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Love Found a Way
For God so loved the world that he gave
his one and only Son.
For the words "Love Found a Way" to mean anything, we have to first reckon with the fact that there was no way.
No way for a glorious, holy God to relate to fallen men and women.
No way to enjoy God's companionship and wisdom.
No way to tap into His grace and power.
No way for sins to be forgiven.
No way to escape judgment.
No way to achieve heaven.
Christmas reminds us in its own quiet and surprising way that God has little use for the phrase, "No way!" When there appears to be no way out of trouble and no way into blessing; when we can see no way to win and no way to avoid losing; when circumstances beat down our hopes and drown out our cries with their loud, mocking shouts of "No way!"—just then God steps into the picture, and at the foot of the manger says softly but irresistibly,
With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)
Amid all the glittery, tinselly, flashy things that so often capture our attention at Christmastime, perhaps we could pause and take some time to recall that the Baby of Bethlehem came to be with us for a reason. He came to die so that we could live our lives with hope.
As Ephesians tells us, you and I were "separatefrom Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus [we] who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:12-13).
Love found a way to do the undoable and to reach the unreachable. Love found a way when there was no way.
Isn't that what Christmas is all about? When we contemplate what His love did for us, we find our hearts exploding and our spirits soaring at the dizzying thought of the new, dazzling future that lies open before us—a future full of possibility and joy and hope and delight and great surprise. No wonder that those who find creative ways to remember the way-making God always seem to be the happiest, dearest people we meet!
Mama Clark's Christmas Tree
Mama Clark, a saintly woman of eighty, beamed with satisfaction as I loaded my plate from the heaping platters. After letting me eat a few bites, she turned to me with a distinct twinkle in her eyes.
"Pastor Ron," she said, "I just finished my Christmas tree. I really like it. I think this may be the best yet."
"Really?" I replied around a mouthful of baked ham. "Do you have special decorations?"
Did she ever.
I had been invited to speak in Amish country, outside of Dover, Ohio. Our little group sat down to a Christmas banquet at a huge Amish restaurant, packed with what seemed to be hundreds of people. Mama Clark had asked if I would sit by her, and of course I told her I would be honored.
What a feast! My new friends and I sat at a long table draped with a snow-white tablecloth. Once the food started coming, I thought it would never stop. Waitresses hurried in with heaping dishes of mashed potatoes dappled with pools of yellow butter. These were followed in succession by steaming platters of fried chicken and ham, huge bowls of corn and peas, and plates of hot biscuits, all served family style. When one bowl got low, it was immediately replaced with another. I don't think I've ever seen so much food on one table—and I'm quite sure my cholesterol count has never been the same since that day.
Mama Clark was absently nudging a pile of peas with her fork. She had other things on her mind besides food. "Oh, Pastor Ron," she said, "I just wish you could see my tree. I decorated it with a wedding theme."
I didn't know how to reply. A wedding theme? On a Christmas tree? Perhaps this dear elderly lady was beginning to lose her grip. "Tell me about it," I said.
While I applied strawberry preserves to a hot biscuit, Mama Clark explained that her tree this year featured wedding invitations, bride and groom pictures, tiny bags of rice, rings, personalized napkins, a miniature guest book, dainty white-wrapped presents, and little wedding cakes. It was all to illustrate, she told me, Jesus Christ the Bridegroom.
"That's amazing, Mrs. Clark."
"Call me Mama Clark," she smiled. "That's what everyone calls me." Her face glowing, she went on to describe a succession of Christmas trees, dating back many years.
"It's different every Christmas," she told me, raising her voice a little to be heard over the din. "Every year I decorate my tree with a different emphasis—but always something that shows a facet of the Lord's life and ministry."
Now she really had my attention. Passing a small mountain of mashed potatoes down the table, I asked her to tell me more.
The year before she had done Jesus the Creator, her tall pine adorned with photographs of natural wonders hanging from bright ribbons. You could see the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Falls, and the Rocky Mountains, along with pictures of wildlife—deer and elk and mountain lions and bighorn sheep. Walking around her tree was like spending a day at "Mama Clark's Wild Kingdom." But all the glory went to Jesus, for "by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible ... all things were created by him and for him" (Colossians 1:16).
Another year she featured Jesus the Teacher, festooning her large tree with pencils, tiny writing tablets, colored erasers, a little school bus, glittered report cards, miniature rulers, and a scattering of ABCs. In previous years her tree declared Jesus the Miracle Worker, Jesus the Savior, Jesus the Missionary, and Jesus the Intercessor.
With each passing year, she showcases a new aspect of the Lord's life and character for all to see. And many, many people do see. Mama Clark sends out invitations to an ever-widening circle; folks come from miles around, family by family, setting appointments to see her tree. As each family enters her home, Mama Clark seats them around the tree and serves cookies (baked in theme-appropriate shapes), coffee, and milk. Before the family leaves, she prays over each one that whatever facet of Christ's life was represented that year would be true in their lives all year long.
Before each of the families leaves Mama Clark's home, she asks them to sign a guest book. That guest book becomes Mama Clark's prayer list for the following year.
What a ministry this grandmother has! The passion of her life is to exalt the name of Jesus. She spends all year preparing for Christmas and praying for those who have crossed her threshold.
As we said our good-byes, I thought about asking if she ever worried about running out of "themes" each Christmas. But I think I know what her answer would have been. She would certainly run out of years before she ran out of ways to honor Jesus Christ. The important thing is to use the years you have.
And Mama Clark is doing just that.
How Can We Remember Him?
I felt a little uncomfortable as I pushed back from the table that day—and it wasn't because of the pumpkin pie. How am I proclaiming the Lord Jesus to my neighbors?
After I left Mama Clark that day, I almost found myself wishing my boys were small again so we could decorate our tree like she did. (Now I'll have to wait patiently until our baby granddaughter, Liesl Kate, is old enough to help me.)
Even if we didn't have the time or energy to change the theme every year, Joyce and I could find or make one special ornament for each Christmas ... one ornament to remind us of the ways He has loved us. Then we could ask the children to search the tree to see if they could find that new ornament. And finding it, we could sit down by the tree and talk about our Lord and all He means to us.
What kinds of ornaments? Mama Clark could decorate circles around me with one hand tied behind her back. But as I thought about it, I came up with just a few.
A little fishing boat could prompt us to remember how He taught the pressing crowds from near the shore ... how He fell asleep in the boat after a long day of teaching, then stood up to still a fierce storm with a single command ... how He told Peter when and where to cast his net for the biggest catch the big fisherman had ever seen.
A tiny wooden mallet might prod us to recall how He labored at Joseph's side in the carpenter's shop, a young man who loved His parents, loved His life, and lived in purity and obedience, quietly busy until the Spirit said, "It's time." Then, turning His face toward Jerusalem, He set down His carpenter's tools, never to pick them up again.
A sparkling star might represent the witness of the heavens to His coming ... and remind us that He calls Himself the Bright Morning Star. Looking at that one little star on a tree, we could close our eyes and think of how it will be in heaven, when the Son of God will shine with pure, timeless radiance through the eternal morning. We won't need flashlights or night-lights—or even Christmas lights—in that new home. He Himself will be all the light we ever need, and it will never be dark again.
A tiny gold crown might call to mind His kingly splendor and remind us how the One called Faithful and True will ride through heaven's open door on a great white horse. "His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.... On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS" (Revelation 19:12,16). As brothers and sisters of this mighty King, we will rule and reign with Him for a thousand years on earth—and then forevermore.
But not all the ornaments would be pretty.
A bit of simple, homespun cloth might remind us of His poverty—that the only thing He owned were the clothes on His back. And we would remember how the soldiers tore that clothing from His body, then cast lots for His undergarment.
A small, sharpened spike could help us remember that His hands and feet were nailed to rough timbers—to pay a ransom for our freedom that we could never pay.
A miniature circle of thorns would move us to think about the sort of crown our world thought appropriate for His brow. It might kindle a desire in our hearts to honor the One who was rejected and mocked and humbled, so that you and I might experience life.
Those are some of the ornaments that might decorate my Christmas tree in years to come. There are probably as many ideas for ornaments as there are people.
But in all our contemplations of decorations, lights, and exterior adornments, we need to remember just what it is we celebrate. If we become preoccupied with externals and appearances, neglecting a heart of love, we have not honored God's greatest Gift. In fact, to our shame, we may even turn seeking men and women away from Him. I will never forget the time I did just that.
Too Busy to Give
A couple of years ago I sat at my gate at LAX, working feverishly on a Christmas sermon. Sometimes you can work for hours on a message or writing project, and it's like trying to ignite wet wood in a campfire. This time, however, the ideas caught fire. With my Bible open in my lap, I flipped pages and scribbled notes on a yellow pad. I could hardly write fast enough.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man walk up to the seat next to me and set down two pencils with a note attached. Again and again he walked over to someone else and did the same thing. Two pencils and a note. I didn't take time to read the note. I'd seen this sort of thing before and knew basically what it said: "I'm deaf and dumb. I have no way to support my family. I have three kids. Would you give me some money for the pencils?"
Not only did I not read the note, I didn't even acknowledge him; I didn't look up or make eye contact. After a few minutes, the young man circled around again (as they always do). He came up to me, stopped for a moment, picked up his two pencils, and walked away. I breathed a little sigh of relief and went back to my sermon.
Then I caught something else out of the corner of my eye. Straight across from me was a young woman—maybe twenty to twenty-five years old. I sensed her staring at me.
The young man hadn't been away for more than a few seconds before she got up, walked over, and sat down right beside me. Now what? She looked right at me, her face hard and angry.
"Why didn't you give him any money?" she demanded.
"Well, uh," I stammered, "I think, uh ..." She bored in on me.
"I saw you sitting there with your Bible, and I saw some other people give him a little money. But you didn't. You didn't even look at him. I suppose you're a preacher?"
"That's no great surprise," she said, her voice bitter. "That's the way most of you are. You preach it, but you don't live it. It's the same way with the people in your church, isn't it? They dress up on Sunday and smile and carry their Bibles. Well, I'll tell you something, I wouldn't go to church in a million worlds. Why didn't you give him some money? Do you have any money? Do you have a dollar? Do you have fifty cents? (She was merciless.) Couldn't you give him anything? Couldn't you at least look at the man. He can't hear. He can't speak. Nothing. And you—you just let him walk away."
I tried to speak with her, but my words seemed lame. Finally, they announced our flight. Sick at heart, I got up, closed my Bible, and walked to the plane.
We get so busy, so intense this time of year. Sitting there in that airport, I was probably working on a message about God's indescribable Gift. I was thumbing choice passages about that night long ago when a mighty choir of angels pierced the darkness with their song and the light of heaven came pouring through a great tear in the fabric of time and space. It was probably something eloquent. Something that would touch people's hearts. But I was so concerned about my message that I couldn't see a needy man standing right in front of me.
We've all been there. We've all found ourselves caught up in the trappings and wrappings of Christmas, singing carols with eyes half-closed. And then we realize we've closed our eyes to needs and hurts and longings right under our noses!
God, however, is gracious and forgiving. Just because we failed last Christmas (or the one before) doesn't mean we won't have a chance this year to let love break through.
Not long ago, I was once again sitting in an airport—this time in Portland—working on a sermon. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a young man walk over to me and set down two pens with a little note. Then he walked around and distributed the pens to others—the same thing. He was deaf, unable to speak, and he needed money.
As he walked back to me, I was ready. I looked up. I smiled. I mouthed the words "Jesus loves you" and gave him the few dollars I had in my wallet. And I praised my God for another opportunity to show forth His love!
That's the way love is. It finds a way.
Just as it did at Bethlehem.
|A Personal Note||1|
|Chapter 1: Love Found a Way||5|
|Chapter 2: Love Found a Way ... to Save Us||17|
|Chapter 3: Love Found a Way ... to Help Us||31|
|Chapter 4: Love Found a Way ... to Enable Us||43|
|Chapter 5: Love Found a Way ... to Bring Us Joy||57|
|Chapter 6: Love Found a Way ... to Counsel Us||69|
|Chapter 7: Love Found a Way ... to Change Us||81|
|Chapter 8: Love Found a Way ... to Adopt Us||93|
|Chapter 9: Love Found a Way ... to Bring Us Peace||105|
|Chapter 10: Love Found a Way ... to Bring Us Hope||117|
|Chapter 11: Love Found a Way ... to Bring Us Home||129|
|Chapter 12: He Will Always Find a Way||139|