In It For You

The New Year swings in as the Old Year rolls out; contrasts everywhere, when it comes to life and living.

These contrasts seem to have sharpened in focus over the past twelve months highlighting differences of approach, worldviews, and much more. As the years pendulum between past, present, and future so to, it seems, do our values, the mutual agreement about what is acceptable, and how the end we desire justifies the means. Anything goes, as long as we win. Really?

“What’s in it for me?” Lying to cover up being accountable – in politics. Power unleashed in military force to get what I want when risking others’ freedom of choice will defeat me. Lack of generosity and kindness withheld because the recipient (the one in need) doesn’t deserve it. Evil so often appears to be more effective, temporarily at least, than does kindness, patience, and generosity of spirit.

Evil inevitably crumbles, devoid of any ability to regenerate with creativity and beauty. It is a parasite feeding off what goodness brings to the table, repeatedly. Evil sucks life out of all it can grab, “What’s in it for me?” Its modus operandi is to bully, steal, kill, destroy, possess and exploit. It operates from the outside in and is hollow, a cold, dark grave offering nothing but death. If we are not careful it can gain the upper hand and render us silent in compliance, resignation, or quiet despair.

And the battle continues to rage. Evil is devious and relentless in its desperation to live, no matter what. It seizes even the life of Jesus and turns it into religion. It reframes the good news of God’s love into more rules and rituals to weigh heavy on those who may be tempted to embrace the gift of God – a loving Father.

Too many experience a counterfeit God. Meaning the contrast between his goodness and my weakness leads to guilt, hopelessness, condemnation, the sense of never being acceptable enough. Brushing against church too often leads to disappointment, a killjoy mentality, a harsh judgmental deity insisting life be starched, stiff and narrow. The smell of evil masquerading in religious garb is worse that the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Consider – how even writing and reading these words describing evil brings us to heaviness and a desire to stop reading, turn away, do something to quell the rising anxiety. So let’s push back with light and hope.

Christmas is the annual reminder that goodness will always prevail. Love never withers when its unique essence is rooted in the eternal, its exquisite DNA constantly yearns upward toward resurrection. Good reaches into the darkness offering, “What’s in it for you?” God so loved the world that he gave himself in the person of his Son, Jesus. Light shone in the darkness. The Word of God became flesh and lived among us. The Cross of Jesus was transformed from a brutal symbol of death to a defiant declaration of triumph. The cold death of the grave was blown open with power and light; resurrection. Death where is your sting? Darkness and evil are no match for the goodness of God.

God does not whistle in the dark. He does something about it.

It is because the battle is not over that we need constant encouragement. Reminders to believe that God’s love is real, that his kindness is for us, that his goodness is to be shared, and that he is the source of a hope that will endure. The contrast of God’s grace and love is powerful when encountering my weakness, selfishness, and unbelief.

Over this past year I’ve had the joy and privilege of witnessing my daughter and son-in-law welcoming their new child into this fractured world. Observing how love burns fierce as their newborn emerges and they spend time together, getting to know one another. In the blink of an eye the parents will do anything to protect and nurture, to provide the best possibilities for their new son. Nothing is commanded or decreed. Love and passion rise from their hearts and are lavished upon this helpless son who offers nothing, contributes nothing, and demands attention every hour of the day. Everything in the parents is focused on the child. “How can we be there for you?”

And what happens as the baby grows? It is bonded to the parents and love is reciprocated quite naturally. No decree or threat is required. Healthy love attracts.

With this new experience between parent and child comes the revelation of how indescribable is the love that one feels at birth for the babe taking its first breath. From that moment onward the love never changes, even when tested. Such is the reality God released through his Son. He loves you and me like that, unconditionally, even when we have nothing to offer except filthy diapers and incessant screams in the night. God’s love cradles and soothes. It is neither naïve nor weak. It chooses to support and serve without forcing and demanding compliance. There is freedom to reject and slam the door shut. But from God’s side he never bolts or locks the door. His gift of relationship and loving friendship is not conditional. It has always been his initiative. Such a contrast – to me.

Throughout my life God’s love has been the one constant, no matter what. The love of a Father never withdrawing or hiding even though I have many times not been able to sense anything. I burn bridges, he walks on water. I shout in anger, he whispers affirmation; I am a beloved child. I give up. He lifts up. I clutch anger hard. He releases forgiveness, gently. I shiver in the cold of disillusionment. He warms with new expectation and hope for better things to come. I have learned….

First, to receive the gift of his love for me – personally and experientially. If I do not repeatedly receive from Jesus first, all I have in hand to pass on will be more religion, unhelpful theory, and disappointing conditional love gifts that crumble when tested. I cannot give away what I have not received, and never known in my heart. If my love is not refreshed it grows hard and unappetizing. No hungry person finds the dry crusts of stale love appealing.

In these tough times as the New Year emerges like a newborn may we be reminded and assured that God is greater than anything around us. Greater than politics, disease, war, and every form of darkness. Let us counter the self serving nature of evil with sacrificial love that presses back defiantly by reaching out to others to serve and ask, “What’s in this for you? How can I help?”

Receive – then give. The world will surely be a brighter, lighter, and kinder place in 2023.

(Nighbirde sang this song she wrote after having been diagnosed with terminal cancer and shortly before she died, this time last year. She knew what it was like to be loved by God despite the threat of darkness and death.)

The hour is dark and it’s hard to see

What You are doin’ here in the ruins and where this will lead

Oh, but I know that down through the years

I’ll look on this moment and see Your hand on it and know You were here

And I’ll testify of the battles You’ve won

How You were my portion when there wasn’t enough

And I’ll testify of the seas that we’ve crossed

The waters You parted, the waves that I’ve walked

Oh-oh-oh, my God did not fail

Oh-oh-oh, it’s the story I’ll tell

Oh-oh-oh, I know it is well

Oh-oh-oh, it’s the story I’ll tell

Believing gets hard when options are few

When I can’t see what You’re doin’, I know that You’re proving

You’re the God that comes through

Oh, but I know that over the years I’ll look on this moment and see Your hand on it

And know You were here

And I’ll testify of the batt – les You’ve won How You were my portion when there wasn’t enough

And I’ll testify of the seas that we’ve crossed The waters You parted, the waves that I’ve walked

Singing, oh-oh-oh, my God did not fail

Oh-oh-oh, it’s the story I’ll tell

Oh-oh-oh, I know it is well

Oh-oh-oh, it’s the story I’ll tell

All that is left is highest praises,

Sing hallelujah to the Rock of Ages

All that is left is highest praises,

Sing hallelujah to the Rock of Ages

Oh-oh-oh, my God did not fail

John Cox

Christian Author

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