Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Immanuel: I Am With You

“Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She’ll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us) (Isaiah 7:14) (Peterson).”

I will never forget this one Christmas when I was in school, I think I was in the 8th or 9th grade. My family on my mom’s side had traditionally gotten together and went driving around all of Columbia, SC, the small city where I am from, looking at Christmas lights. We would do this year after year when my brother and sister and I came back from sharing Christmas Eve with my dad’s side of the family. It was a magical time and I anticipated it with great excitement. I anticipated this tradition with so much excitement and innocence that I almost did not notice that I had outgrown this tradition. This particular year I noticed things were different though. Something had changed. I was older and was feeling the weight of the world and life on my youthful shoulders.

When we returned to our home from our dad’s house that Christmas Eve, it was dark and my mom was in bed sick and sleeping. I confess I was irritated and angry that things were not going to be the way that they were supposed to be on this particular Christmas Eve. This year would be different. I went into my mom’s room and checked on her. She woke up and apologized, as if she had done something wrong. It was not her fault that she was not feeling well. I assured her that all was fine and that all would be well in the morning and that she would feel better. I kissed her on the forehead and left her sleeping. I felt alone.

I remember talking to God that night as I searched for a stashed can or two of cheap Busch Beer and some Camel cigarettes that I had out in the detached single car garage, which I had converted into my own personal residence. I remember muttering to God, “What am I so angry about? It’s your birthday! I’m so selfish. All I want is peace and for everything to be alright. I don’t want people to be sick. I want the magical feelings of Christmas from my childhood! What is wrong with me?! What is wrong with this world?” I was determined that I was going to go looking at Christmas lights and I was going to go with Jesus. He and I would walk the neighborhood drinking cheap beer and smoking Camels together. It would be great! It was great. God was with me. I felt his presence. It was one of the most memorable Christmases I have ever had.

I told God everything that I was feeling and thinking that night and He comforted me. He was there with me. God was present. We saw some pretty amazing lights in the neighborhood that night. This one house you could have seen from space it was so bright. It looked like something from that movie Christmas Vacation, with Chevy Chase. The most epic display I saw that night summed up the entire evening for me. I stared at it for about a half an hour or so till just past midnight. It was a simple lighted display, the only decoration in the yard. It was the wise men from the east riding at night on camels by starlight to see the baby Jesus. It was beautiful, and ironic I thought as I took a drag of my Camel cigarette. These rich men were traveling from afar to present gifts to the greatest gift ever given to us, God Himself-God with us. These guys, who probably thought they had everything, dropped everything they had to be with baby God when He entered the world to forever be with His people, Immanuel. “This is what Christmas is about!” I said, almost aloud. I bowed my head and whispered, “Happy Birthday Jesus.”

I walked home that night with joy and His presence and fell asleep rejoicing.

God was with me on that wonderful Christmas. God is with us now! God is with you. This is the greatest gift ever. God Himself is with us! This is Christmas!

The prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 7:10-14, prophesied these words to Ahaz that told of the joy and salvation that was to come. These words promise a sign to us that is greater than any magical experience or extravagance that we can ever imagine or hope for. This is the promise that has been fulfilled, Immanuel, and this is what Christmas is about:

“God spoke again to Ahaz. This time he said, “Ask for a sign from your God. Ask anything. Be extravagant. Ask for the moon!”
But Ahaz said, “I’d never do that. I’d never make demands like that on God!”
So Isaiah told him, “Then listen to this, government of David! It’s bad enough that you make people tired with your pious, timid hypocrisies, but now you’re making God tired. So the Master is going to give you a sign anyway. Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She’ll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us) (Peterson).”

May you recognize Immanuel this Christmas and be with Him all of life long and into the eternal.

Merry Christmas!


Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I remember when I started backpacking. I had fallen in love with a park in Upstate South Carolina called Table Rock. A friend of mine had invited me to this park with his family when I was in tenth grade. It was amazing. We went back as often as we could after that trip. I had gone to the mountains a lot as a kid with my own family, but this was different. It wasn’t a retreat center. This was real camping and soon this camping led to other expeditions deeper into the Pisgah National Forest just across the South Carolina border into North Carolina, and then backpacking deep into the nearby Shining Rock Wilderness. It was unbelievable how I felt during these first trips, looking at the views and having these experiences. Backpacking became something of a spiritual pilgrimage for me; in that God found me there and I met Him with open arms and excitement. I loved it. Sometimes, against better judgment, I even went alone. I know better now, but the experience called to me and I wanted more. I still do.

Paul tells the Colossians in chapter 1 verses 5-8 that the good news, the gospel that the Colossians had received from their friend Epaphras, is still as true today as it was when they first heard it. He wants them to understand that nothing has changed and he wants them to stick to what they have been taught and not to be led astray by false teachers who were trying to derail their true focus on Jesus. Paul says:

“The Message is as true among you today as when you first heard it. It doesn’t diminish or weaken over time. It’s the same all over the world. The Message bears fruit and gets larger and stronger, just as it has in you. From the very first day you heard and recognized the truth of what God is doing, you’ve been hungry for more. It’s as vigorous in you now as when you learned it from our friend and close associate Epaphras. He is one reliable worker for Christ! I could always depend on him. He’s the one who told us how thoroughly love had been worked into your lives by the Spirit (Peterson).”

My backpacking experiences and my hunger and desire for the wilderness can never compare to my love for, and relationship with, Jesus. My passion, hunger, and desire for God far exceed my hobby of backpacking. What is true, however, is that they both call to me, not equally, but both call persistently. Neither experience has fundamentally changed. One trip leads to another and builds on another, just as one moment with God leads to another and builds to a deeper longing, knowledge, and passion for just one more moment. The relationship that I have with God today is just as true as the day I first understood it, and I remember when I started following Jesus. This recollection is much more vivid than the first time that I hit the trail. I remember, and He calls to me, and I go to Him, and connect with Him.

Recollecting God and Wilderness,


Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Master Plan

One of my goals this year is to build a deck on the back of our town home. I want to get right to it. If it were up to me I would pull out some tools and start cutting out windows and installing doors. I would have a bunch of lumber delivered and would start sawing and nailing till I had a deck. It does not work this way though. See, we have this neighborhood association, actually, we have two neighborhood associations, and both of them want me to have a master plan. Not only do they want me to have this plan, but they want to approve it. They want my neighbors to approve this plan as well. They want to know everything: what kinds of material I will use, what the deck will look like, and what the size of the deck will be. They want me to have permits and a time schedule. They want everything. It’s not that they do not want me to have this deck. They just want it to add value to my house and to the entire neighborhood. They want this deck to be safe and secure. They want my neighbors to continue to be happy with me so that life will remain copasetic for all of us and so that everyone’s property values increase.

Plans are essential for success in life and for success in every undertaking. In an expedition it is also important to plan. In commenting about the need for a strategic plan at the National Outdoor Leadership School in The Leader, Elisa Hitt says, “It’s possible to go on a hike without doing any planning, but, in all likelihood, you won’t get as far as you might have, and you run a substantially higher risk of getting lost. The same reasons apply to why NOLS needs a strategic plan-we would probably survive without one, but would run the risk of loosing our way (Hitt).” Just as the leader in outdoor education needs a strategic plan for the future, we too need a plan to navigate this life.

So, what’s the master plan for our lives? Everyone needs to have a plan, right? So, what’s your plan? This is a very important question for all of us to consider. Paul considers his plan as he begins his letter to the Colossians. Paul says these words in his introduction to Colossians in chapter 1, verses 1-2:

“I, Paul, have been sent on special assignment by Christ as part of God’s master plan. Together with my friend Timothy, I greet the Christians and stalwart followers of Christ who live in Colosse. May everything good from God our Father be yours! (Peterson).”

Paul’s plan is simple. Paul’s plan is God’s plan; his plan is to join in with his Master’s master plan. We are all invited into the Master’s Plan. We, like Paul, have a special assignment and are invited into the work of the advancement of God’s kingdom here on earth. Our lives have purpose and direction, if we follow the Master’s plan. So, what is a plan, and what is the Master’s plan? Why does the Master want us to join with His plan?

According to Wikipedia, a plan “Should be a realistic view of expectations. Depending upon the activities, a plan can be long range, intermediate range or short range. A Plan is the framework within which we must operate. For management seeking external support, the plan is the most important document and key to growth. Preparation of a comprehensive plan will not guarantee success, but lack of a sound plan will almost certainly ensure failure ("Wikipedia.Org").” My neighborhood association knows this about panning and so does the National Outdoor Leadership School. This is why they are so adamant about having a plan. They know that “If you fail to plan; you plan to fail.” A plan ensures that we have realistic and achievable goals that fit with the larger picture and leads to ultimate success or achievement.

As followers of Jesus, it is important to realize that there is a plan for our lives as well and that we join in with the larger plan that God has for us. We are invited to live into God’s master plan. This plan is the larger framework upon which our lives and plans hang. Following the Master’s plan ensures that our lives fit seamlessly with the larger picture that God has. A master plan ensures value. Following this plan ensures growth in us and the advancement and growth of His Kingdom. Following God’s plan ensures life is lived to its fullest and we are most alive. A plan ensures minimal risks and optimal performance. This plan for living is outlined in scripture and leads us to God’s fullest for us. This master plan leads us to God Himself. There is no greater achievement.

Planning to follow the Master’s Plan,


Hitt, Elisa. "Expedition 2013." The Leader Fall 2008 2008: 3.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.

"Wikipedia.Org." 2008.