Peace this Christmas

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
— Romans 5:1 ESV

Due to the cold war and hippie movement of the last mid-century, our view of the word peace has been skewed.  The word most associated with peace is war.

When Jesus was born in that stable 2,000ish years ago, the world did not automatically become war-free or even conflict-free.

King Herod sat on his throne and commanded assassinations and massacres, and Ceasar Agustus still commanded the roman military forces.

War has just got uglier as history and science progressed.

Unfortunately, the hippie version of peace was not what Jesus came to bring us.  Fortunately, He instead was born and died to bring us peace with God.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’
— Luke 2:13-14 ESV

We can have peace with God.  Because of Jesus, we can be right with Him.  Through faith, and faith alone, we can be justified and we can be someone that God is pleased with.  Because of Jesus, God can be pleased with us and at peace with us.

Glory to God in the highest!

This is the gift that Jesus lived and died to give, peace with God.

We cannot earn this peace and rightness with God.  We are unable to deserve this gift, and righteousness with God depends on faith in Christ.

Merry Christmas this morning.  This is the good news of the gospel: you can have peace with God!  You can feel the glorious grace and none of the shame that would keep us from entering a relationship with our God.  Because JESUS!

Advent: Great Joy

I've been waiting for joy.  Patiently searching my heart and my life for a tangible picture of joy or even an overwhelmed heart to tell you about here in these words.

Advent the expectant waiting for the arrival of a noble person and preparation for celebration.

I've been expectantly waiting for joy.  I prepared my heart for it.

Joy came on my cell phone yesterday in the form of a message, of which I cannot share a single detail.  It was a message full of the most beautiful good news interwoven into a story of heartbreak.  It was a message of answered prayers that was so unexpected it took time to sink in what had even happened.

Joy might be the fullest human emotion we can ever experience.  It is complete goodness amid the constant struggles of this human life.

And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’
— Luke 2:10-11 ESV

Joy is a savior laying in a manger as a baby with all the needs of a newborn and a mother recovering from childbirth among the hay and animals.

Joy is an answered prayer that has an answer that looks completely different than you could ever imagine.

Joy is complete surrender to the Lord who knows you because He made you.

Joy is a new liver while retaining the virus that killed the first one.

Joy is never doubting your brother is in Heaven but still missing him here on Earth, wishing His life could have been different.

Joy is when God asks you to do something that requires finances completely out of your means.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
— James 1:2-4 ESV

I am full of joy this Christmas Eve, and just like Jesus's birth, it came unexpectedly from the last places I would have ever imagined.

Let us be thankful that we serve a God that isn't limited to our solutions or imaginations.  Let us enjoy the joy brought to us this day, wherever that joy springs from and however that joy is intertangled with our human condition.

Put on the Full Footie PJs of Advent: Love

Last week I wrote a post about how much I needed to let my armor down, have a soldier's reprieve, and slip into the warm, comfort of advent.  I want to bask in who Jesus is and long for His coming.  I wrote about how much we need hope and how God gives us hope, even though we don't deserve it.

Today I'm going to talk about love.  We need love, and one of the greatest challenges of our Christian life is oftentimes loving other people.  People can make it easy not to love them.  We can sometimes make it easy not to love us.  Why do we do it?  Why is accepting love often harder than giving it?

I believe that it is easy to slip into the human, fleshly belief that we don't deserve love.  If it wasn't, suicide wouldn't be the second leading cause of death of young people aged 10 to 24.

I know everyone reading this has had that moment or several moments in their life where they didn't believe they deserved to be loved.  I know I have.

This is the worst lie the devil has up his sneaky sleeve, that we are not loved.


You are loved.

You are loved

You are loved.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.
— 1 John 4:16-19 ESV

Fear can easily turn into my main mode of operation, as a mother or just as a human.  This time of year, I see more car accidents and people honking than all year long.  I just want to yell at people to go home and drink some hot chocolate.  Whatever they are rushing to can't be worth it.

Fear is the easy voice to find in your head.  It's loud and urgent.

Love is there too, speaking softly.  If we push it away and decide we are not worthy, it gets so muffled that we can barely hear it.

Guess what?  We aren't worthy, but God loves us anyway.

We aren't worthy, but our family loves us anyway.

Your kids aren't worthy, but you love them anyway.  (If your kids are new and still smell like a mix of baby powder and Heaven, just wait.  They will do something you don't approve of in a blink.  You'll be disappointed, but then you'll love them through it.)

Love isn't about earning.  Love is freely given and never deserved.  And God's love is the best.  It's top-grade, pure, and good to the bone.

It is hard to believe that we are allowed to receive the pure, unconditional love of God.  But He gave it to us before we could even know to ask for it.  He gave it to us before our cells formed into the DNA that makes you, you.  He loved you first.

The sending was from this love.

Jesus came to Earth only because of this love.

Receive it.  Come to Him as a child and hold onto it with confidence.  Hear it.  Keep it close.

We share it all year round.  Just for a moment, get cozy with that overwhelming love that only God can give.  Savor it and know that this love was poured out just for you.

Put on the Full Footie PJs of Advent: Hope

I don't know about you, but this Christmas I need a little extra focus on Jesus.  I need Him close.  I want to wrap myself in those four advent words:  hope, love, joy, and peace.  I want a grown-up sized footie pajama of hope, love, joy, and peace to step into and zip up.  Life as a Christian isn't usually cozy.  We spend it putting on our full armor, which also includes those boots of peace, and fighting the spiritual battles of our lives.  

Just for this time of year, I need a soldier's reprieve.  I need to retreat, put on the full footie pajamas of advent, dust myself off, warm in the glow of His hope, fill up in the fullness of His love, bask in the completeness of His joy, rest in the goodness of His peace, ready myself for another year of the ongoing war.

I'm going to post an advent post each of the next four weeks.  Today's topic is hope.

How much do I need some hope today?  I can't even measure it.

The Old Testament ends with prophet Malichi's words.

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.
— Malachi 4 ESV

I'm sure every Israelite read those words and was completely ready for His healing wings.  They probably wanted Elijah to start ushering that day in right away.  These passages bring a promise, a promise that gives hope.  But oh how God takes His time!

Four hundred years pass.  Four hundred years!

It feels like four hundred years since we started this adoption journey.

I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that waiting does not naturally produce hope.  Waiting produces a lot of things: impatience, discontent, second-guessing, frustration, anger, and even numbness.

Standing in the Hobby Lobby line yesterday, I knew that I was going to need to just shut off my brain and wait or I would be downright angry about it.  I went numb and studied their candy collection.

If I'm honest with myself, I know I have let myself grow numb at times over our 3 years of waiting for our adoption.  Numb seems much better than anger, easier to hide in.  It doesn't stand out in a church service or Bible study like anger would.  I thought I was doing everyone a favor by choosing numbness.  The problem is that numbness is no more holy than anger, discontent, or impatience.

I need some hope.

I know there is something in your life that is a source of suffering that could easily produce anger or numbness.  We all have some kind of struggle we are dealing with.

How is this hope produced?  Romans 5 gives us the formula.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
— Romans 5:3-5 ESV

Hope isn't made by losing our temper or numbing out.  Hope is the reward for enduring the struggle.

Numbing out will never produce hope.

How easy is it to numb out in our culture?  How easy is it to numb out in our churches?

This advent we get a short cut.  We get to come to Him and get all the hope our little hearts can carry.  He's not checking our endurance cards at the door.  Because guess what?  Jesus is all about short cuts.  He came died and rose again to give us the biggest short cut this world has ever seen.  We cannot earn our place in Heaven, but our citizenship stamp was given when we accept His free gift of forgiveness.

Jesus isn't worried about whether or not we have persevered like an Eye-of-the-Tiger champ.  Jesus isn't going to quiz us on the ratio of time spent on our knees versus time spent in front of Netflix.  Praise Jesus!

This advent we come empty handed to the beautiful story of His birth.  The birth that was anticipated for not just four hundred years, but for all time.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
— Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

Come.  Accept your gift of hope as a son or a daughter.

We have done our best to preservere during those heavy struggles this year, but we don't always get it right.  We take some hope today anyway.

Let the glow of His hope warm your weary hearts.  Lord knows we need it.

A song for you today.