We Have Not Loved Well

We are to love well. Jesus said love would be the mark of His followers—love for each other and even love for their enemies.

But we have not loved well.

For 2,000 years, believers have bickered and fought with each other. Splitting hairs and splitting churches over minor disagreements and going to war over major ones.

And we’ve behaved even worse with those outside the faith. We’ve judged unbelievers when they behave like unbelievers. We criticize those who are different from us. Different social backgrounds from ours. Different ethnic heritages. And especially, different sins.

We’ve concluded that if someone’s sins are different from ours, their sin is worse. We create hierarchies of sin, with ours on the bottom rung of severity and theirs at the top.

Instead of taking a stand against injustice, we’ve sat on the sidelines, allowing the world to fight for the rights of the downtrodden.

And then along came a godly man who spoke truth and stood for righteousness. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who called people to non-violent protests of unrighteous laws. Who called believers out in one of the saddest commentaries on the body of Christ.

In 1963, Dr. King said, “At 11:00 on Sunday morning…we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.” While we may have made strides in this area, more than 50 years later many Christians still worship God with people who look and act like themselves—racially, socially, economically, and politically.

This year, our nation celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 21. In honor of MLK day, let’s consider some of his oft-repeated quotes. Quotes that spur Christians to live out their faith and testimony both inside and outside the body of Christ.

Quotes such as:

  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
  • “The time is always right to do what is right.”
  • “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
  • “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
  • “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Whether or not the body of Christ has loved well in the past, there’s always room for improvement. God’s Word has quite a bit to say on this subject, including these verses:

  • “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 ESV).
  • “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV).
  • “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3 ESV).
  • “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).
  • “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (I John 4:20 ESV).

Someday in eternity, we will all stand before the throne of God, praising Him for who He is and thanking Him for who we are: redeemed people from every tribe, language, and nation. Until that day, we still have many friends to make…and to love well.


 
Christmas Letdown

Christmas is my favorite holiday. Even this year, as I adjust to missing a piece of my heart, I still love Christmas.

Sappy movies with happy-ever-after endings.

Hectic schedules punctuated by peaceful moments listening to Christmas carols in the subdued light of the Christmas tree.

Receiving cards from people I haven’t talked to all year and reconnecting as I read their Christmas notes and updates.

Most of all, celebrating the reason for the season—the miracle of God becoming human to enable humans to become sons and daughters of God.

So the days after December 25 had traditionally been a letdown for me. Christmas trees dumped on the curb, shreds of tinsel still clinging precariously to their branches. Bright lights unplugged. Traditional carols of yesteryear pushed aside in favor of contemporary songs.

Worst of all, the change of perspective fueled the letdown. From the heaven-sent Christ child to earthbound cares. From music and lights to bills and worries. And from silent nights to discordant days.

In many ways, the week after Christmas signifies the end. The end of the Christmas season. The imminent end of the year. And for me, this year, the end of a year marking my greatest loss.

But it’s not the end. The day after Christmas is a beginning.

The beginning of the time God stepped into His creation. A cradle leading to a cross. The beginning of our salvation, when a life was born for the purpose of death. A death that means life for you and me if we choose to receive it.

Strip the tinsel and needles from the Christmas tree and we’re left with a different kind of tree. Bare wood, just as the cross Jesus hung on was bare wood. Several New Testament verses speak of Jesus on the cross. In these verses the word for cross actually comes from the Greek word for wood. Some translations use the word tree (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13; I Peter 2:24).

No, December 26 is not the end of Christmas. It’s the beginning of Immanuel, “God with us.” It’s the beginning of the opportunity for an intimate relationship with the One who not only created us, but sent His son, Jesus, to die for us. It’s the beginning of a chance to be and have all God intended for us.

Christmas letdown? Not anymore!


 
When God Does the Unexpected

Unexpected God

Christmas has always been my favorite season. After all, what’s not to like? But this Christmas season is a bit different, as my celebration is muted because of the loss of someone precious to me.

What about you? It may be difficult for you, or someone you love, to celebrate this year. Burdens of loss, financial pressures, health complications, or depression can build an impenetrable wall, brick by brick, separating you from the joy of the season. And yet, when you least expect it…

God has a way of showing up.

He did it for me last week.

Someone I didn’t know well took me aside at a holiday gathering. She shared how she had suffered from depression most of her life. When she attended my husband’s memorial service this summer, she heard the story of his battle with depression. She also learned how God had healed him—not of his cancer, but of the depression he struggled with for decades.

My pastor closed the memorial service by doing something unexpected. He sensed the Holy Spirit prompting him to pray for the healing of those there who might be suffering from depression.

In her words, “Who goes to a memorial service to be healed of depression?”

Indeed. Who does?

But that day, God showed up unexpectedly. And four months later she took me aside to share how she had not experienced a day of depression since the memorial service.

Two thousand years ago, God also showed up unexpectedly, this time in the life of a teenage girl. He showed up with news delivered by an angel—news that turned her life upside down, and then turned the world upside down. Or maybe a better description would be right side up! Still, the religious leaders of His day failed to see Him because they were convinced God would reveal Himself in a different way. They refused to consider the possibility that God might be moving in another direction.

God is still showing up unexpectedly. But if we’re laser-focused on what we’ve decided He should do, we’ll miss the work He wants to do in and through us.

Like my husband, you might be praying for healing in one area, only to learn God is at work in another area of your life.

Trust your heavenly Father to wrap you in His grace and surround you with His peace. Then trust Him to work sovereignly to fulfill His perfect purposes. You just might find He will give you what you need, when you need it.

Unexpectedly.


 
Waiting for Emmanuel

Waiting for Emmanuel

What is the longest you’ve waited for something you wanted? In this age of instant gratification, wait is a four-letter word in more ways than one.

The oven takes too long, so we microwave our food…then stand in front of the microwave, counting off the seconds because even that takes too long!

Dial-up Internet service wasn’t fast enough, so we converted to DSL, only to replace DSL with high-speed Internet.

Remember the days when we waited to see the photographs we took? We developed the film and printed pictures from the negatives. Polaroid film provided photos within minutes, but even that took too long. Now we can see our digital photos instantly.

Since we work hard at not having to wait for anything, it can be difficult for us to understand how long ancient Israel waited for her Messiah. The original prophecy for His coming can be traced all the way back to Genesis 3:15 in the Garden of Eden. But the prophet Isaiah spoke of Him by name: Emmanuel.

‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 NIV).

The ancient Latin hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, translated by John Mason Neale, has its roots in Isaiah’s prophecy. Emmanuel is God with us. Today Christians understand the historical reality of Jesus’ coming and experience the presence of His Holy Spirit.

But 700 years before the first coming of Jesus Christ, Isaiah spoke an amazing prophecy of the One who would be born of a virgin – God incarnate. Beginning with this prophecy, the hymn writer included other names and characteristics of Emmanuel. He was the Son of God. The Dayspring who brings light. Wisdom personified. The “Desire of Nations” who would someday bring peace.

The saddest part about this is not that Israel waited 700 years for Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled. No, the saddest part is that when Jesus came, the religious leaders failed to recognize Him as the One for whom they had been waiting.

Have you been waiting for peace and wisdom and light in your own life? Don’t be like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Recognize the source of all these things is Jesus Christ, and Him alone.

Enjoy the planning, preparations, and anticipation while you wait for Christmas to arrive. But as you check off the days, recognize that you no longer have to wait for the answer to your deepest needs. Emmanuel has already come.


 
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