Happy New Year! Thanks for walking with me over the past twelve interesting months yet again!
Here’s a quick fly-over from our year together:
One year of serving at Grace on worship team, AWANA, nursery, teaching adult SOD!
10th Anniversary of teaching on the collegiate level!
25 Years of Marriage!
Teaching Romans at Church!
Cubs win! Cubs win!
Trump won! Trump won?!
Thanksgiving & Christmas Day!
God’s provision through our jobs!
Plus Celena, TJ, Dayton, Cascade & Cadence!
What a year! Did I miss anything big? It has been a rather eventful year for me personally (25th wedding anniversary and the anniversary of my 10th year teaching college students). It has also been a full year for us as a family (puppies, school, vacation). Without a doubt, we have experienced the grace and mercy of God. No, the year has not been without its challenges (I think of TJ’s health issues, raising a toddler, and the sins of seven people living together under one roof). But we would be sinful to complain as day #365 rapidly approaches its conclusion. The Lord has not treated us as our many, many sins deserve. We have been greatly blessed and we are looking forward to living 2017 together. But first…
“The true meaning of Christmas is to cheer people up during a cold and depressing time of year. That means lots of food, getting together with family and friends, giving each other gifts, being kind to others, and helping those in need.”
Those are the thoughts of blogger, atheist and humanist Staks Rosch in a 2013 article on The Huffington Post blog (see link below). He continued:
“Whatever excuse you want to use to celebrate the winter season is great. Jews celebrate a day’s worth of oil that lasted eight nights. As excuses go, that’s pretty weak, but if it makes people happy, great. Celebrate long-lasting oil, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, the birth of a mythical figure, a funny episode from a sitcom, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (sauce be upon him), Human Light, or even Star Wars Life Day. Whatever you celebrate, have a happy holiday season.” He concluded with a tribute to the famous and now deceased Christopher Hitchens (a hero to all those who hate religion).
As you might imagine, I do not appreciate Mr. Rosch’s comments. In particular, I think he is a bit naive to state that Jesus was a mythical figure. Even the Jewish historian Josephus acknowledged that Jesus actually lived when we believe that He did.
Jesus truly was a Jewish man, born in Israel over two thousand years ago. The real question is whether or not He was who He claimed to be. One of the men that walked with Him for three years was from the fishing village of Bethesda located on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. His name was Peter. As Peter sensed the end of his life approaching, he wrote two letters. We know them as 1 & 2 Peter. In his second epistle, he wrote the following:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty (chapter one, New American Standard Bible [NASB]).
Another eye-witness stated it this way:
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John, chapter one, NASB).
Several years later, the same author would write the following to one of the early congregations:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life (1 John 1:1; NASB).
If the New Testament is clear about anything, it is that Jesus of Nazareth walked among us!
However, in order to believe what He claimed about Himself and what others (Peter, John, Paul, etc.) taught, you must be given a gift–the gift of faith. Knowledge takes us to a point. Faith completes the journey. But faith, according to the Scripture, is not something we can create ourselves. It is a gift, given by God (Ephesians 2:8). And, I contend, it is the greatest gift one could receive!
Have you received it?
Have you asked God for it?
You may be content to be–like the atheist author quoted above–an unbeliever. Please know, I am not more intelligent than Mr. Rosch. In fact, he could probably run circles around me intellectually and defeat me in an argument with one arm tied behind his back. But I have received something he has not–the gift of faith. It really is that simple. I was given a gift and I opened it. I believed. That’s why Christmas is more to me than “lots of food, getting together with family and friends, giving each other gifts, being kind to others, and helping those in need.” Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all those activities mentioned! BUT I APPRECIATE JESUS CHRIST EVEN MORE!
And that is what makes my Christmas worth celebrating.
For another perspective than the one offered by The Huffington Post, consider:
Chattanooga recently witnessed a horrific event. A bus carrying grade school students crashed, killing six and injuring many others. Words cannot express the grief experienced by so many in the community following the accident. On the next day, I was listening to a talk radio station out of Chattanooga. The host of the show that morning encouraged everyone of every faith to find a place to get alone and pray. He went on the state that individuals who were not religious should think positive thoughts because, like prayers, they make a difference. He even mentioned that it was a proven phenomenon.
I would question the validity of whatever study was performed.
My positive thoughts will not improve your negative day.
Without a doubt, I can bless you if I communicate to you (face-to-face, email, Facebook, text, etc.). If you know that I’m in your corner, that can make a world of difference. But my simply thinking kind thoughts about you or for you isn’t going to assist one bit.
I know what you’re thinking: “The force isn’t strong with this one.” Exactly! I reject the new age spiritualism adopted by the talk show personality who described himself as a Christian–Druid–Universalist (I’m serious).
Thankfully, we do not need to resort to an Americanized form of eastern mysticism when we, our loved ones, or strangers are suffering. The triune God listens to His people when they pray! He condescends to hear the requests of those to receive His Son. And, hallelujah, He answers in the affirmative far more than in the negative. In other words, His children hear “Yes” much more than they hear “No”!
Knowing this, how often should we pray? Paul commanded us to “pray continually” and be devoted to prayer (1 Thess. 5:17; Col. 4:2). Jesus instructed us to pray specifically and repeatedly (Luke 11:1-13). And we should especially pray when we learn of tragedies such as the bus accident in Chattanooga. God is everywhere and He is all-powerful. He can assist and comfort those in great sorrow and, most importantly, He can draw people to Himself through very dire circumstances.
The fact that we do not pray more reveals a very inadequate theology if not a very small faith.