This is not going to be a typical Christmas letter. Why? Well, because this has not been a "typical" year. As I paged through my 2014 pocket calendar, trying to recall all the things that had happened in 2014, I came across one event that made me stop and reflect. That event was the death of my father.
This will be the first year our
family will be celebrating the birth of Jesus without my dad. Alzheimer's had already
taken most of his memory from us and this past June pneumonia took the
rest of him. Needless to
say, my mother will be having a different Christmas than normal this year, the
first in 60+ years without her husband. And for my sister, brother and I, it will be the
first Christmas we spend, ever, without our dad in this world. This COULD
be a very sad time for our family. But I don't believe that it will be,
and I can tell you why in two simple words. Family and Faith.
In that regard, this has been an incredible year. God has used me more this year than He ever has. I pray that He would continue to do so. Relationships have increased in number and quality. Work is going great and I have been blessed by being able to pour into the spiritual lives of many young adults and teens. My life basically boils down to two things. Here are those words again - faith and family.
The following is a story
about a family from long ago. It isn't really a Christmas story like the one Linus recited from
Luke 2 but it IS an amazing story of family, hope & faith, repentance &
forgiveness. It is a story of a father and a son. It is a story about faith and family.
“A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’" - Luke 15:11-23
I'd like you to think about the
prodigal son in this story for a moment. Are YOU a prodigal? I sure was. In the
story you just read there was a point in the prodigal's life when he realized that he had
screwed up. He repented of his sins and he went home to seek his father’s
forgiveness. That is exactly what we ALL must do in our lives. Things finally got so bad in his life that he returned home to face the almost certain punishment that was awaiting him.
I once heard someone say,
"God would never forgive me for all the things I've done."
That person, sadly, does not know God. If they did they would know that God is all about forgiving those who come to a saving faith in Him. Read again what happened in verse 20. "His father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him."
Does that sound like someone
unwilling to forgive? God has promised that He would forgive us, casting our
sins “as far as the east is from the west.” Why would God do that? It
is because we are His creation. It is because of his tremendous,
sacrificial love for us. No matter what we have done, we simply cannot out-sin
"16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." - John 3:16
The prodigal in the story initially turned his back on his father and lived a life focused on himself. I have some atypical Christmas questions for you. Is there someone
you are turning your back on this Christmas? Is it God? Do you get uncomfortable talking
about God, even at Christmas time? Do you ignore him as you live your daily
life? Do you find satisfaction in the gifts you receive rather than in the God
who provides ALL things? Tough question for what is supposed to be a cheery, fun-filled Christmas letter. I have a reason for asking.
You see, I was once the person described
in all those questions . . . that is, until I opened God’s previously overlooked gift one cold, January day in 2006. The gift had always been there for me
but I chose to ignore it - foolishness on my part. Since that day my life has totally changed, and for the better. I have received more gifts than anyone has the right to expect - gifts from God in the form of family and friends. I tell you all these things because the same gifts await you. That is my prayer for you!
This year, when all the carnage
of Christmas is over and you find yourself picking up the shreds of wrapping
paper amongst the broken candy canes and tinsel, take a look around your house. There is still one more gift for you, waiting to be opened. You
will typically find it hidden on a shelf. It is a book whose title reads
"The Holy Bible." Find it, open it to the Book of John and begin reading. Let
God's Word fill your mind and your heart and receive the gift that was purchased
for you 2,000 years ago by Jesus. By opening God's gift of salvation this Christmas and accepting it you will
become part of a family whose members will never leave you and will NEVER die. You will experience love like you have never known. My
prayer for you this Christmas is that you would open God’s gift that was given to a dying world on a wooden cross two millennia ago. Open your
heart this Christmas . . . and live.
Father, I pray for everyone
reading this letter. Some may already know you but if they haven't done so already, I pray that they would ask
you into their lives today. Please tug at their hearts, through your Holy
Spirit, and encourage them to turn and seek you. I pray that all people would open their hearts
to you and receive the love and forgiveness you offer. And I pray that you
would kiss them on the cheek, Father, and welcome them into your arms and into
your family. Amen.
Have a Merry Christmas. May your
family be filled with all the love, joy, peace and hope that only Christ can
bring. I love you all.
Come To Jesus - Chris Rice