Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Prisoner of Love

When I think of Jesus’s physical birth and how God could have arranged the birth anywhere and in any setting, it speaks of “humility” right off the bat. God purposely chose such humble beginnings (a young, poor couple as parents and a dirty, stinky stable for the location) as the opening scene in the greatest love story ever told. Fast-forward to the final scene of Jesus’ natural life and you see Him being treated as the worst of criminals. He was spat upon, beaten and flogged beyond recognition, yet He was completely innocent. Jesus was a prisoner of love, by His choice, and He even chose to forgive every single person who mistreated Him.

Corrie Ten Boom was a prisoner of love, too. She was an amazing Christian woman who survived extreme brutality in a German concentration camp. Corrie and her family were arrested after having rescued many Jews from certain death during the Nazi Holocaust. I have seen a quote by her twice in the past few days: "Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you." It led me to revisit her book, The Hiding Place, and an excerpt that revealed how God miraculously changed her hardened heart. You may have heard this specific story, too, about when she spoke at a church service in Munich and was confronted by a former guard from Ravensbruck. As soon as she saw him, the memories of the horrible mistreatment came flooding back.

The guard approached Corrie, following her message about forgiveness, to thank her, adding, “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”

When he thrust his hand out to shake hers, Corrie kept her hand at her side. Even though she had preached so often about the need to forgive, angry thoughts coursed through her veins. Immediately, however, she saw the sin of her own unforgiveness and realized, “Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.”

As she took his hand an amazing thing happened. Beginning in her shoulder and running down her arm, a current of love seemed to pass from her to him. It was of such intensity that it almost overcame her.

Then Corrie wrote two amazing sentences: “And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

This Christmas season, allow God to change your heart. Instead of being a prisoner to hatred and unforgiveness, allow God, through the power of Jesus Christ, to make you a prisoner of love. You can forgive those who have wronged you. It is the greatest gift you can give yourself. In exchange, you will receive the priceless gifts of peace, joy and love.

“If you forgive people their sins, your Father in heaven will forgive your sins also,” (Matthew 6:14).

In awe of His love,

Friday, December 9, 2011

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

One of my favorite Christmas songs is, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. I can be grouchy, tired, hungry, whatever, and then that song comes on and suddenly I’m energized and happy. The lyrics and upbeat music remind me of everything good in this world. Images of cheerful visits with close friends and eating warm toasty marshmallows, or caroling out in the snow, can’t help but put a smile on my face.

There are some lyrics in that song that touch on the true meaning of Christmas, yet we usually skim over them: “tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago”. These words refer to Jesus’ glorious birth, more than 2,000 years ago.

Go back with me, for just a moment, to that night. Imagine you are one of several shepherds, sprawled out on the hillside in the dark with your sheep. You are softly chatting with each other in an attempt to stay awake and alert to a hungry wolf or a prowling thief. Suddenly, the sky changes and a “being” appears engulfed in a luminous glow. This radiant angel tells you not to be afraid, (yeah, right) and proceeds to give you a message. You are barely able to breathe, and dare not blink, suddenly extremely grateful for the other shepherds nearby. As the angel begins to speak it slowly dawns on you…this message is not bad news. Rather, it’s the extreme opposite; the fulfillment of prophecy spoken hundreds of years ago:

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger,” (Luke 2: 10-12).

Still staring in awe-struck wonder at this angel before you, you struggle to comprehend his wonderful message that the long awaited Messiah is here. When, suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests,” (Luke 2:13-14).

No one knows how many a great company of the heavenly host is, but we can be sure it was a whole bunch. Battalion after battalion lit up the night sky; their shouts and acclamations of praise bounced off the hills and filled the valleys. If you could have moved your feet, you would have seen that you were surrounded by them.

Goosebumps continually rolled over your skin and the hair on the back of your neck seemed to stand at attention as you became immersed in their praises, “Glory to God in the highest!”

Moments later, with your head back and your jaw still hanging open, you witnessed the last angel disappear up into heaven as the sky become dark again. For a few seconds, no one moves or speaks. And then… everyone speaks at once, reliving and replaying the event over and over again. Without asking each other, it was agreed to head straight to Bethlehem so you could “see this thing the Lord had told you about” (Luke 2:15).

When you arrive in Bethlehem you find Mary and Joseph. You quickly look down, and behold… the baby lying in the manger… just as you were told.

You tell everyone you know, day after day, of this heavenly announcement, until gradually the story evolves into a yearly celebration. Even when you are elderly, your face still lights up when you relive the story…making that anniversary celebration truly the most wonderful time of the year!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16).

In His Love,
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