Dear Friends and Fellow Members,
As I begin this final letter of 2012, I want to begin by thanking God for His care and mercy through another year and contrary to current custom to wish you all a very Happy Christmas, praying that God would bless both you and us as a church over this Christmas period.
My opening greeting betrays a confidence in God. I believe that 2012 has been another year in which we have enjoyed and benefitted from the presence of God in our lives and ministry. When the angel spoke to Joseph, just before the birth of Jesus he said,
All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). (Mt. 1:22-23)
He was making 2 points – firstly, God can be trusted. He had made this promise over 700 years before and he did not forget. Secondly, although God had been with His people throughout the Old Testament something new or significant was about to happen. God was going to be with His people in a special way.
People often like to add to the facts of Scripture and of our relationship with God. Many would want to argue that if God is with us, then we will never face any challenges. In Numbers 14:9 Joshua tries to encourage God’s people to face a trial of faith, confident that God is with them, “Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”
Similarly God encouraged Gideon to take leadership as Israel faced tyrannical opposition, with the promise “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valour.” (Judges 6:12), but Gideon was brutally honest and said, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us.” (Judges 6:13)
The presence of God does not prevent opposition, nor does it remove battles. As God is with us to lead us, so our faith is tested to go forward and to believe that God is greater than all the opposition stacked against. In fact the story of Gideon makes it clear that the enemy attacking them had actually been sent by God. In both of these OT stories, the presence of God was a stimulus and encouragement to God’s people to move on from the position in which they had allowed themselves to become restricted.
There are times when the presence of God is to be seen as a fortress, a place of stationary security; see for example “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Ps 46:7, 11), but when God speaks to Joseph, it is in the context of encouraging him to go ahead with his plans. He had planned to marry Mary, but was hesitating, because of an unexpected pregnancy. If we have a fortress mentality we will remain locked up in our faith and practices, but if we have an “Emmanuel” mentality we will
• address the consequences of our sin as Gideon had to;
• go forward to enjoy what God has prepared for us, as Joshua and Caleb had hoped;
• continue into the New Testament Age, confident that God will use our faith in His Grace and Presence to display His glory in and through us.
When we live confident that Emmanuel is not only written on our chapel wall, but is also engraved on our hearts we will know something of the effective ministry that Zechariah described, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” (Zech 8:23)
Let’s pray that it will be evident in our lives and ministry that God is with us.
Bernard Lewis December 2012