Christmas Dailies

Love Gives (Thursday) 

 

Copyright Droid Gingerbread CC licensed

As I mentioned in the last post, the Gospel is the ultimate picture of love. While we were still his enemies of God, Jesus died for us. His sacrifice of laying aside heaven and becoming man and dying on the cross is the greatest display of love. We receive his gift of grace freely. Of course, the gift itself was very costly to God. It wasn’t free to him; it cost him his life. That brings us to a main characteristic of love: True love sacrifices and lays down its life for others.

Romans says 5: 6-11 says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Here, Paul is pointing out that it is hard for men to be courageous enough to die for a good person. Paul is hinting at the currency of the world. He is saying that even the bravest of men could die for good men, and many have. But Christ laid down his life for us despite our merit. We were his enemies and He laid his life down out of the greatest love to reconcile us back to God.
In a similar way, we honor God by laying our life down for others. We don’t do this to earn God’s favor or prove our good works. No, we lay our life down to display the ridiculous glory of God’s unmerited grace. When we lay our life down for others, we are showing them love through sacrifice. Now, in our modern Western world, laying our life down for others may not mean physically giving our lives in death (although it could), but the laying down of our life is no less important.

A friend lays down their life when they offer kind words or forgiveness to someone who has wronged them. A pregnant mother lays down her life as she physically offers up her body to carry another, enduring the suffering that comes with child birth. A father lays down his life for his family by working hard (sometimes) late hours and nights to provide for them. A neighbor lays down his life for his neighbor by providing food or comfort during hard times or by offering grace when they’re having a party later than you’d like.
Laying down your life for another might mean honoring a difficult boss by working steadfastly at a job that God has given you instead of just dialing it in. Laying down your life for another might mean staying up late with a sick child instead of sleeping yourself. Laying down your life for another might mean bearing with another church member and forgiving their sin against you. Laying down your life for another might mean paying for their dinner as an act of unmerited grace. Laying down your life for another might mean laboring and spending time (despite your exhaustion) choosing gifts, making special food and creating an exciting atmosphere for your loved ones on Christmas.

No matter what the sacrifice is, Christ invites each of us to lay our life down for those near us this Christmas. The cost may vary, but the love is beautiful. When we give others the gift of our loving service freely without grumbling or complaining, we are honoring and celebrating the love God. We are saying to the world, “God is greater that myself and I want to share that love with others.”

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Christianity, Christmas Dailies, Uncategorized

Love Manifest (Tuesday)

 

Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerrard van Honthorst
 
(As an aside: you can find Sunday’s reading here. And the link to last week’s readings here. Monday was a catch up day and this is Tuesday’s reading. I will be publishing this week daily) 

This year we have been reading the Jesus Storybook Bible for advent. It is a beautiful children’s bible that does an excellent job of showing the overarching gospel narrative that connects all of the biblical books. It starts off this way “No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life! You see, the best thing about this story is—it’s true. There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story and at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.”

As it mentions the entire Bible is full of failed romantic comedies, failed heroes, and failed leaders. Our ancient forefathers prove time and time again (along with human history too if we are honest about that) how we couldn’t love each other, love God, or love others well. We could not fulfill our purpose to love God and make His glory known. Instead, we needed God to come to show us love and he does so by becoming love for us. Christmas celebrates the entrance of the leading man in this story: Jesus. 

One of the most beautiful things about Christmas is the incarnation, which is the theological word for God becoming man. Jesus’s name (Emmanuel) literally means God with us. Jesus is love incarnate, love manifest. He is the image of God perfectly displayed in man. We know the love of God because we know Jesus. He is our real, physical, tangible love. As Piper said in his definition of love that I shared in the last post, Jesus becoming man shows how he “labored and suffered to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying: God.”

John the apostle explains these ideas here: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this love Hod was made manifest among is, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”  I John 4: 7-9

There is much to rejoice in. The long awaited love of our hearts is here and he’s real. 

Christianity, Christmas Dailies, Family, Love

Week 4–What is Love?

I can’t write this post without this song getting stuck in my head. You’re welcome. Admittedly, these posts are the hardest for me to write. I probably should think more about defining terms, but defining hope, peace, joy and love is very difficult.

Love has become a rather trite word in our culture. I love ice cream. I love my son. I love my new glasses and I love my husband. Of course, the word means different things in its varying usages. However when we talk about a biblical understanding of love it takes on a very different definition than the way we typically hear the word “love” used.

Oftentimes in our culture the word “love” means that a person or object is celebrated and adored. John Piper puts it this way: “It [the world’s definition of love] says: You are loved when you are made much of. In other words, love for someone means mainly making him or her central or important.” On the one hand, this makes perfect sense. When someone is “in love” with another, they are generally orienting their life around that person. However, this definition of love becomes dangerous when a person makes that individual central or important above all else.

This definition of love also can lead to the idea of total acceptance—the idea that no person should try to change an individual and everyone should accept others for exactly who they are. I’ve had the privilege of going to many weddings and many of the vows have sounded a lot like these:

“I promise to give you the best of myself and to ask of you no more than you can give.
I promise to accept you the way you are.
I fell in love with you for the qualities, abilities, and outlook on life that you have, and won’t try to reshape you in a different image.
I promise to respect you as a person with your own interests, desires, and needs, and to realize that those are sometimes different, but no less important than my own.
I promise to keep myself open to you, to let you see through the window of my personal world into my innermost fears and feelings, secrets and dreams.
I promise to grow along with you, to be willing to face change as we both change in order to keep our relationship alive and exciting.
And finally, I promise to love you in good times and in bad, with all I have to give and all I feel inside in the only way I know how…completely and forever.” (read more bad vows here)

Some of these vows are troubling, “I promise to accept you the way you are. I promise to ask you no more than you can give.” Those don’t sound like hopeful vows to me. The only problem with the idea of love being total acceptance is that we know that we are sinful people at heart. The Bible says that we are enemies of God and that our heart is deceitful! There isn’t much hope in total acceptance of a way a person is and behaves. Parts of that person and their personality are flawed and I would hope would change after years of loving friendship. The vows even acknowledge growth. They say “I promise to grow along with you,” however, how can you assume growth if you never demand or hope for it in another person. Total acceptance says, “you should never change” but these vows say “let’s change together.” Love can’t mean both things.

Fortunately, God’s love is very different from these vows and from our cultural definition of it. Instead of God’s love being centered on us, it is centered on Him. Piper says, “God’s love for us is NOT mainly his making much of us, but his giving us the ability to enjoy making much of him forever. In other words, God’s love for us keeps God at the center. God’s love for us exalts his value and our satisfaction in it. If God’s love made us central and focused on our value, it would distract us from what is most precious, namely, himself. Love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying: God. Therefore God’s love labors and suffers to break our bondage to the idol of self and focus our affections on the treasure of God.” Instead of us being at the center, God’s love places the focus back on God, Himself. I’m excited to talk this week about how God’s love restores us back to our rightful place, in worship of Him.

If you want to read more about John Piper’s article. Check it out here.

Beauty, Christianity, Christmas Dailies, Family

Week 3–Ultimate Joy

I’ve always loved C.S. Lewis’ A Great Divorce. It is an allegory about heaven and hell. He is very imaginative about each place, but I especially love his description of heaven. He describes Heaven as a place where every sense is heightened, every small twig and branch are so thoroughly real and its inhabitants are glorious and exuberantly beautiful.

The narrator says: Then some re-adjustment of the mind or some focusing of my eyes took place, and I saw the whole phenomenon the other way round. The men were as they always had been; as all the men I had known had been perhaps. It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison. Moved by a sudden thought, I bent down and tried to pluck a daisy which was growing at my feet. The stalk wouldn’t break. I tried to twist it, but it wouldn’t twist. I tugged till the sweat stood out on my forehead and I had lost most of the skin off my hands. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like diamond. There was a leaf-a young tender beech-leaf, lying in the grass beside it. I tried to pick the leaf up: my heart almost cracked with the effort, and I believe I did just raise it. But I had to let it go at once; it was heavier than a sack of coal. As I stood, recovering my breath with great gasps and looking down at the daisy, I noticed that I could see the grass not only between my feet but through them. I also was a phantom. Who will give me words to express the terror of that discovery? “Golly!” thought I. “I’m in for it this time.”

What does Lewis mean when even the daisies are more solid, more real in the new heavens and the new earth? He is hinting that all of creation is fallen, and chiefly that we are fallen creatures. What we see is just a foretaste of what is to come in the new heavens and the new earth, where all of creation will jostle and babble and shout about the God’s glory.

Likewise, as I mentioned in a previous post, Lewis states that all of the joys that we have presently are but signposts or previews of the joys that await us in heaven. In the new heavens and the new earth all of our joys will be fulfilled. It is hard to even fathom what that will be like, as many of our earthly experiences, although joyful, are still tinged with difficulty and sadness.

The reason though that the new heavens and the new earth will be so wonderful is because God is there and will be dwelling with us, as was intended from the beginning. Of course the new heavens and the new earth will be beautiful, and peaceful, and harmonious, but it will be so because God is king and we are his children. We will be fully satisfied in His presence. Then, we will have ultimate joy.

Christianity, Christmas Dailies, Family

Week 3–Joy in Suffering

I am terribly under qualified to write this post. If God allows me to live until I am eighty, maybe then, I could write this post. Instead of trying to do so, I’ll let a few more seasoned believers do the talking.

Joni Earekson Tada: “Because of my sufferings, I will appreciate (in heaven) the scars of Christ and also the scars of other believers. (In heaven) I will see men and women that in the world were cut in pieces, burnt in flames, tortured and persecuted, eaten by beasts, and drowned in the seas – – all for the love they had for the Lord. What a privilege it will be to stand in their ranks! But what a shame it would be if, in conversing with them, we could only shrug our shoulders and prattle Me? Suffer?…… Perhaps we would bite our complaining tongues more often if we stopped to picture this scene in heaven. The examples of other suffering saints are meant to inspire us upward on our heavenly journey home.” —Heaven Your Real Home

John Calvin: “Christians rejoice even while they truly sorrow – – because their rejoicing is in the hope of heaven….While joy overcomes sorrow, it does not put an end to it.”

Paul: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[a] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[b] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:18-31).

Jesus:  “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.[a] 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 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.” –John 16:16-32

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” –Revelation 21:1-7

I pray that each of us in our time of suffering, might yield the fruit of joy.

Christianity, Christmas Dailies, Family

Week 3–The Joy of Tradition

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One of the best parts about Christmas is that my mom and dad always made it super special. They made memories with us and those memories lasted.  Each year, after Thanksgiving we picked out and cut down our tree. I always thought they were the prettiest trees ever, well except for the year that the tree was bug infested. That was a pretty gross year. Then, my dad spent a long time playing the Christmas tree engineer with fishing line and cardboard trying to get our tree to look right, ‘cause real trees won’t ever stand straight. We strung popcorn and cranberries for the tree. Sometimes we got enough for the whole tree, but mostly just a few strands. I just remember eating a lot of popcorn and watching Christmas specials.

We decorated cookies together and ate them. We made a birthday cake for Jesus and sang to Him on Christmas day. We went Christmas caroling with friends. We picked out Christmas angels and bought presents for other kids. We sang at the nursing home some years. We lit our advent wreath in anticipation of Jesus’ birth and discussed and celebrated the themes of hope, peace, joy and love. Christmas morning my mom made an amazing breakfast casserole and monkey bread (which I’m pretty sure my dad ate about half of). We read the Christmas story and prayed together. They’re some of my favorite memories.

One of the most beautiful things about a home is its traditions, its planned familiar habits that people can count on. My parents were good at traditions that pointed to Jesus. We celebrated advent and sung songs together to remember and celebrate Jesus. We gave to others and we celebrated His birth on Christmas day before we did anything else. As Christians most of our traditions should point to Jesus, as His birth is the reason that Christmas exists. A tradition really is a wonderful way to point to God during the Christmas season for children and adults alike. Sometimes we think about tradition as simply for children, but the tradition of the celebration of advent has really helped me celebrate Jesus’ birth this season. In the Bible God tells us to remember His promises and His faithfulness and traditions that remind us of God’s goodness are beautiful ways to do so.

My parents also had traditions that made growing up in their home fun and safe and warm. I learned from my mom that one of the greatest privileges is creating and building memories with your family. Baking cookies may not seem to point to Jesus, but Jesus ate with people he loved. He loved and celebrated with His friends. When Jesus returns we will have feasts with great food and wine and gingerbread cookies. Jesus is the life of the party, and my parents showed me that Jesus deserves our joy and celebration by making Christmas time at our house fun. Our home was filled with lots of laughter, plenty of music, and bags and bags of chocolate chips. I think Jesus was pleased with that. He’s a God of abundant blessings and grace and He enjoys when we celebrate Him. I’m excited to begin to celebrate and create memories that point to Jesus with our own family.