Im + Anu + El = With Us God

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

“Immanuel, God with us.” This is what Isaiah and the God-fearing people in his day were clinging to. They were clinging to the promise that God would be with them. As the nation of Assyria trampled on Judah and all seemed hopeless, they had a promise that they could hold onto: God is with us! Immanuel!

And isn’t that the way it always is for God’s people? We always cling to God’s promises. Certainly Joseph and Mary needed this assurance of Immanuel, because in Matthew 2 King Herod wanted to kill baby Jesus. Joseph and Mary would need the promise of Immanuel, God with us, in chapter 2 because the most powerful person in the entire world at that time, King Herod, would put a bounty out on their baby’s head! So they needed this promise of Immanuel! And isn’t that the way it always is for God’s people all the time? “God with us” is all that holds us up when we feel like life is going to swallow us up!

One name in the Hebrew language, Immanuel, translated with 3 simple words into English, God with us, can give you all the hope you need this Christmas- Immanuel, God with us. In the darkest times of your life- Immanuel, God is with you. In those moments when you feel like life is falling apart- Immanuel, God is with you. When you are so overwhelmed with life and you think that you just can’t go on- Immanuel, God is with you. When you find yourself in situations that are just so overwhelming and you don’t even know what to do, where to begin, what to say, how to respond, and you just feel hopeless, and maybe even feel like dying- Immanuel, God is with you. When you are at the end of your rope- Immanuel, Jesus, God is with you.

And what I love about the name Immanuel is that it is made up of 3 parts in the Hebrew language. Immanuel is composed of the preposition “with” (im) and affixed to the preposition is the 1st common plural pronominal suffix (anu). And then the name “El”- which means God– gets attached to the end.

Preposition: Im = with

1st common plural pronominal suffix: anu = us

The name: El = God

The Hebrew grammar may be confusing or boring, but it’s one of the most beautiful words in Hebrew! And it just might be what you need for Christmas this year! Maybe the thing that you need for Christmas is a Hebrew preposition and the Hebrew 1st common plural pronominal suffix! And when you take a Hebrew preposition and you attach the Hebrew 1st common plural pronominal suffix to it and then you attach to it God’s name, what you get is a Hebrew promise that God is with you!

Sometimes that’s all you have…. but it’s all you need. God is with you. Sometimes that’s all you have…. but it’s all you need. Immanuel. God with us. And it’s not just some theology. It’s not just a doctrine. And it’s not just a name that is composed of a Hebrew preposition and the Hebrew 1st common plural pronominal suffix attached to the name of God. It’s more than that. It’s a person! It’s Jesus! Jesus is Immanuel, God with us! That might be just enough to get you through whatever it is that you are going through today. Jesus is with you right now!

Sometimes all you can do is just keep saying over and over again, “God is with me. God is with me. God is with me. God is with me.” You might want to try that the next time you get stressed out or worried or scared to death. It’s true. Merry Christmas!

Like Father, Like Son- Pete Alwinson

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I did not sleep at all last night. Not a wink. One of our kids was sick so I spent my sleeping hours repeatedly cleaning up vomit and scrubbing the bathroom floor, the toilet, the sink, etc with disinfectant and bleach. I suppose that’s what a good parent does. It’s what a good dad does. They sacrifice for their children. And that’s exactly what Pete Alwinson says in his new book Like Father, Like Son: How Knowing God as Father Changes Men

 

The adventure of sacrificial fathering begins right at birth when the welcoming of a totally dependent, fragile newborn rocks the new mom and dad’s world. Sleep deprivation, unfamiliar noises, and never-ending messy new jobs conspire with inexperience to keep parents off-balance. (p. 106)

 

That was my night last night: sleep deprivation, unfamiliar noises, and never-ending messy new jobs. But that’s what a father does. He sacrifices. He cares.

 

But please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to toot my horn here. I’m a sinner. I don’t think that I’m a “great dad.” I struggled to get up each time and help my son and then clean up all the mess. But I’m telling you this in order to show you that this is exactly what our heavenly Father does for us. We get sick with sin, we throw up everywhere, and He comes and cleans up the mess we have created with His grace. That’s what God is like. And that’s what Pete Alwinson’s new book is like. He keeps telling us what God the Father is like.

 

Now, a disclaimer must be noted here. I first heard of Pete about 6 or 7 years ago and I began listening to his sermons. Pete’s sermons are winsome, engaging, practical, and Gospel-centered. So when I began reading his new book, I had very high expectations. And he did not let me down. This book is typical Pete Alwinson (as much as you can know someone through their sermons!). And the last chapter, “The Grace-giving Father,” is typical Pete and worth the price of the entire book. And it will set you free! And isn’t that what you’re looking for in a good book?

 

Listen, I have grown tired of all the “manly father” books that give me a list of things to do. I’m tired of them because when I do the list, I get prideful. And when I don’t do the list? Depression. Sadness. Guilt. Shame. Like Father, Like Son is not one of those books. It’s a book that tells you the very simple secret to fatherhood: knowing God. That’s the key to being a godly, albeit sinful, father: knowing God the Father. That’s what this book is about. Pete describes the difference that knowing your heavenly Father makes:

 

Well, here’s the good news— you have a perfect heavenly Father! It makes all the difference in the world when you realize that God is your father, the most important father in your life. God the Father and God as Father is the truly irreplaceable Father. When we start relating to God as Father, it’s absolutely amazing how it transforms us and changes our lives for the better. That’s the bottom line thesis of this book. (p. 9)

 

As soon as I read that paragraph, I immediately thought of a something that A.W. Tozer said. So in the margin of my book, I wrote “Tozer.” Then a few pages later, Pete quoted Tozer’s very words: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

 

That’s why you need to read this book. That’s why you need to give this book to every man that you know- because what they think about God determines everything in their life. If they don’t know God the Father, they are missing out. It’s only as we know God the Father that we will ever be the men and fathers that He has created us to be. It’s when we find our identity in our relationship with our heavenly Father that we will begin to experience true freedom.

 

So what are you waiting for? It’s “Cyber Monday.” Go by this book! And get to know your heavenly Father- the One who sent His Son Jesus to live and die for us- the One who gave us His Spirit- the One who cleans you up after you stuff yourself with sin and make a mess of your life.

To learn more about Pete or to purchase his book:

http://stores.newgrowthpress.com/like-father-like-son-how-knowing-god-as-your-father-changes-men/

http://litfusegroup.com/author/palwinson

* I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for writing this review.

As a Breast Desires to Empty Itself…

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I’ve been on quite a few missions trips to West Africa and one thing that you cannot miss when you are there is the freedom that African women have to breastfeed in public. I remember once, after preaching in public to a large crowd, that a woman came forward and told me that she wanted to trust in Christ. As we were praying together, I heard her baby getting fussy, and I opened my eyes and she just pulled down her top and started nursing. That’s certainly something that I’ve never countered in the American church!

And it was after one of my trips to Africa in 1994 that I painted the painting above- “Mother’s Milk.” It was one of the main pieces at my senior art show in college, too. And it (and many other paintings of mine) were banned at the Christian college that I went to. I had to pull them down because they were too controversial. Life as an artist in the (Southern) church…

So I’ve painted a number of paintings through the years of women breastfeeding. It has been one of my motifs that I often return to. And it’s a motif that the Puritans picked up on as well. We tend to shy away from the imagery (probably because of our over-sexualized culture), but the Puritans knew that breastfeeding was beautiful a picture to show the love of God for sinners like us. Here’s how one of my favorite Puritan pastors, Richard Sibbes, describes the love of Jesus…

Doth he come empty? No; he comes with all grace. His goodness is a communicative, diffusive goodness. He comes to spread his treasures, to enrich the heart with all grace and strength, to bear all afflictions, to encounter all dangers, to bring peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost. He comes, indeed, to make our hearts, as it were, a heaven. Do but consider this. He comes not for his own ends; but to empty his goodness into our hearts. As a breast that desires to empty itself when it is full; so this fountain hath the fulness of a fountain, which strives to empty his goodness into our souls. He comes out of love to us. Let these considerations melt our hearts for our unkindness, that we suffer him to stand so long at the door knocking, as it is said here. Sibbes, R. (1862). The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes. (A. B. Grosart, Ed.) (Vol. 2, p. 67). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson.

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus doesn’t come to us empty. He comes with grace. And He doesn’t come to us for something that He can get out of it. He’s not self-centered in His giving. He doesn’t come to us for His own ends- He comes to empty His goodness into our hearts! And just like a breast that is full and ready to empty itself of its milk, so too Jesus is ready to fill us with His goodness. He is an overflowing fountain, dare I say, an overflowing breast, that desires to fill His hungry children with His milk.

Think about that today. It will melt your heart.

– Benji

Walking Sermons

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And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

Puritan Richard Sibbes said, “Godly friends are walking sermons.” I think that’s what the preacher of Hebrews is getting at. We all need encouragement. We all need to be stirred up to love and good works. And that’s why godly friends can be walking sermons- because the reality is that we’re all sick in some way. We’re all selfish and struggle with many sins, so we need encouragement and stirring. The church is, after all, a hospital. Richard Sibbes said that too-

“The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls…The church of Christ is a common hospital, wherein all are in some measure sick of some spiritual disease or other…”

The Holy Spirit is pleased to dwell in sinners like us because that’s all that there are! We are all smoky, offensive souls when compared the glory of God, but that doesn’t stop God from dwelling inside us individually and corporately. We are a common hospital where at any moment we are all in some measure sick of some spiritual disease. And that’s why meeting together for mutual encouragement is so important. We need to be pointed to Jesus all the time. He alone is the cure for our sin-sick souls.

So look around. There are hurting people sitting in front of you at church. And behind you. And next to you. And there are hurting people filling up their coffee cups before and after the service. So be intentional anytime we gather as a church. Look for someone to encourage. And don’t be surprised if someone stirs you up too. Let’s be a church that places not just a high value on preached sermons, but also on “walking sermons.”

– Benji

The Story Carries Us

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For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

What a wonderful promise we have here!

At the time that Paul was writing Romans there was no official New Testament canon, so Paul is talking about the Old Testament in this verse. He’s telling the Roman Christians that all that was written down in the Old Testament was written for our instruction, so that we would be able to endure, be encouraged, and have hope. That’s a wonderful Gospel promise! That’s a wonderful Gospel promise that’s found in a portion of God’s word that records thousands of failures by God’s people!

Imagine that: The stories of the failures of God’s people in the Old Testament are supposed to encourage us and help us to endure and give us hope! That seems a little strange to me. But then I remember that the story is not about Abraham or Moses or David. It’s not even about us. It’s about God. It’s His story. And Michael Williams explains that in his book Far As the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption

Were the patriarchs faithful to Yahweh? Often, no. But God was faithful, and that in the end is the story of Genesis. What Moses is teaching Israel in the book of beginnings is that the patriarchs are not the heroes of the story of Israel. Ultimately, the story is not about them. The patriarchs do not carry the story. Rather, the story carries them. The drama keeps coming back around to Yahweh, and to his faithfulness in spite of the faithlessness of his covenant partner. The divine purpose cannot be defeated by sin, even the sin of the covenant vassal. (p.131)

The story is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. And His story carries us. We do not carry the story. The drama of our lives always comes back around to Jesus. And even our sins and failures cannot thwart His plan! Even the sins of God’s people cannot stop Jesus! That ought to be enough to encourage you to endure all of your failures and have hope.

Carried by His story,

Benji

WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE GOD DOES NOT LOVE YOU

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Sometimes I doubt God’s love. I know that sounds strange, especially because I am a pastor. But, in case you didn’t know, pastors struggle to believe just like every other sinner in the world. So, yes, I doubt God’s love often. And, yes, I am that fickle. But I have a friend who is helping me to see the glories of Jesus and to believe God’s outrageous love for sinners like me.

In his book “The Glory of Christ” John Owen lists a few questions you can ask yourself if you are doubting God’s love. Read so that you may “walk in the paradise of God and enjoy the sweet perfume of his mediatorial love”-

All who believe that Christ is God value his love and so are never happy with vague ideas of his love as mediator. To have clear, distinct ideas of Christ’s love, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Whose love is it? It is the love of the divine person of the Son of God who laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16).

2. How did this love of the Son of God show itself? It showed itself in the divine nature by eternal acts of wisdom, goodness and grace. And in the human nature it revealed itself by deeds of pity and compassion, shown by his works and his sufferings for us (Eph. 3:19, Heb. 2:14-15, Rev. 1:5).

3. Did we deserve Christ’s love? No, we deserved wrath, not love. This thought should be enough to humble you and bring you into the best attitude of mind to meditate on the glory of Christ’s love as mediator.

4. What did the love of God procure for us? It procured our eternal salvation and our enjoyment of God forever.

With such clear ideas of the love of Christ, and by worship, you may walk in the paradise of God and enjoy the sweet perfume of his mediatorial love (Song of Sol. 2:2-4).

Finally, do not be content to have right ideas of the love of Christ in your mind unless you have a gracious taste of it in your heart. You may taste that the Lord is gracious, that is, you may experience for yourself his grace in your heart. If you do not actually experience the love of Christ in your heart, you will not retain the idea of it in your mind.

Christ is the meat, the bread, the food provided by God for your soul. And there is no higher spiritual nourishment in Christ that his mediatory love, and this you should always desire. In his love, Christ is glorious. No creatures, angels or men could have the least idea of it before it was revealed by Christ. And after it was seen in this world, it is still absolutely incomprehensible.

God Loves You Where You Are

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Working on a sermon and was reminded of this gem of a quote by Jack Miller.

“God loves you where you are, not where you have been pretending to be… The last thing we want to admit is that we are weak, foolish, and sinful. But we are tense in our imagined righteousness. What we really need is just to face the truth about ourselves. When we do that, our lives have a special appeal to God and to unbelievers. God loves to hear a person cry out in heartbroken honesty, ‘Lord, I am nothing but a poor sinner. Send help quickly or I’ll die!’” {Repentance: A Daring Call to Real Surrender, p.86-87}

So glad that Jesus loves me where I am and not where I’m pretending to be. Confession: I pretend a lot. I can “do fake” real good. I can “play Christian” very well. And the One who sees through my shams loves me where I’m at. File that under “GOSPEL GOODNESS.”