As you savor a candy cane this Christmas, say “Danka Schoen” to the Germans, for that confectionary treat was first created in Cologne. As you admire your poinsettia, say “gracias” to Mexico, where the plant originated. Say “merci beaucoup” to the French for the term noel, and give a “cheers” to the English for your mistletoe.
But as we enjoy our traditions and festivities of the Christmas season—customs that have been collected from around the world—let’s save our most sincere and heartfelt “thank you” for our good, merciful, and loving God. From Him came the reason for our Christmas celebration: the baby born in that Judean manger more than 2,000 years ago. An angel announced the arrival of this gift to mankind by saying, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy . . . a Savior has been born to you” (Luke 2:10).
This Christmas, even in the light of the sparkling Christmas tree and surrounded by newly opened presents, the true excitement comes when we turn our attention to the baby named Jesus, who came to “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). His birth transcends tradition: It is our central focus as we send praises to God for this unspeakable Christmas gift.
Several thousand years ago, God spoke directly to Moses and instituted a new festival for His people. In Exodus 23:16, according to Moses’s record, God said, “Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.”
Today countries around the world do something similar by celebrating the land’s bounty. In Ghana, the people celebrate the Yam Festival as a harvest event. In Brazil, Dia de Acao de Gracas is a time to be grateful for the crops that yielded their food. In China, there is the Mid-Autumn (Moon) Festival. In the United States and Canada: Thanksgiving.
To understand the fitting goal of a harvest celebration, we visit Noah right after the flood. God reminded Noah and his family—and us—of His provision for our flourishing existence on the earth. Earth would have seasons, daylight and darkness—and “seedtime and harvest” (Genesis 8:22). Our gratitude for the harvest, which sustains us, goes to God alone.
No matter where you live or how you celebrate your land’s bounty, take time today to express gratitude to God—for we would have no harvest to celebrate without His grand creative design.
After my wife and I had the privilege of visiting the Louvre in Paris, I called our eleven-year-old granddaughter Addie on the phone. When I mentioned seeing da Vinci’s famous painting Mona Lisa, Addie asked, “Is she smiling?”
Isn’t that the big question surrounding this painting? More than 600 years after Leonardo captured this subject in oil, we still don’t know if the lady was smiling or not. Though enraptured by the painting’s beauty, we are unsure about Mona Lisa’s demeanor.
The “smile” is part of the intrigue of the painting. But how important is this anyway? Is smiling something the Bible mentions? In reality, the word appears less than five times in Scripture, and never as something we are told to do. However, the Bible does suggest for us an attitude that leads to smiles—and that is the word joy. Nearly 250 times we read about joy: “My heart leaps for joy,” David says as he thinks about the Lord (Ps. 28:7). We are to “sing joyfully to the
Clearly, the joy God provides us through everything He has done for us can bring a smile to our face.
Ruth cannot tell her story without tears. In her mid-eighties and unable to get around much anymore, Ruth may not appear to be a central figure in our church’s life. She depends on others for rides, and because she lives alone she doesn’t have a huge circle of influence.
But when she tells us her story of salvation—as she does often—Ruth stands out as a remarkable example of God’s grace. Back when she was in her thirties, a friend invited her to go to a meeting one night. Ruth didn’t know she was going to hear a preacher. “I wouldn’t have gone if I knew,” she says. She already had “religion,” and it wasn’t doing her any good. But go she did. And she heard the good news about Jesus that night.
Now, more than fifty years later, she cries tears of joy when she talks of how Jesus transformed her life. That evening, she became a child of God. Her story never grows old.
It doesn’t matter if our story is similar to Ruth’s or not. What does matter is that we take the simple step of putting our faith in Jesus and His death and resurrection. The apostle Paul said, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
That’s what Ruth did. You can do that too. Jesus redeems, transforms, and gives us new life.
Jay Bufton turned his hospital room into a lighthouse.
The 52-year-old husband, father, high school teacher, and coach was dying of cancer, but his room—Room 5020—became a beacon of hope for friends, family, and hospital workers. Because of his joyful attitude and strong faith, nurses wanted to be assigned to Jay. Some even came to see him during off hour
Even as his once-athletic body was wasting away, he greeted anyone and everyone with a smile and encouragement. One friend said, “Every time I visited Jay he was upbeat, positive, and filled with hope. He was, even while looking cancer and death in the face, living out his faith.”
At Jay’s funeral, one speaker noted that Room 5020 had a special meaning. He pointed to Genesis 50:20, in which Joseph says that although his brothers sold him into slavery, God turned the tables and accomplished something good: “the saving of many lives.” Cancer invaded Jay’s life, but by recognizing God’s hand at work Jay could say that “God meant it for good.” That’s why Jay could use even the ravages of cancer as an open door to tell others about Jesus.
What a legacy of unwavering trust in our Savior even as death was knocking at the door! What a testimony of confidence in our good and trustworthy God!
A few years ago a publisher made a big mistake. A book had been on the market for several years, so it was time for a makeover. The author rewrote the book to bring it up to date. But when the revision was published, there was a problem. The publisher gave the book a nice new cover but printed the old book inside.
The exterior was fresh and new, but the interior was old and out of date. This “reprint” was not really new at all.
Sometimes that kind of thing happens with people. They realize a change needs to be made in life. Things are heading in the wrong direction. So they may put on a new exterior without making a vital change in their heart. They may change a behavior on the outside but may not realize that it is only God who can change us on the inside.
In John 3, Nicodemus sensed that because Jesus came “from God” (v. 2). He offered something very different. What Jesus told Nicodemus made him realize that He offered nothing short of a rebirth (v. 4): He needed to be “born again,” to be made totally new (v. 7).
That change comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s when “the old has gone, the new is here” (2 Cor. 5:17). Do you need a change? Put your faith in Jesus. He’s the one who changes your heart and makes all things new.
My friend Jaime works for a huge international corporation. In his early days with the company, a man came by his desk, struck up a conversation, and asked Jaime what he did there. After telling the man about his work, Jaime asked the man his name. “My name is Rich,” he replied.
“Nice to meet you,” Jaime answered. “And what do you do around here?”
“Oh, I am the owner.”
Jaime suddenly realized that this casual, humble conversation was his introduction to one of the richest men in the world.
In this day of self-glorification and the celebration of “me,” this little story can serve as a reminder of Paul’s important words in the book of Philippians: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (2:3). People who turn their attention to others and not on themselves have the characteristics Paul mentions.
When we “value others above [ourselves],” we demonstrate Christlike humility (v. 3). We mirror Jesus, who came not “to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). When we take “the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2:7), we have the mindset of Jesus (v. 5).
As we interact with others today, let’s not look on our own interests alone but also “to the interests of the others” (v. 4).
As a group of teenagers visited a home for the elderly in Montego Bay, Jamaica, one young woman noticed a lonely looking man at the end of the room. He appeared to have little left in this world but a bed to sleep on—a bed from which he could not move because of his disability.
The teen began right away to share the story of God’s love for us and read some Bible passages to him. “As I shared with him,” she would say later, “I started to feel his eagerness to hear more.” Responding to his interest, she explained the wonder of Jesus’s sacrificial death for us. “It was hard for this man, who had no hope and no family,” she recalled, “to understand that Someone he’s never met would love him enough to die on the cross for his sins.”
She told him more about Jesus—and then about the promise of heaven (including a new body) for all who believe. He asked her, “Will you dance with me up there?” She saw him begin to imagine himself free of his worn-out body and crippling limitations.
When he said he wanted to trust Jesus as his Savior, she helped him pray a prayer of forgiveness and faith. When she asked him if she could get a picture with him, he replied, “If you help me sit up. I’m a new man.”
Praise God for the life-changing, hope-giving, available-to-all gospel of Jesus Christ! It offers new life for all who trust Him (Col. 1:5, 23).
“I’m really scared.” This was the poignant note a teenager posted to friends on Facebook as she told them of some upcoming medical tests. She was facing hospitalization and a series of procedures in a city three hours from home and anxiously waited as doctors tried to discover the source of some serious medical problems she was experiencing.
Who of us, in youth or later years, has not felt similar fears when facing unwanted life events that are truly frightening? And where can we turn for help? What comfort can we find from Scripture to give us courage in these kinds of situations?
The reality that God will go with us through our trial can help us to hope. Isaiah 41:13 tells us, “For I am the
In addition, God offers indescribable, heart-guarding peace when we present our difficulties to Him in prayer (Phil. 4:6–7).
Through God’s unfailing presence and His peace that “transcends all understanding” (v. 7), we can find the hope and help we need to endure situations in which we are really scared.