I've noticed something about Christmas this year. There are a lot of people who are hurting through it. 'Joy to the World' gets belted out from radios, choirs, joyous individuals, and entire churches but as I look around, I notice something other than carefree enjoyment of carols, lights, and tinsel. I see pain and hurt in people's eyes. Perhaps it's because of the recent and growing occurrences of terror and hate that destroy lives. Perhaps it's because we are now so connected to every corner of the globe, we have come to actually realize that 99% of the world will wake up with no Christmas or running water or adequate shelter. Perhaps it is just because the more life I live, the more I see the hurt that inevitably comes with it.
Christmas is a time of joy. From the time we are children we are geared toward Christmas being a happy, jolly time of goodwill and peace on earth. Even that great song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day which at first decries the reality of there being any peace on earth eventually declares that yes, right WILL prevail. So what happens when that peace gets interrupted or hurt invades and pain, for the moment, prevails instead of joy? What do we do when it's hard to sing those familiar Christmas carols or wish someone a merry Christmas?
Cling. To. Christ. I think this is becoming my answer for everything these days. Just as in Sunday School where you learn that the answer is always "Jesus," so too, in life the answer is always this - cling to Christ. It is from Christ that we derive our hope and joy and peace and satisfaction and contentment and love. It is in Christ that we prevail through peace-destroying pain and walk on. It is in Christ that we live with pain and still weep tears of joy at the realization of just how good He is. It is in Christ that we must truly live and move and have our being. All else will fade or fail or break just as sure as the presents under the tree will tarnish and fade.
So this Christmas, whether you are in rapturous joy or walking your way through pain which life so often brings, take a few moments to pour out your heart to the One who makes a way for peace through pain and joy through trials. Take a moment and bow before that manger and let Him fill you with hope eternal. For hope eternal is why we celebrate Christmas at all.
A few weeks ago, I came across a Facebook post for veteran's day. It was a video which spoke of the devastatingly high rate of suicide among our returning vets. At the end of the video, the speaker made the point that we each need to be involved in the lives of vets we know. He maintained that it is personal contact, real-time encouragement, and love which helps those struggling to get through dark days. He wrapped up the short clip by declaring that he would intentionally reach out to veterans, stating, "I am my brother's keeper."
This statement rang out like a bell to me and resonated deeply. Whether that man is a Christian or not, he just hit on one of the most important truths in all of scripture - one which often goes willingly ignored or is simply brushed aside - the fact that we ALL are to be our "brother's keeper." Never in any verse of scripture are we told to "leave our brothers alone" or "let him/her do their own thing." Instead we are told that the ENTIRETY of the Law and Prophets is wrapped up in these two: 1. Love God. 2. Love others.
In John 20:21 Jesus says,"...as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you."
What did the Father send Jesus to do? Spread the gospel to all the world. Love others. Bind up the broken hearted. Heal. Cry with, mourn with, feel with. And ultimately die and rise again for the very people He so loved.
John 20:21 makes it very clear that we are to do the very same thing.
WE are to love others. WE are to cry with, mourn with, feel with. WE are to preach the good news. And WE are to die to ourselves that Christ might live through us in each of these actions. We are to be His hands and feet. We are to give hope to the hurting. We are to preach the gospel unashamedly for it is the only thing which can give any lasting hope, the promise of eternity spent with Christ.
The more I consider this concept, the more convicted I have become. Because really, how much do I love those around me? Oh, my friends, surely, but what do I do when I see a homeless person standing by a freeway off-ramp? How to I react to a downtrodden mother and child struggling to pay for their groceries? Do I even see them? Or do I pass right on by, on my way to the produce section?
I long to see with the eyes of Christ. I long to be moved with the compassion of the one who saw me and was willing to give His own life to save my soul. I long to be the hands and feet of Jesus because I guarantee you, if Jesus was driving my car and he saw a homeless woman by the side of the road, He'd probably go park, buy some hot chocolate, and walk over for a chat. Looking the other way isn't an option. He didn't look the other way when He saw me.
What really struck me about the "brother's keeper" video is the fact that this guy nailed the concept of loving your neighbor on the head. It takes action, time, and willingness to reach out. We need to be willing to love as Jesus loved. We need to be ready to help should the Lord bring someone in need across our path. Just as Jesus saw a hurting heart and reached out in love - so should we. Why? Because that is exactly what He sends us out to do!
People are dying, children are starving, thousands don't have water, thousands more are homeless. We are in the middle of a humanitarian aide crisis that is nearly unfathomable.
As I follow the news out of Iraq and Syria I can't help but think about the people I know personally who live in those lands. I can't help but think about the arid yet achingly beautiful desert landscape I traveled with strangers who became friends. I can't help but remember taking an afternoon to travel with my English students to an oasis where the men clambered into the river like a bunch of teenagers and the women eagerly served amazing traditional food.
When I lived in Kurdistan, I was just out of college and I probably wouldn't have been aware of trouble if it had crept up behind me and shouted "HERE I AM!" I didn't have to worry, though. My students, men and women college age and up, had my back. In fact, they had all of our backs. They wanted our team there. They appreciated the fact that we had come to teach them English. They wanted to know what we believed and eagerly listened when we offered them Hope. That is what I did in Kurdistan. I taught English and offered Hope. I will long remember that trip as a time of learning to live and give the hope and love of Jesus Christ.
Now people I knew, people I taught, people who literally ran interference to make sure we stayed safe... those people are running for their lives. With nothing. They are fleeing to refugee camps and countries that are as foreign to them as an In-N-Out burger. These people need our prayer. They need the practical hands-and-feet love of Jesus which will meet them in their time of need and cause them to be warm and filled. They need the eternal hope of the gospel. They need us - that's right - us, individuals like you and me. Just as we are needed to be a daily light that shines the gospel to everyone around us, so we are needed to pray for those suffering in this world. We are needed to partner with and uphold them. We are needed to encourage our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who face persecution.
If this blog does nothing else today, please let it encourage you to pray. Pray for the displaced thousands fleeing persecution in Iraq. Pray for those who have no lasting Hope and ask that they would be introduced to our loving Savior. Pray for the aide workers and missionaries who are in hostile lands seeking to live out the great commission amidst circumstances I can only imagine. It is neither my plight nor my calling today to face down persecution and declare my love for Jesus at the point of a gun. But it is for the people in ISIS controlled territories. So please fellow Christian, be upon your knees and pray for these... these persecuted, these hopeless, these homeless, these fellow brothers and sisters who need courage and faith and boldness to stand firm in their love for Christ. Please... pray for these.
Sometimes it seems as if the world is hurtling to its doom and destruction. If one were to look merely at circumstances reported by the nightly news, there should be no hope for the human race. But I know better.
In the midst of ISIS trying to take over the world, Ebola outbreaks in the US, a dear friend fleeing her mission field with a forced evacuation, terror threats on home soil, a seemingly ceaseless debasement of our moral fiber, ill morals and blatant untruths being taught in our school system... in the midst of all this... Jesus.
Jesus is holding back the world from utterly crumbling into destruction. Jesus is reaching through the vastly encroaching darkness to bring light with the glorious hope of the gospel. Jesus is standing beside the displaced missionary letting them know He has a plan and it will work for their good and His glory. After all, the darkest moment in history of Christ's death on the cross brought the most glorious light and hope the world has ever known. And that is why through the midst of tragic events and a seemingly uncertain future, I can rejoice - for my future is secure!
I am secure in Christ and the hope of eternal life spent with Him. I am secure in knowing He has taken every single one of my sins, nailed them to the cross, and has washed me clean! No matter what may occur, of this I am sure, my life is hid with God in Christ Jesus. Oh what salvation! What marvelous grace! That my Savior would die for me, take the dreadful punishment I so righty deserve, to set me free from the bondage of death - for only the price of belief! What mercy!
And so, in looking around me, I say with the prophet, 'Come quickly Lord Jesus' and in waiting until He does I will follow His instructions and 'put my hand to the plow, not looking back' and will 'occupy until He comes.' May He find me hard at work for the spread of His Kingdom until the day that trumpet blows!