We human beings have a lot in common, even though we tend to forget just how much we share. One of those things is our affinity for beauty. All people are attracted to the beauty of nature. We love art, architecture and creative landscapes. We are attracted to sparkling jewels, fine clothing – anything well-crafted and well-made. This is not to say we can afford or need to own any of these things, but we do admire them. Museums are filled with objects of beauty and showcases of homes or anything lovely are usually well-attended.
We also tend to forget who created beauty. God not only created all the beauty we see, but he himself is beautiful in every way, and our love of beauty comes from him. Ancient people made the mistake of worshiping the creation instead of the Creator. But after admiring the beauty we see around us, either natural or made by human hands, our thoughts should turn to admiration and adoration of the most beautiful being in existence. I love Psalm 27:4, which says, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (NIV). Instead of gaze, The Message uses the word contemplate.
The Bible, and the psalms in particular, give us many ways to contemplate our God of wonders. Just spending time thinking about his amazing love for us could fill the rest of our days. In his great love for us, he has made it possible for us to gaze on his beauty for eternity. But why wait? Let’s start right now!
When the Bible says God is love, many of us believe it’s true, but. Is that because his love seems too good to be true? Or is it because we are convinced we aren’t worthy or deserving of his love? Some like to say he loves us in spite of ourselves, in spite of the sin and darkness in our hearts. Is that the way God looks at us?
One of the myths surrounding God and his perspective on humanity is that because of the egregiousness of our sin, God can’t even look at us. His standards of holiness and righteousness won’t allow him to have anything to do with us, unless and until we repent and accept Jesus as our savior. This is difficult to reconcile with 1 John and other verses that talk about how much God loves us.
The truth is God loves us so much he sent his son to become one of us, sharing our humanity in all respects. He not only looked at us in our sin, he loved us while we were sinners and enemies, taking our sin upon himself, in all its ugliness. He loves us, not in spite of, but because of ourselves – because he made us out of his love, in his love and to be loved. This is the right perspective and the right response is to love him back, with gratitude and joy.
Fake news has been around since folks started telling people what’s going on in the next town. They either got it mixed up (remember playing the telephone game where the message became garbled as it went around?) or they did it on purpose for their own gain. Today, with the proliferation of blogs and websites, and everyone’s need to give an opinion, you have to take much of what you read on the Internet with a grain of salt.
The same is true about the misinformation surrounding Jesus. Ever since he started his ministry, and continuing to this day, the stories about who he is have been garbled, ranging to slightly in error to egregiously wrong. The good news of his birth and the reason he became a human has been distorted to the point most people have no clue about him.
The fake news is that God took his anger out on Jesus, because, after all, someone had to pay. Many believe God is still angry and just a hair’s breadth away from squashing us like bugs. But the truth looks much different. God’s plan of redemption had nothing to do with his anger. It was and is all about his love. Jesus not only brought good news, he is the good news: through his life, death and resurrection, he revealed the Father to us and just how much he loves us. Because he is Emmanuel, God with us in every sense, the story of his redeeming love is the best news humanity will ever hear.
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NLT).
When my son was little, I often gave him one hundred kisses on his forehead. Sometimes as I counted them out, he’d start squirming, so I held him tight until I finished. At other times, we’d play the “I love you more” game, going back and forth until usually I won by telling him and later, my daughter, I loved them the most. Most parents love their children so much they would do anything for them. We would rather be sick than watch them suffer. We would take the proverbial bullet for them rather than watch them die.
Some believe God the Father of all humankind only loves his children after they declare, in acts of contrition and repentance, they love him too. But that’s not how it works with human parents and it’s not how it works with God. We love our children before they’re ever conceived and God loved every man, woman and child before the foundation of the world. He doesn’t wait for someone to say the “sinner’s prayer” or stop sinning or even understand what sin is. He loved us first, best and most.
When you believe God can’t love you until you repent, your theology (what you believe about God) says he can’t love us as much as we love our children. If my child said he or she hated me (which happens, especially with teenagers) or ran away, never wanting to see me again, I wouldn’t stop loving him or her. I wouldn’t turn off the porch light. I would never stop hoping for reconciliation and would do everything in my power to bring them back.
God did just that. He loved the world so much he became a human being and took the bullet for us. He has already forgiven all. Just as loving parents never give up on their children, God never gives up on any of his children. His love is stronger than we can imagine and he proved his determination to reconcile with us by going to the cross. He loves us more!
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, NLT).
For many, Christmas is all about getting and giving gifts, which should be a positive thing. But it’s turned into so much more (or perhaps less) than honoring or thanking someone with something meaningful, requiring nothing in return. Shopping has become essential to the well being of many countries’ economies. It’s also a list of names to be ticked off when the gifts have been purchased; unwanted items returned and exchanged; presents not wanted or needed and grumbling about not getting what was really wanted.
The real gift of Christmas is the one so many ignore or know nothing about—the gift of God’s son. God gave himself to our broken world in a form we could see, hear and touch. His teachings and miracles, the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament and his resurrection all confirmed his identity and purpose: the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Jesus is what everyone wants and needs for Christmas, though they may not realize their true heart’s desire. He was the gift that turned the world upside down and in the end, will make everything right.
“I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, NLT).
The Old Testament used to be taught in schools as a regular part of the curriculum. Children grew up knowing the names and order of the books, the characters and their stories. Now it’s rare to learn the Bible in school and almost as rare for people to know much about it. Watch Jeopardy! and you’ll see—when a category is about the Bible, most of the contestants don’t even ring in. Consequently, what people have heard or believe about the Old Testament is that it’s filled with accounts of a mean, angry God who kills thousands at the drop of a hat.
While it’s true a lot of people died for reasons we don’t quite understand, God is not the ogre some infer from the more violent parts of the Bible. Tucked away in the little book of Hosea we see what is really going on in God’s heart and what has been there all along. From the beginning, he has been more interested in love and mercy. He wants us to acknowledge him as God and know him. It has always been more important to him that we share in his life, enjoy his company and walk and talk with him. In his son Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, he has made sure we see the big picture and know the truth of who he is.
“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8, NLT).
We have a tendency to remember the wrongs done to us, sometimes for our whole lives. The old adage that it takes many positive comments to make up for a single negative one must be true as I still remember the insults I received as a child. We tell ourselves those hurtful words don’t affect us but they do.
God understands insults and put downs—Jesus received many in his short life. But unlike us, he had the big picture and realized even those who crucified him didn’t know what they were doing. When we sling mud, we have little to no comprehension of how we affect others. Thankfully, God’s deep love covers, forgives and forgets our sins and he wants us to do the same for each other, for we are all made in his image. In this life of relationships and interactions with imperfect people, the most important thing we can do is shower them with affirmations of God’s love and grace, erase the insults and cover the sins.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT).
On a TV game show called The Weakest Link, contestants had to quickly answer trivia questions in a round robin setting. At the end of each round, the one the other players felt was the weakest link got voted out. Sometimes those who answered the questions correctly were eliminated to give the others a better chance. It was fast and high pressure and there was no mercy for those who couldn’t think on their feet.
Sometimes Christians are considered the weak links by those who believe God is just a crutch. Perhaps that’s true as 1 Corinthians 1:27 says God chose the weak, despised and powerless things to show the weakness of everyone. All of humanity lives in weakness and fear, but God’s spirit gives us his power, his love and his self-discipline or calm and well balanced mind (Amplified). Christians don’t use God as a crutch, but do rely on his power and love, trusting that not even the weakest will be eliminated from his loving embrace.
“Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you!” (Psalm 63:3, NLT).
When someone is very sick, critically injured, trapped or missing, family members, doctors, rescue personnel all do whatever it takes to help and to save the life of the one in trouble. In the movie 127 Hours, we watched in horrified fascination as an actor portraying Aron Ralston cut off his own arm to rescue himself from being trapped under a rock. It made me wonder if I could do something that desperate to save my own life.
Life is a precious gift from God and we do lot of things to pamper, preserve and prolong it. We admire those who are willing to give up this precious gift for the sake of others, so much that incidents of self-sacrifice often make the news. But there is something more dear than life, and that is the astounding love of God. His love is why we have life—we are his love children. You could say he went to desperate measures to save our lives—out of love so deep, he gave up the life of his own precious son so we can live. Everything is win-win with God—in the end, we get his love and life too!
“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked” (Luke 6:35, NLT).
When we think of enemies, those who hate us and possibly even want to see us destroyed, we don’t think of love. Our first reaction is to hate back, to wish evil on them or at the very least, to get as far away as possible and never have anything to do with them again. This is normal, human and common. Jesus knew the history of the people he was talking to and knew his admonition to love their enemies might surprise them. What a strange idea!
He said this of course, because that’s what God does. As Jesus went on to say, God is kind to the unthankful, wicked, atheists, murderers, liars—in short, everyone. Jesus was sent inside enemy lines to be the savior of the world, because God loves every single person who has ever lived. By nature, humanity is against God, but God is always for humanity, treating us as loved children even when we figuratively thumb our noses at him. It is only with his Spirit in us that we can do the same to each other.