I meant to have this post up on Sunday afternoon but my brain shut off after the festivities of the morning. If you don’t forgive me then you know what I’m preaching on first after the holidays.
This is the message that I would have preached on Sunday if there was enough time during the program. There wasn’t enough time but I can’t let everyone get off that easy.
Facebook can be a useful tool, I’ve noticed. Recently some of the kids from the youth group I worked with in Mississippi sought me out and found me on Facebook. I spent three years loving those kids and doing all I could to steer them into a loving relationship with their Heavenly Father. They were a troubled group, for certain. Not a one came from a fully intact and loving home. Of course, they’re all married and/or have children of their own now.
I remember one of the young girls in particular who struggled with coming to faith in Jesus. Her parents were divorced and were both terrible alcoholics. When drunk they had a tendency to rail against God and anything having to do with Him. They were both solid atheists and never more so than when drinking. You can imagine the impact on their two young girls who were bouncing between two alcoholic parents and neither parent really understood why their daughters wanted to go to church.
I’ve always said it takes a pretty angry Christian to make a good atheist. What I mean by that is how so often the story told that lead to the decision that God did not exist is one of sadness and despair after some great loss or tragedy. The question, “How could a good God allow such a thing to happen,” goes unanswered and the weak faith is lost. The reason atheists work so hard against our faith is not some noble cause for freedom, it’s simple anger being vented against those who have managed to hold onto their faith, even in difficult times. Perhaps they see their own failure to stand strong through their own afflictions when they see others cling to their faith and come out stronger on the other side.
That young girl I was talking about came to accept Jesus during the time I was ministering to those kids. She rejected the alcoholic and anger-filled path of her parents and chose faith and life instead. That’s the kind of experience that keeps youth pastors going.
God with us. That’s what our scripture for today talks about. Emmanuel. Many have questioned the existence of God and even more have questioned the presence of God. The name “Immanuel” is all about the presence of God and Christmas is a great time to talk about it.
Jesus was called “Immanuel” which is literally translated as “God with us.” It was a statement of who Jesus is but it was more than that – it was a statement of where God is. In Jesus we had God right here walking around on the earth with us.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine standing next to God and having to introduce Him to people you meet? “Hi, my name is Dan and this is my pal Jesus. What do we do for a living? Well, I’m a pastor and Jesus is God. Yup, God Almighty. He created you by the way. It’s nice to meet your Maker without being the bad guy in a movie opposite Clint Eastwood.”
I have often searched for the presence of God. There have been times in life where God seemed so far away. I say seemed because the reality was very much different. But I’m certain this experience isn’t known only to me. The holiday seasons can be difficult for many – especially those who have lost loved ones. The first time you go through the holidays without a lost loved-one is going to be the toughest.
When going through tough times it is easy to question the presence of God. We feel alone, like we’re the only one who has ever experienced the difficulties we are experiencing and we reach out to the only One who could possibly help us understand but He’s can be so hard to find. Emotions get bound up. We feel our pain so much it’s hard to feel anything else. When we don’t feel the presence of God in those times we begin to question God and His intentions. Yet these are the times where God is closest.
In a 1992 Poloma and Gallup poll published in Newsweek magazine, it was found that 91% of women pray, as do 85% of men. 94% of blacks, and 87% of whites – 32% regularly feel a deep sense of peace. 12% never experience this. 26% regularly sense the strong presence of God. 21% never do. 15% regularly receive a definite answer to a specific prayer. 27% never have; 25% have once or twice.
The problem is often that we shut ourselves out from God’s presence. We’re not sure what our expectations are but they seem to include some sort of overwhelming and unexplainable feeling of comfort from God. We expect the supernatural but we’re usually in no condition to recognize it when it comes our way. Just what does the presence and comfort of God look like anyway?
No Time to Pray – author unknown
I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day;
I had so much to accomplish that I didn’t have time to pray.
Problems just tumbled about me, and heavier came each task.
“Why doesn’t God help me?” I wondered. He answered, “You didn’t ask.”
I wanted to see joy and beauty, but the day toiled on, gray and bleak;
I wondered why God didn’t show me. He said, “But you didn’t seek.”
I tried to come into God’s presence; I used all my keys at the lock.
God gently and lovingly chided, “My child, you didn’t knock.”
I woke up early this morning, and paused before entering the day;
I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray.
Are you looking for the supernatural this Christmas? Are you looking for the love and comfort of God and having trouble finding it? Are you having trouble finding the presence of God this Christmas? I’d like to offer a few suggestions.
1. Slow Down– Don’t use the rush of Christmas as an excuse not to seek, let alone see, God. Slow down and spend time with God every day. In a letter to his friends, hymn writer Wendell P. Loveless related this story: “One evening a speaker who was visiting the United States wanted to make a telephone call. He entered a phone booth, but found it to be different from those in his own country. It was beginning to get dark, so he had difficulty finding the number in the directory. He noticed that there was a light in the ceiling, but he didn’t know how to turn it on. As he tried again to find the number in the fading twilight, a passerby noted his plight and said, “Sir, if you want to turn the light on, you have to shut the door.” To the visitor’s amazement and satisfaction, when he closed the door, the booth was filled with light. He soon located the number and completed the call.
“In a similar way, when we draw aside in a quiet place to pray, we must block out our busy world and open our hearts to the Father. Our darkened world of disappointments and trials will then be illuminated. We will enter into communion with God, we will sense His presence, and we will be assured of His provision for us.”
Slow down and take time to be with God.
2. Look for God in the Common, Everyday things of life– It’s most often in the Natural where God shows up. The comfort of God is most often found in the people around you. Their love for you reflects the love God has for you. Don’t shut them out. At Christmas-time it’s easy to find God in everything around you, if you’re willing to look at everything that seems so much less than extraordinary.
The old story is told of a man who was caught in a terrible storm with flood waters rising all around his house. Gradually he moved to higher and higher ground until there was nothing left but to climb out on the roof. None of this shook this man’s steadfast faith that God would surely save him from his plight. He prayed for God to save him and then waited for the miracle that was sure to come.
A few moments later a rescuer in a boat came along and said, “Jump into the boat and you’ll be saved!” But the man just smiled and said, “Don’t worry, God will save me.” The boat moved on and, a little while later, another boat came along. The flood waters where inching ever higher and the man was at the top of his roof. The men in the boat said, “Climb in quick, we’ll save you!” But the man responded the same way as before, “Don’t worry, God will save me!”
The waters continued to rise and now the man was standing on his chimney when he began to hear a distant thrum of rotors in the air. Soon a helicopter came and a rope was lowered. Someone shouted, “Quick! Grab the rope and we’ll take you to safety!” Yet again the man responded with a smile and said, “Don’t worry, God will save me!”
So the man drowned. As it was, this man was a good Christian man and his soul soon found its way to heaven where he had the opportunity to speak to God. He asked, “I don’t understand, Lord, why didn’t you save me?” God looked at the man and then said, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you want?”
I guess the boats and helicopter was too common. This man was looking for a miracle but was blinded to everyday miracles all around him. Look for God in the common, everyday things of life and don’t be surprised when you find Him there.
3. Talk to God– It’s hard to talk to God when we don’t feel He is near. We give up on Him. Don’t do that – don’t give up on God. Don’t stop talking to Him. Bring your needs, your pains, your longings to Him regardless of whether or not you hear His voice.
One of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith is that God wants us to talk to Him about everything that is going on in our lives, even though He already knows everything. So why pray?
If you’ve ever wrestled with that question, perhaps the thoughts of the 19th-century preacher R. A. Torrey can help. Among the reasons he gave for prayer are these: Because there is a devil, and prayer is a God-appointed way to resist Him. Because prayer is God’s way for us to obtain what we need from Him. Because prayer is the means God has appointed for us to find ‘grace to help in time of need. Because prayer with thanksgiving is God’s way for us to obtain freedom from anxiety and to receive the peace of God.
Besides these reasons, it’s enough to read the command in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing,” and realize that God wants us to talk with Him. Yes, He is all-knowing, but He also desires our fellowship. When we seek God’s face in prayer, we strengthen our relationship with Him. That’s the most important reason to pray.
Talk to God, especially when you can’t feel Him near.
4. Take Time to Remember– Sometimes we as Christians need to stop along life’s road and look back. Although it might have been winding and steep, we can see how God directed us by His faithfulness. Here’s how F. E. Marsh described what the Christian can see when he looks back: The deliverances the Lord has wrought. The way He has led and the blessings He has bestowed. The victories He has won and the encouragements He has given.
When we face difficulties, we sometimes forget God’s past faithfulness. We see only the detours and the dangerous path. But look back and you will also see the joy of victory, the challenge of the climb, and the presence of your traveling Companion who has promised never to leave you nor forsake you.
Take time to remember.
5. Listen – Don’t just talk – listen – Spend time in stillness before the Lord. In your daily life, listen for God in all the common activities around you. In a church service God speaks in many different ways. You hear Him speak in the words of the songs we sing, in the scriptures we read and in the sermon we hear. But if we are open, if we are paying attention, we will hear the voice of God in every little detail of the service. In the cry of a child, crackle of a sound system, the blowing of a cold wind upon the building and even in that cell phone that embarrasses the owner when it goes off in the middle of a service. God’s voice is all around us if we our ears are open – in the swishing of the trees, in the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, in the falling snow, in the faceless voices heard jumbled together in a coffee shop – God’s voice is there to be heard if we are willing to listen. Don’t forget that God often speaks through the people around you.
Listen, don’t just talk. Listen – what’s God saying to you?
Emmanuel. God with us. The presence of God is with us in a much more tangible way now than when Jesus walked the earth. He still walks the earth through the hearts of all believers. God moves in and through His children. If you’re having trouble finding God this Christmas, look over at the person next to you – there is the presence of God. Pick up your bible – there is the presence of God. Look at the beautiful decorations – there is the presence of God. All around you and right inside you – there is the presence of God. Look at the arms wrapped around you in your time of need – God is near. My prayer for you this Christmas is that you will discover the presence of God. Emmanuel.