While I was leading a Bible class for those who didn’t yet believe in Jesus, a participant asked, “How many gods are there in this world?” Hoping to give an answer, I Googled for help. I believe there’s only one true God, but one person gave this clever answer: Seven billion gods. There are seven billion people in this world. And everyone has a personal god.
When I was growing up, my family attended an occasional professional baseball game and often watched the college basketball playoffs on TV. Overall, sports were a peripheral pastime, a practice that continued with my kids. But our daughter has become a diehard NBA Golden State Warriors basketball fan. She’s a faithful follower of her team and can hold her own in a discussion of players, stats, and the Warriors’ winning seasons.
One of my favorite moments of the year is on Christmas Eve when, at the conclusion of our church’s candlelight service, we erupt with the powerful song “Joy to the World.” Because our church practices Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) as a season of preparing our hearts to celebrate Jesus’ birth, we wait to unleash this song until that holy moment—then our voices raise the rafters. The song is the perfect conclusion to Advent, since joy is at the heart of everything Jesus does for us.
It was the night before a job fair, and my husband was discouraged. Past attempts to land a job had failed, and he felt that meeting with recruiters would only lead to more dead ends. But he realized God was greater than his fears (Isaiah 41:10), so before practicing possible interview questions, we decided to meditate on specific, encouraging passages of Scripture. We also prayed and recounted God’s numerous blessings. By the end of the evening, we both experienced a sense of peace even amid our fears.
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has observed that many believers in Jesus “think they have a relationship with God that they go to church to have expressed. . . . I think that’s to get it exactly backwards.” A local church isn’t merely a gathering of people who already have a relationship with Jesus. Meeting together is central to that relationship.
Amanda Varty was diagnosed with a chronic illness and lay confined to a bed in a darkened room for nine years. Usually too weak to go to church, one Sunday she felt compelled to ask her husband to take her to a service. As Amanda worshiped God, she felt strengthened in her body, but weakness returned when she went home.
Being on staff at various churches has allowed me to hear a variety of stories. One type I dread is about family members who haven’t spoken to each other for a long time. There’s been a breakdown in communication. I hear, “I have no idea what I did. He (or she) just stopped talking to me. My letters, phone calls, and e-mails aren’t returned.” Indeed, it’s a crushing experience when communication and love between family members falls apart.
In 1995, Gary Chapman published his influential book The Five Love Languages. In it, Chapman argues that love isn’t expressed through a single means, but that each of us has different ways in which we express and receive love—what he calls love languages. With this, he dramatically expanded the ways in which we understood how to love and be loved by those around us!
I’ll never forget what one of my older friends said when her son died unexpectedly: “Heaven seems nearer.” Although she was a widow who had endured hardship and pain, she lived her life with verve and joy. In her sadness over losing her son, she sought God’s perspective and, in doing so, felt the distance lessen between God’s kingdom on earth and His kingdom in heaven.
In what’s considered one of the greatest Christian classics, Mere Christianity, British novelist, poet, academic, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote: “There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus, if you have really handed yourself over to Him (Jesus), it must follow that you are trying to obey Him.”
In my view, besides our relationship with God, each of us typically desire three key treasures—health, possessions, and family. A loss to any can be heart wrenching. The Old Testament patriarch Job experienced a triple test—financial ruin, the deaths of his ten children, and painful ill health (Job 1:14-19, 2:7). We can’t imagine the intensity of pain Job had to bear.
As we ascended up and out of a dimly lit subway station, the street corner’s bright lights belied the evening dusk settling over the city. Although we had already been in New York City for several days on a family vacation, the activity of Times Square far surpassed any busyness we had yet encountered. Flashing advertisements, video screens playing production clips, and the constant buzz of pedestrian and automobile traffic met us everywhere we turned. Not a single corner of quiet could be found.
A study conducted by a group of neuroeconomists from the University of Zurich found that people who showed generosity were happier than people who acted in a selfish way. In fact, they found that if people were even a little bit generous, they still experienced a pleasant feeling. The researchers measured activity in areas of the brain linked to contentment and generosity. Interestingly, the feeling of happiness that one experiences when giving has been termed a “warm glow.”
The idolatry of ancient Israel’s neighbors led the psalmist to write, “Their idols are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see” (Psalm 115:4-5). In essence, he was asking, “Why would a person feel the need to worship and bring a sacrifice to an idol? Who would devote their lives to a god they know is false—somehow hoping it would bless them?”
The ceasefire began with the sound of singing on the battlefield. It was Christmas Eve 1914, along the Western Front of the fighting in WWI. German soldiers alternated singing Christmas carols with their enemies—British, Belgian, and French soldiers. This goodwill spilled into the next day, when fighters emerged from the trenches, unarmed. They introduced themselves and exchanged small gifts. Reflecting on that experience, one veteran said, “If we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired.” A short break in hostility allowed the soldiers to see their opponents as people, not merely enemies.