Experiencing that Christmas Peace and One of My Favorite Christmas Worship Songs!

We are almost at CHRISTMAS!  The day of all days!  Whether you are running around finishing up last minute shopping, busily wrapping presents and preparing for a slew of holiday guests, or excitedly doing some other form of Christmas fun, the name of the game today on this blog and in my life is PEACE.  And that’s the life I want to speak into you on this day before Christmas.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
-Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)

How many of us are feeling less than peaceful this Christmas?  How many of us are feeling less than joyful this Christmas?

Can you even be a person of joy and peace when your life isn’t going according to plan?  Or when it downright sucks?  Can you still experience the depths of pain, even while having joy in Christ?

The prophet Habakkuk wondered the same thing.  “How long, oh Lord?” he asked in Habakkuk 1, regarding the desolation of his beloved Israel.  Many of us are asking the same thing this Christmas.  How long, oh Lord, until the mate you have for me comes along?  How long, oh Lord, until there is a cure for this disease?  How long, oh Lord, will innocent children suffer?  How long, oh Lord, until I get a new job and get back on my feet?  How long, oh Lord, until that baby comes?  How long, oh Lord, until You return?  Emotions surrounding unfulfilled longings, wounds from prayers that are not answered in the way we hope, and the disappointing downward spiral of society as we know it run deep in each heart, just as it did in our ancient brother Habakkuk’s heart over two thousand years ago.

And so, like Habakkuk, we watch and wait for the Lord’s word.

“I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.” -Habakkuk 2:1 (NIV)

Sometimes we watch and wait through grief.  Sometimes we watch and wait through silence.  Sometimes we watch and wait as we continue to live.  The conflict does not rest on the fact of watching and waiting, or our emotions as we do so.  The conflict comes when we expect God, like a mythical genie in a bottle, to give us the exact answer we want to a prayer and base the state of our mind on getting that specific answer.  It’s like how we pray for God’s will in our lives: do we really want God’s will?  Or do we just want what we want, and if God happens to come along for the ride and do what we want, then yay for Him?  True joy and peace in Christ do not come from our surroundings or what is going on in our lives or in the world around us.  They come from an attitude like Habakkuk’s.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,  yet I will rejoice in the Lord,  I will be joyful in God my Savior.” -Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)

This year Seth and I experienced a devastating loss of something that we were CERTAIN was God’s plan and will for our life.  We experienced betrayal from people who we thought would be the first to support us in our time of need.  I experienced backstabbing and persecution of my Christian business in a way that I never imagined would happen.  This year has been hard, and I’m just now reaching the other side of this wilderness season.  And, I am quite certain that there will be other wilderness seasons in my life–times where I’m hurt by the sins of others, seasons where I don’t understand what God is doing and why, moments where my dreams are reduced to ashes, and times where I question over and over again, “How long, oh Lord?”

And it is because I am coming from that place that I can write this to you with full assurance in who God is:  He will not let you fall when you stumble.  In fact, I can even echo what Habakkuk writes in 3:19, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”

When God is for you, no one can be against you.  When God is your strength, you will be enabled to tread on the heights.  When God is tabernacled in your heart, you can live your life with such peace and joy that the rest of the world will be astounded…regardless of your circumstances.

That is why, you see, that I will not often use this blog to write about “the bad things” that happen to me.  This isn’t a place where I will whine when things don’t go my way.  You won’t hear me saying that I’m in a funk, although sometimes I will write when I’m on the other side of one.  Some people might say that I’m not being real, but I see it as me being very real.   This is a place where I will realistically live out my life in such a way that points others to the reason for the peace, joy, and hope that I have: Jesus.

And He issued this creed in Isaiah 55:12 for us all to live by…

You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands. 

Merry Christmas, dear blog readers!

When God Gets Angry

At the end of June I wrote about how I was chronologically reading the Bible through this year.  It’s something that I hadn’t done in over a decade, and I wanted to do it this year so that I could challenge myself and grow in my relationship with God.  The first half of the year I was challenged and encouraged by the faith of Abraham, Joseph, and David; inspired by the boldness of Ruth and Esther; and filled to the point of overflowing by the beauty of the Psalms.  Sure, I had to read the book of Job in the bleak midwinter of Central PA, but overall the first half of the year was pretty good reading.

I finished reading the Old Testament on Monday (yes, it takes the first 9 months of the year when you read it according to the chronological plan that I had), and I have to say one thing: these past three months of reading had the potential to be pretty depressing.  And I mean depressing.  Have you read the second parts of the Kings and Chronicles?  Every chapter involves some wicked people being overthrown by other wicked people.  Jeremiah isn’t called “the weeping prophet” for nothing.  And Ezekiel?  Yikes!  The whole second half of the Old Testament is about God’s people reaping the consequences of turning away from Him and, just like that time that I forgot to put eggs in my brownie batter, it’s not a pretty sight to behold.

This is where the critics of Christianity and God start to point fingers.  “Why would a loving God reject His own people?”  “If God is so good, why did He send His people into captivity?”  “Why did He allow the carnage and evil to exist?”  Their questions are valid and rooted in humanity’s innate desire to understand what does not make sense.  As Christians I think that we cannot be afraid to answer them.  Modern theology tends to present a focus on God’s love rather than God’s holiness, and somewhere along the way we’ve convinced ourselves that God doesn’t have the right to get angry because it would take away from His love.  Too often we think that God’s anger is like our human anger: rooted in wounded pride.  But it’s not.

What Makes God Angry
1.  Unrepentant acts of injustice against His beloved people–especially little children (Luke 17:2, Joshua 10:13).
2.  When nations do not acknowledge Him (Psalm 79:6).
3.  The unfaithfulness and fruitlessness of His people (Matthew 7:17, Exodus 33:3, Hebrews 3:7-19).

But you know what I learned through reading the rest of the Old Testament?  Yes, God does get angry, but He is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6).  And for that I am extremely thankful!  You see, it is easy for us to look back on the ancient Israelites and judge their lack of faithfulness when God had given them so much.  But the truth is that I can be just as stiff-necked.  We all can.  And so, instead of feeling depressed when reading the OT, I was humbled.

Francis Chan writes in his book Multiply, “Though we primarily think of the Bible as something we read in order to gain knowledge, we actually have it backward.  The Bible reads us–it penetrates to our core and exposes who we really are.”

In the midst of all the tragedy, punishment, and despair found when a people turn away from God, in His gracious mercy He still offered redemption and gifted us with some of the most beautiful words found in Scripture.

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love.
-Joel 2:12-13

The Lord has displayed His holy arm
in the sight of all the nations;
all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.
-Isaiah 52:10

Those who are wise will shine like the bright expanse of the heavens,
and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
-Daniel 12:3

Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it.  ‘And I myself
will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within.’
-Zechariah 2:4-5

I could go on and on.  God truly loves us with kindness–enough to punish us when we do wrong things and enough to offer Himself as a way of redemption.  I wasn’t left with a sense of hopelessness when I finished reading the Old Testament, I was left with a sense of hope.  Like the ancient Israelites we long for a Savior, too.  God in His grace has offered us a Savior.  This is the time of year when we remember the waiting, the hope, the searching that the ancients did because we all have been in one of those time periods ourselves.  Maybe we’re in one now.

Take heart as we enter this year’s holiday season, weary wanderer.  That same God sent His only Son to be born as a human baby, walk the dusty earth and minister to the brokenness that was rampant, be crucified on a Roman cross, and then victoriously rise again.  He forgives.  He redeems.  And, in His great love and grace, He also extends mercy.

His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear Him. -Luke 1:50 (HCSB)