Thursday, June 21, 2018

Narrow

I often think of the narrow way that Jesus spoke of as He contrasted the highway of destruction to the "narrow" path He calls us to traverse. Yes, if we view the choice Jesus describes between the highway of destruction and the narrow way of following Him through the only eyes we have at the beginning, the paradigm of our flesh, it appears as He says. The apparent choice to deny our flesh, saying "No", at times is hard and one needs to consider this choice carefully in the initial steps upon the narrow way. Even with time and wisdom there will be many times upon the journey we must once again consider the choices presented, times where the narrow way seems more difficult than expected. Our flesh will cry out in rebellion and our enemy will entice with seduce-ments that can seem too overwhelming to ignore. There will also be times one makes detours off the narrow way eventually hitting the myriad of dead-ends the wide highway only offers. At those times Jesus' words, "Lo I am with you always" will arise and one may repent of poor decisions made. Yes, He is there when we do stray. Our elder brother will be there bidding us lovingly back to the true journey of our hearts in Him.

At some point in the journey one may come to realize how wide the "narrow" way is for our hearts, who we truly are. We will see how many wide, spacious places there are along the way in which we thrive, we live in a way never offered in the bondage that is the highway of destruction. I think it is at these points we see the paradox in Jesus' words describing the two paths, the twinkle in His eye when we understand that things are not as they initially appeared to be.

When viewed through the eyes and needs of our hearts transformed by the Holy Spirit at our second birth, we see it is not a narrow way at all. There is a freedom in His grace for living the life He offered. A life marked by what the world really is hungry for; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Those bound to the highway, it's true narrowness of bondage, need to see Jesus in us who follow Him. His offer was LIFE. Do we represent His life well, in a manner that invites others to His life?

I've become weary of those who have grown sour, who have not found Jesus' grace along the way, but only see the road as a set of rules and regulations to attempt to keep. Often I've found pride in those who think they have succeeded in seeking and living out of narrowness without finding the wideness in His grace, the easy yoke He spoke of. Often they see Abba Father only as a line judge ready to whack us when we stray. Yes, correction is needed at times and I've experienced this at times, but I do believe we do Him a grave disservice if we only see Him standing by with a 2x4 ready to whack us whenever we stray. This is not the Father I've come to know on the narrow way that is not really narrow at all. His adjustments are gentle, always full of grace. He loves us deeper than we can imagine, even in the mud we may put ourselves in through poor choices.
 
It is sad to see some so encumbered by their own attempts at developing and maintaining their own sense of personal holiness. It is not our righteousness we are clothed with, but Jesus'; His redemption, His wisdom, His holiness offered freely by a loving God-head who states emphatically that we are in Him, He is in us. It is in that perspective we find the wideness of the "narrow" way.

Jesus, may I lean on You at those times when the narrowness presses in, when I can only move forward by keeping my eyes upon You. May I see the wideness You have for my heart as I traverse this path. May I remember well the bondage and dead-ends offered by the highway when I am tempted. Amen.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Murphy

It is a beautiful day here in Sacramento, 80 degrees with a great breeze. I spent the better part of the day getting our trailer ready for a week in Tahoe. We leave two weeks from today and the trailer had several things that needed some work. Both my wife and I are ready for that week in the mountains.

So now I am out front. I have a small table with two chairs in our small covered porch. This is where I do nearly all my thinking and reading when I am home. Last January I spent a ton of time out here writing a play for Good Friday. It was about 40 hours of writing and editing. I am always outside here with my dog Murphy.

Generally he's a pretty good dog. He's part shitz-hu and yorkshire terrier. He knows my evening rhythm very well and when he senses I might be going out front he gets very excited. Some evenings he will sit and stare at me and then whine a little if it doesn't look like I am going out front. Sometimes I have to tell him, "No, I am not going out". He seems to understand me and will dejectedly lay down but often he just sits and stares at me.

His dual breeding gives him an odd heart. Yorkshire terriers can be a little territorial. His feisty bark is sounded whenever he thinks something is going on that he thinks we need to attend to. It gets a bit annoying at times. In addition, he does not like other dogs so whenever I have him outside with me I keep him on a lead to keep him in our yard. If he sees a dog he wants to confront them no matter the size. Terriers have ferocious hearts, I think.

The shitz-hu in him means he has to get on my lap on a regular basis whenever I am outside. Try typing on a computer with a dog in your lap! It can get complicated. I will often let him up as I pause to think. Even a short stay on my lap will satisfy him for a while, but eventually he just "has" to get back on my lap and he makes the need known by putting his two front legs on my leg and whines, batting his big brown eyes with their massively long eyelashes. It usually works and I let him jump back onto my lap for a time.

Right now he is contentedly sitting at my feet, but I am sure his heart will send the signal, I need to sit on his lap.

This need has often caused me to think of my own heart and what it needs. We protestants have done a good job of nourishing our minds with good preaching and study. Many books have been written to nourish this aspect of living with God along with the explosion of podcasts that can often help us to think through our theology. This is all good, but I do wonder if we have neglected the heart.

What do we really long for? Longings rise from our hearts. Murphy longs for the comfort of my lap. What do I long for? Most who follow my sporadic ramblings here know my early morning habit of time before work in a park with God. That habit began in 2005 when I realized I did not understand my heart. I engaged in an email conversation with a young man, Ryan Cadwell, asking him how I might come to know my heart. He told me to spend time with Father. Now, being the good protestant that I am, I wanted the steps, there had to be a process I could think through to get to the point where I understood the good heart Father had given me. Ryan just kept telling me to spend time with Father. Frankly, it felt, at the time, like he was asking me to nail jello to a wall. But I did do as he suggested.

Fast forward 13 years and I am amazed at all that Father has done in helping me understand how central, how incredibly vital it is that we who claim to follow Jesus pay attention to our hearts, learning to lean in to Father's heart to help us live more deeply alongside Him. Without engaging our hearts, it is impossible to grow, be transformed.

For four Tuesday evenings I, along with three others, will be leading a series of classes titled "Heart Habits". Study, Meditation, Solitude, Silence, Fasting, Prayer, Worship, Community and Celebration are the topics we are hoping to cover. Honestly, it still feels daunting, there is so much to be said and I truly want to cover these topics well, leading people into a deeper walk with Jesus.

But I come back to Murphy and his need to be on my lap. I've often thought about this in regards to me sitting on Father's lap. I really need this as well. In my musings surrounding the parable of the Prodigal Sons (yes, there are two prodigal sons) I've wondered if there wasn't some point when the son who'd left and squandered himself with riotous living didn't need to sit on his father's lap and simply be loved. I've also wondered if the son who'd remained and was driven by self-righteousness also didn't need the same when he came to his senses - I think he might have at some point.

I remember as a little boy sitting in my father's lap while he would read the paper. My heart still wants that comfort. The heart habits of solitude and silence for me often are my times of sitting in God's lap, letting Him whisper words of comfort. It is something our hearts need from time to time.

This is the lesson I've learned from my dog Murphy and am often reminded of my need for "lap time" whenever he insists its time to sit on my lap.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Remembering

Good Friday is nearly here and I am aware that too often we rush to the joy of Easter without some sober remembering of what happened that day.

My good friend Bill says that a big part of worship is remembering, remembering what we learn God has done in Scripture and what He has done for each of us personally. Hopefully those two knowings don't reside separately but rather reside intertwined in a way that draws us deeper into Him, into the awe of intimacy with the God who spoke all of this into existence.

I want to remember and honor what that Friday was so long ago, what it must have felt for His disciples and for those that loved Him. I also want to remember and honor the high cost the Incarnate God paid for my entrance, my adoption into His family.

I want to remember how, in the end of John 14, He says to the remaining 11, "Let's go".  He was a man facing a horror none of us can imagine and I am sure He, as fully man, must have felt sick to His stomach, but He gathered up His band of followers and heads out for Gethsemane.

I want to remember how His heart desired to be attended by His dearest friends as He prayed there in the garden. I want to remember how He must have felt disappointed in those that could not stay awake as He prayed.

I want to remember His words pleading for this "cup" to be taken from Him but His submission, "Not my will, but yours". I want to remember He sweat drops of blood due to the anguish headed His way.

I want to remember that upon seeing the band headed to arrest Him, led by Judas, He asks peacefully, "Who do you seek" and when they say, "Jesus of Nazareth", He answered with the deep dignity of choice, "I am him who you seek".  It is such a bold statement they have to ask again.

I want to remember Judas' kiss of betrayal and the scattering of all but a couple of disciples.

I want to remember the three trials, the questions and His willingness to hand Himself over to Rome.

I want to remember His beating, being spit upon, the scourging and the crown of mocking thornes He wore on His way carrying the instrument of His death, the cross.

I want to remember the nails, His nakedness, His suffering, His final words.

I want to remember and show solidarity with those who've gone before. I am thinking here of those gathered that day in the shadow of the cross, those that loved Jesus and could not believe what was happening. Could not believe it and yet could not set aside the fact He was hanging right before them dying as they wept in grief, shock and horror.

Yes, we know how this all ends, and in a few days they will as well, but I think it is important to remember that day as it was and identify with those that loved Jesus who had yet to fathom the next few days and the coming resurrection.

I also think about those who may have been smiling at the demise of the itinerate preacher who would not go away.  The Pharisees had been plotting for some time for this day and it could not have worked out better for them.  I doubt they were whoopin' and hollerin', that kind of behavior was beneath them, but sly smiles amongst themselves as they continued to whip the observant crowd into a frenzy would not be beneath them.

There probably were some there who were whoopin' and hollerin'.  I imagine a whole host in the unseen world who gleefully watched this man's death. They might have been dancing around the foot of that cross. They thought they'd won.

Nowhere are we instructed to observe Good Friday in any particular manner. However, I do want to remind myself again of what my friend Bill teaches, remembering is a large part of worship. Traditionally we set aside one evening to remember with some sober respect the high cost paid for our redemption.  It really comes down to perhaps one hour or 90 minutes out of an entire year where we corporately try to absorb what that day meant for the one suffering on our behalf and to show solidarity with those who loved Him and who were caught up as they watched Him die.

I remember with a sober respect what was done for us, and I also remember to show solidarity with those grieving that day.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Table

We will gather around our table and enjoy a feast of Christmas beast and all the accompanying dishes. There will be 12 of us. I am really looking forward to that moment when we all sit and see one another. This year my niece and her family will join us. It will be grand.

It is around the table where it all starts as we celebrate this incredible season of birth. The birth of the baby who would grow up, become a roaming rabbi teaching, healing, crying, laughing, living with his followers. Then He will hand himself over to die a sacrificial death for all of us.

Some who gather around tables will not understand what this season truly is about. It may be viewed simply as a time to exchange presents, enjoy the company of family and friends. It may be viewed as a season of religious duty, an annual attendance at a nearby church. It may be viewed with some skeptic's eye not sure anymore if all of this is true. Childhood faith has been set aside as one considers again the veracity of this One who came to be with us and, who said He would never leave us alone as orphans again.

My plan was to read something I found written by one of my favorite authors, but it was a bit on the long side and I knew I will only have a few moments to capture those gathered about my table for this small gift of words.

He came to live as fully man and fully God to lead us into a Kingdom that only requires faith. A kingdom where we can be fully known; all our noble thoughts and actions along side our frailties, fears and our dismal failures. Fully known is just the beginning though, and can seem so heavy without the second part of His coming, this God/man who offers redemption, even if we don't believe we need it or deserve it.

He came not to just offer a deep knowing but to offer a deep love, a love that will never take the tiniest step back from us when we have failed as often and as miserably as we so often do. There is such a relief in that kind of Holiness.

We think of Holiness as being so...... Holy, set apart, above us and unattainable. And yet, that is not His Holiness that is offered. It is a Holiness that relieves us of the demands of perfection or even trying to get it right. Sure, we want to at least try and show we are worth the attention of love lavished on us, but we need not strive so hard to be something we are incapable of being.

His Holiness asks us to simply rest with Him, alongside in cooperative longing, a longing for that day when we are finally home with Him.

In the meantime, until we get home, we can celebrate, we can enjoy, we can simply be with Him, through faith. Sit around the table and imagine being there in that smelly stable and adore the One who has come to make us new.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trees

My last post was a little dark and vulnerable. I couldn't think of any way to show personally what a Wonderful Counselor we have in Jesus without sharing some of my own struggles. I do apologize if it was a bit too dark for some.

I've been remembering some of the lighter moments the Christmas Season would bring to our family. There were two seasons where the dynamic of our family was consistently a little lighter. One was our summer camping trips to the Middle Fork of the Yuba River. The other was Christmas, especially some of the stories surrounding our ongoing quest for the perfect Christmas tree.

Our earliest years involved purchasing a tree from a gas station. Back in those days proprietors of fueling stations would stock some Christmas trees and I remember as a very little guy the excitement of finally stopping at a station and choosing just the right tree.

A few years later my dad had a co-worker, Swede Nelson who lived on some property that had some promising trees. Dad and I, and then later we'd include my younger sister Elizabeth would load up our old Powell station wagon or a few years later the truck/camper my folks owned and drive out to Swede's place. He had a couple boys so we kids would all hop in the back of Swede's pick-up and drive up into the hills where the promising trees could be found. It would always seem like such a magical journey.

Dad was a bit fussy about finding just the right tree so it would take us some time. We'd also look for a tree for my grandparents who lived nearby in Nevada City. Of course untrimmed trees are not often as perfect as Dad would like but he'd find something that would come close. Eventually two decent trees were found and the Nelson's would find their tree so we'd load them in the back of the pick-up and we kids would squeeze in around our trees excited for this important aspect of the season. Christmas was on it's way!

Dad often would get our tree home, put in the old red metal stand and the would stand back and look at it. More often than not, there were holes that needed a branch grafted in so Dad would trim a lower branch, drill a hole where it was needed and wire it in. We could then begin the joyous work of trimming the tree. Dad would put on the lights and then we would all pitch in and start hanging the collection of ornaments. After all the ornaments were hung then we started the job of hanging the silver tinsel, strand by strand. We were taught to be very meticulous making sure each branch was draped gracefully with cascading silver strands that reflected our collection of colored lights. Some of our lights were the ones that, once heated up, would flash on and off at individual intervals. It was glorious!

Mom never liked taking down the tree. Often it was mid to late January before we would finally take it down along with all the other trimmings that decorated our little home. One year in particular, I recall it was close to Valentine's Day before the tree came down. Of course, by then it was so dry it was barely green anymore, but she didn't care. I think it always depressed her a little to finally say good-bye to Christmas.

Mom's desire for a tree that would stay fresh longer got her into a bit of trouble one year. It was Christmas 1973. My older sister and I had moved to San Francisco so when I came home a day or so before Christmas I was startled to find a completely dead, brown tree. Mom just giggled a little bit and told me her tale.

Evidently she'd been watching the Dinah Shore talk show one morning. She'd had some guy who was an expert gardener, the Green Gardener is who I think it was. He'd given a recipe to help preserve and keep fresh cut Christmas Trees. Mom got so excited she immediately went into the kitchen and whipped up a batch of whatever it was he'd said to use, cooking it a bit. She said the tree was still outside so she rushed out and dumped into the pan in the stand her hot concoction. Well, you can guess what happened. She'd not heard the whole set of instructions and didn't let the concoction cool down. It quickly killed the tree. I'm not sure she had the heart to tell Dad what had happened so they put it up anyway in hopes it would make it through a shortened Christmas Tree season, but frankly, it wasn't going to make it.

The next day I bundled up my little sister and we took a hike down the hill from our house, across highway 49 and up the ridge on the other side to look for anything resembling a Christmas Tree. Fortunately, we found a beautiful little cedar I cut down. Now poaching trees is NOT something you should do and so I sent my sister on ahead to make sure no cars were coming along the highway so I could make a mad dash across the road and up the hill  out of sight of anyone driving along the road. By the time we'd gotten home, Dad had completely stripped the dead tree and was waiting for us with whatever we could find.  It was the only cedar tree we ever had. Cedars have rather limp limbs that droop precariously with the weight of ornaments, but we didn't care, it was much better looking than the brown stick of a tree it replaced. We often laughed about the year Mom killed the tree.

Years later, after the first five years of marriage, Gail and I moved to Minnesota. Our first Christmas we went with friends to a tree farm and cut a beautiful tree. It was a different variety than we were use to with very short, sharp needles. We weren't sure how we would keep our crawling, adventurous daughter from the tree, but after her first attempt at reaching for the beautiful ornaments she discovered how sharp those needles were on her delicate hands. One attempt was all it took for her to know the tree would hurt her and she never tried to reach into it again.

A few years later we were preparing for a special Christmas, my folks were coming for a visit. As was our custom, a few weeks before their arrival, we cut a beautiful blue spruce that fit our little condo perfectly, tall enough, but not too wide. What we didn't know was the variety we'd selected had a tendency to dry out fairly quickly and drop needles. By Christmas Eve it was dropping them at a sickening rate. Heavier ornaments would slide down branches any time anyone walked by and you could hear the needles fall on the presents beneath it.

I'd had enough of it so I bundled up my mother and the two of us went in search of another tree with strict instructions from my wife to not get one that was too wide. Well, we ended up at a KMart with a pitiful collection of trees, most laying on their sides, dejected trees waiting for a home late in the season. We found what we thought would work and loaded it in my Toyota Celica for the ride home. What we didn't realize was the shape we thought was fairly compact was due largely from the fact it was frozen into a tight pyramid. By the time we got it in our compact living room it thawed and just about filled half our living room. Gail was not particularly happy but Mom and I just giggled as we decorated the thawing tree.

After we moved back to California we'd do the tree expedition again up into the Sierra Foothills about 50 miles from home. We'd often go with our friends the Blodgers and make a day of it looking for the perfect tree. Those are good memories. Eventually the kids got tired of going with Dad to look, I tend to be particular about finding a tall, perfect tree. The last year that Charlie went with me we found a beautiful tree, but it was just slightly shorter than our car. It was one of those years I flocked the tree so I stood it up in the stand in the driveway, flocked it with several cans of snow and brought it into the house. One problem, to get the lights and ornaments on the top I had to stand on the tip top of our 8' ladder on my toes, lean out with one hand on a wall and sort of toss the lights and ornaments on the upper branches. It sort of drove Gail nuts watching me do this, but it was beautiful when done.

My last year of cutting a tree was a solo effort on my part. It was one of those cold drizzly days where it was almost snowing. Being fussy for just the right tree meant time and effort tromping around tree farms. By the time I found the right tree, paid for it and loaded it my holybluemazda, the jeans I was wearing were completely soaked and I was freezing cold for the 50 mile drive home. No problem I thought. I pulled over onto a secluded dirt road, took my pants off, cranked up the heater and drove home in my underwear.

I know my goal in writing here is to find transcendence in the ordinary things of life. Frankly, I'm not finding that in writing this, but I love the memories I have connected with our adventures with finding the perfect Christmas tree. Memories are precious things and we can find joy and even a hint of transcendence in remembering our happy memories during this Advent season. Maybe, just maybe revisiting our own personal memories of past Advent seasons we can recapture again the importance of being a child, after all, unless we become like children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God.

Oh yes, the last Christmas before my dad passed away we were retelling the story of going out with Swede Nelson to cut a tree. My dad, with a twinkle in his eye confessed for the first time to any of us that we had been poaching trees all those years! Suddenly something he always would do before leaving the Nelson's made sense. He would always cover up the trees with an old bedspread he would bring along, even when we would load the trees into the back of the camper. I always thought it was just to keep the needles from making a mess but it was to hid our pilfered trees!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Wonderful Counselor

We live in a time, at least here in North America, where counseling and the need of a counselor is widely accepted. It is easy to find a counselor, life coach, mentor or a spiritual director when one senses the need for some one-on-one help. These named professions carry some distinctive aspects from one another, but they offer some form of counsel. While I am not writing here to tout my training and work as a spiritual director, I will write my work with people is to help them find and work alongside the Spirit of God that I believe inhabits those who profess to be Jesus followers. A good counselor will probably offer a more clinical approach to life issues offering more concrete suggestions and guidance than I would. My approach is more relational, God alongside the people I sit with knowing He will offer guidance. Ah, but I digress a little from what I want to write here.

It really wasn't that long ago when counselling was more under the radar, less accepted than it currently is. It really was just a generation ago. My own family is a good example of that. The three children that grew up in my family of origin needed some help. Frankly, our family was not a very healthy family emotionally speaking. We all three grew up forming self images that were not helpful or healthy for moving well into life.

There was just one experience one of the three of us had with professional counseling, my older sister Carla was taken to the only counselor in the little town we grew up in. As I was told a few years ago, Carla went to some consultations alone with the counselor. When it was time for the counselor to speak to my parents about their findings, my mother was told that much of the difficulty with Carla stemmed from her very combative relationship with Mom. It was the last meeting they had with the counselor.

A few years later I experienced a suicide attempt. I really needed some help but nothing was sought out for me; I was left alone to deal with the fallout. My attempt was never spoken of again after mother asked me a week later if I was going to be okay just before my parents left for a planned vacation leaving me alone at home to care for my youngest sister. The implication was I needed to be okay for them to leave as planned.

I share these experiences to exemplify how shameful it once was thought to need counselling. The needs were often never met with any professional help. Issues were simply swept under the carpet and hopefully forgotten. I don't believe my experience with needing help was not unique nor was the lack of finding help unique. It simply was not done one short generation ago. Thankfully, this is no longer the case.

I believe a good counselor will take the time to gradually listen, offering insights into whatever is the presenting issue with an eye to letting the person coming to them to gradually see themselves with the issue. It takes time to come to that point where one can bravely look at themselves in the mirror the counselor has gradually offered them. It takes courage to look in the mirror but there can be a great deal of healing that takes place if that courage can be found. Mirror holding is a large part of a what a good counselor will do.

They will also offer help, suggestions for what is needed once we are able to gaze into the mirror and see ourselves. It can be difficult to actually see where we've contributed to issues that confound our personal emotional growth. It is also hard work to start to re-think issues that often enslave us to old paradigms that no longer work.

This brings me to one of the titles given to Jesus in Isaiah, Wonderful Counselor. Please note, there is no comma, this is one title in two words. This title goes along with Emmanuel, His "with us" in the flesh, knowing what we are as humans, spiritual beings in human form. Without His "with us" His ability to be the Wonderful Counselor would be hindered. The Wonderful Counselor flows out of Him being Emmanuel, God with us.

Now, what a counselor we truly have. He is kind, slow to anger and patient with us and He has a view of who we are, right now at this moment, broken and flawed as we are. He gently wants us to see something though. He not only sees who we are at this moment but He also sees with absolute clarity who we truly are in Him. He sees a completeness and a beauty in us that only He can see yet wants us, no, He longs and desires as only He can desire that we become courageous enough to glimpse at what He sees in us. I am not sure we can handle more than a glimpse most of the time, but once we do, I believe we will fall down and worship this One who is so kind and patient with us in our unwillingness to believe.

He desires for us to believe not only who He is but who we are in Him. Remember, we are told we are one with Him who is One with the Father. It is an astounding fact that should shake us to the core in such a way that we give up our illusion of not needing Him. He truly is the Wonderful Counselor who has known me at my worst far more deeply than I can know my worst. And yet, He does not back away, He does not blink, He simply loves me deeply into seeing a bit of what I truly am in Him.

In this Advent season, may we ponder what a Wonderful Counselor we have in the One who came to redeem us into His kingdom and to shake us at the core so that we will see and know Emmanual, God with us, our Wonderful Counselor.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Emmanuel

Here we are again, in the season of Advent. I did not grow up in a church that followed the four Sundays of Advent with a wreath and candles lit one after the other during those Sundays. It was a recent addition to my celebration in my present church where I found and hungered for those words and acts of preparation for His coming. Unfortunately, with the passage of leadership, my church no longer follows this tradition. I miss it.

So, in light of this hunger for my own personal preparation, I've begun to write something of my thoughts regarding this holy season. Tonight, in time with Abba, I was struck by this name given to Jesus; Emmanuel, God with us.

If we take a moment and let that idea sink in we may find ourselves in awe of the very act of birth, the birth of this child we believe was conceived in mystery and miracle. We who follow Jesus believe He was God in the flesh, God with us. He began human life as we all do, as a babe.

Now I can't presume to know what it was for Him to find Himself wrapped in baby flesh fresh from the womb. Did He look into His mother's eyes and see and know who she was and who He was yet limited by baby flesh? We really don't understand incarnation from His point of view. It is and always will be a mystery. What I do believe is this, God was flesh and dwelt among us as first a baby, then toddler, then child, then teenager, then a young man at Joseph's side learning a skill He would not use. He then became fully a man set apart to do what only He could do, offer salvation to the whole world. These are the core beliefs of any who profess to follow Him, facts only appropriated through faith.

God with us. It brings either belief or unbelief. There isn't much middle ground here. In my belief, I am stunned again at the act of coming to be one of us for a time; to know hunger, thirst, weariness, joy, sorrow, anger, frustration, temptation, love.

If we allow ourselves to be honest, setting aside our religion, we will know we are hungry for this kind of God who would do such a thing, become like us, fully man and fully God.  Again, I am in awe of the mystery of incarnation.

I need Emmanual, God with me more than I can imagine and I did allow myself to taste again the hunger of needing His "with us" tonight.

We can move past a corporate knowing and awe and allow our own hearts to hear and know His "with us" at the personal level He truly came to introduce us to. Remember in that last night before His arrest He told the eleven remaining disciples He was one with the Father and they were one with Him. He's talking about His "with us" and how it might be for us.

Sin always wants to come in and corrupt the holy relationship He has set in place. We fall often and for some of us, we fall hard. We may have marveled at His "with us" during those mountaintop experiences He brings us to from time to time, but it is when sin has done it's dirty work is when we need His "with us". We are dead in the water without His "with us" to guide us along.

We think we've been separated when sin comes. Frankly, I no longer believe that. There is a shift in the relationship but He's not departed. He is there at our lowest points. It really is scandalous what this "with us" means in those dark places we find ourselves in. I am reminded though of some of His last words recorded before being taken up to heaven, "Lo, I am with you always." There is no caveat to that kind of "with us" that  may say "I am with you until you really blow it then you are sort of on your own until you come to your senses". I don't read that anywhere and yet too often we think that is how He responds to us.

So I am struck with the scandal of His "with us" when all others might depart. I am struck with knowing He was with me wherever I may have wandered and His "with us" has come to find me when I'd rather run and hid from His loving gaze.

Emmanuel, God with us, an essential component of Advent if we are to truly celebrate His coming.