The Gift of Christmas

giftWe live in a broken world.

Because we have rejected the idea that there can be one authoritative measure of good and evil that governs everyone, we live in a belief that it is up to each individual or group of individuals to decide for themselves what is right and wrong.  You decide what is right and true for you and I’ll decide what is right and true for me and, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, who is to say which is correct?  “Judge not” has been translated to mean that no one should impose their view of right and wrong onto anyone else.

This is nothing new.  Judges 17:6b says, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

All is fine and all is good until someone speaks up about what they believe.  If that statement goes against what someone else believes, especially to the extent of calling something a sin that they want to believe is good and acceptable behavior – then justice must be served.

As humans we want justice.  Justice is good.  Justice is right.  If others don’t believe what we believe, then, at a minimum, they should mind their own business and keep quiet about it.  If they don’t, then they should be punished, justice must be served.  How dare they speak-up.  They and their kind have just as many things they do wrong, probably more.  What right do they have to call our way of life a sin?  We seek justice.

But who is to be the judge over justice?  Is it popular opinion?  Is it others who hold the same world view that I have or you have?  If there is no universal right or wrong, then who can judge?  And if we are really truthful with ourselves, who of us is qualified to cast the proverbial first stone?  Even when we make our own definitions of right and wrong, we still don’t live within those bounds consistently.  We lie, we cheat, we steal, we do what we should and don’t do what we should.  We lack discipline, and even when we do the things we think are right and good, we could still do the acts more or better or more often.

Before there can be justice, then, there must be forgiveness.  Before I can seek justice for you, I must face it for myself.  Justice would bring to light how I measure up to my beliefs of right and wrong.  Justice cannot be on a sliding scale or curve.  It cannot be a measure of am I doing better or worse than the average – no matter how much I would like for it to be otherwise.  We learned this is grade school science.  While you may find thousands of things to support a theorem, it takes only 1 thing to show it as invalid.  To be able to face justice, requires my own wrongs are erased.  Against that scale, the only truly just scale, we are all guilty and in need of forgiveness.

And, that is why a baby was born of a virgin in Bethlehem.  That is why we celebrate His birth to this day.

As I read the gospels, I am struck by the number of time Jesus gave forgiveness.  He healed, He performed miracles, He taught, He lived and died and rose again.  But through every part of it, He forgave.  That is the gift.  In John 12:47b Jesus said, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”  That doesn’t mean He won’t be the ultimate judge, but the purpose of His birth was one of salvation, of forgiveness.

That is the gift.

Over and over again during the past weeks I have heard people make comments about “the real meaning of Christmas.”  I’ve heard people talk about giving to others, I’ve heard people talk about coming together with family and friends, I’ve heard people talking about caring for and giving to those less fortunate and in need.  Obviously, none of those things are bad and we can and should do them at Christmas and throughout the year.  But the real meaning of Christmas is not in giving gifts but in receiving a gift.  The gift of forgiveness.

It is not forced on us, it is a gift.  We can accept or reject it.  Accepting forgiveness, however, means accepting the fact that the wrongs in our life are wrong.  If we insist that our way of life is not a sin, then we cannot accept forgiveness.  This, of course, is a gamble because rejecting forgiveness wagers that our discernment of right and wrong trumps that of the one offering forgiveness.

But, there are also two ways of accepting the gift.  One is to take it, unwrapped and put it on the shelf.  The gift is claimed.  But the recipient doesn’t change.  They continue living their life the way they want, using their own judgment and their own moral compass.  They point to the gift and use it to justify the way they want to live or to condemn the way others live, but there is no life change.  This is, unfortunately, an all too common approach.  It is hypocrisy.  It is self-serving.

But opening the gift and truly accepting it is different.  In a sense, it is similar to consuming the gift, to taking it into you.  This doesn’t mean that the gift becomes a part of you, but, instead, you become a part of the gift.  Forgiveness isn’t something in you, you become part of the forgiven.  You take on a new identity.  You become a follower of the forgiver.  Your life is no longer about you.  Why then would anyone accept the gift?

For one simple reason, justice requires forgiveness and forgiveness requires accepting I am not perfect so I should not be the object of anyone’s worship, not even my own.

This gift of forgiveness is the only thing available to us that is truly right and good.  It is not my opinion of right, nor is it your opinion.  It is not my or your opinion of good.  It is simply truth.  Why?  Because it is a gift.  It isn’t sold or purchased; it is the only thing that isn’t given with any expectation of anything as payment.  We don’t change to receive forgiveness, we change because we are forgiven.  It is the first step on the path to real justice.

But being among the forgiven is huge.  Being forgiven gives us the right and power to forgive.  Being confident of our identity, gives us the freedom and power to love and serve.  Being cared for and loved is the path to being something more that we are, because we have confidence in what is good and right and have no fear of repercussion.  Without the confidence of forgiveness, we must look out for ourselves, for me, for number 1.  But with the confidence, we can set that aside and put others first.  This doesn’t mean we become perfect, but it does mean we desire to become that way, not for our own honor but for that of the one who has forgiven us.

So as we look at the true meaning of Christmas, how differently would we act and behave if we start with forgiveness?  What if, before seeking righteous judgment upon others, we first start by forgiving them?  How different would we behave if we counted ourselves among the forgiven?  In whom would we invest?  To whom would we show love and forgiveness?  Who would we help and serve?

What if, instead of using justice as a hammer to beat others into submission, we take it upon ourselves to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humblywith God?

We can make the choice this Christmas.  We can focus on the temporary things of the season: the hustle and bustle, the stress of material gifts, the attempt to find joy and happiness in nostalgia.  Or, we can focus on fully accepting this miraculous gift and living as one of the forgiven?  Your choice.

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07.4 BSF Matthew Week 7, Day 4

Today’s Scripture

My Daily Journal:

I wouldn’t call it a treasure, but it is definitely something people hold on to, sometimes even to the grave.  Call it righteous indignation, personal justice, the need to get even, to get back, to set the record straight.  It is ugly, but it is also very, very human.

I know “christians” who have said of a family member, “I will never forgive them.  What they did was beyond forgiveness.”  But Jesus teaches that our forgiveness is conditional.  We are forgiven as we forgive.  And if we do not forgive others, then we will not be forgiven.  We may try to justify it and claim what they did was worse than what we do.  But, I don’t see that covered in these words of our Lord.  Either forgive or forfeit your own forgiveness.  It is another of those “free choices” we get to make.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning their behavior.  It doesn’t even necessarily mean reconciliation.  It simply means that we no longer hold their transgression against them and, I believe, pray that God turn them back to Him.  This is hard.

It brings to mind the book, Amish Grace, How Forgiveness Transcends Tragedy.  If you haven’t read it, here is the synopsis from Amazon:

On Monday morning, October 2, 2006, a gunman entered a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. In front of twenty-five horrified pupils, thirty-two-year-old Charles Roberts ordered the boys and the teacher to leave. After tying the legs of the ten remaining girls, Roberts prepared to shoot them execution style with an automatic rifle and four hundred rounds of ammunition that he brought for the task. The oldest hostage, a thirteen-year-old, begged Roberts to “shoot me first and let the little ones go.” Refusing her offer, he opened fire on all of them, killing five and leaving the others critically wounded. He then shot himself as police stormed the building. His motivation? “I’m angry at God for taking my little daughter,” he told the children before the massacre.

The story captured the attention of broadcast and print media in the United States and around the world. By Tuesday morning some fifty television crews had clogged the small village of Nickel Mines, staying for five days until the killer and the killed were buried. The blood was barely dry on the schoolhouse floor when Amish parents brought words of forgiveness to the family of the one who had slain their children.

The outside world was incredulous that such forgiveness could be offered so quickly for such a heinous crime. Of the hundreds of media queries that the authors received about the shooting, questions about forgiveness rose to the top. Forgiveness, in fact, eclipsed the tragic story, trumping the violence and arresting the world’s attention.

Within a week of the murders, Amish forgiveness was a central theme in more than 2,400 news stories around the world. The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, NBC Nightly News, CBS Morning News, Larry King Live, Fox News, Oprah, and dozens of other media outlets heralded the forgiving Amish. From the Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates) to Australian television, international media were opining on Amish forgiveness. Three weeks after the shooting, “Amish forgiveness” had appeared in 2,900 news stories worldwide and on 534,000 web sites.

Fresh from the funerals where they had buried their own children, grieving Amish families accounted for half of the seventy-five people who attended the killer’s burial. Roberts’ widow was deeply moved by their presence as Amish families greeted her and her three children. The forgiveness went beyond talk and graveside presence: the Amish also supported a fund for the shooter’s family.

This is the light and salt we are called to be as Christians.  Impossibly difficult? Without God’s help it would be impossible.

My Answers:

9.
a.
money, possessions, friends, minions, praise, name…. None of these last past death.  Time spent teaching is never lost. Time spent loving others in God’s name survives all.

b.
Honor of God, Disciples brought to Him and/or trained.  Love invested in others for His sake.  Light and Salt.

c.
Psalm:Law from your mouth is more precious that silver and gold
Luke:Do not store up riches for yourself on earth, but store up riches in heaven
1 Cor:God’s preparations are greater than anything we have experienced or can imagine
2 Cor:What is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal
Phil:On knowing Christ, everything else is as garbage
1 Pete:inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade

10.
a.
It is their addiction.  What they put above everything else.  Our “talents” are minutes on this earth, given to us to invest.  Spending that time in meaningless self accumulation is not an investment

b.
I serve the Lord.  I seek to reflect His light in all aspects of my life.  I struggle and sin, but I put my trust in Him

c.
Fear.  I know I need to trust in Him unyielding in all aspects of my life, but I fear I am missing something or letting something drop, not living up to expectations, not doing enough

11.
Sin so often begins with where our eyes go.  Eve “saw that it was good”.  What we allow our eyes to see is then in us.  If we fill our senses with Godly things, then Godly things fill our life

BSF Genesis: Week 31, Day 4

Today’s Scriptures

Questions:

8.
a.
Worried that with Jacob dead Joseph would turn and payback for the wrongs they did to him.  So, they sent word (lie?) that Jacob told him to forgive them – Joseph wept and told them to not be afraid, he would not judge them but instead would provide for them and their children.  He reassured them and spoke kindly to them

b.
Wept.  Received them.  Spoke reasuring words to them

c.
God works all to His good.  No matter what, God is in control

9.
a.
1 John 1:9, if we confess our sins he will forgive us & purify us, Eph 1:7 in him we have redemption… the forgiveness of sins John 6:1-14 Christ provides (feeding 5000) John 14:2, my Father’s house has many rooms. Luke 23:43 today paradise

b.
confession, repententance, grateful acceptance of the gift of grace

c.
As an earthly father and teacher I try to protect and provide for my family and those in my care.  I teach them through words and modeling biblical values, worship and confession.

10.
a.
To save Israel from itself, from its sinful past, from intermarriage with canaanites and from famine

b. (Note: I answered this challenge question in light of what the bible says disciples of Christ are called to do):
2Tim 2:15, learn his word, 1 peter 5:7 pray, Eph 5:22-6:4 serve each other as family, Col 3:18 do all work for God, Acts 20:35 help the weak, more blessed to give, Act 8:4 preach the word wherever you go

My Daily Journal:

This was one of my favorite sections of our study this week.  After Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers get afraid.  They decide to take the approach with their brother that I’ve seen my own kid’s take.  They decided to “play the Dad card.”  “Dad said you have to forgive us…”

But Joseph’s response was amazing.  In response to the Dad card, Joseph plays the Big Dad card.  Instead of stepping into the middle of things and giving his own forgiveness, Joseph redirects them to God.  Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  God has already used everything you did for His good.  What is there to forgive that hasn’t been forgiven?  Don’t be afraid.

His brothers sought simply get out of the hole they had dug for themselves. Joseph doesn’t just bring them back to where they were before, but he elevates them.  He doesn’t just say I won’t punish you.  He says I will take care of you and provide for you and your children.  What a model and reflection of our loving God!  When we dig ourselves into a hole, we repent and ask Him to help us get out of the hole.  Instead of just restoring us, he lifts us up to a better place, a place in His kingdom, and eternal home.

On the flip side of this is the lesson and reminder of just how difficult it is for us, like Joseph’s brothers, to accept forgiveness.  We repent, we ask God to forgive us and He does.  But we don’t.  Instead of learning from and moving on, we keep reliving our past transgressions.  Instead of leaving them at the foot of the cross, we keep going back and picking them up, only to repent of them again and again.  But, God really does forgive.  Psalm 103:12 says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”  This is a challenge for me.  I’m one who, while I know God has forgiven me, I haven’t always forgiven myself, and that baggage can hinder my ability to move forward into the sanctification to which I (like all believers) am called.  That is one of the reasons this was such a powerful and personal lesson to me.