Breaking Up On Purpose

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Image Source: Spectator Health, UK.

One of my middle school friends was broken up with today. He is a basketball star, she is one of the cool kids. After a couple weeks of dating that consisted of little more than sitting together at lunch and texting after school, he was convinced she was the love of his life.

He loved her with his whole 14 year old heart.

Now, you and I know better. We know this was infatuation. We who have the wisdom of years know that love is more than butterflies and more than the excitement of reciprocated attraction.

But the pain my friend is feeling is real. Even though this was not a deep, committed love, his heart is breaking for the loss of relationship. It stings.

And this sting of the heart is the invitation in season of Lent. We are invited to let it hurt.

On purpose and for good cause.

Lent often begins with a call from the prophet Joel:

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your hearts,
with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow;
tear your hearts
and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
very patient, full of faithful love,
and ready to forgive. Joel 2:12-13

Those of us who are human have a tendency to get our hearts caught up in things that are not full of love. Not real love. At least not the faithful love of God.

We are captivated by cute and shiny things, much like middle schoolers. We are enamored with mutual attraction. We like being liked. The butterflies, the status it brings, the fun of young love infatuation.

Unfortunately, these infatuations are not as innocent as they were in middle school. They distance us from God and God’s desires for us. They cheapen our commitments to each other. They fill us with empty things. They call for our allegiance. They distract. They numb. They consume. They block out any conviction that might otherwise call us back to the right path. 

They tell us we are loved and they ask for our whole hearts. The first part is a lie and the second is a death sentence.

What starts out as a fleeting middle school romance quickly turns into full fledged idolatry and adultery. What seemed fun and harmless becomes the thing that destroys our faith, our witness, our church, and/or those we most care about.

And so in Lent we take the time to ensure this is not happening to us. We do the hard work of breaking our own hearts. Of examining where and to what we give our attention. We break up with our crushes even when our crushes look like everything we’ve been searching for. Even when it hurts.

More than just ripping our clothes (an ancient act of sorrow) or going to a worship gathering or saying “I’m sorry” or jumping through the next hoop, we rend and rip our hearts. We get in there where it stings and we let it make us uncomfortable.

We let it sting believing that the sting teaches us. It reminds that these things (whether good or bad) can distract us. It reminds us that they are not truly life giving. It reminds us that God alone is worthy of our whole hearts and allegiance. And it helps us remember just how much work we still need.

Perhaps it is people’s opinions that easily catch our attention. Or maybe its the pursuit of endless pleasure that draws our eye. For many of us it is the allure of power and control. For many it is our allegiance to partisanship that is standing in the way of faithful love.

It can be something as simple as Facebook and as complex as our core identity. Some of these things are new and some of them have been making their way into our hearts for years and years.

The invitation from God for us this day is to, “Return to me with all your hearts.”

The way to ensure we are doing this is to put an end to these other relationships. To break up with (even temporarily) whatever may be in the way of what God wants to do with and through and for us. One typical way to do this is through prayer and fasting. 

Perhaps you and I should abstain from social media for a while. Or political news. Perhaps we could channel the energy we put into politics towards our faith or our family. Maybe we take a break from food or drink, especially when we reach for these things in times of trouble. Maybe its a person. Or a bad habit. Maybe its a break from television that numbs us to death. Or perhaps there is something new we should begin or return to (perhaps a commitment to a faith community) that can help us align our hearts with God.

Whatever it is, however good or bad it may be, we have to put in the work. We need Lent because it is too easy to sit idly assuming that everything we do and and are attracted to is good and godly when there is ample evidence in human history and our very lives that demonstrates this is probably not the case. We need work. Lent is an invitation to allow God to do that work in and alongside of us.

Even when it stings. Perhaps especially when it stings.

My friend will be fine when he realizes this girl wasn’t really the love of his life. Though he hurts today he will be better sooner rather than later. One day he may think how fortunate he is to have not wasted time and energy in this relationship.

May it be so in us as well.

May we have the courage to break our own hearts for the sake of our faith. May we be willing to sit in the sting of heartache long enough to know where true love is found. And may the pain and anguish of a break up turn us back to the God who “heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.” May we find life in response to the death of our middle school crushes.

 

On Bad Eggs and Good Fruit.

Julie Dawn Cole as Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971

In Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory he has fancy geese that lay golden eggs. He also has an “educated eggdicator” that can differentiate between good and bad eggs. Good eggs get shipped out. Bad eggs go down the chute.

Spoiled little Veruca Salt is found to be a bad egg and ends up down the chute as well. I’m afraid there are a whole lot of us like Veruca who would fail the eggdicator’s inspection.

We are a mess. We struggle with simple things like truth and kindness. We continually lower the bar on what is acceptable behavior and language for a civilized society. We are less and less reasonable while more and more bombastic and hostile.

We see it on the news, in the White House, on the streets, around our tables.

We not only disagree, we degrade and bite and devour each other. We’ve lost mutual respect and we’ve stopped searching for common ground or decency.

Bad eggs.

While this troubles me a great deal, what is most alarming is that the church has jumped headfirst into this mess.

We claim that every person is made in the image of God and in the next breath curse them for disagreeing with us.

We gather on Sunday hoping our neighbors will come to Jesus, then spend the week calling them names on the internet.

We teach our children that words matter and then unflinchingly applaud people who have no control over their tongue.

We are quick to excuse and condone ugly behavior as long as the person doing it agrees with our politics or worldview. “We aren’t electing a pastor,” we say. “No one is perfect.”

“They just say like it is,” we repeat, appreciating their bluntness. We laugh when they insult or cut someone down. We pretend this is leadership. We think this is just.

But the eggdicator doesn’t lie. Bad eggs. This is not who we are intended to be.

We are the ones who are the light of the world, the salt of the earth. We are those who claim to follow Jesus and his “love God and love people” message. We are people who proclaim grace and mercy and forgiveness.

Yet it feels like we are disregarding all this at a time when the world desperately needs us to embody these very things. I’m convinced the world is starving for something better. Something more than a continuous supply of bad eggs.

And the solution to bad eggs is, of course, good fruit.

Kindness and gentleness are dismissed by many as political correctness. Silly things that slow us down and show our weakness. But kindness and gentleness are neither silly nor weak, they are Fruit of the Spirit.

They are the result of the Spirit of God at work in us. They show up when we’ve allowed God to show up and have authority in our lives.

The same with self-control. And patience. And goodness. And faithfulness And love. And peace. And joy.

When God leads us, these things sprout up. We move from bad eggs to good fruit.

And they aren’t optional. We don’t get to turn them on or off depending on who we are talking to or about.

Sure, we won’t do this perfectly and every one of us has room for improvement, but lately I’ve been wondering if we even desire these traits anymore. Do we hunger for God to do this work in us? Or do other things have our attention?

Do I want peace or power?

Power corrupts while peace leads to life. Jesus says blessed are the peacemakers, not blessed are the power holders.

Is gentleness needed when we can just say it like it is?

Friends, if “saying it like it is” means being rude and callous in how we talk about other people than Christians are not permitted to say it like it is.

Is goodness going to help us win when the world is so bad and broken?

Church, goodness is the solution to the brokenness. It is the only way to truly win.

Patience? Do we have to?

I’d rather skip it myself but here I am, a recipient of God’s patience. I’ve been given chance after chance and time after time. In my best moments I’m eager to give others the same opportunities.

There is no joy in shaming others. No love either. There is no faithfulness without these other things. This is what we signed up for.

I do believe there are times for causing a scene and getting loud. Particularly in cases where we are being a voice for the voiceless and confronting injustice. But even then our motives must be pure. Are we motivated by the work of God in our lives or are we hungry for things like position and control and acclaim?

Do we have the stench of a bad egg or the sweet aroma of fresh fruit?

“You will know them by their fruit,” Jesus says. The things we bear in our life, from our words to our actions, will demonstrate who we will really are. That should cause us to pause. Who are we known as? When someone disagrees with our positions who do we act most like? When you bump up against us who spills out? Who is leading us? Who is at work in our hearts?

May it be the God who is love. May it be the God who is slow to anger and full of mercy. May it be the God who turns grief into joy and who is faithful from generation to generation. May we be people under the influence of the Prince of Peace. May we desire the gentleness of the Lamb who was slain. And may we be so full of this God’s goodness that it can’t help but show up in all we say and do.

May we bear good fruit in a world full of bad eggs. And may we show that there is something purer and higher and worth pursuing when we are tempted to follow others down the chute and up the ladder. May we have the courage and faithfulness to choose a better way.

Amen.

Do We Need More Churches?

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Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

On her first day of school, in a new town, in a new state, far away from friends she made in kindergarten and first grade, my daughter was playing a get-to-know-you game with her classmates. Their job was to introduce themselves to someone and share an interesting fact about their life.

My seven year old walked up to an adult (presumably a school employee) and gave her name followed by, “My family just moved here to start a new church.” The adult responded with a scrunched up face, “Ugh, don’t we have enough churches already?”

I’d like to set aside the rudeness this adult showed my child and address the question at hand: Don’t we have enough churches already?

As our family has begun a church planting adventure, we’ve heard this suggestion more than a few times. From friends, from pastors, from family, from strangers. From religious and non-religious people alike.

The consensus seems to be that we have enough churches in our community, and perhaps country, and there is no use for any more. While I disagree, I think there are some things we can find common ground on.

Do we have enough buildings that largely sit empty during the week? Yes.

Do we have enough inward facing groups only concerned about what’s in it for them? I’d say so.

Do we have enough congregations shuffling around the same members every few years? Definitely.

Do we have enough people whose only relationship with the world at large is to condemn it? Sadly, yes.

But do we have enough churches?

Can you ever have enough groups who actually (like seriously, for real) love their neighbors as much as they love themselves?

Can you ever have too many people who generously give their resources to help those in need?

Can you have too many groups who decide to set aside their differences to work together for the good of the entire community?

This is who the church is. We are not a building. We are not a franchise business competing for clientele. We are not a country club that exists only for the benefit of our members.

We are those charged with bringing light to dark places.

We make room for people who are messy and different and who don’t have all the answers.

We are people walking a journey together.

We are burden bearers, peacemakers, redemption seekers.

If we define church as a building where lots of dollars go to keeping the lights on, or as a group of grumpy people who gather out of fear that God will smite them otherwise, then I agree, we don’t need any more of those.

If we are intent on beating people with our bibles or becoming the mouthpieces for particular political parties, I agree again, no more of that. Add in no more legalism and no more generic, surface level self-help yuck and we have a deal.

We don’t need organizations that make people miserable and we don’t need groups that are seeking to be big and cool for the sake of being big and cool (and highly paid). We don’t need systems and structures that cover up (or cause) abuse or turn a blind eye to injustice.

But if we define church as people known for their love, well then, no we can’t have enough churches. If we are people who live purposely present in our workplaces and schools and grocery stores, seeking to bring goodness and mercy and kindness wherever we go, then no, we can’t have enough of that either.

If we are the people who will show up when no one else will, if we are those you feel safe with even when you are completely vulnerable, if we are those with whom you can finally find the ability to take a deep breath, then no, we can’t have too much of that.

The church feeds the hungry and clothes the naked, welcomes the stranger and cares for the sick. The church carries grace and truth. The church stands in the gap. The church lifts up. The church embodies hope.

The church is not a place, but a gathered people. People who are shaped and formed, then sent to bless the world. At our best the church is not a burden, but a gift.

When we forget who we are and our posture to the world, people will assume there are more than enough of us already. We will lose our children and our neighbors and maybe even consider throwing in the towel ourselves. We will become unnecessary and people will scrunch up their nose at the very thought of us. To borrow an idea from Jesus, we will have lost our usefulness and end up trampled underfoot.

I believe with all my heart that for the good of the world, we need local churches. Not necessarily churches of a particular type or style or size or even denomination, but of a humble faithfulness.

We need churches dedicated to the way of Jesus and the power of community and the reality of God’s desire for creation. We need churches who will be good news. Who will serve and bless their communities over and over again, not as a means to grow in numbers but as a way to grow in love.

And we need not shut down all our old churches and start again. We begin right where we are at with those imperfect people we’ve been surrounded by. Old churches, new churches, small churches, big churches, your church and my church. Christ’s Church.

May we remember who we are and to what we have been called. May we never lose our usefulness. And may we live in such a way that even those who don’t believe the same things we do get excited when we move into their neighborhood.

The Law is the Law

Getty Images, thehill.com

“The law is the law.”

That is what I keep hearing.

The law is the law and there is nothing we can do about it. If the law is bad, well don’t break it, ’cause the law is the law.

Good or bad doesn’t matter. Just or unjust don’t factor in. Cruel or unusual are not the issue at hand.

Because the law is the law.

Which is why Christians don’t celebrate or study the person of Moses and his family’s blatant law breaking by hiding him from the army as a child.

And why we don’t mention the magi, commonly known as the wisemen, at Christmas time, who explicitly broke the king’s orders so that they could spare the life of the boy Jesus.

Because the law is the law.

It’s why we don’t read or study or preach from the letters of that scoundrel the Apostle Paul, who wrote from prison. The guy just couldn’t follow the rules and, hey, the law is the law.

It’s why we don’t mind Jesus being crucified, his disciples being martyred, or the Roman persecution of the early church.

The law is the law. Our hands are tied.

Which is why you’ll never hear of Christians working to change abortion policy. We have laws in place already. And laws are laws.

It’s why we shrug at slavery and Jim Crow.

It’s why we condemn all who harbored Jewish people against direct orders in Nazi occupied Europe.

Law breaking is law breaking is law breaking.

It’s why we don’t lament when folks are arrested or killed for sharing their Christian faith in countries where such an act is illegal.

The law is the law folks, sorry. Shouldn’t have broken it.

And it’s why we apparently shouldn’t speak out to ask our government to stop separating children from their parents at the border.

Because the law is the law.

Regardless of the hurt and hardship. Regardless of the long term consequences. Regardless of the shattered hearts of real life human people desperately searching for a new life.

The law is the law, apparently.

That’s what many of my friends keep saying in defense of this policy. That’s what my friends say who are unable to criticize anything associated with people they voted into office.

But, there is a better way, a better law.

In Romans 13, the text often used to excuse our passivity and the country’s ugliness, the Apostle Paul (who would later be executed for breaking the law) also says:

“…whatever other commands there may be are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Love does no harm to a neighbor.

Love fulfills the law.

This is the law we should be living by. This is the law we should be defending. Particularly if we say we are Jesus people.

I’m not suggesting we have open borders. I’m not suggesting anarchy or doing away with any and all laws. I’m not suggesting that previous administrations haven’t had a hand in unjust practices.

I’m suggesting that this particular policy (which isn’t actually even a law) be stopped. Simple as that.

It does harm. More harm than good.

It is not restorative. It is not just. It is not loving. It is not necessary.

We already have family detention centers. We have ways to make this right while still ensuring people come to our country legally.

We have ways to impact the laws of the land and, even if we didn’t, there are times and places and reasons to oppose laws on the books.

Spare me “the law is the law” and give me “love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Give me concern for our neighbors. Even the ones from across the border. Even the ones we like to dismiss as illegal. Even the ones we think don’t belong.

Because this is the way of the Lord Jesus Christ. The entire law is summed up in this one word:

Love. Your. Neighbor.

He gave no qualifications. No loopholes. No exceptions.

Just one law to sum up all the others.

And hey, the law is the law.

Can We Talk About Guns For A Moment?

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Credit: Ryan Sommen, ideonexus.com

Can we talk about guns for a moment?

And by that I mean, can we talk about guns without being unreasonable? Without calling each other names? Without making stuff up? Without distorting the opposing arguments?

If you scroll through your social media feed you may doubt this is possible, but I assure you it is. During the March for Our Lives a woman who lost her son in the Parkland shooting and describes herself as a liberal shared about having a 45 minute, healthy conversation with Senator Marco Rubio. If they can do it, we can do it.

So come, let us reason together. Turn down the volume and shut off the memes for just a moment and let’s chat. Not only will we find we can do this, but that we have more in common than we think.

Let’s start with the fact that no sane person wants children to die in school. We are looking for ways to help prevent these tragedies from happening. Prevent being the operative word. Nothing we do will guarantee our children’s safety, but we can work to make our schools and the world a safer place.

Now how do we get there? Arm the teachers? Ban guns? Body scanners at the door? Clear backpacks? Police presence? Like you, I favor some of these and others I don’t. But let’s figure out where we agree.

We probably agree that there are limits to the types of weapons that a person should possess. I don’t know of anyone who claims that a private citizen should own a nuclear bomb. I also don’t know anyone who claims that a person shouldn’t be allowed to own a knife, a potentially lethal weapon.

We are okay with owning knives and we are not okay with owning nukes, which means somewhere there is a line. Somewhere we say, “this type of weapon is acceptable for personal use and this other type of weapon is not.” If we can agree there is a line, we can move toward figuring out where that line lies.

I personally do not know where the line is. I have opinions. You have opinions. But we have agreed there is a line. So perhaps we can work our way in from there. Bazookas okay? How about hunting rifles? Can folks own a slingshot? A grenade launcher?

Even if we can’t agree on everything we can move closer together.

Another step toward reasonableness is putting aside unreasonable arguments. A popular meme I see frequently says, “Cain killed Abel with a rock. It’s a heart problem not a gun problem.” While I’m happy that folks want to look to Scripture for their direction, this is a bad argument. There is not one of us who would rather a person intent on murdering students be armed with a gun over a rock. We would take the rock every single time and the loss of life would be severely mitigated.

Yes, murdering people is a heart issue. And a mental health issue. And it has reaches to pretty much every area of a person. But we address heart issues with legislation intended to help prevent the heart issue from spilling onto innocent lives. Alcohol limits for driving and public intoxication do exactly this.

Those making claims from the opposite position have faulty arguments as well. One of the common ones is to inflate statistics to support the cause. For example, the number of gun incidents at schools so far this year (which has been shared far and wide) almost always includes a suicide in the parking lot of a school that had been closed seven months prior and a few other incidents that are a stretch. Suicide is tragic and should be grieved and addressed, but it was not a “school shooting,” as popularly understood, and claiming it as such is unfair.

There are reasons to support stricter gun control and there are reasons to oppose it. When we resort to these less than thoughtful methods of persuasion we actually weaken our position and give others just cause to dismiss us.

We can’t share something simply because we agree with the intent behind it. We need to put in the time (usually about 45 seconds on Google.com) and effort to figure out a fuller picture. The world is full of trolls who don’t think twice about making up lies to create chaos or gather more people to their side. If you have to lie or skew information your position is weak to begin with. And those of us who click like and share without first thinking it through, are just as guilty.

So, we agree there is a line. And we should agree that a lot of us use some bad arguments to try and convince others. What else can we agree on?

How about this: laws are not the solution and yet are still tools that help us. Can we land there, together? We’ve already mentioned we are working to prevent and limit tragedy, not guarantee its eradication. Can a law help? We mentioned our current laws that do just that in other areas. Why couldn’t they apply to guns as well?

Is it possible that there is some type of law we could all agree on that will help us? Absolutely possible. Here is an example: When a school bus stops and lets a child off the red lights flash on top. In order to protect children the law says you cannot pass the bus. Reasonable. Efficient. Useful. Doesn’t mean someone won’t break the law and endanger children, but here regulation is helpful.

Certainly not every law is fair or useful. Laws can be too restrictive or selectively enforced. Laws can be deemed unconstitutional. But they can be good with the right amount of thought and purpose. If we are being reasonable, we can agree on this.

To help us agree that laws are not the solution but can be helpful, let’s also agree that enforcement of the laws already on the books is necessary. If we don’t follow through on what we already say is a risk, more laws won’t do us any good. A law is only useful when it is used the right way.

Now if you are tracking with me so far we have agreed that children shouldn’t be murdered in school, that there is a line somewhere for weapon ownership, that we shouldn’t make ridiculous arguments, and that laws are not the solution but can be helpful.

We can work from here. From here we can begin to look up and out at the proposed solutions and the challenges we face in this nation. This is a complex problem therefore the solution is likely complex too.

We’ve not touched on theological reasons for or against owning weapons (if you want to have that conversation, I’ll buy the coffee). We’ve not yet addressed whether more guns in public is safer than less guns. We’ve not talked about the role of parenting or discipline or extremism or video games or the news media or any of that.

If we are going to have these conversations (and we must) the best way forward is to find where we agree on something. Common ground is where we can make the most difference. Where we can sit eye to eye and talk. Where we can listen and hear from each other as humans, not angry anonymous people from the internet.

When we can find common ground there is less to fear. There is less to threaten. There is less to hate.

We are in this together. So let’s be reasonable. Let’s talk. Let’s listen. Let’s learn. Let’s think. Let’s be honest. Let’s do better. Our kids are depending on us. We can do it. Let’s agree on that.

You Can’t Kick God Out of School

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This is not God.

Whenever there is a school shooting one of the responses I hear goes something like this: We’ve kicked God out of schools, so what do we expect?

The argument suggests that God is sufficiently barred from schools and unable to help with these tragedies. That somehow God is not allowed in our schools, as if God needs an official permission slip.

Let’s set aside the fact that these events don’t happen in countries that are far more secular anywhere close to the rate they happen here. This post isn’t about the how or why school shootings happen.

This is about a very feeble view of God.

To suggest that the hands of Gods are somehow tied because of the pluralization or secularization of our schools is dangerous. If your god is unable to work in schools because they no longer do public prayer or because they teach a particular view of human origins, you need a bigger God.

The God I know is not limited to places where they hang the 10 Commandments on the wall. The God I know is not restricted by walls or doors or boundary lines. This God cannot be kicked out of buildings because some people don’t stop to acknowledge the Creator before the day begins or because certain administrators chose to stop allowing school sponsored Bible study in classrooms.

Is our God that anemic? Is that all it takes to thwart God Almighty?

Forget spiritual warfare, just teach a class on evolution or make space for non-Christian kids and watch as God is weakened like Superman holding kryptonite.

This is not a god worth worshipping. This is not the God of Scripture and certainly not the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

That God showed up in the flesh in the midst a pagan empire. The Romans had many gods and worshipped them in ways contrary to what God wanted for humanity. God showed up anyway.

The early church thrived under persecution from authorities who had no interest in worshipping or acknowledging Jesus. They lost jobs and homes and lives because the powers-that-be weren’t going to let them refuse to bow to Caesar. God showed up anyway.

Abraham was an idol worshipper when God showed up. Adam and Eve were hiding when God showed up. Paul was a Christ-hating murderer when God showed up.

This is how God works.

The Church is growing in places like China where they cannot openly meet for worship or prayer. They have no political power or privilege and certainly no sway over what is taught in schools. God shows up anyway.

If our God is limited to working in people and places where God is already esteemed by all or most people then we are in trouble. There are few places where God can work. And there is little that can be accomplished.

But if our God is the God we see throughout Scripture and in Jesus, the one who moves toward the mess, toward the hard places, toward the people who appear furthest from faithfulness, then we can have incredible hope.

We have hope that God is not only at work in schools, but in all places. That God doesn’t need to wait to be honored to begin setting things right. That God is drawing all people toward redemption. We can have hope that God shows up.

We certainly have a problem in our country, but I wonder if it has more to do with our impotent view of God than the lack of classrooms teaching the Bible as curriculum. I wonder if it is because we’ve reduced God to a good luck charm or a genie we can pull out of a lamp whenever we need something rather than Lord of our lives.

I wonder if we’ve become so accustomed to setting the rules that we’ve forfeited our responsibility to teach our own children who God is and what God desires. I wonder if we’ve traded in a living faith for a set of check-listed actions and beliefs. I wonder if what we say we want and how we actually live are unaligned in any meaningful way.

We don’t need to reclaim the curriculum for God to be taught. We don’t need prayers over the loudspeaker for prayers to happen in classrooms. We don’t need power or position or permission slips for our God to come.

God is here. Present in this world.

And Christians are here too. God is present in them. Every time the doors open Christian students carry the love and truth of Christ with them. Every day teachers spend time teaching addition and Spanish and science and do so with the presence of God within them as well.

God has not been and cannot be removed from schools. Not the God I serve.

So may we know this present and powerful God. May we set aside any small view of God or faith. And may we believe that this God is at work. That this God goes with us to every dark corner, to every dentist office, and to every classroom. May we seek to live faithful to the grace that has been given us regardless of what the world around us does. And may we be part of the solution our country so desperately needs.

Christmas is Messy

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source: davide ragusa, unsplash.com

Christmas is messy.

Just look at the shreds of wrapping paper and the stacks of receipts. Look at the scattered stocking stuffers and the crumbs of quickly consumed cookies. Look at the half eaten candy cane stuck to the carpet and the Pinterest fails and the exhausted in-laws. Messy.

But Christmas was messy long before any gifts were unwrapped or mixing bowls were left in the sink.

Christmas has been messy from the very start.

Christmas is centered on a human birth. I’m not sure if you’ve ever witnessed one of those, but I can testify to this fact – they are quite messy. Messy with blood and amniotic fluids and tears and sweat and other, well, messes.

This is the way Christ comes into the world. This is the way God shows up. A messy miracle.

And the mess wasn’t contained to just the biology of it all. The mess included livestock’s sleeping quarters, which smell about as good as you might imagine.

Christ comes not into a sterile hospital room or even a well-prepped master bedroom. He comes into the equivalent of an oft used garage. Nevermind the animal feed and draftiness and random goat or two.

And then the messy welcoming committee arrives. Not kings or princes or the head of the local chamber of commerce. Shepherds. Night shift shepherds at that.

Shepherds who likely hadn’t had a proper bath or used copious amounts of hand sanitizer in some time. Dirt under their fingernails, sheep poop on their sandals, long stained clothes. There is that smell again. What a mess.

And of course, there is the mess involving his parents. Mary says the child isn’t Joseph’s. Rumors swirl and the folks in town give knowing glances. “Who is the father?” the gossipers ask. Joseph plans to stay with Mary and raise this child as his own, despite laws and opinions suggesting otherwise. What a mess.

And then there is Herod. He fears the child so much that he will order all boys under the age of two to be killed. The heartache. Little Jesus and his family will flee their home and escape to Egypt to ensure his safety. The chaos and mess seem to never end.

Back then and still today, Christmas is messy. And that is good news.

Because our lives are often messy. And our world is often messy.

We make messes out of our relationships, messes out of our futures, messes out of our finances. Our faith gets messy, our pasts are messy. We have an incredible knack for messing things up.

We do what we don’t want to do. We don’t do what we do want to do. We are slow to learn our lessons. Quick to find new ways to blow it. Messy.

Rather than avoid the chaos, our God jumps right into it. Moves toward it. Enters the mess.

Rather than avoid it, because the mess is gross and God is above all that, a God whose holiness is rooted in love dives in after us.

To help us. To clean us up. To lift us out of our mess.

To forgive all the messes we have created. To heal all the messes that have been set upon us.

Christmas is messy. And grace is messy. And love is messy. People are messy.

And it is here in the mess, not above it, not once the mess is cleaned, right here in it, that Christ is found.

Here in the mess Christ comes, not to scold us for the messes we’ve made or keep a suspicious watch as we work to clean ourselves up.

He comes and stoops and washes and tends to needs and makes right what is wrong.

He enters the mess not to remind us of how bad we are, but to show us a better way. To lead us out of darkness and into light. He comes to the mess and offers us his presence, his tenderness, his understanding, his unmessiness.

So when the mess is so bad that you don’t know where to begin the clean up, remember Christ comes to messes.

When you buy the lie that you have to clean yourself up first, remember Jesus is deeply familiar with messy people and situations.

When you nervously wonder if perhaps you’ve missed a spot or left something untended, remember God is more concerned with the position of your heart than what you’ve stepped in.

When you feel unworthy or too dirty, remember Christmas is messy.

And that’s the point.

The love revealed at Christmas is intended for you and all your dirty, stinky, bloody messes. Joy to the whole messy world!