Friday, December 12, 2014

Immanuel, God with us


"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" which means "God with us". Matt. 1:23
For most of my life, I've struggled with fear.  Over the years, the fears have changed, but fear has always been nearby, pushing me around like a schoolyard bully.  When fear pushes, I am learning to run straight into the arms of my Heavenly Father, right into His chest, close to His heartbeat, close enough to hear His whispers, and His reassurance.  
And He tells me, "Do not be afraid, for I am with you." (Isaiah 41:10)
Always His answer to my fear is "I am with you".
As Christmas approaches, we are reminded that He is Immanuel, God with us.
If you're like me, you may not be quite convinced or always reassured by those words.   You think, "That's great that He's with me, but how does that really help me? What difference does that make in my life, in this moment, with my fears, in the midst of these struggles?  How exactly is that reassuring?"
So I went searching throughout the Bible for answers.  And I came to the realization that when God told His people that He was with them, they were blessed, successful, and victorious no matter what they faced. He never failed them. 
Do not be afraid, for I am with you... and will bless you. (Gen 26:24)
Don't be afraid... Do not lose heart or panic. For the Lord your God is going with you. He will fight for you against your enemies and He will give you victory. (Deut 20:3-4)
Do not be afraid or discouraged ... for the Lord God is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you. (1 Chron 28:20)
Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Is. 41:10)
The Lord was with Joseph giving him success in everything he did. (Gen 39:3) 
But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength... And He saved me from certain death.  Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly Kingdom. (2 Tim. 4:17-18)
God's people still had battles to face, struggles, hard times and problems, but their strength in overcoming these things and experiencing blessings in the midst of it all was in the very fact thatGod was with them. 
Their weaknesses were swallowed up in His strength.
Ann Voskamp put it beautifully when she said, "Fear is a notion that God's love ends."
Isn't that the truth?  Isn't that the root of what all our fears come down to?  Being abandoned by God in whatever trial we are facing, being overcome by our circumstances, being consumed by the battles we face.  We doubt His faithfulness to strengthen and uphold us. We doubt that He is really with us and will get us through. We doubt His love is unfailing and unending. 
But God is Love. 100% pure Love.  And Love does not abandon. Love never ends, it never stops, it never gives up, it lasts forever. His love is always reaching towards us, providing for us, fighting for us, rescuing us.
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18)
If we have fear, we have not yet been made perfect in love.  This means, we don't yet understand how deep God's love is for us. Fear loses its grip on us when we have a revelation deep down in our hearts that God loves us, that He will never leave us, never fail us, and never forsake us. Because love does not let go.
He will not let go of us. 
Even if our strength fails, our faith falters, our grip slips and we let go, He will not let go of us.  Because He is Immanuel and He is with us. Always He is with us, even to the end of the age.
God promises that "When you go through the rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior...you are precious to me.  You are honored, and I love you.  Do not be afraid, for I am with you." (Isaiah 43:2-5)
When life gets tough, when calamity and troubles come, when the earth shakes and the mountains fall around you He says, Don't be afraid, for I am with you.  
Paul reminds us that, "despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ Jesus, who loved us."  (Ro. 8:37)
David knew this.  In the midst of his struggles, he wrote "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evilfor you are with me...". (Psalm  23)  
He knew that in the valley, where death and shadows of darkness taunted him, His God was with him, so He had nothing to fear.  No evil would conquer him.  No evil could conquer him.
Our fears are laid to rest when we come to the realization that despite these earthly battles andeven though we walk through dark valleys, ultimately they can not overcome us because we have God Almighty within us.  Love took on flesh and bones and came and rescued us.  And He is Immanuel, God with us.  And He stands with us in our battles and He fights for us.  His hold on us is strong and His love for us won't let go or leave us behind. 
 He is undefeated, so we will be victorious. 
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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