My entire life so far has been spent in the Northern Hemisphere, and as a result, my body clock is programmed to recognize dropping temperatures and shortening days as sure signs that Christmas is approaching.
I love everything about the Christmas season—the colors, the twinkling lights, the presents, the Christmas trees, the aromas, the smiles strangers exchange, the quality time with loved ones. Most Christmas music is beautiful, but I’ll admit to even enjoying the slightly tacky songs that seem to play on a loop in malls or on the car radio.
I was born in 1955, only ten years after World War II, when wartime hardships were still fresh in people’s minds. Grandfather used to tell us children of the extreme hunger and exhaustion of those days, and the struggle of staying alive during the long freezing winter months.
Our town was in the heart of Germany’s industrial center, and everything was covered with a seemingly permanent layer of gray-brown dust from the steel mills. In springtime, the grass and green shoots quickly turned brown, and so did the fresh snow in winter, making its white coat look worn after only a day.
It had been about three years since they had answered the call to follow Jesus. Each had his own story. Nathanael was told he was "an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit."1 Peter and his brother Andrew heard the words, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men,”2 while casting their nets into the sea. Matthew was sitting at his tax collector’s booth.3 The years that followed had been the most exciting and intense years of their lives. Jesus was the most incredible person they had ever known, and they loved Him deeply.
The New Year is more than just a marking of time—or at least it can be. Many people see it as an opportunity to make a new start in some area of their lives.
Perhaps it’s our new calendars with their fresh images or our new diaries and weekly planners with their unspoiled pages. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that some of the people closest to us and millions of others around the world are making New Year’s resolutions and setting their sights higher. We don’t want to be outdone or left behind. Call it what you will—a personal wake-up call, a jolt to our collective conscience, or peer pressure—it’s effective ... at least for a few days. We all know how that goes.
A tribute to my father
I don’t want to put my father on a pedestal. He wouldn't have wanted that. He was always self-effacing, and I can't remember him ever seeking honor for himself. When someone would praise him, he’d point heavenward, to his Creator, and give God the glory.
Some of my earliest memories are of riding on the back of a motorcycle, behind my mom. And it wasn’t just for a spin around the block. We were a missionary family and lived in countries where motorcycles were often the most practical or affordable means of transportation. (I grew up in Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Macau, and Singapore.)
When I first began reading the Bible, a word that captured my attention was “lovingkindness.” I felt very warm inside when I read passages like “I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy,”1 or “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you,”2 or “[God] redeems your life from destruction [and] crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,”3 or “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me.”4
In some modern English translations, expressions such as “steadfast love,” “mercy,” and just plain “love” are used in place of “lovingkindness,” but I miss that word. It seems to encapsulate in a single word what God means most to me. It is the translation of the Hebrew word chased, and it was coined long ago by Miles Coverdale, one of the very first translators of the Bible into English. In the Greek and Latin translations that had preceded Coverdale’s English effort, chased had been translated as eleos and misericordia respectively, the equivalents of the English word “mercy.”