July 28, 2014, marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. In the British media many discussions and documentaries recalled the start of that 4-year conflict. Even the TV program Mr. Selfridge, which is based on an actual department store in London, included an episode set in 1914 that showed young male employees lining up to volunteer for the army. As I observed these portrayals of self-sacrifice, I felt a lump in my throat. The soldiers they depicted had been so young, so eager, and so unlikely to return from the horror of the trenches.
Although Jesus didn’t go off to war to defeat an earthly foe, He did go to the cross to defeat the ultimate enemy—sin and death. Jesus came to earth to demonstrate God’s love in action and to die a horrendous death so that we could be forgiven of our sins. And He was even prepared to forgive the men who flogged and crucified Him (Luke 23:34). He conquered death by His resurrection and now we can become part of God’s forever family (John 3:13-16).
Anniversaries and memorials remind us of important historical events and heroic deeds. The cross reminds us of the pain of Jesus’ death and the beauty of His sacrifice for our salvation.
Longtime California pastor Ray Stedman once told his congregation: “On New Year’s Eve we realize more than at any other time in our lives that we can never go back in time. . . . We can look back and remember, but we cannot retrace a single moment of the year that is past.”
I was working with a petroleum company in Singapore when an inspector from another country visited. He came to check on a cargo of oil destined for his country, which was at war. When he heard the shriek of fighter planes overhead, he instinctively ran for cover. Embarrassed, he explained, “Sorry, I thought I was back home.” He did what he would have done had he been in his war-torn country.
It was anything but an idyllic, silent night on that cool Bethlehem evening when a scared teenager gave birth to the King of kings. Mary endured the pain of her baby’s arrival without the aid of anything more than the carpentry-roughened hands of Joseph, her betrothed. Shepherds may have been serenaded in nearby fields by angels singing praises to the Baby, but all Mary and Joseph heard were the sounds of animals, birth agony, and the first cries of God in baby form. A high-magnitude star shone in the night sky above the outbuilding, but the manger scene was a dreary place for these two out-of-town visitors.
As a young girl in the late 1920s, Grace Ditmanson Adams often traveled with her missionary parents through inland China. Later, she wrote about those trips and the crowded places where they stayed overnight—village inns full of people coughing, sneezing, and smoking, while babies cried and children complained. Her family put their bedrolls on board-covered trestles in a large room with everyone else.
Some night when you’re away from city lights, “lift up your eyes on high” (Isa. 40:26). There in the heavens you’ll see a luminous band of stars stretching from horizon to horizon—our galaxy.
In my early years as a pastor, I served in small churches where finances were often tight. Sometimes our family finances felt the weight of that pressure. On one occasion, we were down to the last of our food and payday was still several days away. While my wife and I fretted about how we would feed our kids in the next few days, our doorbell rang. When we opened the door, we discovered two bags of groceries. We had not told anyone of our plight, yet our provider God had led someone to meet that need.
The durian, a tropical fruit, is often called The King of Fruits. Either you love it or you hate it. Those who love it will do almost anything to get it. Those who hate it won’t get near it because of its pungent smell. My wife loves it. Recently, a friend, who was grateful for what my wife had done for her, sent her a box of the finest quality durians. She took great pains to ensure that they were the best.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 has been called the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century. The ancient manuscripts hidden in the caves near Qumran are the oldest known copies of key Old Testament books. In 2007, the San Diego Natural History Museum hosted an exhibition featuring 24 of these scrolls. One often-repeated theme in the exhibit was that during the past 2,000 years the text of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) has remained virtually unchanged.