Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Christmas Letter

“[All] are justified and made upright and in right standing with God, freely and gratuitously by His grace (His unmerited favor and mercy), through the redemption which is [provided] in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:24

It took me forty years to grasp that truth about myself. Forty years to fully accept that there is nothing I can do to redeem myself. No amount of guilt, sacrifice, grief, or self-pity could make me any more acceptable to an almighty and perfect God. It wasn’t a visible change of heart nor a “revelation” of any kind. I just realized one day that I didn’t worry about my past anymore. I was no longer dragging junk back to God to fix. I just knew it was done. I knew this in my head, long before I allowed myself to accept it. But after forty years, I understand.

Now as my forty-first year comes to a close, I want to tell you of a new lesson I have learned. 2006 has most definitely been the most revealing year for me. Not that I learned so much in that one year, but that it was a relatively quick lesson. After forty years of learning about grace so that I could accept it myself, I learned this year, just one year, to extend that grace to others.

Many of you know of my trip to Indiana this summer to an Exodus Intl. Conference. And some of you know what led up to it. I won’t go into all of that here, but I will gladly share the story with you. Looking back I realize that even though changes were being wrought in me without my knowing it, all along. It wasn’t that long ago when I would have been on the “boycott this”, “rally against that” bandwagon. I firmly believed that we had a “Christian right” to demand that everyone fall into our moral box. Well, I was shaken like a Christmas globe in those beliefs this year.

First it was a movie (The End of The Spear-if you haven’t seen it, DO, better yet, get the book) and a subsequent boycott, then it was an e-mail box full of encouraging messages, then a man named Richard, a miracle of provision, and a church turned upside down. What a ride. I found myself, at times, preaching about things I didn’t even know I had in me. Afterward I found myself digging into scripture cause I wasn’t sure where the sermon had come from. I was actually afraid I had spoken something I knew nothing about, but it must have been God speaking through me. Not only was it confirmed, but it was like my eyes and heart were bursting open and seeing things for the first time.

All through history, God’s story has been woven together. You can pick up parts of the story here and there and see where they tie in hundreds of years later. For the first four thousand years, everything that happened was to prepare the way and lead up to the birth of Christ. It is fascinating to look at the Bible in that way and to realize that each and every word in it has a purpose. It is so intertwined in God’s plan that sometimes it takes quite a bit of digging to find the connections. But they are there.

In our homeschool studies, we have learned that Bible scholars place the earth around 6000 years. We have seen how the genealogies from different cultures, Kings lists, the table of Nations, and even archeology (though you will never hear about it) all seems to confirm this and even, according to Bishop Ussher, points to an exact date and time of the beginning of earth. We also learned that according to Jewish custom, forty years is a generation. If you think of it that way and do the math, there are only 150 generations of man! Only 50 something generations since the time of Christ! That puts things into a new perspective doesn’t it? The earth really isn’t all that old.

During that time, you don’t see God’s people having the freedom to serve God as freely as we have had in the last 230 years. Never once did Jesus say that to follow him would mean we had a right to anything but persecution. Even in the Old Testament, the followers of God were not guaranteed an easy life. The children of Abraham had to tow the line in order to receive the blessings of God. There was always someone waiting throughout Israel’s history to take advantage of the hand of God being removed. Christians in the New Testament and beyond have always suffered discrimination and outright persecution.

Yet somehow, in the last 230 years, we have gained a sense of entitlement. Instead of Christians being persecuted, we have become the persecutors. While I firmly believe that as Americans, we do have the right to worship who and how we want, as a Christian, I am guaranteed nothing but hatred and mistreatment while on this earth, and yet I see Christians (I am just as guilty as the next) showing hatred and contempt towards the very people Jesus came to save. He said to go and preach the gospel to ALL the world. Not only do we withhold it from those with certain sins, but when did the gospel become a message of damnation and hopelessness, hellfire and brimstone?

Now, we all know that Jesus wasn’t really born on Dec. 25. It’s just a day that was a traditional holiday for the pagan people that the Roman Emperor Constantine put a Christian label on in an effort to make everyone happy while trying to make everyone “Christian”. But it serves to remind us of the sacrifice our Lord, the God of the Universe, made for us. He put on this earthly skin to be like us. He became a man. I can’t begin to fathom that. I can’t grasp what kind of love it took, knowing he would be beaten and brutally put to death, to take on that form and enter this world.

The heavens couldn’t even contain the joy of that event and shouted out in the form of a star. Angels appears to lowly men and shared their joy. What a concert that must have been! I get chills when I hear a human choir, I can only try to imagine what those angels, in all their splendor, must have sounded like. Our Creator, the one who threw the stars in space and with a word, brought our world into existence, became one of us with the sole purpose of spilling his blood! His only reason for doing so…He wants us to be with Him! He loves us that much! None of us deserve to be in the presence of the Almighty God. Not a single one of us! We are all sinners. God does not see one sin greater than another. There is NOTHING we can do to deserve to be with Him. Yet we have that hope. Having accepted the gift of his sacrifice, we will be with Him. No, not everyone will accept His gift, but we were commanded to extend that offer to the world. There is not one sin that makes a person unworthy of the offer. Not one. And the offer stands till the day they die. We should never withhold what we ourselves have been given.

I leave you with one final thought for Christmas.

Share Him with the world!

May you experience the gift of knowing the Savior, and may you be blessed in 2007! We love you all!

And may the Lord come Quickly!
Maran atha!