To a Friend at Christmas

Dear Friend,

The Christmas season is here again, and my thoughts turn to you.  I know you don’t care for Christmas, and really want nothing to do with decorations, carols, or Christmas-themed parties.  Your memories of Christmas are shadowed in a blanket of broken hopes, and haunted by an angry home that raised you.  I can’t blame you for wanting nothing to do with the holiday.  I can’t blame you for your loss of hope that seems to deepen during this time of the year.  My heart hurts for you.

No one knows how many trips around the sun they are entitled to in their lifetime.  I, for one, think about that fact a lot, and it motivates much of what I do or do not do.  So, in part, I am writing you today because of that reason.  The other more compelling reason is that I love you.  Love makes people do a lot of things.

You have allowed me to tell you about my favorite restaurants, favorite songs, foods I love, places I have traveled to that have captivated me, childhood memories, and even my grown-up dreams.  What you haven’t yet let me tell you is what I write about now.  Maybe in a letter you will be able to see me before you close your heart?  Maybe not, but time is what I have right now, and words still flow in sentences for me, so while they do, I must take advantage of it.

Strip away everything you think you know for a minute, and come visit an over-crowded town called Bethlehem.  I want to tell you just a sliver of the story.  Due to a decree from Caesar Augustus, every citizen has been required to return to his town of birth to be counted and to be taxed.  It has caused entire families to have to uproot and travel great distances, while figuring out how they will provide for themselves while they are away from their homes and occupations.  Some of these people are angry that they had to come.  Some left quiet communities in the countryside and are forced to share space with noise, animals, and crowds.  Some are suffering from medical issues, some are fragile and frail, and some are just hours away from giving birth.

It is here in this overcrowded town, God introduces us to a baby–born of a virgin, in a stable, sometime after Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Joseph’s home town of Bethlehem.  I imagine their journey was slower than some.  Mary was uncomfortable, and riding a donkey is no smooth sailing.  Her journey was likely peppered with contractions–“braxton hicks”, they call those.  The kinds of contractions that hurt like the dickens, but produce no labor.  Possibly because of their slow pace, they arrive in Bethlehem too late to find housing.  Of course, Bethlehem wasn’t set up to receive large crowds of people, so space would have been limited to start with, and now with all of these families showing up because of a new law, everyone was taxed for space as well as money.

It is in the middle of this hustle, noise, complaints, exhaustion, and trial that Jesus is born.  There is no news coverage of His arrival, and in fact, no one in town is anticipating His birth that night.  So angels in multitudes, are discovered to be singing and celebrating in the skies over Bethlehem by some shepherds in the fields.  Maybe because they were farther from the chaos of town they could hear them, or maybe because their eyes were opened that night, they could see them.  Either way, they were the first recipients of the news of the Baby born who would split the timeline and forever render the hearts of humanity.

So what does this have to do with you? You might ask.  Maybe the question should be, “What does He have to do with me?”

Here is where the story of Jesus differs from any other in history.  The difference is in the fact that Jesus’ birth was predicted and planned long before He arrived in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.  Predicted by prophets and leaders of nations from the beginning of time, this promise of a Savior has been written about throughout history.  His birth was not random, nor solely a unique birth story, it was planned, purposed, and intended.  The reasons for His birth may or may not surprise you, because that is where the story becomes personal.

Because you and I would live with pain and broken dreams, because we would be the victims of evil, and because we would be bent to self-destruction, you and I need a Savior.  Because we would try to accomplish many things, and find ourselves failing, and because we would always have a desire to “be good people” but find ourselves choosing selfishness, greed, pride, and self-protection, the people around us would also need a Savior.  Because we come into this world with nothing, and when we leave it we take nothing with us, we need this Jesus and the promise that He embodies.

Jesus was the physical installment on a promise made before you and I ever shed our first tears.  He would be the One to pay for our mistakes, receive our punishment, embrace our brokeness, and heal our hearts.  He would come to expose our hearts and the hearts of humanity.  His life would reveal our selfishness, our greed, our religious bigotry, and our sin.  We would observe a life lived for others, poured out in compassion, and piercing with conviction.  We would watch someone blameless, suddenly receive the fullest punishment reserved for the most wretched of criminals.  We would hear his words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” as his last breaths are expelled in suffocation.  He wasn’t just a “Jack Sommersby” who would die for the sins of another man.  No, this Jesus would die for the sins of the whole world–past, present and future–including yours and mine.

Even that is not the end of the story, though, because Jesus was a promise–a promise that God sees and loves us, that God would make the world right again.  So He begins by exposing our hearts and showing us how dark our thoughts are and how selfish our actions can and have become.  He pours out compassion on the broken, diseased, rejected, and seeking through the life of Jesus.  He frees those tormented by evil spirits, and by society’s indifference.  He takes the punishment for all crimes, sins, and evil thoughts, and he dies on a cross by crucifixion–taking the shame and guilt of all to the grave.

He is still a promise, though, and the promise cannot die, so there is a three-day period where we do not hear or see Him, and then God raises Him back up from death to life, and with His resurrection, the promise is made even more sure that you and I will rise again.  Because He lives, so will we even though our bodies may die.

So what good is it to live again after we die?  The answer to that question is wrapped up in the answer to the reason we have lived in the first place.  We were created.  We were designed.  The same God who made Himself known in Bethlehem as a newborn baby, is the same God who formed you and I.  He purposed and planned that we would be alive right now, right here, in this era of time, and that we would know each other.  He, Himself keeps track of the hairs on our head (or the lack thereof), and each tear we have cried.  He creates each day with mercy in mind, and offers us oxygen to breathe–in and out–and minds to think, to choose, and imaginations to create.   For His pleasure, you and I were created.  Because He loves us, He planned us.  Because He loves us, He gives us this gift of life.

You can look around at people God has created.  In many you will see the absolute beauty of His handiwork.  You will see mercy, compassion, love, self-sacrifice, creativity, imagination, craftsmanship, strong work-ethic, deference, servant-hood, and leadership.  You will also see greed, anger, rebellion, bitterness, hatred, bigotry, shame, guilt, and decadence.  Sometimes you will see a little of both extremes in the same person.  How is it that you “see” this in the first place?  You “see” it because you were designed to recognize beauty, and because God has also wired you to despise evil.  Because Jesus has come and exposed our hearts, you now have a standard by which you can see what goodness is by God’s definition.

Christians don’t always exhibit the goodness of God.  You know that too well.  I, like you, get disgusted with those I see who profess a piety of life while selfishly trampling on the lives of other people.  They are like someone dressed as Jesus, wearing His clothes, and committing crimes.  Somehow Jesus gets the rap for their bad behavior.  Because of the sins of some, Jesus is dismissed–not just at Christmas time, but for entire lifetimes.

If my heart has been exposed by Jesus (as it has), and selfishness, greed, envy, strife, anger, and prejudice have been found lurking in it’s halls, then I need a Savior.  My punishment before a good and holy God will be exacted out without delay.  Even Jesus did not escape the punishment that He volunteered to take, so how would you or I squeak by when we are actually deserving of it?  We won’t.  We have to throw ourselves upon the mercy of this Jesus, asking Him to receive us as one for whom He paid the penalty of sin.  We, like the wise men and shepherds who came to visit that young baby, must fall on our knees and bow before the One who has the power and authority to make us “right again” before God, and give us the “want to” to live out God’s character.

You and I, like Bethlehem so many years ago, must receive this Jesus.  Our hearts must prepare Him room.  In our noise, confusion, bustle, anger, frustration, and darkness, we must open our eyes, and open our ears to hear that His birth is good news.  Our knees must bow before Him, and our hearts must confess that He is who He claimed to be,  that He has exposed our hearts and told us the truth about our character, and that He alone has paid the penalty for our crime.  Like the gift of soap and warm water after days of mud and grime, it must be received, and then it must be applied.

Then let everything your heart rejoices in, find its home in the character and grace of God.  May every sunrise tell you that He loves you and has given today to you as a gift.  May every act of mercy by you or another point you to the endless mercy and grace of God waiting to be poured out on a broken world, by those of us who have known it well.  Because He loves us, we know that He also loves our neighbor.  Why else would a God choose to be a man, and die a cruel death before a world that didn’t seem to care?  He loves us.  He loves you.

The greatest thing I could ever share with you, outside of my love of Peruvian coffee, is the most critical piece of the reason you are alive, and why we are friends.  I want you to see Jesus.  I want you to know Him.  I desire so much for you to test His truth claims, and evaluate His life.  I want you to see yourself in His story, because you are one of the reasons He came.  You’re worth it all.

I love you, friend.  Maybe this Christmas will be your first good memory of this season.  Maybe this Christmas you will meet Jesus for the first time.  I pray that it is.  envelope

Much love,

Cate Morris

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To Give

giftIf you are anything like me, the thoughts of giving gifts or things to others is both a joy and a frustration.  I love it when I find the perfect gift for someone and they are so excited to receive it.  I love finding things of value to me that I own and giving them to others who will love it like I loved it.  In fact, most of the time when I give up my own possessions  I think about how the gift makes me feel and I have this anticipation of hope that the one who receives it will be as elated to own it as I was.  I get frustrated when I put a lot of thought into a gift and it isn’t received, or appreciated.  Especially when the gift was precious to me.  I read the words from Isaiah 9:6   “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…. and I see once again that God does not give the way that I do.  John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

 If I were God, I would not give my son to the whole world.  I would choose a particular group of people to receive my son.  A hand-selected group who would love and cherish Him.  A group of people who would hang on His every word, and certainly defend His life and reputation in the face of any danger, misjudgment, peril, or strife.

I wouldn’t give my favorite possession up easily to someone who would not care for it.  If I thought there was any possibility of it being discarded, trashed, or forgotten, I would withhold the gift from that recipient, and if anything at all, I would give them something less valuable.

I want praise to come to me for the gifts I give.  I want the joy of receiving the gift to reflect on me the giver.  As much as I want to say the gifts I give are all about the recipients, I have to admit my selfish humanity likes the praise to go back to me.

Again, I am not like God.

John 1:9-14

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Isaiah 53:3

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

To give without being praised for the gift– to have your gift mistreated, discarded, outright rejected, and destroyed, to give your best knowing you could have given something lesser, or never given at all is to give as God gives.  To lavish on others the greatness of all You are–to bring orphans and strangers into your family and give them an inheritance–to rescue the lost and dying by losing and dying yourself is to give as God gives.  To offer up that same gift and the benefits of it every second of every minute of every day of every year in every generation for as long as man has breath is to give as God gives.

Hebrews 12:2

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

John 3:17

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

God gave lavishly, sacrificially, without selfishness, with all of who He is to a world that made its own choices whether or not to receive it.  To this day, His gift–Jesus,  is praised by some and scorned by others.  Neither response adds to His worth or diminishes it.  He is God’s perfect gift.  He is God come in the flesh.  He is the greatest gift this world has ever been given, and is still the greatest gift anyone can receive.

This is God.  This is how He gives.  I want to be more like Him…..

If Jesus Had not Been Born…in Me

If Jesus Had Not Been Born in Me

By Cate Morris  (c) November 2012

 

Forged entirely by my pain,

All things loss, and nothing gained,

Grasping in a world insane,

That’s where I would be.

 

Becoming foolish as I grew,

Spurning grace I saw in You.

Painting life  in colors cruel

If my life was left to me.

 

Scripting through a guilty rage,

Living life on Anger’s stage,

Unforgiving, living caged,

Excused hypocrisy.

 

Spewing bitter’s venom still,

Forcing “my way”, exalting My will.

Choosing to take the fatal pill

My would-be destiny.

 

But my life is not my design.

I was fashioned in the mind

Of One who always takes His time

But still is never late.

 

Who forms my beauty from the ash,

Exchanges value for my trash,

And never tires of the task

Of making something great.

 

He whisked me off of Anger’s stage,

Forgiving, breaking every cage.

His Mercy re-wrote every page

Of my new-born life.

 

“Little Baby in the hay

Did you know that You someday

Would rescue me with blood-red pay?

You’d heal me with Your stripes?

 

You would own my guilty soul,

Pay it’s debts to see me whole,

While never leaving the Father’s role,

You’d give me heaven’s worth?”

 

I see You in Nativity

But more,  I see You born in me!

And my heart will forever be

Rejoicing for your birth.

 

O Come Let us adore Him…Christ the Lord!

Mighty to Save

I used to think that Christmas was the only day of the year where people stop and rest. When the stores are closed and people are forced to settle in to wherever they are. But with the fracturing of families and the distances that separate loved ones, Christmas seems to be a day fraught with tight schedules and stress going from house to house, or hosting multiple meals and people. Gifts are purchased in a panic and expectations are high. The preparation, the clean-up, the “fun” of dysfunctional families gathering together in one room and the credit card bills that follow are all part of the lifestyle we have created in our efforts to “celebrate” Jesus.
If there is any lesson that life teaches us it is that we are unable to face it on our own. We simply do not have the resources to meet the demands of the world around us, and truthfully, some of the demands we were never asked to take on.
“Everyone needs compassion, love that’s never failing. Let mercy fall on me. Everyone needs forgiveness, the kindness of a Savior, the Hope of Nations.”* These words come from a song called “Mighty to Save” and they echo the needs of every man.  Compassion, Kindness, Hope, forgiveness and a Savior–these are the needs of every man.
This is who Jesus is. This is a big part of the reason Jesus was born. He came to “Save” us. He came to do for us what we ourselves can not do. This little baby would carry the weights of sin, hate, jealousy, betrayal, brokeness, strife, hatred and fear. He would become the “curse” for us and once and for all conquer its power. He would do it in a way that would confound the world. He would grow up in our world and experience it all first-hand. He would be compassion. He would be a friend of sinners, set free slaves of sin, touch lepers, speak to and honor women, bless children, raise the dead, and show us what the Father looks like.
We love holidays. In holidays we try to create for ourselves the world we wish existed where everybody has plenty of food to eat, there are gifts for everyone, families are all together, and no one is in a hurry to leave. What we have yet to understand is that the baby Himself, Jesus didn’t come to bring us a holiday although He is a God who celebrates. He came to be our Savior and to be “born” into our hearts.  He is the perpetual joy and celebration.  He is the endless supply.  He is the peace we’ve been missing.
If you are feeling the relief that Christmas is over and now you can move on with the rest of life, or if you are saddened that Christmas has passed and the panic of the new year is creeping in, let me encourage you with this:  His name is still, and forever will be, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.” He desires to walk with you in your today, in your tomorrow, and into your eternity. There is nothing He has not experienced and there is nothing that He cannot conquer. He is mighty to save.

*Mighty to Save by Ben Fielding and Reuben Morgan
(C) 2006 Hillsong Publishing (Admin. in U.S. & Canada by Integrity’s Hosanna! Music)