Thursday, May 19, 2011

With Us in the Midst, Immanuel.

God does not keep a man immune from trouble; He says - "I will be with him in trouble. " Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest (May 19).

"God does not keep a man immune from trouble." Those are some bold words and hard words to swallow by Mr. Chambers. Not only that, but when placed on the backdrop of the "Prosperity Gospel" it sounds downright blasphemous. If the foundation of your belief is that when you accept Christ God will bless you financially, physically, in real estate, and with the car of your dreams, hearing that He does not keep us from our trials is more than a small fly in the ointment. Sadly, far too many people in America, and perhaps around the world, believe that coming to Christ means salvation, not just from eternity in torment, but from the trials and struggles of this life. The witness of the Gospels and the epistles of the New Testament could not paint a more different picture than that. In fact, I would say that the entire Bible gives us evidence that God does not save us from our trials but, as Chambers says, He is with us through them.

This may sound awfully basic but I think it is terribly important that we, as Christians, understand that God is with us no matter what we face, or where we find ourselves. If you look in Mark 4:35-41 you will find the account of Jesus and the disciples in a boat, on the sea, facing a storm. It tells us that a "fierce gale of wind" blew up and the waves were crashing over the boat. In fact, the boat, we are told, was beginning to fill up with water. Let me pause here for a moment in case there are those who are reading that are "nautically challenged." The soul purpose of a boat is to keep you out of the water. In order to do that, it must keep the water out. At this point it would be safe to say that the disciples were in a crisis. In short, they were  afraid they were going to die. In the midst of all of this where was Jesus? Did He not care? Check out verse 38;

Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? "


Asleep on the cushion? Wh...wh...asleep on the cushion?! I can understand why the disciples were a little bit miffed about what Jesus was doing here. For years when I read this passage I agreed with the disciples because it very much looks like Jesus doesn't care that they are dying. Here is what I believe the Lord revealed to me, just recently, about this episode. Jesus wasn't asleep in the back of the boat because He didn't care. Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat because He knew who He was and what kind of power He has. Jesus knew that in a moment He could stand up and calm the storm with just a few words and that is exactly what He did. It is easy for me to look around in the trials and crisis' in my life and wonder if Jesus is in the back of the boat asleep and I have a sneaky suspicion many of you could say the same. Here's the kicker for me, Jesus not only knows who He is and what kind of power He has, but He also knows that we are in His hands. Christ can see the big picture and He knows how it is all going to work out and He knows that we are safe in His care. As a result of what He knows He can remain cool, calm and collected in a crisis. That doesn't mean we aren't going to get wet in the process or that we will be saved from our unpleasant circumstances, but it does mean we're going to make it through.

There is another great example of the truth that God will be with us in our trials in the Old Testament...well, there are many examples of this in the Old Testament, but I'm just going to pick this one for now. If my estimation is correct there are a fair number of you who have heard this story so let me summarize.

There were three young, Israelite men who were among those selected to serve King Nebuchadnezzer; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They so impressed the king  that they were given appointments in his administration. After having a dream, which these three men and their other friend Daniel interpreted, the king built a massive statue which all the people of the nation were to bow down to when the royal band began to play. Knowing that worshiping idols and false gods was prohibited by Yahweh, these three were committed to NOT bowing down. This infuriated Nebuchadnezzer and he proceeded to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into a fiery furnace. Listen to what happened after that;

Then Nebuchadnezzer the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, "Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?" They replied to the king, "Certainly, O King." He said, "Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!  " Daniel 3:24-25 NASB.

Some scholars believe that the fourth man in the fire was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. That is, it was Christ with them before He was born of a virgin and lived among us, etc., etc. Here is the take home point; God did not just deliver Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the furnace, He was in the furnace with them. God, through His Word, promises us that He will be with us no matter what the world throws our way and no matter what trials and struggles we may find ourselves in the midst of. It may seem like He's in the back of the boat asleep but He is there standing with us in our darkest and most trying times. This should give us an amazing amount of comfort. This, I believe, is part of that "peace that passes all understanding."

Yes, God is transcendent and stands over and above all that He has created, but He is also involved in our lives and the history of the world. This is not the god of deism who set things into motion and then let go, never to act again in the affairs of humanity. This is not the god of ancient civilizations that was manifest only in the natural phenomena. This is not the god that atheists accuse of being a spoiled brat burning ants with a magnifying glass. This IS the God of all creation who cares for His people and cared enough, not only to send His only Son to redeem mankind, but also cares enough to be in the furnace, and on the stormy sea WITH us!

My question for you today is this, "Where do you find yourself in these examples?" Are you in the furnace or are you on the sea? You may be living in one of the best times of God's blessing that you can remember but I'm certain that you will find yourself in a time of trial at some point in your life. When you do, understand that God is WITH you. He is not looking on hoping for the best or wondering if you're going to survive. He is with you. Furthermore, just because you find yourself in tough circumstances don't let anyone try to convince you it is because your faith isn't strong enough. The strength of our faith is born out of adversity. It is in those trials that our faith in God is tempered and made resolute.

And not only this, but we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:3-5

One of the most powerful names of Christ is "Immanuel" which means "God with us." And just in case you're curious, Christ still is Immanuel because on the third day He rose from the grave and lives to this day to be our High Priest and Intercessor. Just before Jesus ascended into Heaven He gave us the Great Commission but when you read it, don't overlook the last line;

and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20b NASB.

Godspeed,
Christian

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