A Meditation on Love

We once used the word “charity” a lot more than “love.”

Charity is a great word because the connotation is all about giving, showing compassion, and so on. It’s a very active word.

But today we use the word love, and for many love has more in common with lust than charity. Love is a feeling to seek and to cling to – it’s not something you give.

But God’s love is maybe even bigger than all these words.

The Hebrew word that most often describes God’s love is “hesed.” The NIV translates it as “unfailing love.” The ESV calls it “steadfast love.” This love is faithful love – love that won’t let you go – love that is committed to fulfilling promises made. The word also suggests covenant loyalty. If God has made a covenant with Israel, he will fulfill his end of the deal no matter how far his people stray.

Hesed really is covenant-keeping love and that’s why, at my request, my wife engraved the word inside my wedding ring. Marriage is all about hesed. Without covenant loyalty – especially in the face of disloyalty – your marriage won’t last through the first year.

Ultimately, God fulfilled the covenant (the marriage) he made with Israel (his straying wife) at the cost of his own Son’s life. Israel, like sheep, had gone astray, but the Lord laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53). God fulfilled his end of the bargain and did so by sending Christ to fulfill our end of the deal. Yesterday my wife reminded me that nothing obligated God to do this – it was sheer love. He was not bound by duty, nor necessity. Just sheer love, undeserved by us.

In all of this, you see that love is self-giving, it is self-sacrificing, it is loyal, faithful, and committed. And is exemplified in God in Christ, which is a reason not only to thank him this Christmas but also to seek to emulate his love to those who are hard to love – those who don’t fulfill their end of the bargain.


A Meditation on Joy

I just got off the phone with some people trying to scam me, telling me they are with the Canada Revenue Agency criminal division, etc. and that I owed them like $4,158, and that a warrant was about to be issued for my arrest and that I would need a lawyer, and that they have been trying to reach me by sending a courier to personally deliver the mail but I wasn’t there, etc.

For a bunch of reasons, not the least of which the CRA has actually mailed me recently for a couple different things, I got a little sucked into the scam and this one took a good 45 minutes of cell time to figure out. But let me tell you, to go from a place of thinking you owe $4,158 to then realize you owe nothing is an incredible feeling.

Hold that thought.

On a related note, last week I almost had a head-on collision. I was going through the intersection and a car turned left and veered straight into my path. I slammed the brakes and started skidding. At the last minute, I dodged around the front of their car. My life flashed before my eyes. A little brush with mortality sure makes you thankful to be alive.

Isn’t it good to be alive?! Isn’t it great not to be in jail for owing tons of money you can’t pay?!

And that brings us to this whole thing of joy.

The reason we have joy is that every day is a gift from our gracious God – every day the sun rises is pure gift. And run-ins like these that I have had lately have made me remember that.

Of course, the ultimate gift is that in Christ God canceled all our debts and reconciled us to himself.

But as if that wasn’t enough, then he gives blessing after blessing on top of it.

I am a swimmer. Often swimmers now wear underwater headphones to listen to music or podcasts as they swim. Think about that last sentence. In what part of human history have they had clean, warm, indoor pools? In what part of history have they had those pools situated in a barren, frozen place like Canada’s North? And in what part of history have musicians been able to record their music digitally onto a computer for mass consumption? In what part of history have they had headphones? Underwater headphones? Underwater headphones playing digital music in a warm, indoor pool in the Canadian frozen North? It’s insane! We are among the wealthiest, most privileged, people who have ever lived.

The secret to joy, I believe, is to try to come to grips with the fact that you are entitled to nothing from God. Entitlement is the biggest trap for many of us. It completely robs us of thanksgiving and consequently the opportunity to rejoice. It is actually the heart of atheism – to receive God’s gifts daily and yet never acknowledge him as the Giver (Romans 1).

The opposite of entitlement is thanksgiving. Giving thanks to God is what fuels joy. And what do we have to be more thankful for then that Christ has come to our world? That the Lord has come? He has brought heaven down. He has removed our sins and wiped away all our debts.

All the other little joys of this season – pretty lights, family gatherings, egg nog – they are all just icing on the cake.

For those who are grieving or suffering in various ways this time of year, it’s important to remember that all that other fun Christmas stuff really is just an extra bonus. The heart of Christmas is that Christ is here and he has come to establish our joy in him forever. Every extra day is a bonus. Underwater headphones are a bonus. Turkey and gravy and cards and stockings are a bonus. Christian joy is rooted in the finished work of Christ. It is not reptilian and cold-blooded, changing with the environment – it is warm-blooded. In that sense it is self-originating – and it goes all the way down to the toes. It won’t be overcome by the darkness even when the days are hard.

May you know the immense joy of Christ this season. And to know it by receiving all of God’s many blessings with thanksgiving.

A Meditation on Peace

Today is the second Sunday of advent and so now is a good time to focus our hearts and minds on peace – and not just peace in the abstract – but the peace that only Christ can bring.

Peace, in the Christian way of thinking, is not simply the absence of strife. Peace is the presence of a contented, restful, goodness that pervades your life. Some of my readers will be aware of that great, Old Testament Hebrew word for peace – shalom. The word speaks of well-being and restoration. An oasis in the desert. It’s the kind of thing we all crave – the kind of thing we take vacation time looking for (and maybe only occasionally find it!) So unlike John Lennon’s definition of peace – as in “give peace a chance” – the peace that Jesus brings is not merely the absence of something – it is the presence of something. It’s a positive addition and not a negation. The peace of Christ is something that fills you up – like a newborn baby with a full belly of milk.

Whenever I read through Proverbs, there is one particular saying that always grabs my attention: “Better is a dry crust of bread where there is quietness than a house full of feasting with strife.” (17:1, NET). Who doesn’t resonate with that? Who hasn’t sat through an awkward family meal where there is underlying angst? We all have. But here we see the utter value of peace – to be together and to know the unity and joy of a settled and quiet home is worth giving up the turkey, the gravy, and even the dressing. The benefit of peace – peace in the marriage – peace in the family –  outweighs any other physical blessing. It’s better to receive wood blocks for Christmas and play well with the other kids than discord with a mountain full of gifts under the tree.

That proverb hits home. That’s why it grabs me. It makes me all emotional. We all crave that kind of peace.

And so, Scripture exhorts us: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace…” (Col 3:15 NIV).

The way to get real peace is to get acquainted with the Prince of Peace. When we bow the knee to Jesus – when we all bow the knee to Jesus – there is a sweet aroma that permeates our marriages, our homes, and our churches. That is what we are called to. That is what God the Holy Spirit works into our lives as we submit to Jesus. We need to strive for it. The place that starts is learning how to confess our junk – generally to those closest to us, to those who know us all too well.

Yet this Sunday is a time to look forward to the ultimate, coming kingdom of Jesus. That is the reason to “let” the peace of Christ “rule” today – because his peace will rule forever, not only in our hearts but over every square centimeter of Jesus’ new restored and transformed earth in the age to come.

We need to anticipate the peace of heaven this advent season. I heard a familiar carol, Away in a Manger, on the radio a couple days ago but they had changed the lyric. Instead of the original, “Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and fit us for heaven, to live with thee there.” They had “take us to heaven, to live with thee there.” Nope. Bring back the original.

(My guess is that this band felt that if they said God is “fitting” us for heaven then that must be teaching a form of self-salvation – some form of us proving ourselves worthy of salvation – pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Now, I want to affirm wholly that none of us, apart from the shed blood of Jesus, can be fit for heaven on our own. We need a Saviour. That’s the point of Christmas. Nevertheless…)

We do need to be fit for heaven. Hebrews 9:28 says we need to eagerly anticipate the new age right now: “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” The peace of heaven is intended for those who are living in peace today.

Our summons then is to anticipate that peace now by repentance – by turning our hearts to a place of reconciliation and peace with the Prince of Peace. That form of repentance also inherehntly involves pursuing peace with others “if it is possible…as far as it depends on you” (Rom 12:18, NET).

Even the smallest taste of that peace will make for a wonderful advent season – for there are few things better in life than the excellent combination of a big table full of food and a big heart full of peace. For indeed that is what is awaiting us in the age to come, for “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…” (Isaiah 9:7, ESV).

A Meditation on Hope

A few months ago I asked the teenagers I work with a question, and to raise their hands for the answer. I said, “are things getting better or worse in our world?” Nearly everyone put their hand up saying that things are getting worse.

That was interesting to me. I was somewhat surprised and saddened by that.

But I think it makes sense – we have North Korea and the US threatening each other. You have legal cases in our country imposing a new state-sponsored morality. You have Christians around the world facing immense persecution and death.

Yet today many of you are mindful that it is the first Sunday of Advent, which is also the first Sunday of the church year. Today is a time to reflect on the hope of Christ and his coming – that indeed, Christ, the light, has shone into the darkness and has not been overcome by the darkness.

Hope is an underrated virtue today. And the reason why is because we haven’t learned to see history the way God sees it. One thing Ravi Zacharias is quite famous for saying is that everyone has to answer a few basic questions and in particular we have to answer the question “where did we come from” and “where are we going?” The questions of origin and destiny. And what you find is that most people then have no hope by definition. If our origin is merely the blind process of evolution and chance and the story culminates in an environmentalist apocalyptic tragedy, then we have no basis for hope – no basis for a Merry Christmas.

But we have a tremendous story. The best story. The story of all stories. The story that is built on God’s decrees in creation and history and ultimately in the restoration of all things. God has sovereignly decreed that history gets worked out a certain way and that has implications for how we look at the future. And the more focused our lives are on that coming future, the more we will know the hope of the gospel.

As we prepare to celebrate communion we want to remember who Christ is and what he has done in coming and in dying and in being raised and in ascending to the Father and in ruling even now by the Spirit as his kingdom grows. So then I want to read a few passages to you to reflect on – passages for today and that are being fulfilled today by Christ and through the Spirit as the mission of God advances all around us and around our world. And if it doesn’t give you hope then I don’t know what will.

Psalm 110:1: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.'”

Psalm 2: “Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
‘Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.’
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
”As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.’
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son [“Pay sincere homage” NET],
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

1 Corinthians 15:22-27: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”

Revelation 22:20: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

Oh, and one final one:

Matthew 26:29: “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

There is a kingdom coming and indeed it is already advancing and when it is ultimately here we will feast with our Saviour – whose body was broken and whose blood was shed so that too we might know the hope of eternal life in his presence.

When we read the news, as awful as it may be, we need to remember that right now Jesus’ enemies are being made into his footstool. Jesus is, right now, in the process of putting his feet up. He has won the victory. He has dealt sin and death the decisive blow. And now he is sitting back in his armchair.

We are in difficult times. We are facing new threats and challenges that we haven’t seen for a few generations. But the promises of God are still true. The kingdom is advancing – even advancing through persecution – and Jesus is subduing the nations; if we had a better perspective on things historically and globally we would see that this is resoundingly true.

So then if you are a friend of the king and not an enemy, I invite you to participate this morning as we celebrate his meal and declare his rule, his reign, and his return.