’s power

When we were gone astray

 

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy!

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!

 

From God our heavenly father

A blessed angel came,

And unto certain shepherds

Brought tidings of the same:

How that in Bethlehem

Was born the Son of God by name

 

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy!

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!

 

The shepherds at these tidings

Rejoiced much in mind

And left their flocks a feeding

In tempest storm and wind

And went to Bethlehem straightway,

The blessed babe to find

 

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy!

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!

Wstorying-christmase’ll get to the second half, joy, next time; but, just pay attention to the ending of each verse to find the feeling of comfort. The first verse ends with the comfort of being rescued from darkness – Comfort. The second ends with a baby, God’s own son, a Messiah the Hebrew people had waited for centuries to come – Comfort. The third verse ends finding that baby at the end of a storm – Comfort.

The Christmas story is an outpouring of comfort (and joy). That “peace on earth”. Mary is told by the angel not to be afraid – that God the Most High has found favor with her (Mark 1:30). Zechariah prophesied after his son John the Baptist was born that God had come to redeem and save them (Mark 2:68). And I love when Matthew reminds us of prophesy from Isaiah – that Jesus will be called God with us (Matthew 1:22-23).

God with us.

God rest you, merry gentlemen, boys, girls, ladies. Be at rest. Do not be afraid. A baby was born – Emmanuel. God with us. Live in comfort this Christmas season. Live in the feeling of that baby boy coming, sleeping peacefully. There is nothing much more comforting than a mother holding a baby – a baby that grew up and now comforts us, holding us in his hands.

 

Depression & Loneliness: The ‘Tug-of-War’

“Loneliness reflects how you feel about your relationships. Depression reflects how you feel, period.”

– John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness

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As you know, we have had many conversations about loneliness since this blog began. We’ve talked about how important it is to get to know yourself and be able to be alone and be content at the same time (finding the inner person); we’ve discussed being in tune with others and ways to get out there (finding the other person); and, we have tossed out the idea that spirituality can help us climb out of loneliness (finding the upper person). But we have only barely begun to touch on the subject of depression. How does depression relate to loneliness? Does loneliness have anything to do with depression? Are they one and the same?

Before we can even begin, we need to know some basics about depression. Like loneliness, it carries an indescribable weight along with it – one that a simple word cannot communicate. The depression we are talking about here is clinical depression. Doctors define clinical depression as having some/all of these symptoms:

 

–          Ongoing sadness; crying frequently

–          Sudden weight loss or weight gain

–          Change in appetite

–          Feelings of emptiness

–          Feelings of worthlessness or helplessness

–          Feelings of guilt

–          Anxiety or feelings of restlessness

–          Difficulty remembering, focusing, or making decisions

–          Fatigue, low energy

–          Apathy toward what you once found exciting

–          Aches/Pains

–          Insomnia, or trouble sleeping

–          Suicidal thoughts

Some of these symptoms, as you can probably see, are also symptoms of loneliness. Ongoing sadness, crying, worthlessness, guilt, restlessness.

We’re quick to find one-word labels for our problems, but truthfully, we are more complex than that. We are whole people, and our mind, body, and spirit are separate but all a part of us. So sometimes loneliness becomes a symptom rather than the problem. And sometimes depression becomes a symptom rather than the root problem. Psychiatrists have known for a while that loneliness often accompanies other conditions. But a study by Segrin showed that the “most common pairing was intense manifestations of both loneliness and depression” (Cacioppo 83).

Loneliness is bad enough on its own.

Depression is definitely bad enough on its own. I think it’s one of the very worst possible maladies one could ever contract.

Their relationship is stormy. They are a paradox – a yin and yang – both separate and whole. They feed each other. They feed off of each other. They pull each other & push each other. They fight each other, and they fight as a team against you.

Loneliness with Depression

Loneliness is a common “feeling” – one to which any human can relate. So, when we feel lonely and wanting companionship and deeper friendships, we can get to a point where our loneliness actually leads us into depression. Many physical illnesses unrelated to depression eventually lead to depression just because the sick person begins to feel loneliness. As the person continues to feel isolated in their illness or in their disability, they begin to feel lonely. Other factors lead them on a path that continues on into deep depression through stress factors and physical trials.

Depression with Loneliness

Depression is also common, but not so widely felt as loneliness. Though many people struggle with clinical depression, not everyone can relate to a chronic, constant state of sadness and apathy. Though loneliness can be immensely difficult, depression can be debilitating.

When we experience depression, it is because we are deficient in serotonin. This, then, causes feelings of being alone. The voice in our head tells us that we are alone. Alone-ness becomes a state of being, not a feeling. We cannot feel happy emotions. We, ironically, feel apathy. We feel the lack of feeling, and we experience that apathy deeply. Our ability to reach for others is stunted. We can become passive, and in so doing, we can become dangerously lonely.

The Tug-Of-War: ‘D’ versus ‘L’

Untitled design (2)In one corner of the ring, we have Depression. Down-and-Out ‘D’, trying to prepare to battle it out. He grabs one end of the rope and sighs. His odds don’t look promising.

In the opposite corner, Loneliness gives a shy smile. Left-Out ‘L’, bends down and holds the other end of the rope with one hand. Will he even try? Will he succeed?

They stand off. Down-and-Out ‘D’ against Left-Out ‘L’. The crowd sits back and wonders. Many of them leave. It’s not going to be an exciting match. These opponents are opposites, but they look like twins. They could join each other and fight against you easily.

Even though they are similar, Cacioppo the “loneliness expert” says this: “Loneliness, like hunger, is a warning to do something to alter an uncomfortable and possibly dangerous condition. Depression makes us apathetic. Whereas loneliness urges us to move forward, depression holds us back” (Cacioppo 83). Because they are linked in this way, loneliness seems to pull depression, and depression seems to push loneliness. It is a tug-of-war, a link that can be broken. But the lack of ability to control thinking and decision making makes it difficult for both to stop pushing and pulling.

Answers

On both sides of the tug-of-war, depression and loneliness are stuck. An outside influence is needed to break the chain. This can come in the form of an outside helper, an inside helper, and/or an upper helper – like we talked about. Medication may be needed for depression, even a little spark of desire to get better can come from within, and a look at the big picture or a spiritual identity can help you from beyond yourself or anyone else.

The thing is that we need to fight back. We need to catch depression at the onset and seek help. We need to notice loneliness and take action. If there is a long road ahead, we need to learn how to cope during the healing process – in the in-between no matter how long that may be.

We need to help others with these. We need to fight for each other. You may be the outside force for someone else. You may save a life.

Loneliness and depression are intertwined – both friends and enemies. Both hard to get rid of. I battle both often, and I’ve learned to let others help me. I’ve learned to help myself. And I’ve learned to look up. My hope for you is that you can get through these tough days and find hope. My hope is that you find joy – that you find meaning in the darkness.

Right now, I am filled with joy and I feel content. I pushed through yesterday and have found today. It’s possible. You and I don’t know what tomorrow looks like. But today can be joy. Hold on to that hope. It’s a weapon you can use to fight back.