Teaching kids about Jesus presents many opportunities to remember the love that changes us.
Yesterday I was the teacher to a group of kinder through 5th graders. The kids sat at their places around the tables, red construction paper hearts and crayons in front of them and one of the older kids read aloud our Bible verse for the day.
“Indeed, if you fulfill the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well.”
James 2:8 CSB
When the child returned to his seat he found that the child next to him had scribbled black crayon all over his red paper heart. The child Bible reader, now red-faced with anger, picked up a crayon and scribbled all over the red paper heart laying in front of the child offender who had ruined his paper heart. The two boys, now red faced, eyes spilling over with tears, were ready to lay down their darkened paper hearts and take up fists with each other.
The boys were separated, the class called to attention again, and with the demonstration of messing up each others’ hearts before us, we dove into the question from our Bible reading: How in the world do you love your neighbor as yourself?
I can go to church, read my bible quietly with a cup of coffee in the morning, put my ear buds in and listen to my favorite writers spell out hope in Christ from their stories and songs, and feel like I’m doing pretty good. Then people walk in my room, pick up my one fragile heart and start scratching it black with their selfish words, or cold manner, or inconsiderate acts. And then, I don’t feel so much good.
I’ll never be able to think of being a Christian as something I’m proud of or good at as long as being a Christian means loving my heart-wrenching neighbor as I love myself.
By the end of our class yesterday all the kids came to the conclusion that we don’t love very well. Not like Jesus did. We decided we need Jesus to help us. And we need to ask for forgiveness a lot.
And this is how I know Christ has hold of me. I see how he loves. I see how he turns my heart towards others with a desire to give what I have no power in myself to give. I see the brokenness in those around me, and I feel the self-protective snatching of my heart away from potential scribblers, and I say, “Lord, it’s too much! Send them away!” And I hear Jesus say, “No. Give yourself to them.” And I watch as he takes my meager offerings of a listening ear, a choice to be quiet, or speak up, or get low or stand up and makes them enough to communicate love.
At the end of our class the older boy went to the younger boy of his own accord, looked him in the eyes and said, “I’m sorry.” The boys hugged each other and played.
Jesus can make you want to make it right with the person whose heart you marred in revenge and hug the person who turned your tidy heart into a scribbled-up mess.
I’ve been in a church since the week after I was born. Every church I’ve been part of has impacted my life in a unique way. Like an arm is different from the liver, these churches were all very different. Among them were bad teachings. But at each church I grew. I learned. I love Christ more because of them all.
It seems there’s a reckoning happening in the American church. There are good reasons why some have left titles or denominations behind. The Church is in need of washing and pruning, discipline and rebuke. But She is also the source of health and growth for the Christian. See 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
Where I learned the hymns that saved me
From birth through fourth grade my parents brought me up in a non-instrument, no classes Church of Christ. I didn’t realize it until I was in my late teens, but the church of my childhood believed it was sinful and a show to use musical instruments in the church gathering. We were to “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to one another” in the church gathering.
My childhood church also prohibited classes of any kind. Not for kids. Not Sunday school. No classes. But they loved to sing well. Since there were no instruments I guess they honed in on making sure we were all in tune.
I remember seeing the man leading us in hymns blow on his tuning pipe, then humming to tune his own voice, then putting his arm in the air to conduct the congregation in the right tempo of the song. We sang, “Some glad morning, when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away,” and “There is power, power, wonder working power. In the blood. Of the Lamb.” The women harmonized with the men. The heart rumbling tone of the baritone men, singing their part, is forever in my memory.
My childhood church’s doctrine on water baptism, women being silent and submissive, singing strictly acapella, and classes being prohibited made a huge impression on me. And not for the good. But despite the bad teaching, the Holy Spirit reached me there.
At age sixteen, listening to an acapella singing of Amazing Grace at a Bill Gothard conference, I heard the Lord call me to follow Him. At my childhood church I learned to love the hymns. And I learned to love the simplicity and commonness of the gathering of God’s people. My childhood church taught me to receive the reading of scripture, engage in the singing of hymns to each other, and to partake of the Lord’s Supper in memory of Jesus.
Where I learned to love the Bible
In my early adult years I looked for a church alone. My husband and I were newlyweds and I was newly aware of his lack of interest in going to church. I was also a new believer. I was hungry for God’s word. And I found a church that fed me. Calvary Chapel.
I remained in a Calvary Chapel for more than ten years. During those years I learned about the Holy Spirit, prophecy, spiritual gifts and the power of the Bible. The pastors and teachers at Calvary Chapel showed me that anyone, in the context of the church, under the authority of elders, could open a BIble and teach God’s word.
In those years at Calvary Chapel I didn’t realize how the emphasis on a certain interpretation of the end times was impacting me. I would later come to see this over-emphasis on a pre-tribulation interpretation of scripture as distracting from the gospel and discipleship. But in my years at Calvary Chapel I learned to pray, listen to God, and study my Bible.
Where my childhood beliefs were challenged and I was loved
When my sons were just entering elementary school I began attending a Bible church. In this small Bible church I learned about church history and the words church people have for different theological stances.
I learned about Calvinism and Armenianism. I learned about cessationism and dispensationalism. And I learned that there are churches that don’t baptise people in water.
This was a source of wrestling for me. I grew up with a theologically heretical teaching that said you had to be baptised (emersed) in water at a Church of Christ to be accepted into those pearly gates we sang so well about in our accapella hmns. I knew that teaching was off, but no water baptism at all? The Bible church’s pastor challenged me to examine the meaning of baptism.
Even though I don’t agree with the reasoning for no water baptism, that Bible church showed me what it means to love the members of your church. That church supported me when my marriage was about to end. They bought me a car. Gave me a bed. And sent me to Oregon to visit my family. They also whet my taste for church history.
Where the gospel was held high and I learned to lead
This brings me to my current SBC affiliated church. This church, I love her. The pastor and leaders in my church have made the preaching of the gospel powerful and applicable. They’ve taught me the importance of discipling others, making friends about Jesus with open Bibles and open lives in small groups. They’ve taught me to lead, which has filled in a void from my childhood where I was taught women were never to lead anything. But mostly, they’ve taught me to respond to the gospel as a believer with faith and repentance on a day-in, day-out basis.
The Church has sin that needs to be confessed and repented of. Wickedness that needs to be purged. Abuse that needs to be exposed and condemned. But She also has the truth that builds up the Christian, deepening her roots in the love of Christ and helping her to produce fruit for the glory of God and the good of the kingdom. I’m grateful for the Church. I love her.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21
My german shepherd Lukas has different barks for different things. One of his barks is very aggressive and intimidating. His body lunges, his teeth shows, he barks from his chest. That’s the, “there’s a predator” bark.
At 5 am this morning, Lukas let out an incessant “there’s a predator” bark.
I shot up off the couch and ran toward the back door and there I saw the most horrific sight: A coyote with Mrs. Miyagi in his mouth. I opened the door, commanded Lukas to, “GET HIM!” and the chase was on. My 2-year-old shepherd took off on the heals of that coyote, but the coyote clamped down his mouth on Mrs. Miyagi and ran the quarter-mile length of our alley-way toward the desert, leaving Lukas in his dust.
Mrs. Miyagi was our Frizzle hen. She was our smallest, most vulnerable chicken, always waddling behind the flock and sleeping in the dog house outside the chicken coop next to the goats. And today a coyote spotted her from our alley and found an opportunity because our back gate was opened. We had failed to secure the back gate. We mind as well have put a signal out in coyote language saying, “Come here! Free chickens for breakfast!”
The traumatic events of this morning made me think about the American church and the vulnerability of the weak among us, and how we leave the back gate open for predators to freely enter.
The Houston Chronicle’s series shone a bright light on the shadows where child predators have found easy prey in the churches associated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) this past week. I’ve been grieving and reminded once again of the horrors I heard about in my childhood conservative church. The part of me that wanted to put her head in the sand and pretend everything is O.K. didn’t want to read the Houston Chronicle articles. But as a staff member and leader in kids ministry at my SBC church I had to expose myself to the horrors that have been hiding in dark places, sneaking in through open gates.
As I sought God’s answer and direction in prayer, I asked, “How should I pray Lord? What’s going on? What do I need to do? What do we, the church in America need to do?” James 3:16 was on my daily reading and it was a clear answer to my prayer.
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. – James 3:16
Pastors and leaders shaming, blaming, ignoring victims of sexual abuse, not reporting sexual abuse, allowing abusers to continue leading and having access to children in the church, grooming, and abusing children… everything I read in the Chronicle’s report is without a doubt “vile practice.” And according to James 3:16, the cause of such evil is jealousy and selfish ambition.
We need to see this. I need to see this. This chronic horror of sexual abuse thriving in churches has the lust we have for power at its root! The fault of so many exposed in the Chronicle’s report is an unwillingness to expose the evil in their midst and let the law-which God has ordained as the sword cutting off the wickedness among us- deal with the predators. And why were they unwilling? Why was the vile practice of sexual abuse covered and ignored? James 3:16 says it’s because of the lust we have for power and position.
It seems to me God is letting the horror of sexual abuse in the church be exposed to highlight the back gate we’ve left wide open: the lust of power and position.
Today I spent the day in prayer with a 73 old neighbor and sister in Christ grieving and praising God for shining light on this darkness and pleading with him to move in the hearts of leaders in the American church to repent- with actions- of their lust of power and position.
Jesus has harsh words for the leaders in his church who would let sin tear down one of his little ones.
May there be a mass of those willing to go to the bottom of the sea with millstones around their necks, and those willing to cut off arms and gauge out eyes and give up their positions of power and influence in exchange for face-to-the-ground repentance.
May the Holy Spirit clean his house and restore the joy of our salvation.
Jesus is the gate of the sheep. And no predator gets past his dead and resurrected body. He will have vengeance.
May we be willing to cut off the jealousy and selfish ambition that has left the back gate open for the vile practice of child predators in our midst.
Jesus’ words about mercy and how we, as his disciples, should seek out, invite, give to, speak for, and help the marginalized in society are not subtle.
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” -Luke 14:12-14
The poor, the elderly, the children, the weak, the disabled, the orphan, the widow, the foriegner, the ill… all these are specifically pointed out in scripture, and Jesus makes it clear- we are to give to the least of these as though we were giving to him. And at times, I think fantasy-thoughts about doing just that. I picture myself running a clinic to provide medical care for the poor and a home for the elderly where they would be cared for with dignity. But the missing day-to-day details of my imaginary Jesus lifestyle allow me to think dreamy thoughts and not face the reality of what Jesus calls me to do right where I am.
See, if I had a clinic for the poor, there would be those who would abuse it, those who wouldn’t be grateful, those who would be rude, those who would be irritating. And if I had a home for the elderly there would be complaints and grievances with family members. There would grey-headed ladies yelling at me to shut the music off because they’re playing bingo. There would be plates thrown across the room cause, “This isn’t food, this is crap!”
The truth is, when Paul in Ephesians 5 starts into what it looks like to, “…walk in love as Christ first loved us and gave himself for us,” he doesn’t say (vs. 22), “Nurses, open up free healthcare clinics for the poor, or dignified homes for the elderly.” Although those are good things, and we should do them. But Paul’s instruction is to the wives, husbands, children, servants… for them to submit themselves to each other. That’s where walking in Christlike love is really put to the test.
In any relationship- with the poor, with the elderly, with the disabled, with the orphan, with the widow, or with your husband, child or boss- sin is going to make it hard. Your sin and the sin of the person you’re in relationship with.
We should extend our lives to the poor, but it’s not going to be pretty. It’s going to be messy. As messy as it is with your spouse or child or boss. Jesus calls us to lay down our lives for each other, not just be philanthropic. We aren’t called to give donations to the poor, we are called to love them and that requires forgiveness, repentance, bearing with hard things and walking through hard things.
This is why we need the church. We need to be in relationships with people we would never normally be in relationships with. We need to face conflict, sin, pain, bitterness, poverty, rudeness… broken humanity and learn to deal with sin in humility, love, and truth.
What I’m trying to say is, it’s not so much whether I donate to the poor orphans in Africa, or visit the elderly in a nursing home, but whether I vulnerably love my husband, stretch myself to spend time with people I don’t know very well who want to follow Jesus too, and over time, when our sin makes things ugly, forgive and love them. The marginalized are not righteous because they’re marginalized. They can’t give back anything you might otherwise get from a richer, more mainstream sinner, like status, reputation, money, position, etc. But they aren’t going to be any easier to love and lead to Christ. It’s not going to be easy teaching them to follow all the things he has taught us just because they’re poor.
“The rich and the poor meet together, the LORD is the maker of them all.” – Proverbs 22:2
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” -Romans 3:23
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35
We’ve been home from our wilderness retreat for over a week. While we were there I soaked up the beauty in the nature all around me. The tall green Pines and Spruce and the shimmering Aspen made me feel like I was tasting a bit of heaven. I intentionally observed the creation around me and enjoyed every second of it. But I noticed my level of irritation with my husband and kids didn’t decrease as a result of my holiday, it increased. I’ve been mulling this over. Depression has her crooked fingerprints all over my attitude of late, but there’s something else too. A reality that true beauty, real heaven, lasting peace and refreshment come not through escaping conflict and people, but through the cross.
What I mean is, the glory my soul seeks from God is not found in escaping the hard things of loving people. Nature is a good place for temporary refreshment. But people- messy, broken, sinful people- are where God’s kingdom dwells.
Jesus didn’t teach us to become one with nature. He taught us to lay down our lives for others. It’s not the path of escape that leads to God’s glory. It’s the path to the cross.
Creation’s beauty is here to speak to us of God’s manifold beauty. I should enjoy it and praise God for it, and let my observations of it roll up into worship and affection for Christ. But my soul won’t find it’s healing there.
Jesus calls us to walk through the dark valley of this life, enduring suffering, bearing our cross and following him in loving people and loving God. He calls us to believe that like him we will experience resurrection life where the fulfillment of all our longings will be satisfied in our unrestricted union with him.
I’m an introvert, but I love people. I also get tired of them. In nature I find an escape. But this vacation reminded me that God has an ultimate rest for me in Christ. And in taking up my cross, loving people and loving God- following Jesus- I’ll experience the peace a vacation and nature can never give.
Nature is beautiful, but the earth is full of people who bear the image of God. In the messy business of loving them there is a greater beauty.
‘”This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. ‘
This is not going to be well edited. It’s late. And I’m tired.
Some days I’m just tired of bearing with the sins of others.
I know it’s ridiculously hypocritical because others are having to bear with my sins. And I know God is faithful and doesn’t grow tired and does not give up when I do. I know all this, but I need to write it out. How should I deal with this? There’s always just going to bed, which at this point is not a bad idea.
Getting tired of the sins of others happens with those you spend the most time with. I get tired of my husband and kids more than anyone else because I see them, day in day out, warts and all. It’s no coincidence that the relationships between husband and wife, parent and child are the first to be specifically mentioned when the apostle Paul teaches the church about being filled with the Holy Spirit.
‘And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. ‘
Only the Spirit of God does not grow weary in doing good with people who aren’t good. But as one of those not-good people, I grow tired. And nights like tonight, when I want to throw in the towel (whatever that means), what I’m really saying is I need the rest that relying on God brings.
I don’t know how to pray, but the Spirit does.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
Romans 8:26 ESV
Every minute of every day it’s the Spirit I’m relying on to produce the endurance to love like Jesus.
Holy Spirit, I’m tired. Restore to me the joy of my salvation, and renew a right spirit within me, then I’ll be able to lead sinners in your ways and love like you love. Revive me again Lord. I’m going to sleep trusting you. Hoping in you. Depending on you.
Night number two with Grandma. She’s more lucid this evening.
Every time I’ve ever walked into her home I’ve always heard the same sugary-sweet Arkansas accented greeting, “Well hello there sweet heart!” Her eyes light up and she smiles like she knows everything that’s going on in my life before I say a word.
She told me tonight she feels better than she did yesterday. She has one thing on her mind: the clear plastic tub full of dvd’s she’s made over the years.
Her pretty cursive handwritten notes are all over the outside of each disk. “Lifetime memories 2. Bobby, Vernie and the kids. Gary, Greg and Terry Lynn. Tommy and Bill. Grandma Stout. Mom and Dad. Velma and Thelma. Sandra. A.J. and Darryl.” I grab the top disc and put it in her combo VHS/DVD player. Her favorite songs play in the background- The Lord’s Prayer, blue grass music, Pavarrati, Celine Dion. She looks at the images of her brothers and sisters, mom and dad from Arkansas 60 years ago and starts to cry, “I feel so bad for your grandpa. He never knew such love. We were so loved...” Tears flow from her dimming eyes. Her skin is pale and a little jaundiced. Her lips are thin and dry. Her eyes squint as a few tears fall from her dehydrated body. Memories of her tender, loving watching her with broken hearts as she left home at 15 to move to California with my grandfather bring up an almost 70 year old ache.
We watch as the memories play, bluegrass and gospel songs fill our ears. Pictures of my dad as a child and teenager play while The Little Drummer Boy’s, “I have no gift to bring,” pa rum pum pum pum’s in our ears.. My grandma was a child when she had my dad, just 16. My toddler dad smiles in the lap of a beautiful, dark-haired teenage girl. He looks just like my youngest son.
I see happy-looking people, but I know the pain many of them have lived through. It’s easy to look back at life through triumphant songs and compiled images of smiling faces and candid shots of playfulness and wonder why there had to have been so much pain and trouble in those lives. My grandma wonders. “Why couldn’t we just have loved each other better?” she questions with the worried look of a woman who’s lived through several divorces, and watched her oldest son move away with his dad while he was just a boy. “I didn’t want him to go Sheila. I thought I was doing what was best by letting him do what he wanted.” Stinging tears redden her tired eyes.
I reach to hug her frail body. “Grandma we’re all a mess. That’s why we need Jesus. Our hope is in him, not each other.”
“I know. I know.” Her face relaxes. The gospel once again puts her mind at ease. Memories of so much damage from our sinfulness broke through the smiling images and transcendent songs and she wished it never had been that way. But just the mention of the hope of the gospel of Christ, that one day he will make all things new, put her worries away.
“One day He’s gonna wipe all that pain away Grandma. One day he’s going to hold you and you’ll have no doubts. You’ll know how good he is and you’ll be at total peace.”
Death is lurking, threatening, stinging my grandma’s broken memory with reminders of the years sin has damaged. But Jesus. “But Jesus,” was all I had to say. I just had to remind her of her hope that was not shifting like her cancer-laden brain, and death shifted back into the shadows, trying to hide from the defeat it knows is coming. Resurrection is about to swallow up death’s work in my grandma. Never again will death be able to attempt to sting her into hopelessness.
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:55-57
Being a believer in Christ means I believe the story that God sent his Son to be born as a baby, live the life I was meant to live in perfect love of God and others but don’t (can’t), and die as the only God-Man who’s death could absorb all the judgement of God against me and live. I believe Jesus is who he said he is. I believe the gospel. But what does believing the gospel look like in my everyday life? What does believing the gospel do to me? How does it effect my life? What does believing the gospel do when say, hypothetically (trying to preserve some privacy… for a friend), your child gets suspended from school?
I’ve found especially in the last 3 or 4 years raising my sons that my hope in the gospel effects how I respond to situations where they have done something wrong. Every time my kids screw up I have an opportunity to show them what Joseph showed his brothers, and what Jesus showed me: grace and truth.
Without the gospel, my parenting would only be an effort to manage their behavior. Notice I said only. Believing the gospel doesn’t mean I don’t manage their behavior. But it’s not the only motive behind my parenting. Because of the gospel my aim in parenting is not to manage their behavior and raise them to be good citizens that make me proud. Because of the gospel my authority in parenting is not from me, or the government, or even my child. It’s from Christ. I don’t think in terms of what makes me look good or bad or what my kids will do or not do that will be good or bad for them or me or society. Not that I don’t want them to do good things that make me proud, but my thinking about parenting isn’t born from those tenants. Because of the gospel, my aim in parenting is speaking truth into their lives, pointing them the direction of Jesus, and living a life laid down to build them up. Because of the gospel I speak truth and grace into their lives.
So when they screw up big time, the gospel means I can say something like Joseph said to his brothers. I can say, “What you did was wrong. And I love you.” The exposing of what they did wrong, the handing down of a consequence, as well as the imparting of grace, forgiveness, and assurance of love and acceptance all say that. They all say gospel. They point my kids to a hope greater than my or their ability to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and “be good!” The gospel of Christ is the greatest hope for any person, including moms and their kids who will at some point, screw up big time.
My kids see me screw up. They hear me fly off the handle in anger without good cause or pout like a 43 year old woman because I’m not being cared for the way I want to be. And the gospel allows me to sit on the bed next to them and tell them, “I was wrong and I’m sorry. I need Jesus!” And when they screw up, because of the gospel, less and less do I feel angry, offended, ashamed, embarrassed or disgusted. Because of the gospel I feel more and more a confidence that says, “I’m accepted. Discipline is love. And I want to show you that acceptance and love.”
The gospel doesn’t cause me to poopoo my kids screw ups. It doesn’t cause me to ignore their wrongs or sugar coat them. It doesn’t cause me to enable them to keep doing what’s wrong either. The gospel allows me to hand out firm discipline and boundaries that say, “You are my child! I love you! I want what’s best for you! And therefore you will suffer these consequences.” The gospel enables me to expose their mess, not let them hide from it, and walk with them through the hard consequences that come. And when I say, walk with them through hard consequences, that may mean staying home with them while their suspended from school, creating a day’s worth of studying for home and work. It means laying down my life.
When Joseph’s brothers knew they were in for it cause they screwed up big time and their dad wasn’t there to shield them from Joseph’s rightful anger, Joseph foreshadowed the gospel by saying:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. – Genesis 50:20
That’s the message the gospel brings to people who find themselves having screwed up big time. It doesn’t excuse or ignore the evil done. But it looks to God. It looks to what he’s done and it brings hope to others. Jesus said he came to give his life as a ransom for many. He laid down his life to save us. And when our kids do wrong, we get to be the messengers of Jesus who lay down our lives pointing them to Jesus.
On a night (or maybe it was day), in Roman occupied ancient Israel, a young, Jewish woman writhed, and cried as the excruciating pains of labor gripped her body and tore her flesh. And there, where animals in the ancient world feed, a vernix and blood covered baby boy, swaddled in clothes to keep him from dying of exposure, lay while young Mary’s uterus bled.
There, the comfort of God came to Israel.
There, light came to the people’s of the nations. The coastlands.
There, in one small square of the world, while people in Israel lay in beds complaining about having to submit to a Roman census, the King of kings lay in a feeding trough, utterly dependent upon the zeal of God to accomplish, against all odds, the salvation of his people.
There, Mary completed the last stage of labor and expelled the placenta which fed the One who knits the human form together in the womb. All the while native tribes in the coastlands of the Americas, Africa, China and the islands prayed to the gods they made. There the God of gods began to make himself known to humanity as like no other.
This God, who would be pleased to work on behalf of those who wait for him, came as a poor infant born in a place for animals.
Today is Christmas Eve. While my friends gathered at church to hear the real message of Christmas and others shopped for last minute presents I was helping a 100 year old patient get off a bedpan. Not the least bit glamorous. “It’s not good to live this long,” my patient moaned, writhing from the pain of a fractured hip as I slipped out the urine-filled pan.
We long for something glorious, something bright and beautiful like lights shining in December darkness. But our lives are full of perverted glory, broken by sin and death. We ruin the beauty of life with our evils. And when we live as long as my patient has, we know we weren’t made to live like this.
Earlier this year my sister said something that caught my attention, “We weren’t made to die! We were made to live!” It’s the truth. My patient was expressing what we all feel, sooner or later, death is in our days. And to live long here means tasting more and more of what we weren’t made for. We rehabilitate 100 year old people with broken hips instead of putting them down like horses as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death in this life, pushing back what we know we weren’t made for. And that is why the real story of Christmas is so much better than artistic renderings.
The God of the Bible who comes to dwell among us and save us from death’s sting, comes not as a pretty, noble, rich child of royalty. No he comes poor, rejected, despised, hunted and hated from his humble birth. He comes in our mess. He comes to walk through the dark shadow of this living death’s valley. He comes to absorb death and God’s condemnation of sin in his flesh so that we can have real hope while we sojourn here.
So, while we rip open pretty packages tomorrow, somewhere in the world, maybe in your own life, death is raising it’s stench- babies starve, women are abused, men are enslaved, the poor are oppressed, the rich grow more proud, bitterness destroys marriages, selfishness destroys children, and the old suffer alone.
Jesus came for these. He came like these. There is no god like Him!
Listen to me, O coastlands,and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb,from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword;in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow;in his quiver he hid me away.
And now the Lord says,he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has become my strength he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel;I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;yet we esteemed him stricken,smitten by God, and afflicted.But he was pierced for our transgressions;he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,and with his wounds we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray;we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,so he opened not his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;his soul makes an offering for guilt,he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,make many to be accounted righteous,and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors;yet he bore the sin of many,and makes intercession for the transgressors.