Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel

It’s Christmas time again, which means that my favorite musical artists are singing songs I grew up singing in Church. Songs like “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.” (Click here for an incredible piano/violin instrumental version of the song.) Sometimes, though, we sing a song so many times that we forget the meaning behind the words we’re singing. We’re just singing on autopilot, with our brains engaging other thoughts.  What does this hauntingly beautiful song I secretly sing all year actually mean?

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.

This song is so much more than a Christmas song – it’s a prayer to God.  Actually, when you begin to break this song’s meaning down, it’s not really a Christmas song at all.  This song is asking God for deliverance, for wisdom, for manifestation, for victory, for exodus, for encouragement, and for unity.  Between each request is repeated the reminder that no matter our circumstances we should still rejoice, for we know that God With Us  is going to come through.  This song is a song of hope, of expectation, and of supplication.  

What ties this song to Christmas is that Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection is that makes answered prayers possible.  Without Christ and His great love and sacrifice for us, we could not approach God, for without Christ there can be no forgiveness of sins.  But because of Christ we can approach God with boldness and present our needs to him.  Think about it: The maker of the universe and everything in it wants to hear what is going on in your life, and he wants to provide you with every good thing.  That is the hope of Christmas! We can gain salvation and an audience with the Father because of the gift of the Son.

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Five Minute Friday: Fly

The weights of life love nothing more than to crush me into the ground.  If they had their way, I would be nothing more than powder sprinkled on the ground or scattered by the wind.  The weights of life are cruel; not just cruel, though, but crafty as well. So crafty as to make me forget that I was born with wings.

Sadly, it seems as if there are only rare time I remember my wings. Like when I’m playing piano. When the music flows from my fingers and my eyes are closed and my ears hear nothing in the world except the imperfectly perfect melody filling the air around me – then I can fly. When my nieces look at me with adoration in their eyes and tell me they love me and want to be just like me when they grow up – then I can fly.  When the words of Scripture break free from their ink and paper shackles and come to life before me, reminding me of just exactly who God is and how deep and wide and long His love is for me – then I can fly.  When the words I set to paper come easily and breathe life into images and scenes that previously existed only in my head – then I can fly.

The truth is, I always have the ability to fly, to be who God destined me to be. It’s just hard to remember because of those silly weights.  Maybe that’s why the author of Hebrews urges us to “lay aside every weight … and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2, KJV).  He understood that weights attach themselves to us and keep us from our God-potential, and he also knew that turning to and focusing on Jesus is the only way to truly keep the weights from winning their vicious battle.

What keeps you from flying? Look to Jesus and know that He is more than able to lift any weight that has settled upon you.

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Guerrillas of Grace

I don’t usually post the writings of others (because I’m self-centered like that), but this poem/prayer has been on my mind a lot lately.  Can prayer be more than  words?

“How shall I pray?
Are tears prayers, Lord?
Are screams prayers,
or groans
or sighs
or curses?
Can trembling hands be lifted to you,
or clenched fists
or the cold sweat that trickles down my back
or the cramps that knot my stomach?

Will you accept my prayers, Lord,
my real prayers,
rooted in the muck and mud and rock of my life,
and not just my pretty, cut-flower, gracefully arranged
bouquet of words?

Will you accept me, Lord,
as I really am,
messed up mixture of glory and grime?”

(exert from “How Shall I Pray” by Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace, 1981)

Anti-Internet Day

September 9 is and always shall be Anti-Internet Day for me.  No, I’m not an Internet-hater, and no, I don’t think the Internet is inherently evil.  Obviously I love the internet, or else I would be writing this on paper instead of in a blog.  Anti-Internet Day is about freedom from addiction.

For the last two years of high school I lived a double life.  By day I lived a relatively normal life, doing school work, going to church, and competing in extracurricular activities.  But by night I lived a completely differently online in XXX role playing games.  Online I got to be all the vile things I was too scared to be in the regular world. (I’ll spare you the details of all that; what’s the point in rolling around in muck in order to talk about how nice it is to be clean?) I liked my double life and was fully prepared to continue living it forever.  I knew all the church stuff and believed most of it; I had, after all, been raised in a pastor’s home.  But I had managed to justify my hypocritical existence, telling myself things like, “It’s not real,” “It’s just a bit of fun,” and “The Bible wasn’t talking about this because this is the Internet and the Bible doesn’t apply here.”  I built up this shell of lies and justification around me so much that I was deaf to reason and sense.

Five years ago today I encountered God in a way I never had before.  I don’t remember what specifically happened, and I don’t remember what was said or who said it.  But I know that the effect was that of God striking my shell with a sledgehammer and shattering it into a million billion pieces.  Suddenly I could hear Truth and could see myself for what I was: A liar wrapped in chains of addiction and perversion.  The Truth showed me that what I did online was in fact real, for  Jesus said that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  If the thought-life counts the same as action-life in God’s eyes, then everything I did in that “game” was just as real as if I had done it with another person. The Truth showed me that while what I did seemed like it was just a bit of fun, “there is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).  While I don’t think my online actions were necessarily going to result in my physical death, they certainly killed me spiritually – and without me even realizing it.  The Truth showed me that while the Bible doesn’t talk specifically about the Internet, it is not silent on the matter, for “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12; emphasis added).  My thoughts were as far from righteous as is possible to be.

Knowing this Truth allowed me to be set free.  I am free to live without fear of being discovered. I am free to live without exhaustion from living two lives.  I am free to speak truth to others without being hypocritical.  I am free to live life without bondage.  I am free to worship God without condemnation.  I am free to live my life to the fullest.

I’d like to say that I was so radically changed that day five years ago that I never struggled with my online identity again. I’d like to say I never stumbled or did stupid things again. But that would be a lie, and part of the New Me is not lying to myself or to others. Of course I have struggled and of course I have stumbled; I am an imperfect person living in a fallen world. The differences is that I don’t live in that place of addiction any longer.  When I fall, I don’t stay down in the mud.  I remember what that life was like and I never want to go back.

Hopeful Realism

People who know me from only interacting with Work Me think I’m an optimist. Others have accused me of being a pessimist, others a cynic, and still others a realist.

None of those sit right with me, though. None of those fully encompass the way the world reveals itself to me.  I see the potential for future disaster, but I don’t believe catastrophe is unavoidable. I see how those with power abuse those without, but I realize not all the powerful are cut from the same cloth. I see kindness in people, but I know that people are naturally bent to darkness instead of light.  I see the state of the world around me, but I have hope that life can improve.

That’s what hopeful realism is all about: Recognizing that all is not well with life, but retaining a deep seated belief that the what comes next can be better than what went before.

Hopeful realism is not merely the naïve dreaming of a girl yet to experience life, but is rather the result of a life transformed by faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Is that not the essence of hopeful realism? I am confident that when time runs out, the One who created time will still hold us in His hand.  I am assured that even if I must suffer hardships, “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

The God Who Is

Sometimes I look at people who call themselves Christians and cannot help but think, “I want nothing to do with their ‘God.'”

I am proud to say that I was raised in a Christian household and that I am a follower of Jesus Christ, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I love God. But sometimes people’s actions make me doubt whether we serve the same God. Vicious, malicious, abusing people do horrible, hurtful things, and then turn around and talk about how great God is and how wonderful life is serving Him.  Their lifestyles make their ‘God’ seem fake.  My reaction to that is, “I want nothing to do with the God of that person.”

Then I look at other Christians and cannot help but want to know their God. People who live good lives, who go out of their way not to hurt others, who have a simple intimacy with God. These people live out their faith on a daily basis with no faking or pretense.  They know God, and it is evident in everything they do.  How can I not want to follow the God of people like this?

I recently sat down and had a long talk with God about this dichotomy.  How can people who claim to follow the same God have such different expressions of Him? Surely the God of the first group cannot be the same as the God of the second?

I went on like this for a long time, not letting God get a word in edgewise. When I finally shut up long enough, I heard His quiet voice whisper to me: “Must I be the ‘God of this’ or the ‘God of that’? The pagans have their god of wind and god of love and god of war. But me? I AM. What else do you need Me to be? What else is there? I AM. I AM God, but My children reflect me with different levels of perfection.  When you look at some, you see a clear picture of who I am, but when you look at others you still see much of the world obscuring My image. I am still cleaning My children, making them into a better reflection of Me.”

Instead of following the “God of this person” or the “God of that person,” I now simply choose to follow “I AM”: the God who is big enough to handle even my own poor reflection of Him.