Let Love Fill You With Christmas Joy This Year

Here we are, just about a week away from Christmas. Dreams of mistletoe and presents tickle the mind as wafting smells of Christmas baking and sounds of holiday singing mingle through the air. The thought of a couple days off from work build with excitement as plans to head home for the holidays receive their final instruction.

For some however, in fact, most, there can be some anxious thoughts surrounding the holidays as well. While this might not be the case for everyone, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we all experience a degree of anxiety when approaching the many family reunions around Christmas time. Because of this, it can be hard to feel the joy of the season; to rejoice as the shepherds did with great delight when the very first Christmas had finally arrived.

As we search for and try to maintain the essence of joy this holiday season, we would be wise to consider the role that love plays in bringing about such season’s greetings. In order to address love as a means of Christmas joy, we must look at Love itself and His first appearance on that oh so holy night.

Based on the December 13, 2018 article by David Mathis, here are three truths to keep in mind this Christmas season.

the first Christmas.

Philippians 2:6-7 says that Christ, ‘being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man.’

We don’t often consider this passage as one to be read during the holidays, but Philippians 2:6-7 is probably one of the most ‘Christmas-y’ passages in the Bible. Not only is this an account of Jesus’ birth, thus reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas, but it also gives us a look at the heart behind Christmas; at the actual essence of that which we are celebrating.

It was not Christ’s impulse to maintain his own rights and privileges as God that brought about the first Christmas, but rather it was His humbled mindset to inconvenience himself and sacrifice his own comfort for the greater gain of mankind (David Mathis).

Instead of grasping for privilege, Christ emptied himself of his own rights.

Therefore, if we are to be of the same ‘mind’ or ‘disposition’ as Christ, we must start by ‘looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:4-5).

The call to love begins here, for love does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5), but desires to serve, love, and benefit those around them. This kind of love then, when grounded in Christ Jesus who is the true centerfold of Christmas, is displayed in us when we get outside of our own interests, comforts, desires, frustrations, rights, and/or preferences and look beyond ourselves to the interests of others, thus sparking the truest kind of Christmas joy in our hearts.

spend and be spent…joyfully.

2 Corinthians 12:15 says that ‘I [Paul] will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?’

In this passage and in his ministry to the people of Corinth, Paul is gladly displaying his love for them by spending and being spent on their behalf.

Do you ever feel spent? Do the holidays leave you feeling utterly exhausted and in need of a vacation from your vacation? Are there times when you wonder if it is all truly worth it; worth the stress, the exhaustion, the irritation, the effort…?

Such feelings of exhaustion and ‘being spent’ are in fact precious in God’s sight and honoring to Him as we image forth His Son, but only when we do so out of a strength and love grounded in Him. It is when we start serving and striving out of our own strength and for our own self-glorification that we draw the attention away from Christ and dishonor Him.

If we look not only at Paul’s ministry, but at the ministry of Christ as well which Paul was imitating, we see such an example of how we are to embrace costly and inconvenient personal losses of time, energy, attention, possessions, money, comfort, and peace of mind for the sake of others. We can only do this well and in a way that pleases the Lord if we do so out of a deep love for Him and an understanding of His sufficient love for us.

This made me think of an article by Bonnie McKernan that reminds us of what it means to look like Christ. ‘It might be letting others lead when I feel the most equipped, or leading when I feel most unable, because God’s power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It might be keeping quiet when I feel like shouting, or loudly proclaiming when I feel too timid to even whisper. It might be serving others when I most want to be served; it might be resting when serving draws people to me rather than to Christ…’ all of this to the glory of Christ and for the benefit of those around us, including those that are hard to love.

As we look to the glory of God and the interests of others, we imitate the humility of Christ, which in infinite wisdom and love, was displayed for us on the very first Christmas. As we gladly spend and be spent for others, we can remind ourselves of the truth and encouraging words found in Acts 20:35 – ‘for it is more blessed to give than to receive.’

remember your great and eternal possession

Hebrews 10:34 says that ‘we know that we ourselves have a better possession and an abiding one.’ Abiding in this passage is synonymous with ‘lasting’ or ‘eternal.’

When God is our heavenly treasure, the foundation on which our ‘right’ as His sons and daughters rest; when our source of love, energy, compassion, provision, comfort, and peace of mind are in Him, our wells will never run dry and we will be enabled to love without fearing being loved any less, because His love is perfect, unfailing, and sufficient (Jeremiah 31:3, 1 John 3:1).

So often the reason we fail to love others well is because we feel violated in some way; we feel wronged, misjudged, unfairly critiqued, and the victim of malicious intent. However, when we boil these feelings down to their truest belief, what we will often find is fear. We fear exposure. We fear being loved less because of what someone might rightly or wrongly believe about us. We fear the pain of feeling like a failure or a disappointment, and we fear humiliation.

There is no fear in love though, because perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). And there is no love that is perfect apart from the love of Christ Jesus who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself on our behalf by taking the form of a servant and being born in the likeness of man.

When our love for others is found in, grounded upon, and sustained by the love we receive from the Father, we will be enabled and strengthened to endure beyond the point where we’ve just about had enough, and love others from a place of true Christmas joy.

Confessions of a Tortured Perfectionist

My jaw slacked slightly as I continued reading the results of this particular personality test.

“This is so me,” I thought to myself in astonishment.

Despite the many personality tests that I have taken in the past, I still get excited about seeing my results. I find these kinds of tests incredibly interesting.

However, upon completing this most recent personality test, I experienced a slightly different response.

I was discouraged; maybe a little hopeless.

After finishing the Enneagram Personality Test, I got my results and it was exactly what everyone had anticipated…

I’m a One and a Six.

What does that mean? Well, here’s a brief description…

Enneagram Type 1, The Reformer – Perfectionist, responsible, fixated on improvement.

People of this personality type are essentially looking to make things better, as they think nothing is ever quite good enough. This makes them perfectionists who desire to reform and improve, idealists who strive to make order out of the omnipresent chaos.

Ones have a fine eye for detail. They are always aware of the flaws in themselves, others and the situations in which they find themselves. This triggers their need to improve, which can be beneficial for all concerned, but which can also prove to be burdensome to both the One and those who are on the receiving end of the One’s reform efforts.

Enneagram Type 6, The Loyalist – Conflicted between trust and distrust.

People of this personality type essentially feel insecure, as though there is nothing quite steady enough to hold onto. At the core of the type Six personality is a kind of fear and anxiety. This anxiety has a very deep source and can manifest in a variety of different styles, making Sixes somewhat difficult to describe and to type.

What all Sixes have in common however is the fear rooted at the center of their personality, which manifests in worrying, the restless imaginings of everything that might go wrong.

Ask anyone who knows me well and they will tell you that these results are very accurate.

As I continued reading the description, I noticed a sinking feeling in my spirit. The perfectionist in me saw only the negative aspects of these personality traits; the responsible part of me started fixating on all the ways I could improve myself based on these results.

And as I started writing this article, a sudden war broke out between trusting God as I confessed my shortcomings and wanting to hide for fear of exposing my flaws.

Yep, I’m definitely a One and a Six.

After finishing all the different descriptions and associated articles, I realized why I had begun to feel so discouraged…

I am not what I ought to be – ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be – I abhor what is evil, and I want to cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be – soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection (John Newton, 1772).

I realized that the personality described on the screen in front of me was that of a person who was nothing like Jesus Christ.

A tortured perfectionist … ‘to all perfection there is a limit,’ (Psalm 119:96) so why are you even trying?

An impulsive ‘goody two shoes’ fixated on constant improvement … ‘apart from Christ you have no good thing within yourself after all.’ (Psalm 16:2) You will never be good enough.

A conflicted soul caught between a desire to trust and inherent suspicion … ‘you’re supposed to trust in the Lord with all your heart you know.’ (Proverbs 3:5) You must not really trust God. You’re such a hypocrite.

Ah, how painful the war between flesh and spirit is. My thoughts continued to spin on this carrousel of internal conflict and desire.

This was everything I didn’t want to be; it was nothing of what I wished to be; and it was everything I hoped I wouldn’t be tomorrow.

But then the still small voice of Love and Truth broke through the chaos:

‘I AM your perfection. Remember that you are not who you were yesterday because of my grace.’

John Newton went on to say that yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge that, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

Because of my perfectionist tendencies, by the grace of God it doesn’t take much for me to realize that this imperfect world is not my home; that I have a perfect eternity waiting for me. It’s not difficult for me to tap into that sense of eternity that He has placed in my heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

By His grace, I desire to be holy because He is holy. (1 Peter 1:16)

Through my internal conflict between trusting and being inherently suspicious, God graciously reminds me to depend on Him as the only steadfast One in this life and the next.

Indeed, to all perfection I see a limit, but praise God that His perfect Word is limitless. (Psalm 19:7; 119:96)

It is true that without God I would have no good thing, but how joyful it is to know that I will never have to live a day apart from His goodness. (Psalm 16:2; Deuteronomy 31:6)

Yes, I know that I need to trust in God, but my heart is assured that when I don’t, I will not be alone. The Holy Spirit will help me in my weakness. (Proverbs 3:5; Romans 8:26)

So remember that despite what you lack; regardless of your good qualities and bad habits, all that you are is because of Him and everything that you’re not, He is.

Set That Woman Free

The Sinful Woman

Coming Undone at the Feet of Jesus

Read Luke 7:36-50.

As I think back to this time about a year ago, I see a lot of heartache, a lot of pain, and a lot of confusion.

I see darkness.

I see hopelessness.

Like the woman in Luke 7:36-50, I found myself in a place of solitude and isolation; seemingly having no way of escape.

Granted, my entrapment was not due to the same sin as this nameless woman, but it was caused by sin nonetheless.

It was caused by worry, self-fulfillment, vain striving, and a forgetfulness of who God was in my life.

I sat sulking instead of still.

I worried rather than worshiped.

I strove for satisfaction rather than sanctification.

I was, and most certainly still am, a sinful woman.

However, when I think back on that time, another memory stands out in my mind as well; one filled with hopeful tears and joyful anticipation.

It was a Sunday afternoon and God suddenly became real to me.

The vitality of His presence shook me to my core.

I fell at His feet, completely undone by the love and goodness He so readily demonstrated to me that Sunday afternoon.

This passage – often read, considered, maybe studied from time to time, but in the end always skimmed over, is one that I believe offers a lot of insight for the lives of women.

The example set by this woman trapped in a sinful lifestyle but undone by the love of her Father is one that should not be quickly overlooked.

Consider a sin that you have been stuck in for a long time.

Think about the times that you’ve tried to step away, successful for a period of time but never failing to fall back into its defeating rhythm.

It’s hard.

Now consider this sinful woman.

She was trapped in the sin of prostitution. That is all we know. We don’t know how or why she found her way into this lifestyle.

Perhaps she was forced.

Perhaps it was out of fear that she’d be left alone.

Perhaps this was her livelihood; her only means of survival.

We simply do not know.

All we know is that she was a sinful woman who was not welcome.

Do you feel unwelcomed because of your sin?

Do you feel as if your sin is painted on your forehead for everyone to see?

Perhaps this is a sin that you can’t even pinpoint the beginning of – it’s just always been a part of your life.

Perhaps there are emotional motivators behind this sin; motivators like fear, anxiety, or depression.

Perhaps this sin is your way of survival; the only way to protect yourself.

I don’t know, but believe me when I say – God knows.

He knows the depths of your sin just like He knew the depths of the sin this woman had committed.

Yet He loved her all the same.

In fact, He, being the only one who truly knew what she had done, loved her deeperharder, and longer than anyone ever had.

And that was enough!

That was enough to completely undo this woman, and it is enough to completely undo you as well.

That same God who loved this sinful woman loves you in all of your sin.

Let that settle for a moment.

It wasn’t until this woman realized the magnitude of God’s love for her that she fell – broken, emptied, defeated, and undone at the feet of Jesus.

Those exact qualities; those qualities of being poor in spirit are beautiful examples of a woman desperate for her King.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  – Matthew 5:3

To be completely undone by the greatness of Jesus Christ is a quality that escapes most of us. We are constantly striving to have it all together; to play it cool and be steady under pressure.

This woman was experiencing tremendous pressure under the weight of her sin, yet day in and day out she maintained.

Are you maintaining right now?

Are you fighting with every ounce of your being to play it cool under the weight of your sin?

Take this sinful woman’s example – fall at the feet of Jesus, undone by the love and acceptance He longs to give you.

When you find yourself face down at the feet of Jesus – broken, emptied, defeated, and completely undone by all that He is, the very essence of God will rush in like a crashing wave and fill every void space with a sweet sense of abandon; a vivacity that can cause a prostitute to fall before a man and wash his feet with her tears, hair, and expensive oils.

I experienced this kind of undoing that Sunday afternoon a year ago.

I had been striving so hard to be everything I could; to adjust to my new life out of college with grace and independence and work hard while remaining humble.

But the loneliness and depression hindered my ability to experience the overwhelming peace and assurance of Jesus Christ, so I maintained.

I woke up every morning under the weight of my worry, anxiety, and self-sufficiency with little to no change that very same night as I crawled back into bed.

The moment I realized it though; the moment that the goodness of God Almighty became real to me was the moment I was completely undone by His love and acceptance.

It was a moment of absolute abandon; of worshiping God through tears of surrender.

Sister – come undone.

It’s okay!

It’s okay to not be okay.

Cry, take a load off, and fall at His feet.

Your tears are prayer too – Romans 8:26 – so go ahead and cry.

Sometimes it’s our tears that bless and glorify Christ the most.

There is no power, no height, nor depth, nor anything in all of creation that can separate you from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39) so you have nothing to fear; nothing to lose.

You are held secure in His loving and gentle hands.

He already knows, so empty yourself and allow Jesus to gently take your face in His hands and say – “Your faith my daughter, has saved you. Now go in peace” (Luke 7:50).

Come undone today and watch as Jesus takes your brokenness and builds from those pieces a woman who has been set free!