Love that overcomes

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Does it ever occur to you that the foundation of the story of the world is love?

Love was carried on the breath of God as He spoke the world into being. He formed each aspect of it with tender care.

Love was perfect bliss in the garden of Eden, as God walked with man. The innocence of that communion at the beginning.

Love was God’s mercy as He spared Adam and Eve from immediate death, and clothed them before sending them on their way.

Love was God’s promise to Abraham, that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars scattered across the wide swath of Middle Eastern sky. Love was His special way of fulfilling that promise through the birth of Issac long past any reasonable hope. Because He specializes in unreasonable, crazy, extravagantly designed love.

Love was God’s rainbow, the promise of a new life He set in the sky after the great flood of destruction covered the earth.

Love was God’s deliverance of Israel from oppression in Egypt, dramatically displayed through the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea that held the people back from freedom.

Love was God’s patience as the people He had just delivered complained and grumbled again and again in the desert, and rebelled against Him even in the Promised Land. Love was His persistence in drawing them back to Himself through the prophets.

Love was even in the 400 year silence, as generations lived and died, wondering what next?

Love was in asking a young girl to participate in the impossible–in the incredible. To carry a child not conceived of human seed. To bring into the world the very God-man in the flesh.

Love was Jesus forsaking the glory of heaven and allowing Himself to be wrapped in the humblest form known to the universe–the fragile, wrinkled skin of a baby.

Love was God allowing His only Son to grow up in a home devoid of material comforts. Allowing Him to suffer the sharp words of those who hated Him. Allowing Him to bear every temptation known to man. Allowing Him to feel the bitter betrayal of a friend.

Love was exemplified for all eternity in the agony and injustice of the cross that Jesus allowed Himself to be nailed to…for us.

Love broke through all the evil and hate and darkness in the world at that moment that was the climax of all of history. Love overcame sin and death.

Love is God walking with us today. Being with us in every moment, in ease and in pain, in joy and in sorrow, in laughter and mourning.

Love’s power is in selflessness. 

Did you ever realize that?

Love that is selfish is not love at all (1 Corinthians 13:5, “love is not self-seeking”).

The power of love is in laying down your life.

Love is choosing to forgive those who hurt you. Choosing to forgive those people whose words cut into your heart. Love is choosing to be patient with those who frustrate you day in and day out. Love is listening–to those you agree with and those you do not. Love is sharing your home, your heart, your things, your money, your time. Love is being there. Love is crying with the one who is hurting and laughing with the one who is rejoicing.

Love is choosing to live each day not in pursuit of your own will, your own choices, and your own comfort, but in pursuit of giving life to others. Love is laying down your own life through small and big choices so that others might find the hope of Christ. Love is recognizing that because God so loved the world, because God so loved youyou can give that love to everyone around you (1 John 4:8).

This is how love overcomes.

This is how love wins, every single time:

Climbing high upon a tree where someone else should die.

This is how love heals the deepest part of you:

Letting Himself bleed into the middle of your wounds.

“How Love Wins” from The Story

Love that overcomes isn’t painless or easy or pretty. But though it is painful, it is simple, and it is beautiful. Love that overcomes is the love with which God saved us, and it is the love He fills us with each day to walk in new life. The foundation of life is love. And the rest of the story is what we choose to do with it.

Dear friend, do you know the love that overcomes? Has your life been washed to its very core by the love that is the foundation of the world? If not, I pray you’ll accept it, and let the hurt you’ve been carrying fall away. If so, let us extend that love to others. May we let it transform every part of us anew each day, as it is meant to. May we live our lives as vessels of that love that overcomes the world.


1 John 1:29 “…Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

I cannot do anything

I cannot do anything

Note: This is the first post I ever wrote for this blog, way back around September. But for some reason, every time I stumbled on it in the drafts folder, I felt like it wasn’t the right time to share it. Today, however, I was again reminded of the principle in this post, and so I’m sharing it with you. I hope it will be an encouragement to someone today.

***

It’s been over two years.

From the beginning, I knew I was getting into something huge, something complicated, something that would be difficult.

People always are.

But I also knew it would be worth it.

People always are.

There’s a saying, “The older I get, the more I realize I do not know anything.” And that has already proved to be true in my life. Because over the days and weeks, months and years, I have learned that much of what I thought I knew was actually wrong. It’s a difficult thing to understand people, sometimes. Every time I think I finally understand something, later something else comes to light and I realize I was wrong. I did not understand. And, inevitably, sometimes I wonder if I ever will.

It’s a complicated and messy and confusing and just plain hard thing to love people, sometimes. Especially those with life stories so different from my own.

When people trust me enough to talk about the beyond-surface level of their lives, I consider it a privilege. I try to understand them and where they’re coming from as best as I can. And I try to share truth with them as it relates to their situation. And I pray. I always, always pray. But sometimes…sometimes I feel helpless.

If you care about someone, naturally, you want to be able to make their life better and fix their problems.

But that’s not the way it works.

It took me a long time to learn that. To learn that it’s not my job to fix things, to always have the perfect word of advice, or anything like that. It took until a moment of understanding, a moment where things finally “clicked” and I understood why things were the way they were with someone, and a moment of cold, hard realization–I cannot do anything about this.

I think as humans, our reaction to things that we see as problems is to fix them. To figure out what’s wrong and what happened and how to make things the way we think they should be.  It’s kind of an instinct. And that’s not always bad. In fact, sometimes it’s a very good thing. If someone never wanted to fix problems in life, I would be very worried about them, because they must have a serious case of apathy.

But sometimes, this intense desire to fix things can be just another way we try to control our lives and the lives of those around us. We forget so often that we are not in control, don’t we? We forget that God is in control.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1:17

“Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” – Psalm 147:5

“The LORD works out everything to its proper end.” – Proverbs 16:4a

We can make all the plans we want. We can desperately brainstorm and try to come up with a solution. But God is the one who knows exactly what’s going on and has a plan for it.

When we come to the realization that we are not in control–that we cannot do anything–we are finally ready to let God work. How did that night go for me? I realized the only thing I could do was pray and continue to love. But then the other thing that hit me was, “that’s all I’ve ever been able to do.”

Nothing had changed about the situation. The only thing that had changed was my understanding of it.

Jesus didn’t command “love your neighbor and.” There was no and. No “love your neighbor and…fix all their problems.” No “love your neighbor and…be sure you always have something to say about their life situation.” No “love your neighbor and…it’s your fault if they don’t become a Christian.”

There simply is no and.

All we are commanded to do is love.

Do you see how freeing this is? It means it doesn’t matter if we don’t know what to say. It doesn’t matter if we spend months or a year or two years or ten years or our whole lives loving someone who’s lost only to die without seeing them trust Christ. It doesn’t matter if we can’t see the results, as long as we are faithful to love.

All God asks of us is to love the people around us. We trust Him for the rest.

Loving people is still hard. It’s still confusing and uncertain and painful and patience-trying. But if we remember it’s not about us and what we can do, and leave the rest to God…it’s so much less complicated.

Have you ever had that moment before, where you looked at a situation in your life or someone else’s life and realized you just couldn’t do anything? Take heart, friend. Nothing changed. God is still God, and He is still in control. Trust Him.

What are some of God’s commandments you’ve recently seen in a new light? How do you think realizing we cannot do anything helps us to live freely?

How dirty is your towel?

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On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus took on the role of a servant–the lowest servant, at that–and washed the grime from his disciples’ feet.

The King of kings humbled himself enough to do the job none of the disciples would step in to do. The dirty job. He knelt down with a towel and washed each one’s feet.

Wow.

Washing feet may not have the same cultural relevance today, but it still sounds like a pretty dirty job to me.

“How dirty is your towel?” This question refers to Jesus’ willingness to get dirty and do the job relegated to the lowliest servant in the house. It’s a question meant to cause us to consider our own lives and our own willingness–or, more often, unwillingness–to serve those around us.

Working at Chick-fil-A has been teaching me a lot about having a dirty towel.

Servant leadership is a huge part of the company’s model. But more than leadership, the “how we give” page on the company website states the principle they teach each employee: “We firmly believe in treating every person who comes through our doors with honor, dignity, and respect.”

Sounds great, right? Sounds like it shouldn’t be so hard. And it isn’t, most of the time.

But you know what?

One thing that hit me several months ago was it’s not so much that we’re unwilling to serve anyone, at any time. It’s that we put these exceptions on a list in our mind. We get this attitude of feeling “above” certain tasks, or certain people, whether we’re consciously aware of the attitude or not. 

Sometimes, I have to serve customers who are snippy with me when I make a mistake. Sometimes, I have to serve customers who are talking on their phone the whole time I’m trying to take their order. Sometimes, I have to serve customers who are interrupting and demanding things unreasonably. And sometimes, I even have to serve people with profane t-shirts. And it is hard, so hard, to treat them with honor, dignity, and respect.

But looking back at the example of Jesus…He served the people who deserved it the least. He consistently served the ones who were the “untouchables” of society.

At the beginning of the year, I was praying about 2016. I asked God to make me a servant. I said, “I’m not going to qualify that with ‘leader’ on the end, though that would be nice. Just a servant, God. Humble and meek.” And sometime not too long afterward, I had a day at work with several rude customers and one with a repulsive shirt. And as I complained silently to God, I felt Him gently remind me: Honor, dignity, and respect.

I called that young man “sir” several times as I took his order.

Respect.

Usually, I reserve “sir” and “ma’am” for the older crowd. But that day, something changed. And I began to see those “untouchable” people in a different way. I now make it a point to address customers who irk me in extra patient tones and with “sir” or “ma’am.” To keep me humble. To keep growing me as a servant.

That day I also remembered a time my pastor preached on a servant’s heart. He asked this question–a more blunt and direct version of “how dirty is your towel”: Whose feet are you unwilling to wash? That really hit me. I went home and thought about it. And by the end of the day, I had to ashamedly admit that there were very few people in my life whose feet I would even consider washing.

I remembered that question when I returned home from work that night I called the young man sir. And I again asked God to change me. To take away my list of infinite exceptions and give me a humble spirit, loving each person He put in my path in a self-sacrificing way.

I’ve been able to watch Him answer that prayer, little by little. I’m seeing opportunities to be a servant more and more often, especially as I begin taking them. And slowly but surely, God has been doing a work in my heart. I don’t say this to boast, for as He knows, I have much room for improvement. But I say this as a testimony of God’s grace, and as an encouragement that He does change hearts and lives.

How dirty is your towel? — I’m asking myself this question today as a check-up, this Passion Week. If my Lord would suffer the scorn of His creations, and not only bear it, but also serve them…how could I refuse to do the same?

But besides reminding myself today, I challenge you with these questions: Whose feet are you refusing to wash?

How dirty is your towel?

 Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8

“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28

To seek and find

To seek and find

“God my Father hears me crying, He will hear my prayer. Even when my heart is breaking, He will every burden bear. In my joy and in my sorrow, I can hear His gentle word whisper to my aching spirit in a tone that’s barely heard…I’m a father to the orphan; I’m a stronghold to the weak. Know, My child, I will be with you; you will find Me when you seek.” — God My Father, the Herbster Evangelistic Team

You will find Me when you seek.

Did you know, God is not hiding from you? In Jeremiah 29:13, God says, “You will find me when you seek me with all your heart.” That’s a promise. But how do we seek God?

If you read through the Psalms, you’ll discover a lot about God and a lot about the man they call a man after His heart. But I think the most amazing thing, to me, about reading the Psalms is constantly being reminded that David was a human being just like us. He was absolutely not perfect. A lot of times when people talk about David being imperfect, they refer to his sin of adultery. But reading through the Psalms, I get to see the whole range of David’s emotions, not just his sin. I get to see that he got discouraged, too. He was lonely at times. And he questioned God just like any of us.

In Psalm 88:14, David says, “O Lord, why do You reject my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me?” Apparently he was feeling alone and rejected by God. Does this mean God was hiding from him? No. And he knows that. That’s another thing I’ve found through studying the Psalms–David will start out writing his feelings and questioning God, but by the end of the chapter, he brings himself back to what he knows about God. He praises God for His faithfulness and His salvation. 

Does that mean he stopped feeling lonely right then? I don’t think so. I think he was still feeling some difficult things, but he had learned not to let his feelings rule over him. He had learned that reminding himself of God’s character was a step in the right direction. And he trusted God, so he solidified that trust despite what he was feeling by writing it out. You know that saying “fake it ’til you make it”? I don’t think that’s exactly what David was doing, but it’s a similar idea. He was reminding himself of the truth until he was able to feel it again.

If it worked for David, I mused upon noticing this pattern, it’ll probably work for me as well. What I didn’t realize at that point was that I had already been doing that sort of thing.

One thing I worked on a lot when I was fifteen was choosing gratitude. When I was in a difficult situation or one I just didn’t like, instead of complaining, I chose to find things to thank God for. In fact, I made it a habit at the end of the day to list at least three things that had made me smile during the day or were just something I usually take for granted, but has noticed especially that day, like air conditioning or palm trees or toilets. (Yes, even toilets.)

In essence, this is what David was doing. While praying, he was real with God, not pretending he didn’t have emotions, but sharing them. But then he took control of his own feelings and brought his mind back to God’s character, expressing his trust in God.

This is how we seek God–by choosing to place our focus on Him, rather than our surrounding circumstances. By choosing to put our faith and belief in Him, rather than what our emotions are telling us.

In the middle of the storm, we can have peace by seeking God. And God promises that if we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), then everything else will be in place.

If you’re in a place where God feels far from you and you don’t know which path to take, focus on God. Remind yourself of His promises and His character. And trust that He is still there.

When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O LORD, I shall seek.” – Psalm 27:8

 

 

Kept in perfect peace

 

Kept in perfect peace

Peace. It seems almost laughable in today’s world that such a thing could even be claimed to exist. With wars taking place in various forms in countries across the globe, acts of violence on the rise, and tension between people destroying relationships left and right, we could probably all agree that we have a serious lack of peace today. But does that mean peace can’t be found? Depends on what you call peace.

Google defines peace as “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.” I don’t know about you, but by that definition, there’s never any peace to be had in the world! For who could hope for no disturbance whatsoever in a world ruled by sin?

Let’s take a look at God’s definition of peace.

First of all, peace is one of God’s character traits, so it must exist.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. – 2 Thessalonians 3:17a

…the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:9

But it’s apparently not the kind of peace Google suggests, as evidenced by Jesus’ words to His disciples.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. – John 16:33

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. – Matthew 10:34

God also commends those who live in peace and commands Christians to live at peace with each other and all men.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. – Romans 12:18

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. – Matthew 5:9

Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. – 1 Peter 3:11

If, then, peace is not the absence of trouble, what is it?

A clear definition of peace is never specifically given in the Bible, but I would venture to say peace is, like many other virtues in the Scriptures, something that requires positive action. Just as love is not simply a nice feeling, and is instead action, peace is not an idyllic state free of disturbance or a calm feeling. Living at peace with others is a command (Romans 12:18); it’s something you can choose to do, by not fighting with, resenting, accusing, or speaking harshly against someone. But that’s only one kind of peace. What about the peace Jesus promised His disciples amidst tribulation (John 16:33)? What about the peace described in these verses?

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. – Romans 15:13

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. – John 14:27

This is the kind of peace I would describe as “peace of mind” or “peace in the heart.” Some people agree that peace in relationships can be actively pursued, but not this kind of peace. But this is the peace the world is desperately, hungrily searching for amidst the chaos and pain surrounding them.

Some turn to Buddhism with its self-mediation. Others opt for feel-good messages like “don’t hang around people who make you unhappy” or “just do makes you happy” or “do whatever it takes to help yourself.” They search for happiness, hoping along the way they’ll find peace. Peace with others, their past, and themselves.

But as someone once wisely stated, “A person who is not at peace with God cannot be at peace with himself.”

True peace is not absence of disturbance. True peace is found in the middle of a storm.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. – John 16:33

True peace does not come from your self-love, or doing what makes you happy. True peace comes from doing what God says is right.

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. – Psalm 119:165

My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. – Proverbs 3:1-2

Peace is being right with God and trusting He is working all things for good (Romans 8:28). It is independent of circumstances and closely tied to joy. Paul was able to have peace and joy in prison. His letter to the Philippian church is fascinating because of the sheer joy and peace radiating from his words. He trusted God despite his circumstances, and had joy and peace as a result of it.

So, dear friend, how do we find peace in the frightening world around us? Do we somehow will it into existence? Do we simply need to think positive thoughts and do more of what makes us happy? Of course not! Peace comes from God, but as I said before, it is an active choice. What is this choice? It is a choice to do right and follow God, yes, but it is also a choice of the mind and heart. Just as joy is very much an attitude, peace depends on your mindset. The following verses illustrate this concept.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. – Isaiah 26:3

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. – Romans 8:6

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. – Colossians 3:2

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7

Do you see the theme of these verses? A peaceful heart and mind is a heart and mind stayed on Christ. Instead of letting worrisome thoughts and the troubles and pains of this life dominate your thoughts, set your mind on God. Meditate not on yourself, but on His attributes. Praise Him, rather than complaining about your life. Bring your worries to Him and trust Him to take care of them and you.

God has not promised a world free of trouble, but He gives peace to those who set their minds on Him. Make a habit of seeking Him, and when the hard times come, your mind will already be trained to go to Him. In a world devoid of peace, may our lives be living examples of a peace that surpasses all understanding.

The paradox of love and truth

preach the gospel at all times small

We’re living in a world today where Christians largely fall to two extremes. The first: those who focus on loving others and accepting them for who they are so much that they lose the holiness and consideration of the truth that, as Christians, they should have. The second: those who focus so much on the truth and keeping themselves separate from the world that they become hypercritical of others and sacrifice their witness of love to a world in desperate need of it.

It’s a paradox–the paradox of love and truth. Neither extreme is correct, or what Christ intended. Both love and holiness are necessary to a Christian.

…One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:35-40

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” – John 17:14-17

Do you see the paradox here? Jesus’ two greatest commandments were to love God and love others. But in His prayer for the disciples on the night He was betrayed, He says the world will hate the disciples because they are not of the world, and asks the Father to sanctify them (make them holy) by truth. Obviously both are pretty important.

But how do we win a world to Christ with truth that sometimes hurts and love that sometimes is scared to say something hard?

First of all, we must realize there’s a balance. Extremes are dangerous, and sadly, we are often too quick to rush headlong into one side of an idea without considering the other. Those who focus completely on love forget that love that omits truth is not love at all, while those who get caught up in preaching the truth constantly can forget that no one will be won to Christ by arguments. We need to have love and truth in our witness to truly be a light to the world. But what does this look like?

A witness characterized by love realizes that Christ loved us while we were sinners. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If we are to love like Christ did, we have to love those around us like He did–sacrificially, realizing that they are sinners in need of a savior, and doing all we can to point them to that savior, even when it’s not easy. Even when it’s “messy.” To do this, we need to spend more time listening than speaking, and show people we truly care. They need to be able to trust us and feel safe with us, and respect us enough to want to listen to what we say.

A witness characterized by truth realizes that the very foundation of trust in Christ is knowing and believing the truth that God is holy and just and we are sinners who have failed to meet the mark (Romans 3:23). During His ministry, Jesus said some pretty controversial things and a lot of people were upset with Him because of that. But that didn’t change the fact that they were true and needed to be said. If we are to share the truth like Christ did, we must be bold and speak out even when the world doesn’t want to hear. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world today that is flat-out wrong, and we must trust God enough to speak up and “say things like they are.”

However, a witness characterized by love and truth realizes that a life well lived is often the best witness of all. A quote I read once that really stuck with me says, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” A witness characterized by love and truth realizes that there are times to speak truth boldly, and times to be quiet. She realizes that actions speak louder than words, and will spend more time modeling the truth by her actions than speaking it with her words, that way when she does speak, her words will carry the weight of matching her actions. She realizes that loving someone means telling them the truth about themselves and God, but doing it in a gentle way, as instructed in 1 Peter 3:15-16:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

 

A great failure of the church today that comes as a result of these two extremes is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy destroys the church’s witness to the world faster than anything else. If you preach love and mercy but condemn or mistreat sinners, making no attempt to listen to their stories and understand, the world will scorn you, and rightly so. If you accept everyone “as they are” and say that everyone should do what’s best for them, even though you have said you believe in Jesus (who said He’s the only way to heaven!), they will shake their heads at you and call you spineless or a “milksop.” And rightly so!

In a world where so many are going to the extremes, will you be the one to love people by listening to them, caring about them, serving them, praying for them, and sharing the truth with them? If you would be a good witness, make sure your life lines up with your words, and never forget where you came from. Look at each person as someone made in the image of God, loved enough by Him that He sent Jesus to die for them; as someone with an eternal soul headed for either heaven or hell. And then do your best to show love to them, speaking the truth in gentleness and respect when the time is right.

What do you think the balance between love and truth looks like? When have you had to walk the line in a situation with someone? How do you help yourself see each person as made in the image of God?

Lovesong to a dying world

Lovesong to a dying world full

Shalom: A Hebrew word translated as peace, but with a broader meaning that carries the idea of wholeness, of perfect completeness, “as things were meant to be.”

God, be our rest. In this world of broken shalom, You are the one who is constant. Whole. As things are meant to be.

You placed the longing in our hearts for that completeness that can only be filled by You. It broke Your heart when Adam and Eve chose to doubt and go their own path, and You had to cast them out of the garden, the first blood sacrifices for human sin cloaking their backs.

But even then, You gave the promise of a Redeemer to come. To enter this world of broken shalom and provide the way back to You.

Through the ages, the promise rang. Through death and disobedience. Through grumbling and groaning. Even as Israel fell and the people were carried away into captivity, the prophets proclaimed the message: One was coming who would be the Messiah.

Then the silence. Four hundred years, as the people waited. Some doubted, some disbelieved, but others clung to the stories and the prophecies–threads of hope.

And then, finally, the Messiah was born. His name? Jesus–Savior. Emmanuel…God with us. At last, the miracle. The bridge to restore shalom.

 

Christmas is more than a day to recognize the birth of Jesus. It’s a gateway of hope. Of opportunity contained in the angels’ proclamation of God’s lovesong to a dying world: “Peace–shalom–on earth. For today, in the city of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”

Sarah Spradlin wrote a poem once about writers. One line that particularly resonated with me reads, “Writers are a people who will watch quietly as the world, in all its glory and depravity, spins out of control and still believe it’s worth saving.” It reminds me of God looking upon the mess His creations made and still deciding that we were worth saving. That we were worth the price of a Savior.

“Emmanuel…now all is well. God dwells with us.” (See “When She Looks at Jesus” here)

God dwells with us.

 

There’s such a beauty in Christmas when you celebrate more than just a baby in a manger. When you recognize the shattering of the darkness–literal, spiritual, and metaphorical–the host of angels accomplished that night. When you understand the hope, the answer to everything gone before and to come, that was born that night. When you understand the glory and the sacrifice packed into that tiny bundle of humanity, lying in the straw–then, then it becomes beautiful. A story of beauty entering into our brokenness in the form of a baby, that cry of beginning ringing out into the land.

The promise, the hope of Christmas: The cross has created a way.

And that is where the peace comes from–knowing that though this world has troubles, though questions may still echo in our hearts, the greatest ones were answered in the Messiah as He accomplished His redemption. “It is finished!” He cried, and in the light of eternal glory, these troubles are indeed light and momentary (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Meanwhile, the Redeemer left us with a very special job to do. The Creator entrusted us with bearing His message–His lovesong to a dying world. As 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says, God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” and has “committed to us the message of reconciliation.” In fact, we are Christ’s ambassadors, “as though God were making his appeal through us.”

There’s such a beauty in Christmas when you celebrate more than just a baby in a manger. When you recognize the shattering of the darkness–literal, spiritual, and metaphorical–the King of kings has chosen to accomplish through us. When you understand the hope, the answer to everything gone before and to come, that was born in us that night through His presence, which was itself the fulfillment of countless promises and prophecies. When you understand the glory and the sacrifice packed into that tiny bundle of humanity, lying in the straw–then, then, it becomes beautiful, and you begin to realize your purpose in this big old thing we call life. It is a story of beauty entering our brokenness–our messy lives and hearts–in the form of a baby, and providing a new beginning (2 Cor. 5:17). Providing a chance to be used as a vessel for His glory (2 Cor. 4:7).

The promise, the hope of Christmas: Broken shalom doesn’t have to stay broken. In Him, we are complete (Col. 2:10), and have the opportunity to let our completeness and fullness of joy spill over into other lives, touching pockets of brokenness and filling them with the light.

Oh Father, use us as restorers of the broken shalom in this world. Fill us with the peace that surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:7), that we may shine like stars in the darkness of this world (Phil. 2:15), overflowing with the radiance of Your love.


 

Here With Us, by Joy Williams