Still Staying: An Excerpt from Matt Chandler’s The Mingling of Souls

5 Ebook Picks on Relationships, Love, and Marriage

Today, we have an exclusive excerpt from Matt Chandler’s newest ebook, The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Sex, Marriage, and Redemption. In this new release, Chandler takes a look at The Song of Solomon and unpacks it’s candid—and timeless—insights on romance, dating, marriage, and sex. This is the perfect resoource for someone looking to dive deeper into understanding marriage, for the newly-engaged couple that’s curious about what’s to come, or for singles who want to learn more about Christ-centered dating.

STILL STAYING

Now we move forward in the Song:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,

as a seal upon your arm,

for love is strong as death,

jealousy is fierce as the grave.

Its flashes are flashes of fire,

the very flame of the LORD.

Many waters cannot quench love,

neither can floods drown it.

If a man offered for love

all the wealth of his house,

he would be utterly despised. (Song of Solomon 8: 6–7)

For the record, the word for “love” in this passage is that word ahava. It’s the clinging love, the “I’m not going anywhere” love.

Ahava is as strong as death. Its flashes are fiery, sourced in the consuming fire that is God. All the oceans covering the earth cannot drown ahava. It is worth more than all the treasures of the world.

If we’re going to be faithful to the end, we will often have to lean into the covenant that we made with our spouse and with the Lord. We will need to access again and again, by God’s grace, this devoted ahava, which says, “It’s not an option for me to go anywhere because Jesus would not abandon his bride.”

I have been physically fit my entire life. I am tall and lean and have always been strong for a man as lean as I am. I have been told I have a powerful presence. I like to have fun, I like to goof around, and I have been blessed with what seems to be a boundless amount of energy. These were things that attracted Lauren to me. She often described me as our family’s “recreation coordinator.”

But then I got sick.

And all of that strength and vitality, in a matter of months, simply vanished. The ability to be playful, the ability to be creative, the ability to goof off were gone. Not only that, but my ability to really take care of myself, to do fairly simple tasks, vanished. I couldn’t even take a shower by myself, and the kind of accompaniment I needed there was not sexy, all right? I lost the ability to even stand.

I lost so much of my ability to, in a way, be myself. There was no way I could romance my wife. My desire for sexual intimacy was gone. For a while I began to wonder what the brain surgeries had done to me. I wondered if, should I ever get over this cancer stuff, I would always be unable to do some of the things I enjoyed so much. Maybe I was going to be broken this way for a long time.

Lauren saw me at my worst. I wasn’t in that kind of depressive “I hate everyone” mentality, but I was at my worst in terms of being very weak, unattractive, unstable, unable to get myself to the toilet so I could vomit and lie on the cool tile of the floor. I was a mess. And in those moments, I praised God for ahava love. As I look back, I still praise God for ahava love.

I praise God that this flighty kind of Cupidian, Valentine-y, emotive love isn’t what we’re hoping will hold us all together! Praise God that the love we trust to keep us from falling apart is ahava. Praise God that as miserable and messy as I was, my wife was a regular reminder of God’s grace to me. [Click to tweet] She didn’t turn and run. She stayed with me, helping me, loving me, and carrying me. Lauren demonstrated her love toward me in this: that she lived into an ahava love even when I could not reciprocate.

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You can download and read the rest of The Mingling of Souls from Vyrso for just $9.59—just purchase the ebook in our ebook store today and read it in the Vyrso app or your favorite web browser via Biblia.com! If you haven’t checked out the Vyrso app, you can download it free for iOSAndroid, or Amazon Fire devices.

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Vyrso’s Best of 2014 — Reader Favorites

Vyrso's Best of 2014

The results are in for this year’s top 20 reader favorites on Vyrso! In 2014, Beth Moore and John Piper were crowd favorites, leadership and discipleship were popular topics, and Vyrso readers loved downloading free ebooks (and who doesn’t?) You can download all 20 ebooks (please note this link will add all 20 ebooks to your cart) and catch up on the most popular reads from 2014!

2014 Reader Favorites

1. Praying God’s Word Day by Day  by Beth Moore—get it for $9.99

2. To Live is Christ by Beth Moore—get it for $9.99

3. You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis and Lisa Chan—get it for $9.99

4. Alive to Wonder: Celebrating the Influence of C.S. Lewis by John Piper—get it free!

5. Sanctification in the Everyday: Three Sermons by John Piper—get it free!

6. Astonished: Recapturing the Wonder, Awe, and Mystery of Life with God by Mike Erre—get it             for $9.74

7. Worldview: Learning to Think and Live Biblically by Greg Laurie—get it for $7.49

8. MissionShift by David J. Hesselgrave and Ed Stetzer—get it for $14.99

9. What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey—get it for $8.99

10. The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper—get it for $8.44

11. Creature of the Word by Matt Chandler—get it for $9.99

12. Found: God’s Will  by John MacArthur—get it for $3.74

13. Be All You Can Be by John C. Maxwell—get it for $10.19

14. Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp—get it for $3.74

15. When Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey—get it for $3.74

16. Transformational Discipleship by Eric Geiger—get it for $9.99

17. The Truest Thing about You: Identity, Desire, and Why It All Matters by David Lomas—get it              for $9.74

18. Mentor Like Jesus by Regi Campbell, Richard Chancy, and Andy Stanley—get it for $9.99

19. An Infinite Journey by Andrew M. David—get it for $13.99

20. Radically Normal: You Don’t Have to Live Crazy to Follow Jesus by Josh Kelley—get it                      for $9.09

Stay tuned to all the best deals and latest news on Christian ebooks: subscribe to Vyrso Voice today!

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Top 4 Bundles from the 24 Days of Vyrso

If you haven’t had a chance to browse our selection of titles available during the 24 Days of Vyrso, there are some awesome deals you won’t want to miss. We have exclusive savings on the titles you love! Through January 9, you can save upwards of 65% on ebooks by Kevin DeYoung (Day 6), Thom Rainer (Day 7), Greg Laurie (Day 9), and Josh & Sean McDowell (Day 10 & Day 23). To help you find our most popular bundles, here are four of our best sellers so far!

Top 4 Best-Selling Ebook Bundles:

Day 11: John MacArthur Jr. Bundle—get it for $13.99!

Learn from John MacArthur Jr. with three ebooks for just $13.99! You’ll get Our Awesome God, The Keys to Spiritual Growth, and Truth Endures. Each resource ispacked with MacArthur’s in-depth focus on unpacking scripture. Save $25 when you download this ebook bundle.

 

Day 19: Shepherd Press Bundle—get it for $11.99!

Our Shepherd Press Counseling Bundle is filled with small booklets aimed at helping you equip, encourage, and counsel those around you. Whether it is an ebook for yourself or one that might help you answer a friend’s questions, the Shepherd Press Counseling Bundle is a helpful companion to dealing with debt, cancer, depression, terminal illness, and many other difficult topics. We’ve discounted this bundle for just $11.99—you’ll save $25.82!

 

Day 15: Men of Character Bundle—get it for $41.99!

This 12-ebook bundle by Gene Getz examines role models of the Old and New Testaments in situations relevant to modern times. You’ll get ebooks on the Apostles, Nehemiah, David, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, Abraham, Paul, Joshua, Elijah, Samuel, and Daniel. Download all 12 for just $41.99, saving you over $77.89!

 

Day 12: Pastoral Leadership Bundle—get it for $13.99!

In The Pastoral Leadership Bundle, you’ll get Pastor’s Handbook, which is helpful in handling real life pastoral issues (“things that might have fallen through the cracks in seminary.”) The Empowered Leader by Calvin Miller shows how following David’s example can turn you into the leader you can be, the leader God wants you to be. In Season of a Leader’s Life, Jeff Iorg identifies Peter from the Bible as someone who lives through all three phases of a leader’s life—learning, leading, and leaving a legacy. Finally, Deacons by Henry Webb deals with every aspect of the roles and offices of deacons in the church. Get all four for just $13.99 and save $27.97!

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Explore all of the 24 Days of Vyrso deals by scrolling through the full selection on vyrso.com/24days! But hurry, all bundles expire January 9 at 11:59 p.m. (EST).

 

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6 Titles to Read this January

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I’m really excited about the coming New Year. January looks to be incredible month with a ton of new content releasing from some of our favorite authors. Soon, Vyrso will release the annual “Authors to Watch” awards, which consists of Vyrso’s top picks for up-and-coming authors and new releases in 2015. Our 2014 list named some of this year’s most popular authors, including Eugene Cho, Fawn Weaver, Kevin DeYoung, and Shelene Bryan. In the meantime, we want to share a list of 6 can’t-miss ebooks you’ll want to pre-order:

 

The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Sex, Marriage, and Redemption by Matt Chandler

The Song of Solomon offers strikingly candid—and timeless—insights on romance, dating, marriage, and sex. We need it. Because emotions rise and fall with a single glance, touch, kiss, or word. And we are inundated with songs, movies, and advice that contradicts God’s design for love and intimacy.

It Is Finished: 365 Days of Good News by Tullian Tchividjian

God’s radical grace is unbelievable, unexplainable, and definitely undeserved. But it’s the foundation of our faith. In this new 365-day devotional, Tullian Tchividjian reminds you every day that the gospel is good news. It’s God’s message that he loves us even when we don’t deserve it. These short readings each contain a truth from God’s Word that will set you on a solid foundation for the day—a foundation of God’s grace, goodness, and unconditional love.

40 Days to Lasting Change: An AHA Challenge by Kyle Idleman

Do you want to see change in your life, but don’t know how to get there? In this thoughtful devotional, Kyle Idleman invites you to address that behavior or thought pattern using three key elements: You Awaken to the reality of your spiritual condition; you see yourself and your need for a Savior with brutal Honesty; and this realization leads to Action as you follow Christ’s example.

Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down by Tony Merida

Ordinary is not a call to be more radical. If anything, it is a call to the contrary. The kingdom of God isn’t coming with light shows, and shock and awe, but with lowly acts of service. Tony Merida wants to push back against sensationalism and “rock star Christianity,” and help people understand that they can make a powerful impact by practicing ordinary Christianity.

The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating by Andy Stanley

Author and pastor Andy Stanley explores the challenges, assumptions, and land mines associated with dating in the twenty-first century. Best of all, he offers the most practical and uncensored advice you will ever hear on this topic.

The Third Target by Joel C. Rosenberg

When  New York Times foreign correspondent J.B. Collins hears rumors that an al-Qaeda splinter cell has captured a cache of chemical weapons inside Syria, he knows this is a story he must pursue at all costs. Does the commander of the jihadist faction really have the weapons? If so, who is the intended target? The U.S.? Israel? Or could it be Jordan?

Be sure to check back soon to get a peek at some of this year’s best selling titles!

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A Christmas Reflection: God with Us

Christmas Reflection

Today’s Christmas post is by Susie Larson, a radio host, national speaker and author of over 10 books. Some of her titles include, Your Beautiful Purpose, Blessings for the Morning, and The Mended Heart. Susie is madly in love with her husband of nearly 30 years, her 3 grown sons, her beautiful daughters-in-law, and her pit bull, Memphis. 

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’.) (Isaiah 7:14 NLT)

Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. I love the sights, sounds, and smells of the season. I love the chance to give gifts to those I love and to some I have never met. I love moments by the tree to count my blessings, to remember God’s faithfulness throughout the year.

For me, this holiday—celebrating Christ’s birth—represents God’s infinite potential to save our souls, to fill our cup, to connect us with loved ones, and to restore what’s been stolen.

I must confess, though, for many years, I dealt with Christmas-envy, which surfaced while walking through one “not-yet” season after another.  I noticed others’ blessings in light of what I seemed to lack. I longed for a breakthrough—for life not to feel so hard, and for God’s provision to match our need. But during that time, those things were hard to find. Bed rest, sickness, disease, and more medical debt than we could pay, left me feeling like a have-not, like the girl who pressed her nose up against the window and longingly watched others celebrate this happy time of year.

Many years ago when the holidays were upon us, I remember specifically thinking, “this will be the year. The winds of adversity have shifted and a new season is in our midst. This will be my Merry Christmas year.”

My husband sat on the living room floor and untangled Christmas lights. Our three little boys sang Christmas songs and excitedly pulled ornaments from the box. Our in-laws had given us their big, beautiful Christmas tree to replace our puny, Charlie Brown one. Music filled the air. Cookies baked in the oven. The children celebrated with glee.

I peeked into the living room when I noticed a funny look on my husband’s face. “Is everything all right?” I asked. He rubbed his nose, looked this way then that, and faintly said, “Um, yes. Everything’s fine. Everything is going to be fine.” I startled and said, “Oh no! What’s wrong?”

Well, it seems, that last spring, while doing a little spring cleaning, my dear husband threw away half of our large, beautiful Christmas tree. And a portion of our Charlie Brown tree. Leaving us with exactly two halves of two trees that didn’t belong together.

In a moment’s time, the cookies overcooked and burned, the cassette tape (dating me, I know) got swallowed up in the recorder, and my husband’s tree-building endeavor came to a screeching halt. My heart sank and I wondered why—for the life of us—we couldn’t pull off the kind of Christmas scene you see on the holiday commercials. Or why that impossible dream mattered so to me.

My sweet husband was determined to make this right. He said, “Not to worry, honey. I just need a few of my tools.” Bless his heart.

With my hands in the sudsy water, I scraped the burnt cookie remnants from our only cookie sheet. I listened to the sounds of an electric drill in the living room. I heard the skill saw fire up a time or two. And I wondered, Does anybody else’s living room resemble a construction site?

Nighttime came and I put the kids to bed. My hubby still hard at work, I kissed the top of his head and said, “It’s okay, honey. We don’t need a tree this year. Thanks for a valiant effort.”

I crawled in bed and fell fast asleep only to wake in the middle of the night to find Kev’s side of the bed still untouched.

I walked in to the living room and gasped. My husband sat on the floor in front of the most perfect, beautiful, medium-sized Christmas tree I had ever seen. He held the control to the lights like they were the control to a racecar. I put my hands on his shoulders and kissed the top of his head. Without turning around he whispered, “I was going to make it a rotating tree but figured I should stop while I’m ahead.”

I chuckled and crawled in his lap. Together we stared at our very own Christmas blessing. Suddenly overcome with emotion, I realized how much my life, our life together, resembled this tree. Kev sat in the mess of our living room and envisioned the finished product. He knew what he was after and was committed to seeing it through to the very end.

Our lives were a mess in so many ways. We were still buried in medical debt. I still battled sickness. Our house was still falling apart. But we had Immanuel—God—With—Us. He was with us in the mess, committed to our story, and would see it through to its beautiful conclusion.

Jesus came to earth wrapped in human skin, was born into poverty, and walked the earth for us. He came to us, to our mess, and to our need.  Though we love a good Christmas holiday celebration, what we need is salvation. Jesus came to save us. [Click to tweet!] And he’s redeeming our story one step a time.

No matter what life season you’re in this Christmas, may your capacity to know Jesus, trust his love, and embrace his nearness grow by leaps and bounds. God is with you. And it’s impossible for him to fail you.

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Advent Reflections: A Visit from Heaven

Ray Beeson, "A Visit from Heaven"

Today’s advent reflection is by Ray Beeson, the founder of Overcomers Ministries, a teaching ministry with a special emphasis on spiritual warfare and prayer. Ray teaches seminars on spiritual warfare, prayer, and Christ-like living. He is the author of numerous books, including Signed in His Blood.

2,000 years ago God visited this planet in a way unlike he had at any other time in history. He descended unseen in the shelter of a woman’s womb and would not fully reveal himself for another 30 years. When he did, people would come to know that heaven had indeed touched earth.

In the glare of Christmas lights and the busyness of the season, the story did not become reality until I realized that this tiny baby had come to visit me—and you. He was on a mission to help us do business with heaven, not so much in a corporate sense but with every individual personally. The miracle that God performed in Mary was to become our miracle as well. The glory of heaven living in her would soon become the Christ who would live in us by his spirit. God would strengthen man in his weakness, and the fear of death would be destroyed by the presence of the Prince of Peace. Jesus didn’t come to start another religion; he came to introduce us to a spectacular personal bond with God. [Click to tweet!]

The task was quite different than anyone could have conceived, and he did not come as a conquering king as some had expected. For a deity to suddenly step down from heaven onto earth without first revealing his character would have been a disaster—for God to stand in a place where the world could see and proclaim that he loved people would have been met with further rebellion.

How could God show up now after so many years of suffering and sorrow and simply proclaim that he loved them? It would be necessary to prove that love before the reestablishment of the relationship. And he would start that proof with the advent of a baby, a baby who would introduce us to God’s love and grow to be recognized as God’s son.

Most of us have difficulty believing that we are candidates for God’s love. But in this Advent season we are encouraged to remember that God loves us so much, and he wants to perform a miracle in us just like he did in Mary. Are we worthy? Hardly! Good enough? Not even close! That’s why he sent Jesus. Are we able to establish an acceptable righteousness? Far from it! That’s why he sent that tiny baby.

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Advent Reflections: Do We Know the God We Wait For?

Advent prayer

Today’s advent reflection is by Emily T. Wierenga, an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, and the author of five books, including the memoir Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). All proceeds from Atlas Girl benefit Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. You can find her on Twitter or Facebook.

We’re making cards from construction paper, gluing sparkly balls and pipe cleaner-bows, my hand cupping theirs as we trace out “Merry Christmas”—”Peace on Earth” playing over the speakers.

My sons are too little too know of Ferguson, of ISIS, of Ebola. They are three and five and their world consists of this oval kitchen table. It consists of mommy’s hands on theirs, strawberry milk in their sippy cups, and Christmas music and dancing in the living room. Their world smells like wood shavings from the logs daddy cuts to feed the stove; it smells like homemade bread and clean laundry.

But I know they see it all. They feel it all—a world waiting with bated breath for its Savior.

We feel it, don’t we? With every death. With every disappointment, every pink slip, every call from the hospital, every ache and every pain. This longing for home. For heaven. This need for a Savior.

And each year we put a word to it: Advent. But really, we’re waiting all year long, every day, for the return of a Christ whose birth we try to understand through crèches and candlelight services. For a Christ whose very life was a parable, whose Spirit dwells amongst us yet, do we know whom we wait for?

As my sons peer through the window, at the sunrise, at the sunset, I know their spirits are searching for the star: the one every wise man seeks, the one which leads us not 2,000 years into the past, but rather, into the now, into what it means to know the Christ child. This is eternal life, Scripture tells us—to know him. This, a life we can have right now. We wait for heaven, when in fact, heaven waits for us, here in this very moment, in the breath of Mary’s son.

The kingdom of heaven is here, in simple expressions of faith. In the grip of a small child’s hand. In the gasp of a beggar’s plea, in the prayer of a widow’s lips, in the tears of a lonely orphan. Oh, that we would see and respond, bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

The image of Christ, our creator, in each of us. In the Michael Browns. In the lost ISIS sons. In the faces wracked with Ebola. In those behind prison bars. The Christ who looks nothing like the shiny-haired figurine in the movies or the paintings, and everything like the stranger we ignore.

I was standing in church, one Sunday, my palm lifted, the other wrapped around my three-year-old who perched on my swollen five-month womb. I stood in worship, tears rolling down my cheeks and the song was, “I Surrender All.”

And in the excavation, I see him—my eyes still closed. Jesus. And he looks like a man without a home, dressed in rags, torn and dirty, his hair matted, his beard long and scraggly, his eyes—kind. The son of God, as a homeless man. “Would you worship me if I looked like this?” he said to me.

Whom do we wait for, friends? A babe wrapped in a fuzzy cloth, lying in a manger? Or the son of God—who takes every preconceived notion about the Savior and tosses it from the synagogue in righteous anger?

Father, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. This Advent season. Amen.

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Advent Reflections: A Gift with No Expiration Date

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Today’s advent reflection is by R. T. Kendall, who served as pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, England, for 25 years. Born in Ashland, Kentucky, he was educated at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv) and Oxford University (DPhil). Dr. Kendall is the author of more than 55 books, including Total Forgiveness, The Unfailing Love of Jesus, Grace, and The Anointing: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.

Your heavenly father values you as much as anybody who has ever lived. Think about that! God loves you and wants to talk to you regularly. What better way to celebrate him this season than through prayer? He likes our company, and through prayer he gives us all equal access to him and his ultimate power. A big result for such a small feat.

Recognizing that you have this access could be one of the best gifts you receive this for Christmas, because it never goes out of style and it comes with no expiration date. However, it is not nearly as effective if we forget that we have access to this immeasurable favor year round, and not just during this Christmas season.

As we get to know God, we get to know ourselves. Like a loving, wise parent who does not tell us all he or she knows, so our heavenly father—who sees our flaws and defects long before he lets us see them—patiently leads us by the hand one day at a time. It is through prayer that the Bible comes alive, enabling us to see insights not only into Holy Scripture but also into ourselves. Prayer is truly a privilege.

I would, therefore, say to you, spend as much time in prayer as you can. Without prayer, the changing you need to do will be minimized. It is through prayer—time with God—that you get to know his ways, plus things you need to know about yourself. God could change you apart from prayer, yes. But he probably won’t. He likes your company. The reward for spending as much time with him as you possibly can is greater than you can imagine. But I must lovingly warn you, this ongoing changing of mind, heart, will, and life will not likely happen apart from faithful prayer.

Christ’s birth is perhaps the most central element to the Christmas story, and we must remember that he came not only to save us from our sins, but to have a real relationship with us. The most important thing prayer does for us, then, is to help us to know God and His ways.

As you reflect during this holiday, know that time with God will open up his ways. Reading books won’t do it. Reading theology won’t do it. Studying the creation won’t do it. Going to church won’t do it. Listening to religious music won’t do it. Listening to great preaching won’t do it. Even worshiping through hymns and songs won’t do it.

Seeking the Lord can be a lifestyle and a condition of the heart. I commend to you the importance of waiting before the Lord with just your Bible and perhaps a notepad. Make it something you do as regularly and often as you can. You will see the difference and thank God for every minute you gave Him.

Consider God’s bold move from heaven to earth as a baby in Bethlehem and be changed. Take advantage of the gift of prayer—do it now. Make it a habit to go to God in prayer with joyous anticipation and wait expectantly for him to move.

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Advent Reflections: The Deep Magic of Christmas

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Today’s advent reflection is by Barnabas Piper, an author who explores the connections between ideas, faith, and people. He writes weekly for WorldMag.com and The Blazing Center blog, and he has contributed to Leadership Journal, Tabletalk Magazine, RelevantMag.com, The Gospel Coalition blog, and DesiringGod.org. He is also the son of bestselling author and popular pastor John Piper. In his first book, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, Piper addresses the challenges of being a pastor’s kid (“PK”) first hand.

Christmas hurts. “The most wonderful time of the year” is not for many people. And all the sentiment and smiles we can muster do nothing to dull the pain; they merely mask it.

So many have pain in their families. A marriage is tied in knots leaving both spouses twisted and rung out. Children abandon parents and resent them. Parents abuse and harm children.

So many are ill and ailing. The cancer returned. The arthritis aches so constantly what room is left for happiness? They’ll never recover from the accident.

So many have lost so much: jobs or homes or life’s savings. Or maybe they never had it in the first place. Their whole life has been one of destitution, and they don’t know what it is like to buy and give gifts. They simply try to keep the lights on and food on the table.

So many face injustice. So many have been wronged by others: neighbors, family, friends, governments, employers. The injustices of racism and classism insidiously infect our country. Look around and see the injustice rampant in the world. More people are in slavery now than ever in hostory. Children are the toys of perverts. Poor people are exploited. Pain is everywhere.

So many have seen death take away one they love. From stillborn infants to beloved grandparents it is always too soon. Whether they have lived four breaths or four million their life was not full enough. Death is a thief and steals the happiness of millions.

It is no merry Christmas for these, and they are all around us. They are us. We mask it well because, after all, Christmas cheer is the name of the game. But our rote renditions of carols, festooned homes, softly lit trees, delightful baked goods offer no solace. They are reminders of happiness that the hurting cannot feel.

And yet. And yet . . .

His law is love and His gospel is peace

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother

And in His name all oppression shall cease

 

No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground.

He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

What promise is this? One of smiles and parties and lights and carols and gifts and festivities? Good will and giving? Tiny Tim’s magic of Christmas? No, something more, something deeper, something akin to the “deep magic” Aslan spoke of. The magic of Christmas is that of promise come and promise yet fulfilled. [Click to tweet!]

In Christmas there comes healing of hurts, retribution for wrongs, filling of emptiness, and reparation of brokenness. That which is indebted can be redeemed. That which is lost can be found. That is the magic of Christmas.

And his name is Jesus, that tiny one there, wrapped in rough cloth and lying in some hay. He is a king and a sacrifice, perfect at both. He knows all our pain for he lived our life, yet perfectly. He knows our pain because he died our death, yet innocently. And he promises life because death did not, could not, hold Him. And one day he will undo its bonds on us as well, along with all other pain. That is deep magic.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” Revelation 21:1-7 HCSB

Christmas hurts because a time of celebration is tainted or stolen or unattainable, a reminder of what isn’t. But the magic, the deep magic, of Christmas is what it promises, that which has come and that which will come. That baby king will make all things new.

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Advent Reflections: A Less-Than-Perfect Family Advent

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Today’s advent reflection is by Rob Bentz, the author of The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-In-ProgressRob and his wife Bonnie have been married for 17 years, have two children (Reid and Bethany) who like to laugh, and live in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

My two young children were giggling. They squirmed in their chairs on both sides of our big wooden table. One of them asked me a strange question that drew restrained laughter from the other sibling. Then, in the holiest of all family Christmas moments, full-on belly laughter burst forth from both kids!

This was my family’s recent experience at the lighting of the first candle in our holiday advent wreath (or crown) tradition.

Each year, beginning on the first Sunday of the Advent season, our family strives to light a candle, pray together, and sing at least one Christ-centered Christmas carol. On each subsequent Sunday, we light an additional candle until all four outside candles are lit. Finally, on Christmas day, we gather to light the center candle, commonly known as the Christ candle. This signifies that the Lord has come!

The giggles and unintended silliness have also become part of my family’s tradition. Not intentionally, mind you. This father is trying his hardest to help instill in his children a genuine anticipation for the coming of the Christ child on Christmas day.

Our family’s innocent, albeit less-than-perfect, candle-lighting scenario has helped me to think afresh about the very context of Jesus’s birth.

Let’s revisit the popular birth narrative for a moment: Mary a teenage virgin, and her husband Joseph, were traveling by donkey on government business. With zero of the comforts of home, or even a clean place to relax, she gave birth to the baby boy in a farmer’s stable. The baby was then wrapped in common cloths and given a place to rest in a feeding trough. (Luke 2:1-20)

This is how God himself entered our world. Nothing perfect about the environment. Nothing pristine about the backdrop. Nothing polished about the surroundings. Jesus, the Christ, burst into our world in a not-so-idealistic setting.

I know this. I’ve read the birth narrative hundreds of times. But, in spite of my head knowledge of this biblical reality, my heart still longs for the idealized image of what our family’s Christmas is “supposed” to be—perfect, pristine and polished. I have this mistaken expectation that our annual advent tradition will somehow represent at least one of those p-words. Curious isn’t it? Especially when you consider the one who’s leading his family in the Scripture reading is perhaps the one most in need of some “good news.”

The truth is, my desire for perfection is misplaced. Perfection cannot be found in the dutiful actions of my kids, the beautiful singing of my wife, or even in our tender family moments praying together around some warmly-lit candles. It was in my family’s less-than-perfect experience around our advent wreath that God revealed my own heart’s deepest longing—for someone to set our messy world aright.

You know, the very reason God chose to enter our world in the first place.

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