I remember well the first time God sent me across
the country to speak at a conference. I didn't want to go. Shy and
fearful in groups, I had no desire to stand before a roomful of
expectant faces and speak into a microphone.
"I can't," I argued. "Others are far more
qualified." But He confirmed His call, reminding me that He would be
with me and meet all my needs. "My grace is sufficient for you,"
He reassured me, "for My strength is made perfect in weakness.2 Corinthians 12:9
Months later, as bright, billowy clouds drifted by
my airplane window, I silently prayed for courage and strength.
And once again, my nearest and dearest Friend spoke to me through His
"Be strong and of good
courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God
is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9
What could be more wonderful? Why fear when the King
of the universe is with me! Day by day, He is my ever-present Shepherd,
my Lord, my Master and my Friend! Since I have "died with Him" on the cross, I "shall also live with Him" for all eternity! Romans 6:8
Yet, the blinded world around us continues to reject
our Immanuel. Now as always, His presence in this sin-filled world
is an offense and a "stumbling stone" to those who refuse to follow Him.
So when the long-awaited Savior was born into our
world that starry night long ago, most people "loved darkness
rather than light." They wanted earthly freedom to do their own will,
not heavenly freedom to follow God. Immanuel opened His arms to a
troubled land, but only a few chose to enter.
John summarized both the tragedy and
the triumph: "He was in the world, and the
world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to
become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
who were born, not of... the will of man, but of God."
Many claim that special "right"
though they were never born of God. They simply adapt His message to fit
their beliefs. "All people are His children," they say. "Jesus is
But that's not true. While
our Lord sees and hears everyone, His personal presence is reserved for
those who trust and follow Him.
Abraham did, so God brought him
into a special covenant relationship with Himself. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your
descendants after you in their generations," He told
Abraham, "for an everlasting covenant....
As years passed, Abraham's
descendants turned their backs to Immanuel who had led them miraculously
out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, through the wilderness and into the
promised land. They pursued "other gods" in spite of His loving care for
them. Finally, He withdrew His protection and allowed His beloved
people to face the devastating consequences.
But God always had a remnant of
uncompromising believers whose hearts remained focused on His promise:
the glorious fulfillment of the covenant relationship.
The first part of that
fulfillment came through Christ's death and resurrection. We who are
redeemed and "born of God" have been "grafted into" Abraham's spiritual
lifeline. All who trust Jesus -- whether Jews, Africans, Arabs or
Americans -- live together with Him. "For [we] are all one in
Christ Jesus.... heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:28-29
But those who reject the triumph
of the cross have no part in His covenant. For He said,
not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For...
what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement
has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of
the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them
and walk among them. I will be their God, and they
shall be My people.' Therefore 'Come out from among
them and be separate....'" 2
That's a hard message.
Those who seek global unity and social solidarity have little tolerance
for such "separatism." They are offended by heavenly truths that
clash with their earthly goals -- as were the Pharisees who sought to
kill Jesus. That's why Jesus continues to warn His people, "If
they persecuted Me, they will persecute you... For they do not know the
God who sent me." John
While we still walk in this
fallen world, we will share His suffering even as we rejoice in His
presence. And, like His people of old, we can take our stand on
His covenant promises and know with certainty that He will do all that
He has promised.
"For He Himself has
said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So
we may boldly say: 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?' Hebrews
On that cross-country flight so
many years ago, I was delighting in these covenant promises. Among them
4:11-12, Now therefore, go, and I will
be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.
And He surely did. But I can't
say I did well by any human standard. Rather, I must echo the
wonderful words of Paul,
"I... did not come with
excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony
of God.... I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much
trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive
words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit
and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom
of men but in the power of God." 1
Isn't that what covenant relationship is all about?
His life in us and His presence with us! Then we -- in our finite bodies
-- may show forth the infinite love, power, faithfulness and triumphs of
our wonderful, heavenly Friend!