2016 wasn’t all bad

There’s so much focus on what went wrong in 2016 – celebrities who died, the political landscape, escalating (so it seems) death and destruction in the Middle East, just for starters – I think we need to focus on what went right this year.

Speaking of sports …

Here in the Cleveland area, there’s a couple of easy success stories to begin this essay. The Cavaliers won their first NBA championship, ending a major sports drought of 52 years in this city since the Browns won the NFL championship in 1964. LeBron James is the star. His decision to return to Cleveland after four years in Miami sparked the championship.

In the fall, the Indians took the Chicago Cubs to extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series before coming up short. Still, the Indians won the American League pennant with a group of young players who have us Indians fans excited for the future.

And for my Chicago-area friends: The Cubs ended more than a century of misery by winning their first World Series since 1908. Good things happen to those who wait. And wait. And wait …

Across the country …

The National Park Service turned 100 years old in August. There’s a good New Year’s resolution: Let’s get outside more.

Thanks to vaccinations, measles was eliminated from the Americas in 2016, and global malaria deaths have dropped 60 percent since 2000.

The United States had a successful summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Let us count them one by one …

Personally, it’s easy to be pessimistic, to think about what I don’t have instead of counting my blessings. So, let’s count a few.

  • I started a new job in January. As a driver for REM Ohio, I work with people who have “developmental disabilities,” adults who need assistance with their daily lives. It’s not an office job. I’m on the road a lot, picking them up at their homes and bringing them to our day program center, then taking them home late afternoon. It’s rewarding and fulfilling on many levels.
  • My health remains very good, something I hope never to take for granted. I walk/jog a couple of times a week. I donated blood several times this year (although I passed out twice, so I’m not sure I can continue – and those were the only sick days I took this year).
  • Because of my full-time job, I don’t volunteer as much as I’d like, but I find time to assist at American Red Cross blood drives on the occasional Saturday and with special projects through our church. I’ve been volunteering with Destination Imagination, an after-school creative problem-solving activity, for 10 years and will lead one of the activities in our region this winter.
  • My wife’s part-time job evolved into a full-time position this summer.
  • My mom celebrated her 80th birthday this fall. We took her and Dad to a show at Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland and dinner afterward. Mom and Dad have been married 57 years.
  • I reconnected with some of my high school classmates in the Pittsburgh area at a picnic this summer. I hadn’t seen them since we graduated in 1978.
  • We are blessed with a wonderful landlord. We’ve been in this house three years. We eventually plan to buy our own, but we’re in a great situation right now.
  • Our three sons are healthy and have good jobs. We are blessed to see them often, including our middle son who moved to Denver in the spring. Closer to home, we’re grateful for our two cats, healthy and as affectionate as cats can be.
  • We live in the United States, where we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from. We have money in the bank, and two dependable vehicles (even if one of them is 20 years old). So often we overlook such things. We shouldn’t.
  • Most of all, we have our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus gives life meaning.

I’m glad there’s something better than this earth when we die. Especially in 2016, I don’t see many “year in review” stories like I usually do. We aren’t thankful for much these days, especially how the year is ending. So, I look beyond 2016, beyond the day-to-day struggles of life, to a time when all the bad stuff will disappear and life will be perfect. Literally.

That day is coming. Possibly in 2017, possibly much later.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hassles of our lives, but there is a bigger picture.

In 2017 …

In 2017, I plan to focus more on things I can control.

So much of what we argue and complain about belongs to others: celebrity news, Washington politics (if they didn’t take such a big bite out of my paycheck, I’d ignore them completely), professional sports. How much influence do you and I have over those issues, really? That’s why we argue so vociferously without any resolution. There is no resolution. At least, not one that belongs to you and me.

So, what can I control?

How I relate to my family.

What I do with my time.

How I approach my job, and how well I do it.

What extracurricular stuff I do.

How I treat people, both friends and strangers.

The music I listen to, the TV shows I watch and the books I read.

How I treat my body – the food I eat, how much I exercise. How I respond to illness/injury should that happen.

The way I drive. The way I react to the way other people drive. (I nearly caused a collision yesterday, lest I think I’m a perfect driver. Lord, give me patience.)

Happy New Year. Hope it’s a special one for you.

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Holidays abundant in December

Happy holidays!

December holds many more holidays than Christmas. Some also are celebrated by Christians, but many are celebrated by followers of other faiths, or are secular.

Here’s a summary of popular December holidays, celebrated in the United States and/or around the world:

Advent

Advent is the period of four Sundays and weeks before Christmas. Advent means ‘coming’ in Latin. This is the coming of Jesus into the world. Christians use the four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare and remember the real meaning of Christmas.

No one is really sure when Advent was first celebrated, but it dates to at least 567 A.D. when monks were ordered to fast during December leading up to Christmas.

In many Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, Advent lasts for 40 days and starts on Nov. 15, and is also called the Nativity Fast.

http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/advent.shtml

Bodhi Day

On Dec. 8 Buddhists celebrated Bodhi Day, the day when Siddhartha Gautama, on seeing the morning star at dawn, attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree and became the Buddha, the “Awakened One.”

Buddha’s enlightenment has for 2,500 years been the central article of faith for Buddhists, as well as being the unifying principle of all Buddhist teaching. For Buddhists everywhere Bodhi Day is an opportunity to acknowledge their dedication to the principles of wisdom, compassion and kindness — the distinguishing features of the Buddhist worldview.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lewis-richmond/celebrating-bodhi-day-for-the-21st-century_b_2254289.html

Boxing Day

Boxing Day occurs every year on Dec. 26. It’s a national holiday in the United Kingdom and Ireland. If the day after Christmas falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday is designated as the official public holiday.

Dec. 26 is also the feast day of Saint Stephen, the patron saint of horses, which is why Boxing Day has come to be associated with horse racing and fox hunting.

According to some, Boxing Day can be traced to the Victorian era when churches often displayed a box into which their parishioners put donations.

Also in Britain, on the day after Christmas Day, servants of the wealthy were given time off to visit their families because their services were required for the Christmas Day celebrations of their employers. They were therefore allowed the following day for their own observance of the holiday and each servant would be handed a box to take home, containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes leftover food.

It was also customary for tradespeople to collect “Christmas boxes” of presents or money on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/christmas/0/boxing-day-2016-what-is-it-and-why-do-we-celebrate-it/

Christmas

A Christian holiday on Dec. 25 honoring the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas evolved over two millennia into a worldwide religious and secular celebration, incorporating many pre-Christian pagan traditions into the festivities along the way. Today, Christmas is a time for family and friends to get together and exchange gifts.

http://www.history.com/topics/christmas

Eid Milad UnNabi

Sunni Muslims observe the Prophet Muhammed’s birthday on the 12th day of the Islamic month of Rabi’ al-awwal, while Shi’a Muslims mark it on the 17th of this month. Muhammed is believed to be the last prophet.

Mawlid, or Milad, is celebrated with large street parades in some countries. Homes and mosques are also decorated. Some people donate food and other goods for charity on or around this day. Others listen to their children read out poems about events that occurred in the Prophet Muhammed’s life. Mawlid is celebrated in this way in many communities across the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

However, many Muslims do not participate in celebrations on this day. Instead, they may mark the occasion by spending more time to read the Koran. Muhammed is said to have been born on a Monday and some scholars see fasting during the hours of daylight on Mondays as another way to celebrate his birth.

https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/muslim/prophet-birthday

Feast of the Holy Family

The Feast of the Holy Family celebrates the human family unit, as well as the ultimate family unit: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The feast, not a solemnity, is usually celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas. If Christmas is a Sunday (as it is this year), then the feast is celebrated on Dec. 30.

The main purpose of the Feast is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general.

http://www.churchyear.net/holyfamily.html

Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is becoming an increasingly popular Catholic feast in some American communities on Dec. 12. It is dedicated to Jesus’ mother Mary.

The day is particularly special for Americans of Mexican heritage, as it honors the belief that Mary, who is Mexico’s patron saint, appeared to a man in Mexico City twice in 1531.

https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/lady-guadalupe-day

Hanukkah

Chanukah is the Jewish eight-day wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and fried foods.

The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication,” and is thus named because it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple. Also spelled Hanukkah (or variations of that spelling), the Hebrew word is actually pronounced with a guttural “kh” sound, kha-nu-kah, not tcha-new-kah.

In the second century BC, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in God. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on Earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God.

When they sought to light the Temple’s Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah.

Hanukkah is celebrated Dec. 24 to Jan. 1 this year.

http://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/article_cdo/aid/102911/jewish/What-Is-Hanukkah.htm

Holy Innocents Day

Feast of the Holy Innocents, also called Childermas, or Innocents’ Day, is celebrated in Christian churches in the West on Dec. 28 and in Eastern churches on Dec. 29 to commemorate the massacre of children by King Herod in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18).

These children were regarded by the early church as the first martyrs, but it is uncertain when the day was first kept as a saint’s day. At first it may have been celebrated with Epiphany, but by the 5th century it was kept as a separate festival. In Rome it was a day of fasting and mourning.

The day is still observed as a feast day and, in Roman Catholic countries, as a day of merrymaking for children.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Feast-of-the-Holy-Innocents

Immaculate Conception

Many Christians around the world, particularly those of the Catholic faith, mark the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in their diaries and calendars. Church services (or Masses) to honor this observance are held on or around Dec. 8.

Theological controversy surrounded the Feast of the Immaculate Conception for centuries. However, popular celebration of this holiday dates to at least the eighth century. The argument related to the meaning of the word “immaculate,” which in this context refers to the belief that Jesus’ mother Mary was conceived without original sin.

Many theologians throughout Christian history, including St. Thomas Aquinas, questioned the Immaculate Conception. It remained open for debate for many years until Pope Pius IX proclaimed it to be an essential dogma in the Catholic Church on Dec. 8, 1854. Since then, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the belief that Mary was born without sin and that God chose her to be Jesus’ mother. Many Anglicans in the world also hold this belief.

https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/immaculate-conception

Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday honoring African culture and traditions. It falls between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1 each year. Maulana Karenga, an African-American leader, proposed this observance and it was first celebrated between December 1966 and January 1967.

It is celebrated by people from a range of African countries and their descendants. Kwanzaa consists of a week of celebrations, which ends with a feast and the exchange of gifts. During the celebrations, candles are lit and libations are poured. A libation is the name given to a ritual pouring of a drink as an offering to a god. During Kwanzaa, a wooden unity cup is used to pour the libations.

A Kwanzaa ceremony often also includes performance of music and drumming, a reflection on the Pan-African colors of red, green and black, and a discussion of some aspect of African history. Women often wear brightly colored traditional clothing. Some cultural organizations hold special exhibitions of African influenced art or performances during the period of the celebrations.

https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/kwanzaa

Las Posadas

The Las Posadas (Spanish: “The Inns”) religious festival is celebrated in Mexico between Dec. 16 and 24. Las Posadas commemorates the journey that Joseph and Mary made from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a safe refuge where Mary could give birth to the baby Jesus. When they were unable to find lodging in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary were forced to seek shelter in a stable, where the Christ child was born.

Las Posadas is celebrated in cities and towns across Mexico. Each evening during the festival, a small child dressed as an angel leads a procession through the streets of town. The procession is primarily made up of children dressed in silver and gold robes carrying lit candles and images of Mary and Joseph riding a donkey. Adults, including musicians, follow the procession, which visits selected homes and asks for lodging for Joseph and Mary. Traditionally, the procession is always refused lodging, though the hosts often provide refreshments. At each stop, passages of scripture are read and Christmas carols are sung.

Mass is held each day after the procession and, at the conclusion of the service, children break open piñatas filled with candy, toys and, occasionally, money. The piñatas are usually crafted in the form of a star, which was said to have guided the three wise men of biblical tradition to the newborn Jesus.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Las-Posadas

Pancha Ganapati

Pancha Ganapati is a modern Hindu festival that lasts for five days, from Dec. 21 to Dec. 25. It honors Ganesha, one of the most worshiped Hindu deities. Ganesha is venerated as the patron of arts and culture.

The festival of Pancha Ganapati was created in 1985 by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (born Robert Hansen), an American-born convert to Hinduism. The celebration was conceived as a Hindu alternative to December holidays (Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, etc.).

Pancha Ganapati is a family holiday. During each of five days of the festival, all family members focus on sadhana, a special spiritual practice. Pancha Ganapati symbolizes mending of all past mistakes and new beginnings. It is customary to create a shrine with a large statue or picture of Lord Ganesha in the main room and decorate it with leaves, flowers and hanging ornaments.

Each day of the festival is associated with a different color and meaning behind it:

  • Dec. 21: golden yellow, love and harmony among family members.
  • Dec. 22: royal blue, love and harmony among neighbors.
  • Dec. 23: ruby red, love and harmony among business associates.
  • Dec. 24: emerald green, joy and harmony that come from the arts (music, dance, drama, art).
  • Dec. 25: brilliant orange, love and harmony within all three worlds (trailokya).

https://anydayguide.com/calendar/3071

Saint Lucia’s Day

St. Lucia’s Day is a festival of lights celebrated in Sweden, Norway and the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland on Dec. 13 in honor of St. Lucia. One of the earliest Christian martyrs, St. Lucia was killed by the Romans in 304 AD because of her religious beliefs.

In Scandinavian countries, each town elects its own St. Lucia. The festival begins with a procession led by the St. Lucia designee, who is followed by young girls dressed in white and wearing lighted wreaths on their heads and boys dressed in a white pajama-like costume singing traditional songs. The festival marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Scandinavia, and it is meant to bring hope and light during the darkest time of the year.

Schools generally close around noon on the day of the festival so that families can prepare for the holiday. Families observe St. Lucia’s Day in their homes by having one of their daughters (traditionally the eldest) dress in white and serve coffee and baked goods, such as saffron bread (lussekatter) and ginger biscuits, to the other members of the family. These traditional foods are also given to visitors during the day.

Saint Nicholas Day

In many places St. Nicholas is the main gift giver. His feast day, St. Nicholas Day, is Dec. 6. In some places he arrives in the middle of November and moves about the countryside, visiting schools and homes to find out if children have been good. In other places he comes in the night and finds carrots and hay for his horse or donkey along with children’s wish lists. Small treats are left in shoes or stockings so the children will know he has come.

Where St. Nicholas is prominent, his day, not Christmas, is the primary gift-giving day. Parties may be held on the eve, Dec. 5, and shoes or stockings left for St. Nicholas to fill during the night. Children will find small gifts, fruit or nuts, and special Nicholas candies and cookies. St. Nicholas gifts are meant to be shared, not hoarded for oneself.

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/around-the-world/

Watchnight

A watchnight service is a late-night Christian church service. In different Christian denominations, such as Apostolic Pentecostals and Methodists, the watchnight service is held late on New Year’s Eve, and ends after midnight. This provides the opportunity for Christians to review the year that has passed and make confession, and then prepare for the year ahead by praying and resolving. The service often includes singing, praying, exhorting and preaching.

Following the lead of a small Christian denomination called the Moravians in what is now the Czech Republic that began having “watch” services in 1733, the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, originated watchnight services in 1740, sometimes calling them Covenant Renewal Services. The services provided Methodist Christians with a godly alternative to times of drunken revelry, such as Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Today, a Methodist watchnight service includes singing, spontaneous prayers and testimonials, as well as scripture readings.

Watchnight service has added significance and history in the African-American community in the United States, since many slaves were said to have gathered in churches on New Year’s Eve, in 1862, to await news and confirmation of the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863.

In Anglican or Roman Catholic churches, this ceremony is often replicated in the form of a Midnight Mass or Eucharist.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchnight_service

Yalda

Iranians around the world celebrate Yalda, which is one of the most ancient Persian festivals. The festival dates to the time when a majority of Persians were followers of Zoroastrianism before the advent of Islam.

On Yalda festival, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness.

Considered the longest night of the year, Yalda eve is the night when ancient Iranians celebrated the birth of Mithra, the goddess of light.

Yalda, which means birth, is a Syriac word imported into the Persian language. It is also referred to as Shab-e Chelleh, a celebration of the winter solstice on Dec. 21 — the last night of fall and the longest night of the year.

http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Celebrating_Yalda_2.htm

Yule

The holiday marks the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (Dec. 21) and celebrates the rebirth of the sun and beginning of winter. It is one of the oldest winter celebrations known.

The winter solstice is the longest night and shortest day of the year. In ancient Rome, the weeklong feast of Saturnalia honored the sun god Saturn. Celts believed the sun stood still for 12 days, making it necessary to light a log fire to conquer the darkness. During the Iron Age, the Celts and other ancient Europeans welcomed the winter solstice by feasting, merrymaking and sacrificing animals. Today, modern pagans celebrate the holiday by lighting candles, throwing bonfires, hosting feasts and decorating their homes.

http://www.ibtimes.com/winter-solstice-2014-3-things-know-about-pagan-yule-celebrations-1763756

The real Christmas story (hint: it’s not warm and fuzzy)

red-dragon.jpg (1280×1024)

I first published this post in December 2015. Worth repeating. Enjoy!

 

The true and accurate Christmas story isn’t the serene manger scene with the nice shepherds and the friendly barnyard animals surrounding a sleeping baby Jesus with one big star in the sky and three wise men looking on.

No. That’s not how it happened at all.

I’ve never heard the true Christmas story in a Sunday sermon, or in a Christmas Eve service. It’s too controversial. And violent.

The true Christmas story is found in the Bible, of course. But not where we expect to find it. The Bible works that way sometimes.

To find the real story of Jesus’ birth, we must read Revelation 12. Yes, a chapter in the last book of the Bible, a vision that God gave to the apostle John.

The vision is very real. It takes place in the spiritual dimension – which we ignore at our own peril.

Here we go.

“A great portent (omen) appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.”

Here is the mother of Jesus, bright and beautiful, ready to give birth.

“Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems (crowns) on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.”

This great red dragon is Satan – he will be named in a minute – and he’s in attack mode.

“Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.”

Why? What’s going on?

Satan had rebelled against the living God, hoping to overthrow him one day. But he knew that once this child was born and grew to adulthood, his days would be numbered.

God was declaring war on Satan with the birth of this child.

“And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.”

As soon as the male child was born, God protected the baby from the red dragon. The new mother fled to a place of protection as well, but a different place – in the wilderness, for 1,260 days, or 42 months, or 3.5 years.

I can’t say what the specific meaning of that number is, except that it also is mentioned in the chapters before and after this one. In Revelation 13, the red dragon is allowed to exercise authority on earth for 42 months.

Are we living in this time period now? I think we are.

“And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

Not exactly a silent night, is it? The multitude of heavenly host that freaked out the shepherds when Jesus was born in Bethlehem were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14)

And for those whom he does not favor …

I do not want to be on the wrong side of this battle, on the side of the red dragon.

This revelation is frightening. And encouraging.

Satan was defeated and cast out of heaven; the battle between God’s angels and Satan continues on earth, even today. A glance at the nightly news reveals this war being waged on numerous fronts.

Yes, today’s news events are spiritual battles. There’s no doubt about it.

How is this encouraging? For two reasons that I see:

  1. Satan is not God’s equal. He is a fallen angel, on the same level as Michael. God is much stronger than the Devil is. We cannot forget this.
  2. The red dragon was given authority on earth for 42 months, or 3.5 years. This means his time here will end at some point. Satan knows his reign is finite; that’s why he’s stepping up the pressure, making the battles increasingly intense, to take as many of us with him to hell as he can.

Back to the Revelation vision:

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God …’ ”

Jesus is born. The battle ensues.

Next, the apostle John describes what will happen to us:

“… Rejoice, then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

When the dragon saw that he could not kill the child – Jesus is protected by God’s throne, and the dragon was cast out of heaven – he went after the child’s mother:

“So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.”

When Satan realized he couldn’t reach Jesus’ mother either, he turned on us:

“Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.”

Do you wonder why God allows evil in the world? It’s because of Christmas.

God declared war on Satan with the birth of Jesus. Satan is returning fire. But only for a time.

Don’t be surprised. This is the way God planned it. The red dragon is having his moment now. But his clock is ticking.

Merry Christmas.

When we cry out …

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;

Therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.

For the Lord is a God of justice;

Blessed are all those who wait for him.

Truly … you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you.

Isaiah 30: 18-19

 

When we are weeping, it’s often hard to hear words such as this. We know it’s true, but just getting through the day can seem like an impossible task.

Some of us in Northeast Ohio experienced a life-altering event in the past couple of weeks. To protect the people involved, I won’t get any more specific than that, but for me it again raised the most basic questions we can ask:

What’s the point of life?

Why are we here?

Do we even have a purpose?

Where is God when life goes terribly awry?

We get bent out of shape over the presidential election or who made the College Football Playoff. Are those life-and-death questions? Really?

 

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” … God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

Gen. 1: 26, 31

 

When life began, all was right with the world. No politics, no disease, no miscommunication, no death … but something happened. God gave us free will.

And we chose to do our own thing.

Every time we do our own thing, there are consequences. We still haven’t figured that out. The decisions we make in private affect others in public. Always. We haven’t figured that out yet either. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Not true. Never has been, never will be.

Deep in our hearts, we know this. We just won’t admit it.

Because that means we might have to change our way of looking at life and how we live it.

When life turns evil, that’s our fault. Not God’s. The God of the Bible is a God of mercy, not punishment.

 

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:17

 

I frequently see people write that religion is evil, that the world would be better off without religion. John Lennon popularized that theme with his song, “Imagine.” Those who point this out have not read the Bible. The God I worship wants the best for us, even in hard times.

 

The effect of righteousness will be peace,

and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

Isaiah 32: 17

 

When, God? When will that happen? That’s my question.

 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

Mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

For the first things have passed away.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Rev. 21: 4-5

 

I am ready for this day to come right now. It won’t happen until the “end times,” when the God of the universe says it will. We have no idea whether that time is imminent or 1,000 years from now. Or longer. But I am ready.

It that a morbid thought? I’m not looking to die, but I’m ready to die and be with God in heaven right now. No more suffering, no more pain, no more betrayal, no more screw-ups by me … who wouldn’t want that?

If we had “happily ever after” on Earth, would we need God? What for?

Perhaps God allows pain to give us a reason to turn to Him.

We in the United States don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from. That’s why so many immigrants want to come here. If we don’t have a home, there are shelters. Food pantries and soup kitchens abound. We have welfare, which many countries don’t. We don’t know how good we have it here.

And yet our pain is real. Life isn’t always fair. Bad things do happen – to all of us.

When life turns sour, where do we turn?

Alcohol. Drugs. Pornography. Anger. Blame. Things like that.

Are any of those things good? Do they help?

Why do we reject God when we need Him most?

 

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1: 21

 

If anyone understands suffering, it’s Job in the Old Testament. He lost his wealth, all of his children and his health. Even his wife said, “Curse God and die.” (Job 1: 9)

Job’s response: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 1: 10)

In the end, God restored Job’s wealth and gave him a new family (Job 42: 10-17). Sometimes God does this on Earth. But not always.

So, we wait for justice. We wait for “happily ever after.” God has promised that it will come, for those who believe.

 

A highway shall be there,

And it shall be called the Holy Way;

The unclean shall not travel on it,

But it shall be for God’s people;

No traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,

And come to Zion with singing;

Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

They shall obtain joy and gladness,

And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Isaiah 35: 8, 10

 

God wrote it down. He promised. That day will come.

How do we make sure we get on that highway? It’s simple.

 

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10: 9

 

That’s it. That’s all it takes.

We don’t have to get right with God first. He will accept you right now, just as you are.

 

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 5: 8

 

Is this the evil, vindictive God that the world thinks He is? No.

Life isn’t fair, no question about it. Every one of us faces struggles, some of our own doing and some not.

What will you do about it?

We aren’t responsible for our situation; we are responsible for our response to it.

Christmas is coming in three weeks. Again, what’s the point?

God gave us the best present of all, his Son, Jesus. That’s where gift-giving started.

But it’s not a gift unless someone receives it. Have you ever tried to give someone a gift, and he or she rejected it? Some people don’t know how to receive a gift. The giver is left holding the present.

It hurts. Big time.

That’s how God feels when we reject Him.

The gift is offered. All we have to do is accept it.

Merry Christmas.