Come Together

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Ephesians 2:14

There are a lot of people in recent days talking about what divides us as a nation and how to bring some sort of reconciliation between people. We have all seen the protests and the anger and hurt. We have seen grief and sadness and bitterness and distrust – and all our protesting and postulating and town-hall meetings only seem to make the chasm wider. In this season of Christmas, this time when there should be “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14) and we should “love one another” (John 13:34) we see everything but. How did we become such an angry society? What is the root of our discord? And how do we reclaim the peace we’ve lost?

We can try to lay the blame on any number of societal issues: race, prejudice, poverty, substance abuse, distrust, hatred, abuse, oppression, even down to the simple matter of differences of opinion. But the truth is there is one deeper root, one all-encompassing cause to which we can point and say: “This is the heart of all our problems.”

We stand in enmity against God.

From the beautiful Garden of Eden, throughout the history of humanity to this very day, mankind has set himself against the Creator and righteous King and declared himself as his own authority and ruler. He has turned away from God, not realizing that he has made a deadly eternal choice.   We don’t like to admit it, but the truth is that at our core, we are all sinners. We have all inherited a sin-nature from Adam and Eve, the first man and woman and the first sinners. It is not our sin that makes us sinners; it is our sinful nature that makes us sinners and leads us into sin.   It is that sinful nature that sets us against God as His enemy. It is that sinful nature that says we deserve to be punished and condemned. God is righteous and He will judge every human; we will not stand in judgment before Him in our standard of goodness, but in His.

Yet . . . God, who is righteous and holy in His nature and His judgment is also loving toward all His creation – toward Adam and Eve and every person throughout human history, right down to you and me. His holiness demands judgment, but His loving heart passionately desires to be merciful.   And that is the heart of the Christmas story: God’s mercy breaking through man’s sinfulness and rebellion like the star that cast its light on the face of an infant in a manger. Jesus. All God’s love and mercy was wrapped in human flesh and swaddling clothes.  And He later wrapped Himself in mankind’s sin – your sin and mine – and died on the cross to take away our sin and break our sinful nature; to bear our punishment and condemnation. God gave Jesus as His gift to humanity to reconcile the creation with the Creator. To bring us peace. And when we are restored to God, when we have peace with God, we can then be restored in our human relationships and have peace with one another. But not until we first receive the gift of Jesus into our lives.

The apostle Paul said “God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). This is not reconciliation between men, but rather a ministry of reconciling man and God as Paul also said: “His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:15, 16-emphasis added). Restoration and peace between angry people will not be settled as long as we are out of fellowship with God. The root cause of all the hostility in the world is man’s hostility toward God, and the fighting and hatred will never stop until we are reconciled to God. True peace will never come until we have peace with God.

The season of Christmas can become the starting point of a new life, of being reconciled to God and of having true, lasting, real peace – peace that spills over onto those around us. Come to Jesus, not just the babe in the manger, but the man on the cross – and let peace on earth start in your heart today.

Holy Father, please stir in our hearts a desire to be reconciled to You, to know and share Your peace in this angry, hurting world. I pray that the person who reads this will come to receive Your gift of love – Jesus Christ – who alone will bring “peace on earth.” Amen.

A Real-life Lesson in “Loving My Enemy”

“But I tell you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27

I had every reason to hate her. She attacked me with hate-filled words. She criticized me as a mother and as a Christian, attacked my faith, criticized my decisions and filled her tirade with contempt. Her words spilled over with venom and spite. She even brought her friends in to throw their barbs at me.   She clearly hated me. Wasn’t I justified in hating her?

To the world, yes. I had every justification to hate her and attack her back. To throw around a few barbs and verbal missiles of my own.  That’s what she was trying to do, to bate me into a verbal battle. That’s what she deserves right? I should call my friends and bash her just as badly as she bashed me.

But I don’t live by the code of the world. I live by the Word of God and the example of Jesus Christ.

So the next day, my heart still heavy with pain and grief, as I came to my early morning time with the Lord, I prayed about the situation. I asked God for wisdom. He had witnessed this conversation. He was aware of the hate this person has for me. Surely He would say my anger is justified. I sat down and opened my first devotional reading for the day. Colossians 3:13 – “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The next devotional reading took me to Luke 6:27, our key verse. “But I tell you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Wait God…what? Forgive? Love? Do good? Bless? Pray? Did you even pay attention to that whole mess at all God? I am the one who got bashed here! Why should I have to be the one to forgive and do good and bless? And love? You really can’t be serious!

I turned to the last devotional Scripture for the morning, Matthew 5:43-48. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father in Heaven” (v. 44-45).  And there it was. God was not telling me I was justified in my anger. He was telling me if I wanted to live the genuine Christian life, I couldn’t respond like the world responds. He was telling me that I had to live in a radically different way. He was telling me that if I want to be His daughter, I must love my enemy.

And the truth is, no person is truly my enemy. Paul says “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). No man or woman is our enemy. We have only one enemy, Satan. He is the one who is behind every act of hate and every attack for man against man. Retaliation only breeds more hatred and keeps the battle going, and this is what our real enemy is trying to accomplish. Whatever is done against me, by the hands or words of another person, Satan is the force behind it. He is my enemy. If I keep this truth in mind, I can respond to another person’s attacks with forgiveness, I can pray for them, and yes, I can even love them.

I must confess, the “love” part is not as easy to do as it sounds on paper. And as I read those Scriptures, I had to tell God, “I can’t do this on my own. The only way I can love this person is if you help me. You have to love her through me, because I can’t God – it’s not in me.” And that is the whole point. I can’t. Love –genuine love – has to come from God. That’s what the Apostle John says, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7). Listen to this, “We know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16). I can only love the one who hates and mistreats me because God loves me, and His love fills me up and spills out onto the one I cannot love on my own.

My heart was hurt. The attack was brutal. The pain was severe. But this person isn’t just someone I can write off and walk away from. I have been called by God to respond in a Christ-like manner. I have been called to forgive and bless and pray and love. But I desperately need help. Only God can overcome my human heart that wants withhold love and protect itself from abuse and hurt. Only God can help me to love. Because He is love.

Merciful, loving Father, please I pray, take my broken heart, my battered spirit and my mind that is full of turmoil and apply the healing balm of Your love and peace.  I cannot love in my own strength – the truth is, in my own nature, I don’t want to love. But this is what you have called me to do. Help me Abba, to soak up Your love so that I can love, even in the face of hate. Amen.