By Rob Renfroe
We Christians believe the most remarkable things. Incredible things, really.
We believe that God exists. That’s our most important belief. But it’s not the most surprising or incredible.
We believe that God came to earth. We believe that he came to earth as a human being. We believe that as a human being he died on a cross.
All of those beliefs are incredible.
But most incredible of all is that God came to earth, took on human flesh inside a woman’s womb, experienced hunger and thirst and pain, grew to be a man, and finally died on a cross because we matter to him.
You matter to him.
I matter to him.
Of everything we believe about God, that is certainly the most incredible.
“If the Milky Way galaxy were the size of the entire continent of North America, our solar system would fit in a coffee cup,” writes Philip Yancey in his book, Prayer: Does It Make A Difference. “Even now two Voyager spacecrafts are hurtling toward the edge of the solar system at a rate of 100,000 miles per hour. For almost three decades they have been speeding away from earth, approaching a distance of nine billion miles. When engineers beam a command to the spacecraft at the speed of light, it takes 13 hours to arrive. Yet this vast neighbor of our sun—in truth the size of a coffee cup—fits along with several hundred billion other stars and their minions in the Milky Way, one of perhaps 100 billion such galaxies in the universe. To send a light-speed message to the edge of that universe would take 15 billion years.”
What did the Psalmist say? “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).
The great Christian mind of G. K. Chesterton put it this way: “All men matter. You matter. I matter. It’s the hardest thing in theology to believe.”
The God who created just the part of the universe that we’re aware of must be incredible. His power, his wisdom, his imagination? This God must be absolutely, incredibly beyond our understanding.
And that God—the God who is big enough to speak all of that into existence and hold it in the palm of his hand—says you matter to him. He says I matter to him.
1. Your life matters.
That’s part of the Christmas story. In the person of Jesus Christ, God became an infant, was born in a Bethlehem stable, walked among us, went to a cross, and died the most painful and shameful death the Roman Empire could devise because my life matters to God, because your life matters to God.
If it weren’t true, it would be the height of human arrogance to make such a claim: that a God like the one who created the universe cares about creatures like us. But we believe that we matter to God because that’s what Christmas tells us.
Every one of us wants to believe that we matter.
In the movie Shall We Dance?, one of the characters, Beverly, wrongly believes that her husband is having an affair and she hires a private detective.
In one scene, she says, “All these promises that we make and we break, why is it that you think people get married?”
The detective responds, “Passion.”
Beverly shakes her head: “No.”
“Why, then?” the detective asks.
Beverly responds: “Because we need a witness to our lives. There are a billion people on this planet. I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything: the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all the time, every day. You’re saying your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed, because I will be your witness.”
Every one of us wants to live a life that matters. And every one of us wants to share our life with someone who matters to us.
And here’s the good news. Married or single, young or old, successful in the eyes of the world or not, your life has not gone unnoticed. It has not gone, and it will not go, unwitnessed.
There is one who has promised to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things. All of it, all the time. Because you matter to him.
He is the God of the universe who has made himself known in the person of Jesus Christ. And because he cares for you, because he loves you, your life matters.
2. It matters what you do with your life.
How you think about life makes a difference. And people view their lives in very different ways.
For some, life is a game to win. For others it’s a challenge to overcome. For others it’s a riddle to solve. I’ve known men and women who see life as a sentence to bear, or a struggle to survive.
Some are more positive. They see life as an adventure to enjoy.
And what you think about life will determine what you do with the life you have.
Here’s what I’ve concluded. Life is a trust. Life is a gift that God places in our care. We have been entrusted with this most precious thing called a human life. And like any gift, it can be wasted or squandered. Or it can be used for the purpose it was intended.
And whatever we choose to do with our lives, it matters. It really does matter.
Why? Because we matter to God. Your life is God’s gift to you. And all that you have and all that you are is part of the gift.
Your time, your education, your wealth, your influence, your mind, your creativity. It’s all a trust. And it matters what you do with all of that because your life matters to God.
It matters enough that when we made a mess of things, when we were unfaithful with the trust we had been given—the Bible calls it sin—God thought we mattered enough that he sent his son Jesus in the vulnerable form of a baby, knowing that he’d have to die to be our savior, so we could begin life over, forgiven and clean.
When it hits home that your life is a trust from God, that he sent his son to die on a Roman cross, to pay the debt you owed but couldn’t pay, so you could live an abundant life in this world and eternal life in the world to come; when that becomes real to you, you get it. You get the fact that your life matters and it matters what you do with your life.
When you stand in front of a cross and you realize that, as Jesus said about himself, he had come to seek and to save the lost—when you realize that you were the lost he came for, and that he came, knowing it would take his life, it hits home: my life matters. The choices I make. How I spend my time. What I do with my energy and my influence and my finances. What I put into my mind. Whether or not I live for self or for something greater. It really matters.
That’s part of the Christmas message. Your life matters because it matters to God. And because your life matters to God, it matters what you do with your life.
3. Every life matters.
All that I’ve said about you thus far is true of every other person who has lived or will ever live.
One of the amazing facets of the Christmas story is the wide range of persons it involves. It involves a Jewish priest named Zachariah, who was told that his son, John the Baptist, would prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming.
It involves wise men from the East. Though we don’t know much about them, they were wealthy intellectuals, and certainly not Jewish.
Of course it involves Joseph and Mary, part of what today we would call the working class.
And it also involved the shepherds. We think of shepherds and we think of salt of the earth types, caring and strong, close to the earth and probably close to God. But in the time of Jesus, that’s not how people thought of shepherds, and that’s not how they thought of themselves—just the opposite, in fact. Shepherds were assumed to be dishonest and immoral.
In the whole world, you would find no occupation more despised than that of the shepherd. To the list of those who could not give testimony in court, add robbers, extortionists, shepherds, and all who are suspect in money matters. Their testimony was invalid under all circumstances.
For shepherds, tax collectors, and revenue farmers, it was difficult to make repentance. Why? Because shepherds routinely led their flocks across land that belonged to others, eating grass and drinking water along the way.
In the arid climate of the Middle East, nothing was more precious. Whatever was eaten or drunk by the shepherd’s flock was considered stolen. And even if a shepherd wanted to make things right, he would find it practically impossible to remember everyone he had defrauded, much less make restitution.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were held in contempt and despised as roving, unscrupulous gypsies and thieves. And often that’s exactly what they were.
Why were these undeserving, marginalized shepherds included in the first Christmas? Not just included, but given an angelic invitation while the world slept to be the first to visit the newborn Christ? Because Christmas is for everyone. And its message is that everyone matters to God.
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people’” (Luke 2:10).
All the people. Jews and Gentiles. The intellectual and the uneducated. The religious and the irreligious. The wealthy, the working class, and the poor. Those who have done everything right and those who have done everything wrong.
Christmas is for everyone because everyone matters to God. If that’s true, it leads to something else.
4. It matters how we treat others.
“Remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare,” writes C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory. “All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities…that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.…No flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love….”
I love the line: “There are no ‘ordinary’ people.”
Everyone has a soul. Everyone is eternal. Everyone is on a journey that will lead them to God and to a destiny of beauty and splendor—or they’re on a journey that will lead them away from God and to a destiny that is hideous and dark.
And regardless of where they are or where they are heading at the moment, everyone matters to God. That means it matters how we treat others.
God loves everyone, none more than the other. But if you read the Bible and if you look at the life of Jesus, you will find that God has a special concern for those like the shepherds—the lost, the least, the looked-over, and the left out.
One of my favorite artists is Darden Smith. He wrote a song called “Broken Branches.” He lives in Austin, Texas, and was downtown near the bus station watching the street people who hung out there. One couple in particular got his attention. He wrote about them:
“Two people stand on the corner / Counting up some bus fare change / Boy and a girl 26 or 7 / Clothes are all in disarray.”
He describes their appearance and the kind of life they must have lived to end up the way they are: “Back alleys, back seats / Park bench beds / Careless love.”
And then he asks: “Which way does the wind blow? / How blue is the sky? / Can you count the teardrops / Falling from a mother’s eyes? / Hey, that’s somebody’s daughter / That’s somebody’s son. / Somebody’s pride and joy / Turned out to be / A broken branch off the family tree.”
Remember, Darden tells us, before you dismiss a person, or judge them too harshly, or walk past them and pretend not to notice, that’s somebody’s daughter, that’s somebody’s son. Tears have been shed for him or her. Long ago there were hopes and dreams, pride and joy. Once they mattered to someone.
What does Christmas tell us? They still matter. Because they matter to God. And because they matter to God, they have to matter to us.
Not just street people and the homeless—that would be a good start—but everyone. Before we dismiss them, before we give up on them, before we decide they’re not worth what it takes to love them, before we walk past them and pretend not to see, remember: They matter to God.
There were once hopes and dreams, and maybe it’s not too late. Maybe we’re part of God’s dream for that person, and maybe he wants to use us to help them come to know his love and step into the beauty and splendor for which he created them.
People matter to God. And so it matters how we treat people.
5. Christmas tells us how to live a life that matters.
There are many ways we can live, but I want to point out a few specific ways.
• We can live life without God. Many people do just this—even many of us in the church.
We may believe in God, but that’s as far as it goes. We live the same way we would if we didn’t believe in him. We run after the same things the world runs after: possessions, position, power, and pleasure.
We think we’re unique. We think we’ll do something that makes us stand out. We’re writing our own story. But it’s the same story that most men and women write for themselves, a self-centered story of a life that is as hollow as it is shallow.
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) wrote about such lives in his poem There Breathes The Man. “High though his titles, proud his name / Boundless his wealth as wish can claim / Despite those titles, power, and pelf / The wretch, concentrated all in self / Living, shall forfeit fair renown / And, doubly dying, shall go down / To the vile dust, from whence he sprung / Unwept, unhonored, and unsung.”
There’s no honor in this kind of life. In fact there’s no life in this kind of life, certainly not the kind of life that matters.
• We can live with God as a part of our story. That’s the way most church folks live.
We live our lives and then somehow we figure out that there is a God and that we need God. And we ask God into our lives, accept Christ, trust him as Savior, go to church, give some money, and ask God to give us strength to live a better life.
But if we’re not careful, it’s still primarily our story. We write the script, we determine our goals, we stay in charge of the storyline of our lives. We’ve written God into the story. And God is there to give us advice and direction and strength. But our lives are still about our stories.
However, there is a better way.
• We can become a part of God’s story.
Some folks get it. They understand that true meaning comes when we become more concerned about God’s story than we are about our stories.
God’s story is a story of redemption. It’s a story that began when the first human beings broke fellowship with God. And God decided that he would make a way for us to come back to him.
It’s the great storyline of the universe. Since it began, kingdoms have come and gone. Empires have risen and fallen. And all of them claimed to be the story. They would last forever, they would bring hope and peace and life to humankind.
But they’re gone, and God’s story goes on.
It’s the story of God weeping over the broken branches that were once his family tree. And it’s the story of God acting in history to bring his children back to him through miracles, signs, and wonders, through priests and prophets and shepherds.
It’s Mary saying, “Yes, Lord, I’ll join your story. May it be to me as you have said.”
It’s Joseph saying, “Yes, Lord, I’ll be a part of your story, and take Mary as my wife.”
It’s the story of a baby in a manger.
It’s the story of a sacrifice on a cross.
It’s the story of a tomb that’s empty and a Savior that’s risen.
It’s the story of faithful men and women who, for 20 centuries, have determined that they exist to tell the story with the words they speak and, even more, through the lives they live.
It’s the men and women who have realized that life is about more than their little stories with or without God in them. It’s about joining God in the ongoing story of his redemptive work that brings life to wise men and shepherds and tax collectors and Jews and Gentiles and geologists and engineers and bankers and moms on welfare and deadbeat dads and people on the corner counting up bus fare change.
There are a hundred ways to be a part of God’s story. You’ll do it in different ways than I do it. You’ll do it in ways that I can’t.
What’s important is that we do it. Whether it’s teaching a Bible study or leading a small group, sharing cookies—and Christ—with your neighbors, or shoveling snow with an outreach ministry, building churches in South America or loving orphans or some other way, what’s important is that our lives join in God’s story, the big story of redemption.
Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News. He is the pastor of adult discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas.