Feb 5, 2013
A story of one girl’s Christmas that changed everything
Feb 5, 2013
A story of one girl’s Christmas that changed everything
Does God enjoy cartoons?
I’d never considered it until an intense university student pushed me to grapple with the question. A Christian college invited me to lecture there for several days, and during the Monday evening session, I showed a scene from Pixar’s Finding Nemowhere Marlin (the dad clown fish) meets up with Crush (the rollicking, laid-back sea turtle). I don’t recall the reason for showing this clip, but I do remember waves of laughter the scene prompted and the groans circling the hall when the lights came back on.
I did manage to finish my talk, however, and as soon as I stepped away from the lectern, a husky, somber fellow approached and asked if we could talk in private. Because of his brusque tone and dull demeanor, I assumed he was wrestling with some intense struggle and perhaps wanted to unload his heaviness on a stranger. I was wrong.
When the young man got me to the corner of the room, he asked how I could jest one moment and speak of devotion to God the next. How I could possibly condone wit or lightheartedness when proclaiming something as sober and foreboding as God’s truth? “God doesn’t laugh,” he said sharply, “except at the destruction of the wicked.”
I stood there, mouth agape. I don’t have the foggiest clue what I said in response, but I remember thinking later that this was a sad fellow who had entirely misunderstood much of the heart of God and His kingdom. He possessed theological knowledge but was utterly oblivious to the joy that shimmers all through Scripture and creation, that pulses from the life and teachings of Jesus. This is the joy God brings to us amid the laughter of children—the holy happiness that spills over from friendship, love, and beauty.
The Bible insists that God’s work, from creation to today, has been a long journey toward joy. God’s Genesis refrains (now this is good, and this is good, and oh, this—this is very good) are not merely dry observations recounting creation’s moral quality. Rather, these are the great Artist’s exclamations, exuding delight in the craft of His hands. These words are sheer joy, evidence of our God’s deep gladness, and it is something He intends His image-bearers to know as well.
Throughout Israel’s Scriptures, God invited His people to full-throttled joy, encouraging them to receive wisdom and practice faithfulness. His purpose was not to demand slavish obedience; rather, He was eager for their families to thrive, their crops to be abundant, and their festivals to arrive as celebrations of their overflowing bounty. God wanted Israel to “be altogether joyful” (Deut 16:15). Ecclesiastes pronounces this same hope: “I commend the enjoyment of life,” says the wisdom teacher, “because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun” (Deut 8:15 NIV).
In Luke 2, the angels appeared to quaking shepherds with a stunning pronouncement: God’s bold action, the epicenter of all His intentions for humanity, would soon break loose. With Jesus, God would be born among us. “Don’t be afraid,” I always imagine the angel saying, “I’ve come to give you good news which will instigate fantastic joy for all people.” Those boisterous angels lit up the Galilean sky, heralding a message that resonates even now. Whenever God arrives, joy erupts.
In His expansive sermon unfolding the wonders in the kingdom, Jesus told the disciples that the motivation undergirding all His teaching was this: a dogged desire for their unceasing delight. “These things I have spoken to you,” Jesus said, “so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). Jesus wants God’s people to experience lives shot through with delight and goodness. That’s why we can be filled with new possibilities and fresh hopes—even when sorrows threaten to swallow us whole.
Too many of us view God as a character akin to a demented schoolmaster in a Charles Dickens novel. It is a gross injustice to envision God as an inflexible taskmaster or a harsh authoritarian begrudgingly dissuaded from tossing the lot of us into eternal flames. The Scriptures assure us that God is not miserly or grim, but generous and patient and full of kindness. When our story has finally concluded, we will discover how, every day of our existence, God conspired for our joy.
But what exactly do we mean when we speak of joy? Scripture abounds with definitions and descriptions. There are passages where it refers to our experience of cheer or delight. At other times, joy equates with revelry or celebration. I have particular fondness for older translations that describe joy as being merry. However, at its deepest plane, joy is the experience of one who is learning to trust in God. This is why the apostle Paul would instruct us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). Paul was not a cliché-spouting Christian who ignored harsh realities. Quite the opposite, Paul had encountered God in such a profound way (and amid such evil) that he was convinced even dire conditions or grave tragedies did not own the final word. Paul believed that God would somehow work all things, even the sorrows, to his good. In other words, Paul believed God had rigged the game in his favor. If this is true, then a gritty kind of joy is always possible.
Some of us, however, have encountered such sadness and disappointment that we believe joy a quaint idea only for the naïve. Jaded by our experiences, we discard all hope of sturdy, abiding joy. Others of us, committed to a narcissistic version of happiness, cram our lives with one self-absorbed experience after another and recoil from any suggestion that our final happiness can come only from God. Regardless of the reason for our suspicions, the promise remains. Joy is available—uniquely and decisively—in God.
True faith always runs toward joy, like rivers to the sea. Given this, if our lives foster a dire or miserly posture, if our worship and doctrine yield a sullen discipleship, if we find it difficult or awkward to laugh, or if life with God carries no deep delight, then we should reconsider why we are at such odds with the God of all joy.
For some reason, many of us act as though being a Christian is always a very, very serious affair. Of course, we do have much to be thoughtful and careful about in this unhinged world. But if underneath all our seriousness we enjoy no levity, we have missed a distinctive quality of life with God. Many of us take ourselves too seriously, and joy makes it possible for us to (in all the appropriate ways) forget ourselves. We can accept the inherent humor in being human, being flawed. If joy means trusting God, then we are free to do our best, all the while knowing that God holds us even when we run in wrong directions or make blunders. We are free to relax into God, to take risks without fearing that heaven and hell always hang in the balance.
G.K. Chesterton believed laughter to be a crucial expression of joy. “A characteristic of the great saints is their power of levity,” he wrote. “Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One ‘settles down’ into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness … Seriousness is not a virtue … For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” It’s striking that the very final word in a work as stern and stiff-sounding as Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is “mirth.”
Since laughter signals a happy “self-forgetfulness,” it can also be a sign that we are learning how to trust God and hold our life, reputation, and future loosely. God-inspired laughter (distinct from coarse or demeaning humor) is a joyful protest against the absurdities around us, an act of faith as we surrender our lives to God’s good care. It lets us be free of self-delusions and shortsightedness, returning us to our senses and fueling joy.
A year ago, my sons sat at the dinner table discussing science trivia, and I found myself pulled into the conversation. One of the boys intended to toss me a beginner question: “Which is bigger,” he asked, “Earth or the sun?” Without thinking, I blurted out, “Earth, of course.” Both stared at me, dumbfounded, before erupting with gut-splitting laughter, waving their arms and jumping around the kitchen. They weren’t trying to shame or embarrass me, but my blunder struck them as hilarious. I had two choices. I could either attempt to salvage my dignity by fighting the outbreak and attempting some explanation for my utter failure at second grade astronomy, or I could snicker at my idiotic answer and join in their amusement. Laughter encourages us to drop our guard and join the party.
The poet John Blase says, “A hearty guffaw indicates that you’re in the backyard of Grace whether you believe it or not.” And I’m inclined to agree. Laughter signals joy, and joy always signals God.
By Winn Collier
All of us struggle when there’s a discrepancy between what our minds know to be true and what we feel in our emotions. One area that believers typically find difficult is finances. Understanding what the Bible says about money, do we choose truth or do we allow our ever-changing feelings to dictate our actions? Believers find it easy to give God one penny out of a dime or one dollar out of 10, but when the numbers grow bigger—100 out of a 1,000 or a 1,000 from 10,000—we often balk. However, we can’t expect the Lord to bless us financially if we’re not supporting His work.
Scripture speaks about giving a whole tithe—one-tenth of our earnings or 10 percent of whatever we produce, according to Deuteronomy 14:22. We should also note that we’re to give God the first portion of our income, not what’s left over at the end of the month.
God’s tithe goes into His storehouse—the church. From there, what’s offered can be channeled into the Lord’s work throughout the world. Imagine how many great ministries and outreaches would close if money dried up. Sharing the gospel is both a spiritual and financial responsibility.
When we refuse to give our portion, we block the flow of God’s blessing in our own lives. Often we decide to offer less than a tithe because we don’t trust His provision. Our Father has promised us protection and plenty if we follow His mandates. Give the Lord His due and see what great blessings He provides.
“For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” (Genesis 18:19)
This is a very important verse comprising the first direct reference in the Bible to what we today would call education, and it is given in connection with God’s approving testimony concerning Abraham. Note that nothing is said concerning degrees or diplomas, the sciences or humanities, school buildings or textbooks.
It does tell us that God’s highest priority in the training of the young is that they learn to “keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment.” Such instruction is the responsibility of the home, especially the father—not of the government or some educational association. It is to be given in the context of God’s promises and plans (thus in the context of divine revelation) and is to be framed in terms of “commands.”
This is also the teaching of the New Testament: “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
The Bible never refers to “education,” but there are many references to teaching, learning, and instruction. There are no references to teaching under the sponsorship of the government, however. As far as biblical precepts and examples are concerned, teaching the young is strictly a function of the home and the church (this could no doubt include several homes and churches cooperating in the provision of advanced or specialized instruction). Most importantly, all instruction, in every subject, should be governed by biblical criteria, for “all Scripture . . . is profitable . . . for instruction. . . . That the man of God may be perfect [i.e., ‘fully prepared’]” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) for the work God wants him to do. HMM
The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them. —Deuteronomy 33:27
Surely Bible-reading Christians should be the last persons on earth to give way to hysteria. They are redeemed from their past offenses, kept in their present circumstances by the power of an all-powerful God, and their future is safe in His hands. God has promised to support them in the flood, protect them in the fire, feed them in famine, shield them against their enemies, hide them in His safe chambers until the indignation is past and receive them at last into eternal tabernacles.
If we are called upon to suffer, we may be perfectly sure that we shall be rewarded for every pain and blessed for every tear. Underneath will be the Everlasting Arms and within will be the deep assurance that all is well with our souls. Nothing can separate us from the love of God—not death, nor life, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature.
This is a big old world, and it is full of the habitations of darkness, but nowhere in its vast expanse is there one thing of which a real Christian need be afraid. Surely a fearridden Christian has never examined his or her defenses.
Lord, I’ll go today in the power of these awesome promises. I’ll rest in these strong assurances. I’ll face this “big old world” and its “habitations of darkness” in complete peace as I trust You completely today. Amen.
The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face…. Revelation 22:3, 4
If God is the Supreme Good then our highest blessedness on earth must lie in knowing Him as perfectly as possible!
The ultimate end to which redemption leads is the immediate sight of the ever-blessed Godhead. In our present state we cannot with our natural eyes look upon God, for it is written, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (Exod. 33:20).
When the work of Christ has been completed in His people, however, it will be possible, even natural, for redeemed men to behold their Redeemer. This is stated plainly by the Apostle John: “But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him: for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
This rapturous experience has been called the Beatific Vision and will be the culmination of all possible human blessedness. It will bring the glorified saint into a state of perpetual bliss which to taste for even one moment will banish forever from his mind every memory of grief or suffering here below.
I suppose the vast majority of us must wait for the great day of the Lord’s coming to realize the full wonder of the vision of God Most High. In the meantime, we are, I believe, missing a great measure of radiant glory that is ours by blood-covenant and available to us in this present world if we would but believe it and press on in the way of holiness.
They shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God. ISAIAH 35:2
Think with me about beauty—and about this matchless One who is the Lord of all beauty, our Savior!
God has surely deposited something within our human beings that is capable of understanding and appreciating beauty—the love of harmonious forms, appreciation of colors and beautiful sounds.
Brother, these are only the external counterparts of a deeper and more enduring beauty—that which we call moral beauty. It has been the uniqueness and the perfection of Christ’s moral beauty that have charmed even those who claimed to be His enemies throughout the centuries of history.
We do not have any record of Hitler saying anything against the moral perfection of Jesus. One of the great philosophers, Nietzsche, objected to Paul’s theology of justification by faith, but he was strangely moved within himself by the perfection of moral beauty found in the life and character of Jesus, the Christ.
We should thank God for the promise of heaven being the place of supreme beauty— and the One who is all-beautiful is there!
Thank You, Lord, for Your beauty that is reflected in the lives of Your servants who have left the comfort of their own home and culture to serve You in distant lands. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings” (Isaiah 52:7).