One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found at the very end of Matthew. It gets me though the hard times, the good times, and all the times in between. It reminds me of my source of comfort, joy, and power. You’ll find Matthew 28:20b at the end of the Great Commission, where Jesus says, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
What kind of times are we living in? Are you an optimist, believing that the world is getting better and better? Or and things going downhill? What are the problems we face? What are the solutions?
One of the advantages of accumulating a lot of birthdays is that we gain perspective. We have a longer view, and can more easily see trends. Pete’s 80+-year-old grandmother (right) frequently observed, “The world is going to hell in a handbasket!” Being in our 20s, we thought it was just old age speaking. Now that I’m considerably older, I’m beginning to share her perspective.
Some things are obvious. On a positive note, science and technology have improved our lives to a great degree (and also caused a host of new problems). Due to the civil rights movement, past injustices are being corrected. In spite of the dire claims you hear, the environment is actually much cleaner than it was when I was coming of age in the ’70s. On a global scale, extreme poverty and child mortality are down, literacy rates are rising, and overall, if we look at the standard of living, a majority of people are living healthier and more comfortable lives.[i]
By the time you’re as old as Pete and I are, life has thrown some pretty dramatic curve balls. There have been periods of calm, joy, success, and everything going just right. And then there are those times when all hell breaks loose (literally), the enemy attacks, and you wonder what in the world God is doing!
Pete’s recent medical adventures (see my March 15 post: Pete Tries to Go to Heaven… Again) have proved to be both a “what in the world!” experience and a huge opportunity to know God better. One thing that God has impressed on me over the last few months is that He is in charge even when everything is going crazy.
The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present a food offering to the Lord. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.’” (Leviticus 23:5-8)
Today marks the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. We often lump Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread together into one holiday, but in reality they represent two different festivals. As mentioned last week, Passover foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as the Lamb of God. It lasts for 24 hours, from evening to evening.
Tonight begins Passover, probably the most significant Jewish feast in the Bible. It’s immediately followed by the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread. Most Christians don’t celebrate these feasts, as they’re considered Jewish holidays, not Christian ones. And that’s fine. While God told Moses,
This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance” (Exodus 12:14),
Paul’s letter to the Colossians states,
Don’t let anyone tell you what you must eat or drink. Don’t let them say that you must celebrate the New Moon festival, the Sabbath, or any other festival. These things are only a shadow of what was to come. But Christ is real! (Colossians 2:16-17)
So no, we don’t have to celebrate Passover. Yet, God’s purpose in instituting it has never changed. How is it a “shadow of what was to come”? Perhaps we need to take a closer look. We can learn a lot from a shadow.
The Bible talks about times and seasons. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 spells it out—“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven… “ (I’m old enough to remember the Byrd’s cover of Pete Seeger’s song, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” which was a number one hit in 1965.) Furthermore, God tells us that it’s important to understand the time we live in. The book of Esther calls the men who understood the times “wise” (see Esther 1:13).
How do we understand the times?
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!