2016 has been a challenging year. In my family we experienced loss on both sides, first with the passing of my grandfather in March, and then with the sudden passing of my father-in-law in November.
I'm no stranger to death - I lost both my grandmothers while still in my teens, - but this year it was different. Now that I'm older, I feel each loss in new and varied ways. One positive difference is that I'm now a Christian and have hope that I will see my loved ones again one day.
I admit, though, it was hard to get in the spirit as Christmas grew closer; I can't remember a Christmas when my heart was so heavy. This past Wednesday I attended a service at First Methodist Katy specifically for people like me and my family who are grieving during the holidays. The service was a blessing in itself, but what resonated with me most was this verse from the Gospel of John:
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:5)
Though this year has been full of shadows, I'm still here, and I still see the light. Praise God, and merry Christmas!
Written by Whitney
“Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.’”
Which one of these things doesn’t look like the others?
Jesus teaches the greatest commandment of all is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37), which doesn’t seem to leave room for lots of other stuff. So love Him like a combo meal #2 with cheese and jalapeños? See the tragedy here? The Greeks got this one right. Back then, they had 6 words for what we translate today as “love,” and all 6 have different meanings.
For God so loved (agapao) the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Well, not exactly. The Greek word translated as “love” here is “phileó,” not “agape.” “Phileo” is a sense of brotherhood and close friendship; it’s where the name Philadelphia comes from. In addition to showing our love for Him through action and sacrifice, He wants us to have an intimate friendship with Him. See what I mean when I say the Greeks had it right?
Still think “love” is enough to encompass these verses? Consider the Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 6:5 for love: “aheb.” About “aheb” the Jewish Publication Society says, “the paradox of commanding a feeling is resolved with the recognition that covenantal ‘love’ does not refer to internal sentiment or to private emotion. The focus is instead upon loyalty of action toward both deity and neighbor.” Hhmmm…sounds just like “agapao.”
It seems as though the more we get to know Him the more we learn that He delights in obedience (1 Samuel 15:22-23)! Jesus says that if we love (“agapao”) Him, we would keep His commandments (John 14:15).
We’ve all sat in a meeting/class/small group that felt like you needed to just get up and do something rather than talk anymore. You’ve talked and talked and talked and by the end of it...your head is numb.
Often those meetings have another side effect: numb legs. If I sit for too long, my legs go to sleep and my lower back feels numb. The worst part is when you attempt to stand up and walk it out. You try to get up and walk only to have that horrible tingly feeling all over as you wobble around until your legs are normal again.
This is true in other areas of life as well. I can sit all day reading on social media or news websites about what is going on in the world: the hurts, struggles, and disasters. As I read, it may stir something in me, but the longer I sit there and mine down into the internet abyss, the more it becomes just another story about something happening somewhere that is kinda sad. I've become numb.
If there’s one emotion that is the opposite of numb, it’s love. When you’re “in love,” you are overwhelmed with emotion. When you’re compelled by love, you live passionately. When you see a loving act, it moves your soul. Love is the antithesis of apathy. In fact, some acts of love can radically change your world in a moment.
Hundreds of students and teachers from many faiths, races, and varying backgrounds joined together.They laid on the ground showing with their bodies and voices that they laid down their lives to lift up the lives of those who were experiencing injustice. Jesus’ words in John 15:13 rattled in my head...
I watched and was moved to tears.
I can’t tell you all the emotions I felt at that moment, but as I watched, my heart broke. It broke for my fellow brothers and sisters who have been told their lives are not quite as equal as other lives. It broke because I realized my apathy for so long was part of the injustice.
My mind had been numbed for so long, but now as I watched and eventually joined in raising my voice with them, I was being awakened by loved. Like when your legs wake up, it was awkward and it tingled, but as I began to let my heart be changed by their love, the numbness fell away and I was able to begin to move and act in love with them.
My hope for you reading this is that you would get up, work out those awkward first steps, and go where love compels you to go. If you can get up and engage into the world, it will change things. It can be awkward and hard as your legs tingle and you wobble around until feeling is restored, but it will wear off and you’ll be able to move forward once again.
Remember that golf game I mentioned back in September? It all started back in Denver, where I had completed the transformation into the man that God never intended me to be. Looking back on the events in my life, I can now see God’s hands in it all.
After Denver I detoured through Nashville to Houston to find myself in Katy, Texas. I picked up a wife along the way and a mighty-fine golf swing if you ask me. This is key: ask me, not the guys that I played with regularly on Sunday mornings. That’s right, Sunday mornings!
The moment I found this great Sunday school teacher that taught about the God of the Bible things began to happen in my life that I resisted. Jesus may not have been causing them, but He sure was using them to draw me in.
And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.
If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also…
Maybe I hit the ground too hard. Or maybe the club was already damaged. Regardless, when I swung that 3 wood, the club head went whirling through the air at 100 mph right over my buddy's head, missing him by inches.
Utterly distraught, I had a revelation on the golf course that Sunday morning: the old me was fighting a losing battle because the new me wanted to be a true follower of Jesus. I dropped golf that day as if I had never played and did it joyfully. I then developed a thirst and a hunger for God and His words, which I read and meditate on daily, and no round of golf - no pleasure this world has to offer - could ever make me regret it!
I’m sure that special gift was nice, but the reason it was extra special had to do with something other than the actual gift. I bet the reason (the why) for the gift was more meaningful than the gift (the what) because of who gave it to you or why they gave it to you.
The opposite is true as well. Even a good gift, given with no love, can leave us feeling sour. I think that’s because when it comes to giving and receiving gifts, “the why” behind the gift always matters more than “the what.”
This time of year it’s easy to let “the what” replace “the why.” We hang lights. We go to parties. We give gifts. But when Christmas becomes more about the lights, parties, and presents, it begins to lose its magic.
So what’s “the why”? Well for me it’s captured quite well in a popular verse: John 3:16.
Have you ever received a compliment that really mattered to you? It’s one thing to hear a compliment from an acquaintance, but another to hear it from someone near and dear. When a parent, coach, spouse, or deeply respected peer says “good job,” it echoes in our souls longer.
In the New Testament, God is described as Heavenly Father - the perfect parent. The one who cares for us deeper than we can imagine. The one who cries when we cry. The one who celebrates when we succeed. The one offering a hand and some hope when we fall down.
The gift of Christmas begins with the quality of the one giving - God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave”
If the person giving wasn’t enough, the reason for God’s gift should be. Giving and generosity are at the heart of what it means to celebrate the arrival of Jesus. God gave because God loves. And it's not just a general love, but a personal one -
for the world.
A friend once carved for me a personalized walking stick (sounds weird, but it was really cool). All over this walking stick were my favorite verses and other tidbits that had been carved by hand. Partly I loved the gift itself, but mostly I loved that my friend took the time to make the gift. Over a decade later I can still look at that walking stick and feel the echo of being loved in my soul.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”*
The truth is God could have given anything and it would’ve been great because of who gave it and why it was given. The amazing thing about Christmas is it combines the greatest of all three: the who, the why, and the what. The person behind the gift is a Heavenly Father desperately in love with the world he created. The reason behind the gift is the very love driving the Father to give all he can to what he loves. And of course, the gift itself - a Son sent to redeem the world.
It’s hard to say “the what” in this scenario outweighs “the why” because it’s “the why” of Christmas that makes “the what” so special. Even still, it’s one incredible gift!
*The rest of this verse is quite good as well - worth a read.
The 12:12 Project is sponsored by Katy First United Methodist Church.
Book Of Mark
Favorite Bible Verses
Fruits Of The Spirit
Gratitude & Generosity
Love In Action
Series On Matthew 22:36 40
Walking By Faith