Gift giving is a wonderful aspect of Christmas. We love to give surprises. We love to give something that a family member will enjoy or need. We love the smile on their faces at they tear into the gift. Typically at Christmas, we see this concept of balance take place. You give me a gift, I'll return the favor. We even go to great lengths to make sure we're not in a situation where someone gives us a gift and we have nothing ready to give back. I know someone who always has gift cards on the ready just in case someone brings a surprise gift that they weren't expecting to receive. If it happens, they simply go to their stash, pull out a card and have it ready to go for them.
Let's be honest—at Christmas we long for there to be balance when it comes to gift giving. We don't like it when someone gives us a gift and we don't have anything for them. Otherwise it will feel like we owe them something.
Christmas deals with this idea of balance. At Christmas we see that God threw out the scales. He didn't seek balance in what he gave. In fact, there's no scale on which you could place God's gift to us. God gave everything, we gave nothing. He didn't want it to be even first. God didn't measure the scales and then decide to give. Rather, he gave his Son without blinking—without any reservation or second guessing. God gave us his very best and refused to let our actions determine his action.
We're told in John 3:16, "God so loved the world that he gave his Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life."
God loved, so God gave for everyone.
Our response to this generous act of God? It's not to get him a gift—remember there's no scale. You couldn't afford it anyway. Rather, our response ought to be to love as God loved. To love in such a way that the scales are thrown out. To love people without reserve, or without expecting the favor to be returned.
Who is difficult for you to love? In other words, who do you find challenging to love because they rarely (if ever) pay back your love? You could be like everyone else—measured, balanced, and transactional— or you could be more like God, who throw away the need for balance. What if this Christmas you said, "I'm going to love them no matter how they respond." Even if nothing in them changed, at the very least, it may just be you.
Have a blessed week!
During the third week of Advent, we focus on the theme of joy. Joy does not come to us from the absence of pain and sorrow. Rather joy is a practice—something we choose to develop in our lives over time. And the question we often wrestle with is how do we live in such a way that our joy knows no bounds in spite of the troubles we experience? How do we hold sorrow in one hand and joy in the other hand?
The Apostle Paul knew how. And to begin, we must first acknowledge that Paul refused to deny or ignore the problems and troubles that he endured. In his letters he regularly mentioned his troubles. He would reference his chains in prison (Philippians 1:7) or a thorn in his flesh, a messenger from Satan (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul understood something crucial: that even though _____ was happening, joy could be found. Even though Paul was locked up in prison for no crime, joy could be found. Even though his plans did not pan out, there was joy. Even though relationships didn't turn out the way he'd hoped, there was cause for joy.
Paul understood there was a bigger picture, and that often when he couldn't make sense of the picture, he would need to look at it from a different angle. Much like an image zoomed in so close that we can't see what it is until we zoom back out—Paul would regularly need to zoom out to see how God was working. For example, when he was in prison, he refused to let that keep him from sharing the gospel. In fact, he essentially said in Philippians 1:12-13, "I'm not chained to this prison or these palace guards. No! They are chained to me! And now I have a captive audience." As a result, those tasked with guarding him heard the gospel—and many of them responded in faith.
And so, he challenges you and me to live the same way. In Philippians 1:27 he says, "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worth of the gospel of Christ." In other words, if you sense the problems rising, or the sorrow overwhelming, how should you act? In a way that will be worthy of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
You see, Jesus is our example in this matter—who "for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus knew pain and sorrow—yet he could see joy as he endured and persevered through it. Jesus is our example of someone who knew both joy and sorrow.
My challenge for you this week: Ask yourself what is my worthy action today? When you're facing a difficult situation—one filled with pain, uncertainty, or sorrow—what would Christ have you do? Remember joy is a practice or habit that we take on and develop. Advent reminds us of the joy that comes through Christ.
Here are some questions for reflection:
Have a blessed week!
During the second week of Advent, we focus on the theme of peace—something our world desperately needs.
Peace is not just the absence of problems. Peace is also the presence of a redeemer who makes us whole. In other words, Christ is at work in our lives, making us whole, as we were intended to be.
What's amazing about this work of Christ is he begins by offering us peace with God. Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." When we place our trust in Christ, our relationship with God is made right. Trusting in Christ means that we are not only saved from our sins. We are also given Christ's righteousness. Our sin has been undoing everything God wanted to have happen. The death and resurrection of Christ reverses that destructive path, and begins to make all things new or whole or as they were meant to be. We have peace with God.
Additionally, we are given the same peace that we see in Jesus throughout the Gospels. Jesus says in John 14:27, "Peace I leave; my peace I give you." We can have the same peace that was in Jesus during the storm on the boat when the disciples were afraid for their lives. It's the same peace we see in Jesus when the Pharisees tried to trap him in saying something wrong. The same peace we see when the crowds pressed in on Jesus and brought their sick, lame, deaf, and mute. That's the peace Jesus gives. So when the doctor says, "I'm sorry there's nothing more we can do"—Jesus offers his peace. When that phone call turns your world upside down—Jesus is right there with his peace. It's a peace that is present, making us whole.
But there's one more element of this peace of Christ. It's a peace of which we are called to be conduits. In Matthew's gospel, we see Jesus declaring, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." (Matthew 5:9) If we call ourselves followers of Christ, we have a job. We—just like Jesus did—are to enter into places where there is no peace in oder to offer the peace of God. In other words, since we've been reconciled to God, we are to be about the work of reconciliation—making things right, whole, the way they were intended to be.
My challenge for you this week: Trust & Obey. The peace we long to experience comes only through a relationship with Christ. It is a relationship in which we regularly give more and more of our trust to him. A simple prayer is this: "I give everything and everyone to you." It is also a relationship in which, day by day, we follow his example and remain obedient to what he calls us to. This is what Advent teaches us.
Here are some questions for reflection:
- Is everything alright between you and God? Is there peace?
- How is peace connected to trusting and obeying Christ?
- Are you helping or hindering peace in this world? How can you be a peacemaker this week?
Have a blessed week!
Notes from the Staff @The Woods