The reality of Christmas is it is a reminder of the miracle of a God. A God who is uncontainable and unrestrainable made himself small entered into our world to redeem to restore. He has come. He has come to destroy our two greatest enemies sin and death. No matter what 2021 was like for you the annunciation is a reminder that Christ has come to make all things new.
Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.
The Latin phrase Kyrie Eleison is translated to “Lord have mercy” in English. The power and need for this prayer from the church has become more valuable and more needed than ever. When we are at our weakest, we are most aware of our need for mercy. In America, we have deified love. We say that God is love, and that is true, but how we mean it is not. I think describing God’s love in terms of his mercy is a much better way to go.
Love for us holds a romantic notion in the Rick Astley sense we want a God who will never do anything to us that we don’t like.
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you
When we think of God in terms of how we desire or experience love. We fail to understand the justice, the holiness of God that is seen in his love for us experienced in mercy. I love Ephesians 2. In it, Paul describes us and our sin that we are dead in our sins, following the prince of the power of the air. In his description of us, he says we are both guilty and lost. He then pivots and describes who God is. God is rich in mercy.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace, you have been saved—
Mercy presupposes guilt and salvation. Love presupposes our experience with love. What we want is love. What we need is mercy. God comes to us in mercy. But again, we misunderstand what mercy looks like. Two of the greatest authors of the 21st century didn’t. Tolkien and Lewis both understood God’s mercy. In a moving blog post at Desiring God, the author describes Tolkien’s understanding of mercy.
“In October of 1958, Tolkien wrote a letter to a Miss Beare, an inquiring reader who had a host of peculiar and specific questions about “The Lord of the Rings.” In a follow-up letter (actually just a draft of a letter that was never sent), Tolkien pens the paragraph that so deeply impacting. Writing about the immortality of Elves and mortality of Men (a mortality the Elves coveted), Tolkien says,
A divine “punishment” is also a divine “gift,” if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make “punishments” (that is, changes of design) produce a good not otherwise to be attained. (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 286)
Therefore, a man who is subject to death and suffering and loss (like Tolkien and each of us) is to be envied for the precious good we receive because of the “punishments” we receive (the consequences of sin, the awful “changes” to the original design brought about by the fall). Tolkien goes on to say, “A ‘mortal’ man has probably (an Elf would say) a higher if unrevealed destiny than a longeval one” — that is, than an Elf who never dies.
The loss of a father, or mother, or brother, or child, then, as much as we would never want it, or ask for it, can be a gift, if accepted, says Tolkien because it can bring about a greater good, an ultimate blessing we would not have enjoyed without having to feel the pain and heartache.”
Mercy is the love of God acting in concert with his justice. Mercy is the love of God in concert with the other attributes of God. When we ask God for mercy, we are asking him to intervene in our world and in our lives, but we are also asking him to transform our hearts to see punishments as gifts.
Tolkien’s college C.S. Lewis shared his friend’s understanding of mercy. One of Lewis’ friends wrote to Lewis about the passing of his wife. Lewis’s response was one that had been marked by his own particular need for God’s mercy.
One way or another, the thing had to die. Perpetual spring-time is not allowed. You were not cutting the wood of life according to the grain. There are various possible ways in what it could have died tho’ both the parties went on living. You have been treated with a severe mercy. You have been brought to see (how true & how v(ery) frequent this is!) that you were jealous of God.
Vanauken, Sheldon. A Severe Mercy (p. 210). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.
Lewis reminded him of the reality of death and the mercy of God, even when that mercy was severe. Lewis was telling his friend that every relationship must come to an end. There are many ways in which that end could have come, but Lewis reminded his friend Sheldon of the mercy of God towards him. That even though his wife was taken, God had not left him. In fact, Sheldon came to saving faith through the death of his wife. His loss was a severe mercy.
Machiavelli first said, “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” In the modern era, this sentiment has been wrongfully attributed to Winston Churchill (as I had done as well the first time I posted this blog post.) It was Rahm Emanuel who popularized Machiavelli for this generation by saying “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” he said. Why? Because “it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.” It was during the economic crisis of 2008 Emanuel and his cohorts used the cover of crisis to deepen their hold in our Republic. Republicans and Democrats differ on many things one thing they both agree on is more power and more influence is better than less. A crisis, therefore, allows politicians to consolidate power and expand influence. To use their strength to grow stronger by preying on the weaknesses of others. A crisis is an opportunity for them to boast in their strength.
For the Christian, the idea of not wasting a crisis is altogether different, rather than projecting strength at the expense of others you boast in your weakness. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that as Christians, servants of God we commend ourselves not in our self-confidence, not in our success but actually in our weakness.
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
A. W. Tozer
What we think about God reveals a lot about what we believe God is and is not. Lewis had a different take. He said what God thinks about us is the most important thing about us.
I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God. By God Himself, it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except in so far as it is related to how He thinks of us.
C. S. Lewis
I side with Tozer on this one. For the reason that how we have formed God in our minds reveals how he has revealed himself to us. We can only see him if he opens our eyes to see him. In all honesty, this is a false chose both are the most important but each one tells us something different. What God thinks about us reveals the ground of our salvation. What we think about God shows the fruit of our salvation.
A few nights ago I was putting my youngest daughter to bed and she asked me if closing your eyes and thinking about God was bad. She said this because we discourage the spiritual practices of yoga with our kids. I told her closing your eyes and thinking about God and his word were not bad at all, in fact, its something we should do. She responded by saying “ok, good.” So I asked her “Baby, what do you think about when you think about God?” I was nearly moved to tears, her reply both convicted and moved me. She said “I think about how good He has been to me. I think about how even if we don’t have bread he can make it rain from the sky.”
“I think about how good he has been to me.” God used my six-year-old to preach the gospel to me.
I said what else do you think about when you think about God? She then said, “Dad you know about Clifford the Big Red Dog?” I said “Yes” she laughed sweetly and said, “I asked God for more episodes because I have watched them all. And he heard me they made a new Clifford.” I knew she disliked the new one because Emily and Clifford talk to each other. I said, “But the new one isn’t good is it?” She said, “No daddy, I don’t like the new one.” I told her I was sorry. “It’s ok,” she replied. “God told me that I need to be thankful for what I have.”
My daughter in a two-minute conversation just preached me the essence of a Gospel-centered life. A life marked by the gospel will produce humble gratitude.
This is why I love my church. They are more concerned with kids loving Jesus than kids loving church.
If my daughter by God’s grace continues to think about those things when she thinks about God she will never lose her passion for the church. In our desire for relevance and for pragmatic effectiveness, I think we are missing what matters most. We rightly want our kids to love the church. Yet I think our desires are misguided. What I have found to be the case in my life and in the lives of those who have come through our church over the years When we teach our kids to love Jesus they will love the church. Discipleship isn’t a word we talk enough about in kids and youth ministry. That needs to change. Rather than trying to attract lots of kids each week lets ask a different question. Let’s ask “How can we help our kids see what God has done for them in Christ this week?”
How do we disciple kids in such a way that they love Jesus more as a result?
Point every story back to Jesus. – Don’t be a weirdo and force Jesus where he doesn’t belong but be sure to point them to the larger story that the Bible is telling about what God is like.
Remind them of what God has done for them in Christ. – Don’t just talk about the sin and the cross once a year remind them of the saving life-transforming work of Jesus every week.
Tell them stories of missionaries who gave everything for the gospel. Pray for missionaries who are in harm’s way because of what they believe. We do this daily with our kids.
Ask them when they think of God what do they think about – This one is scary because it is probably one of the more immediate indications of your discipleship of your children. Who have you told your kids God is. Who have you shown your kids through your actions is worthy of your trust.
When you think about God what do you think about? It may not be the most important question but I can think of no better gospel diagnostic. Ask your kids this question often but first, ask yourself. “What do I think about when I think about God?”
The Valley of Vision is a collected work of Puritan prayers. I read it daily as part of my personal devotional time. I have found it to be challenging, life-giving and encouraging. It has changed the content and goal of my prayers. Puritans prayed different prayers than I pray.
Today I felt overwhelmed by the cares of life the pain of so many in our church we have been praying for. It has been a particularly challenging season for our church. Today I was reminded about God’s superabundant grace. I pray that you too will be encouraged and strengthened in a season that is filled with stress and sorrows.
Lord Jesus, Great High Priest Thou has opened a new and living way by which a fallen creature can approach thee with acceptance
Help me contemplate The dignity of thy Person, the perfectness of thy sacrifice, the effectiveness of thy intercession.
O what blessedness accompanies devotion, when under all the trials that weary me, the cares that corrode me, the fears that disturb me, the infirmities that oppress me,
I can come to thee in my need and feel peace beyond understanding! The grace that restores is necessary to preserve, lead, guard, supply, help me.
And here thy saints encourage my hope; they were once poor and are now rich, bound and are now free, tried and now are victorious.
Every new duty calls for more grace than I now possess, but not more than is found in thee, tried and now are victorious.
Every new duty calls for more grace than I now possess, but not more than is found in thee, the divine Treasury in whom all fullness dwells. To thee, I repair for grace upon grace, until every void made by sin be replenished and I am filled with all thy fullness.
May my desires be enlarged and my hopes emboldened, that I may honor thee by my entire dependency and the greatness of my expectation.
Do thou be with me, and prepare me for all the smiles of prosperity, the frowns of adversity, the losses of substance, the death of friends, the days of darkness, the changes of life, and the last great change of all.