Every so often, I find a Dove chocolate waiting for me next to my pillow when I’m heading to bed. I have a thoughtful husband! While I wallow in my indulgence, the smooth, dark chocolate melting in my mouth, I carefully open the foil so I can read the “words of wisdom” inside—kind of like checking your fortune while you munch on the cookie. There must have been a contest I missed, because these pithy little phrases were written by chocolate lovers all over the country. Apparently, the winners get to see their words printed on a Dove wrapper. (I trust that the prizes also included lots of chocolate.)
Christmas reminds me of a sticky ball rolling down a hill, accumulating bits and pieces from everything it passes, until it’s one big adhesive mess and it’s hard to tell what the original ball looked like. We’ve gone from a simple explanation of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth to the huge holiday extravaganza we now experience. This is one holiday that needs to go on a diet.
Some of the traditions we associate with Christmas make sense—at least I can see the connection. Giving gifts is a reflection of the magi’s offering of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Advent calendars and wreaths help us focus on God’s purpose in sending His Son. Decorating with lights reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the world. And of course, there are Christmas carols (which may or may not be relevant or accurate).
The end of the year is often a time when people donate time and money to various charities and other non-profits. Some include giving as part of their Christmas celebration. Every year we receive several catalogs allowing us to donate livestock, school and medical supplies, and Bible study materials to poor families, giving them a leg up in becoming self-sustaining.
All this giving is a good thing. God tells us to give throughout the Bible, and we should do so. The Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), and we should give with love and generosity. In return, we find joy in the mere act of making someone else’s life better. If you’ve ever watched your kids open their presents on Christmas morning, you realize the truth of Jesus’ statement, “It’s more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).
It was 3 a.m. and I was lying in bed trying to pray. A few days earlier, Pete had been in a horrific accident halfway around the world, and I couldn’t sleep, knowing he was in the hospital so far away. But as I once again attempted to formulate a prayer for his healing, God interrupted me with a voice so clear, I couldn’t have missed a single word: “Don’t pray for Pete’s healing. I’ve got that covered, and lots of other people are praying for that. Just thank me. Pete is my son, and with him I’m well pleased!”
Wow. As Pete had been attending a huge missions conference at the time of the accident, I knew that thousands of people around the world were praying for his recovery. Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to be one of them. (How often does God tell you not to pray for something?) And I was more than grateful that I still had a husband!
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible. It’s written on hand-held signs at sporting events, emblazoned on clothing, and plastered on billboards. And we all assume that we know what this verse means: If you “believe in Jesus,” you’ll be saved.
The pastor at the church I was visiting was adamant. “God only speaks through the Bible.” He went on to explain that while God spoke through dreams, prophets, angels, and a “still, small voice” in the Old Testament, now that we have the completed Bible, Scripture is the only way God still communicates with us.
I think we’d all agree—the world is not doing so well. Read the headlines, listen to the news, and we aren’t surprised to find that people lie and cheat and murder, innocent people suffer, and loving kindness is in very short supply. How did we get into this mess?
If you’re a Christian, you probably blame it all on Satan, who enticed Eve into eating that forbidden fruit. The story in Genesis 3 is very familiar; we’ve read it many times. And whether you take it literally or symbolically, the end result is the same. Mankind fell for the lie and the results are all around us.