Can you imagine being given a Christmas gift and not opening it for 20 years? Well, that’s exactly what I did. Year after year I unwrapped all of my other gifts and enjoyed them for a few minutes or a few months before I lost interest or outgrew or wore out each one. I don’t know why I never got around to opening that one gift. When I was small, my other gifts all looked more fun, I suppose, and as I grew older, I thought I knew what was inside and wasn’t interested. Most years I didn’t even notice it.
Two years ago, some friends and I took boxes of food to families who had been displaced by the February 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Constitución, Chile, and were still living in makeshift camps ten months later. Margarita, one of the volunteers, had taken a collection of Christmas decorations in her office building, so we included a few of those in each box, along with a copy of the Christmas issue of Conéctate (the Spanish edition of Activated) and a CD of Christmas music. One person in Margarita’s office had also donated a Christmas tree, which we also took with us, even though we didn’t know exactly what we would do with it.
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.
Remember how the father [in the parable Jesus told of the prodigal son] acted when the boy returned home?1 Did he run up and sniff his breath to see if he had been drinking? Did he comment on how poorly he had cared for his clothes? Did he criticize his straggly hair and dirty fingernails? Did he inquire about the balance left in his checking account? Of course not. He hugged the boy—the hug of loving acceptance.
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.”