Word association games are fun and often revealing. For instance, one word that comes to mind for February is LOVE. They stamp LOVE on little, itty, bitty, pieces of candy. They put delectable chocolates in heart shaped boxes, and presently there are 192 million Valentine's Day cards exchanged annually.
Have you ever wondered how these particular expressions of love came to be so popular? Those Conversation Heart Candies were invented 150 years ago by the Chase brothers, who founded the New England Confectionary Company (NECCO). The first “conversation” candies were not in the shape of hearts but rather shells; text was inscribed on a foil wrapper not the candy itself.
While chocolate has been around for centuries, the first chocolate candies (as we know them today) were invented in the 1860s by Richard Cadbury, an Englishman who was also the first to market them in a heart-shaped box for Valentine's Day that same decade.
While the tradition of “Valentines” has its roots in pagan Roman culture and has been celebrated worldwide for centuries; the tradition of Valentine's cards did not become widespread in the United States, until the 1850s, when Esther A. Howland from Worcester, Massachusetts began mass-producing them. Were you expecting someone by the name of Hallmark? Actually J.C. Hall, not Hallmark, began making his “mark” some sixty years later in Kansas City, Missouri.
What do these three particular expressions of love have in common? They all were invented at one of the darkest times in American history – The Civil War. At a time of tremendous disunity when brother fought against brother, at a time when it seemed there was no hope for peace and forgiveness, these expressions of Love still made their way into the fabric of our great nation. What a reminder that love is more powerful than hate!
God’s Word tells us that love forgives, and it turns enemies into friends. Romans 5:10 tells us that when we were enemies, Christ died for us. Jesus calls us “friends” in John 15. What love! What forgiveness! God’s love can transform us into His friends. Christ expects us to make friends of our enemies. Christ expects us to love and forgive others as He loves and forgives us.
A central figure in the Civil War was Abraham Lincoln, who was born February 12, 1809. He was a man of integrity, known to the world as “honest Abe”. He was a humble man. Simply read many of his writings and you will perceive his dependency upon God. He was a man who loved people like God loves. It is well documented that President Lincoln received much ridicule in the press and from the lips of many a politician. One notable individual who was unmerciful in his attacks was Edwin Stanton. Not once do we find President Lincoln responding in kind. Matter of fact, after dismissing his Secretary of War, who was incompetent and insubordinate, President Lincoln chose his enemy Edwin Stanton for the position. When asked why he would ask someone who had incessantly publically assailed him; President Lincoln responded, “He is the best man for the job”. After being selected, Stanton would continue to embarrass the President from time to time. President Lincoln did not allow these personal attacks to deter him from what was best for the country, and kept Stanton as Secretary of War. What Longsuffering! It has been told that as Stanton stood over the lifeless body of his assassinated President, he uttered these words with tears in his eyes, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.”
What could turn a critic into a friend? The power of love! A love that suffereth long, is kind, that envies not, that seeks not her own, that is not easily provoked, that beareth all things, and endures all things. A love that forgives. A love that seeks the welfare of another over self. A sacrificial love that is epitomized by our Savior’s love for us. A love that conquers hate. In the midst of the Civil War stood a figure who refused to allow hatred to win. What about you?
Every day I am greeted by a plaque on my desk that says, “I will not be normal, I will be a miracle”. It is a constant challenge to me. One of the many synonyms Webster gives for “normal” is average. Average has many synonyms associated with it such as common, ordinary, and even mediocre. I want to live above mediocrity. I don’t want to be just average, just ordinary.
One of the many definitions Webster gives for “normal” is the definition “occurring naturally”. When I reflect on that definition, the first passage of Scripture in the Bible that comes to mind is 1 Corinthians 2:14 where it says, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” God’s Word, God’s Will can only be discerned in the realm of the spiritual. The natural man is here described as a man without the Holy Spirit in His life. 2 Peter 1:4 describes the person who places his faith and trust in Christ as a “partaker of the divine nature”. There is nothing ordinary about being a “partaker of the divine nature”. When we trust Christ as our Savior an extraordinary thing happens; the supernatural Holy Spirit comes into our lives to guide us and help us discern His Word and His Will for our lives. This is a miracle.
Webster defines “miracle” as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs”. Every Christmas we celebrate the extraordinary event of a holy God manifesting Himself to His fallen creatures in order to redeem us and reconcile us to Himself. In order for our sin debt to be paid, God’s holiness demanded a sinless, perfect substitute to die in our place to pay that debt. The only sinless, perfect substitute is God. In order for God to die, He would have to become human. For God to come into this world in the manner in which He designed for mankind to procreate, God would have taken on the sin nature of Adam, and He would have ceased to be sinless. He would have ceased to be God. Christ’s birth demanded exactly what God ordered: that the Son of God would be born of a virgin conceived by the Holy Spirit. In this way, Christ was totally divine and at the same time totally man. Deity and humanity met in the womb of a virgin. Never had there been a person born of a virgin until Christ came into this world.
This never repeated miracle was necessary for you and I to be able to live extraordinary lives – lives lived in the realm of the spiritual, lives not stuck in the natural or the normal. Even though we may take the step that makes us “partakers of the divine nature”; 1 Corinthians 3 shows we can still fall short of God’s perfect plan for us and live in the realm of the normal. Those verses refer to this type of living as “carnal”. Normal living is living for self. We are told in Scripture this kind of living is unfulfilling. I don’t want to live that way.
Often when we think of miracles, our thoughts focus on the spectacular. We are prone to bask in the magnificence of it. As I reflect upon our Lord’s Incarnation, it strikes me that this miraculous event where God comes to earth is shrouded in a covering that is unpretentious. The eternal God limited His divine attributes, limiting Himself within the confines of a human body. God comes into this world in a very humble setting as a baby dependent upon parents to provide His basic needs. Throughout His life Jesus is dependent upon God to meet His basic needs. He explained to His disciples, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head”. When we read the Gospels we see the humility of our Lord on each page. We constantly see obedience to the Father and His unconditional love for others. In Philippians 2 we are told that we are to have the same mind and attitude as Christ. There it outlines that Jesus limited His divine attributes and “took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”.
What about you and me? Do we have the mind of Christ? Serving others, putting others before ourselves, yielding our rights, setting aside our agenda and aspirations to do the will of God are foolishness to the natural man. To live like Christ is a miracle. It requires daily yielding ourselves to the supernatural indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. Too many times we are unwilling to yield. So we trudge along trying to live the Christian life in our own power, and do not experience the power of God in our lives. We are existing. We are playing church. We are living in the normal. I don’t want to live there. I don’t want to play church. I don’t want to get comfortable in this world. I want to make a difference in people’s lives. I want my life to count for God. I want the same for you. Will you strive with me to step out of the mundane, the normal, and experience the “miracle” of a life totally surrendered to God?