Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.

2 Corinthians 9: 6

 

This is a discussion about money and what we do with it. It is also a statement that applies to the things that we own, and it speaks to our attitude toward our time. Mostly, this is a comment on the way that we view other people, their needs, and our own sense of security in our relationship with Christ. He gave everything for us. Christ lived a life in which He took on our pain and suffering while demonstrating the depths of God’s loving compassion for His people. While doing this He continually looked to the Father and trusted Him to supply all wisdom, direction, and the resources that were needed.

 

Even with Christ’s example in mind, it is not always so easy to actually believe that God will supply me with everything that I need. So, holding everything that I have, including my money, prized possessions, and time, in fully open hands is not all that natural an act for me. It is even harder to risk exposing my heart to others in a manner that makes me vulnerable. Still, all of this is what God has given to me. He gives completely, absolutely, and without reservation for everything of significance that I have comes from His generosity. Most importantly, Christ gives me His heart, and in doing this, He changes mine from one that seeks to protect itself from exposure to pain and loss to a heart that can more openly share God’s love with others.

 

When we give we don’t get to control the return; yet, the more we give, the more we are acting like our Lord. The more open we are with our love, mercy, compassion, and understanding, the more we are transformed into the image of Christ. God’s direction for our lives is not easy, but it is simple. He wants us to openly and willingly reach out to all who are needy, all who are thirsty, and all who are alone. Then, He wants us to give everything that we have to meet those needs while fully trusting Him to continue to provide us with all that we will ever require for life.

 

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But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever;

you are remembered throughout all generations.

Psalm 102: 12

 

When we travel it is often fun and interesting to visit historic sites that are in or near the place where we are going. These places have stories to tell about the people who were there long ago, and they provide us with chances to see how these long ago people and events have influenced the way that we live today. Many of these ancient cultures believed themselves to be great, and some actually thought that what they were creating would last through the rest of history. Yet, in truth, none of them have made it much past a few generations before they began to fade and decline into oblivion. Now, their ruins tell their stories, and the timelines of their power and dominion always have an end date attached to them. As grand as the work that the hands of people can create may be, it will never be eternal, and it will not do anything to save them from the eternity of separation from God that is the legacy that we all gain without God’s loving grace and saving mercy.

 

So, God forms and defines the only culture that truly lasts beyond a rather short period of time. His society is one that is founded upon the Lord’s promise to remain in relationship with people despite our lack of faithfulness to Him and upon His commitment to heal and to restore His creation. We are gathered in faith into God’s new kingdom come upon the earth so that we can dwell in the presence of our Lord and be ruled by the righteous truth of His reign. As bound together in Christ, the church forms a society that will always be counter cultural to those of the balance of the world, for it is a society that is formed out of a relationship of trust in God’s Word and acceptance of His ultimate and perfect authority over us and over all that is. This society is one that values sacrifice, peace, and justice above all else, and it is one that embraces people for their God given value rather than for their worth in terms of economics or power.

 

When we accept and embrace the reality of God’s economy on earth as our own, we step out of the failed history that humanity has written and that it continues to craft for itself, and we enter into the eternal story of God’s ever present love and drive to restore people and creation to our place of intimacy and health at the side of our Creator. We become participants in writing out this ongoing history in which Christ’s sacrifice and victory over the forces of this world lead us into a new way of viewing the importance of life and the impact that each of us can have on the nature and the quality of the journey that others take as they navigate their way through their days. As we follow Christ we become His voice of grace and provide His loving touch to sooth the pains and the concerns of a troubled creation, and by engaging in these eternal acts, we demonstrate the unceasing glory of the Lord.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.

1 Corinthians 9: 19

 

I fear that these words are foreign to the practice of life in our days. Service is not a primary concern for many people, and serving is rarely set out as a primary goal for our leaders. Even in the church, true servants can be hard to find. No doubt the church sets out to change the world for the better, but it seems that we react to what we see when we get close to it and then we either determine to force or to coerce that change or we surrender to culture’s false sense of a higher understanding of truth. In the end, even the church has often become little more than a weak mirror image of the world that it should set out to change for the sake of the Gospel of Christ.

 

This is not how it needs to be. This is not how it should be. God determined to rule this world and to transform its inhabitants through the life and the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no other way, method, or truth that can have an effectively transformative and life saving impact on our world. Christ is the answer, and His life of service and sacrifice is the only viable model that followers of Christ should adopt and imitate. Evil and death are not overcome by the use of power, force, anger, fear, defensiveness, or by any other of the numerous human-devised tactics that we seem committed to deploying. In addition, we cannot separate our calling in Christ from the conduct of our public and civil lives. For followers of Christ, there is no separation of church from state.

 

Also, for followers of Christ, there is no safety or security in this world. Our Lord did not seek after either of those in the conduct of His life, and His command to follow is absolute and total. We are to join with Christ on a road that leads to suffering and to death for the sake of serving His will. If our freedom impairs another’s view of the Savior, then we ate to give it up. We can be certain that Christ will prevail in this world. However, if our lives are to matter for things that are eternal, we need to speak and act in a manner that is worthy of Christ’s sacrifice for us. In the process of giving all for the sake of winning eternity, we may need to sacrifice much if not all of what we have previously held as valuable, but if one life comes to Christ as a result, any sacrifice was more than worth the cost.

For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2: 13

 

What is mercy? By definition it is granting pardon or favor to someone over whom one has the power to judge. It is probably seen most frequently in the way that a parent treats a child, for children seem to go through life in a constant state of testing and suffering the consequences of those actions, and parents are thus forever responding with judgment that is tempered with mercy. Although it has many of the same characteristics, God’s mercy is much more significant than this. God sits in judgment of the life or death of every person, and He also possesses the final authority over the eternal disposition of our most essential selves in that aspect that we refer to as the soul.

 

Thus the sacrifice of Jesus was an act of ultimate mercy on the part of God so that every person who chooses to believe in Christ will be forgiven of all sin and escape the promised final judgment and sentence of death for the soul. In Christ we are set free. God’s mercy is an integral part of His nature and is an expression of His character. So, as we are new beings in Christ, we are transformed into people who manifest God’s nature and reflect His character. The grace that God has poured out on us is something that we possess in abundance to grant as His gift to our world, and it seems that mercy is an active expression of that grace.

 

So, back to the question of what is mercy? I think that it is much more than what we often first consider, for the mercy that God grants to us is very broad and applies to an incredibly wide range of acts and thoughts on our parts. All people deserve God’s judgment. We earn it with great ease as rebellion and defiance of God are our birth nature. Still, God pursues us in order to grant us His grace and tender His mercy to everyone who will respond to that loving effort. As I reflect upon God’s mercy as it is shown to me, I am led to seek His will for my response. I believe that Christ is telling me to be merciful. That is to be slow to judge and to grant grace to all. I am to love those who are unlovely to me, and I am to pursue to lost with that love so that they might see Christ.

 

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

Romans 12: 9

 

On the surface, this seems like a simple idea. Most people would accept it as valid. It is not connected to culture, history, or even to personal faith. Yet, the practice of living suggests that what is understood by the concepts of good and evil varies greatly among people, and what it means to love seems to change from time to time and from person to person with the sort of speed that a ceiling fan on high exhibits. Still, understanding love would seem to lead to grasping how to sort out good and evil so that good is embraced and evil is pushed away. But still, seemingly good intentioned people do evil deeds, and love that is all-consuming one day turns to animosity with the next dawn.

 

There would seem to be something amiss in the way that many of us are going about this thing that we can call loving. Perhaps we are confusing a passionate drive to please and to satisfy ourselves with love? Maybe it is time to carefully and prayerfully seek some sound and wise counsel on love and about entering into loving. I am suggesting that this world, our culture, and even the best of our personal experiences fall short in demonstrating and in promoting this form of love that is genuine; that is one that is real, unchanging, faithful, and all-encompassing. This is the love that God has for His creation. This is the love that Christ has demonstrated to us, and this is the love that is poured out upon us by the presence of Christ’s Spirit with us.

 

Christ’s love removes hate as it eliminates power and difference. This is a love that willingly sacrificed all in order to perfect its authority over all that is evil in this world. It is in this genuineness that Christ’s love enjoys this ultimate victory over evil and all of its ramifications. This is the love that Christ seeks for each of us to embrace so that we will think and act ever more like He did and as God wills for His people to do. Genuine love seeks to mend broken relationships, sets aside bias and fear in order to truly know people, clearly speaks truth with the intention to redeem that which is lost, and continually submits itself to Christ and to God’s word of truth. In these ways the genuine love that is Christ sets His people apart from our world and leads us to be defined by eternally formed good that we cling to with all of our being.

I am writing you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.

1 John 2: 12

 

This statement reflects one of the most basic and foundational truths of the Christian life. So, it should seem so very simple for someone like me to accept it totally and not have any times of wavering from this simple expression of fact. Yet, my attitudes and actions can suggest something else. For, in fact, there are times when I start to think about what I need to do or what it is that I am not doing in order to be fully engaged in my walk with Christ. This list too often leads to thoughts about tasks and accomplishments instead of focusing me back onto the reality of my unchangeable position in the eyes of God and onto my Savior.

 

It would appear that since John wrote this to my spiritual forefathers about two thousand years ago, I am a part of a very long line of people who have struggled with the fact that there is absolutely nothing that I need to continue to do in order to have my sins forgiven. In accepting the grace, love, and sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ, and allowing Him into my life, that forgiveness before God is finished. Therefore, everything that I do by way of serving God is done in thanks to Him and in order to bring glory, praise, and honor to Him.

 

In this idea, I find freedom, and through this thought, I find power. There is no need to be concerned over failure, no reason to be held down by doubt, and never a reason to believe that my efforts and actions are insufficient. As Christ paid the full price for my sinful nature, He has also freed me to engage loving Him by giving myself fully to serving the people that He loves so dearly. My sins are forgiven, what a wondrous joy! Now I am free of compulsion and set free to share the possibility of that same freedom with anyone who will listen.

 

Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13: 13

 

Faith, hope, and love existed on this earth through all of the years that came and went between creation and the birth of Jesus. People had faith in many things and in many gods; they also had faith in the one true God, Yahweh. They also hoped for much, and the followers of that one true God carried an enduring hope of His return and the freedom that it would bring. They loved much and expressed it passionately. They created great art to demonstrate those passions and they sang of love’s virtues and challenges much as we do today. Yet, that love was without its fullest expression and its greatest rendition. It, like faith and hope, was incomplete.

 

 

God did not intend to leave His creation in this incomplete state of being. He had finished the work once and He would move it along the path to finality through an act of total loving sacrifice. The God who carried absolute and total authority over the entire universe chose to enter into this world as the humble and powerless baby that was born into the oppressed Jewish culture of those days. Jesus left eternity and entered into our humanity. He joined with us and walked along our roads, and Christ knew our pain and shared in our struggles; then, He allowed us to torture and to crucify Him in order to complete God’s plan for our salvation.

 

This is a love beyond any other. The love that Jesus lived out is the human demonstration of the infinite love that the Father has for each and every one of the people on this earth. We all are His beloved children, and Christ came to save every one of us from the sin that separates us from God’s eternal presence. Because of God’s love, as carried to completed expression by Christ, we can have true and lasting faith in that one God, and we have hope for today that is based upon the real and tangible presence of Christ in our lives and in our world. Love is the gift of Christmas and faith and hope are its lasting legacy.

Merry Christmas!