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FIRST THINGS FIRST

Jane M. Phinney | Jan. 6, 2020

I was puttering around the kitchen, early on Christmas morning, preparing a light brunch in lieu of dinner later in the day. A lot of sad situations had crossed our prayer radar in November & December. In fact, most of the past 365 days felt like a roller coaster ride. As I reflected on how many people we know & love had their lives turned up-side-down in one quick minute, my thoughts automatically turned to how potentially painful their Christmases might be. That’s when it hit me. THE MESSAGE OF CHRISTMAS IS FORGIVENESS. These folks won’t survive without embracing forgiveness. Truth be told, none of us will.


When God the Father sent Jesus as a babe, He had already decided to forgive us. He forgave, & then gave… a second chance, so to speak… after our spiritual ancestors, Adam & Eve, sold their perfect union with God for a lie & a bite. Consequently, we’re all born needing redemption. I’m sure that, like me, you hear people rationalizing & justifying their gift-giving, at Christmas, because Jesus was born. Their giving represents God’s giving. Or does it?


As a little girl, I once sang a solo entitled The Babe in the Manger. My entire life I’ve remembered the heart of that song. “Do you worship the Babe in the manger, but reject the Christ of the Cross? This Christmas morning, that one line meant even more to me than just the obvious. Yes, our honoring the birth of Christ is sorely misplaced if we do not receive the gift of the Cross—reconciliation with God through the very life of Christ. But something else pierced my heart. Is it possible to truly give gifts that are acceptable in God’s eyes, without having forgiven first? (Gulp!) I don’t think so.


Here’s the kicker. Can you be a born-again, indwelt believer if you live your life harboring offenses, bitterness or hatred? Hm-m, I’m thinking there’s a significant disconnect there. Because the message of the Cross preceded by the message of the manger, is all about the miracle of God’s forgiveness. Love forgives. And forgiveness is proof of love. Whether or not someone hurt me on purpose, or unknowingly, God always goes after my heart first. I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. His challenge to me is, “What am I teaching you about you, in this situation?” Every time. I don’t always like to look at that. And it can hurt. But He’s persistent! Once God confronts me with my own “log,” I’m not as apt to hold someone else guilty for their “speck.” I’m in need of daily, practical redemption like anyone else. All of us have feet of clay, so to speak. My faithful Father never lets me get away with pointing the finger, even when I feel I have the right to. It’s humbling! As my heart is laid open before Him, I am enabled to see others in the light of His love. I can forgive even if they don’t know or take responsibility for their sin & how they hurt me. They might not even care if they do know. But I can freely pray for them instead of being upset & eaten up inside. This truth is a lifetime game-changer…thanks be to the Babe who took on the finished work of the Cross.


It’s the beginning of a new year. None of us know what 2020 holds. We can plan all we want. There are no guarantees those plans will come to fruition. 2019 came to an end, for us, with many physical & financial challenges in play. My beloved sister-in-law entered year 3 in her fight against cancer. A young family we know & love had their lives turned upside down by an early morning house fire. A horse accident left a young wife in a coma since mid-December. Many have known loss through death. It can be a literal day-by-day challenge to trust God when light can barely be seen at the end of that really long tunnel. Inevitably, as human hearts bump, & sometimes clash, into each other, forgiveness empowers that light to keep growing.


Whatever your hopes & resolves are for the next 12 months, keep first things first. At the very least, for a professing believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, this means living forgiving. He loved first & He forgave first. We give away what we have received ourselves… the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:17-20) Amazingly, as ambassadors for Christ, our responses can create a desire, in others, to want Him. The enemy of our souls knows that. So he works to steal, kill, & destroy God’s work in our lives. His most powerful ammunition is fueling unforgiveness. Don’t let him extinguish your light.


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