“Joy to the world!” When sung full throttle by anyone who has experienced that joy firsthand, those four words from the old familiar Christmas carol really pack a wallop! Why? Because they carry the Spirit of God and a powerful message from God.
It is, of course, an echo of the angel’s proclamation to a few startled shepherds on a hillside near Bethlehem on the first Christmas Eve: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2:10).
Itaipu Dam, on a stretch of the Paraná River that forms the boundary between Brazil and Paraguay, is the world’s largest operational hydroelectric power plant. In 1995, a decade after it opened, the U.S. magazine Popular Mechanics listed it as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. By 2000 it was generating over 90 billion kilowatt-hours of power each year, enough to supply 93% of the electrical power consumed by Paraguay’s 5.5 million people and 20% of that consumed by Brazil’s 184 million. That’s a lot of power! The river flowed there for thousands of years before the dam, of course, which means that the potential for all that power was also there, untapped, until someone set out to harness it.
A reader in the U.S. sent in the following true story about a gracious, legally blind 92-year-old woman named Maurine Jones. It seems Maurine discovered one of the secrets to happiness years ago. Here’s her story:
After Maurine’s husband of 70 years passed away, she moved into a nursing home. Cheri Pape, who went along to help Maurine make the transition, tells about that day.
There once was a land, or so I’ve been told, that was so isolated that its inhabitants believed the mountains surrounding their little valley formed the edge of the world. And for them it did. Once in a blue moon someone would venture beyond the mountains and come back with fantastic stories about what they’d seen and experienced, but their reports were routinely dismissed as fabrications and quickly forgotten.
Life in that inward-looking little land was difficult, but the people had become so accustomed to the daily struggle that most of the time they just accepted it. Life got really hard, however, when the river would suddenly overflow without warning and bury their village in mud, or their crops would mysteriously catch fire in the night, or the water from their wells made them and their animals deathly sick.
Imagine that there’s a sure and simple cure for loneliness, anxiety, fear, depression, insecurity, anger, hatred, bitterness, or whatever else might ail you. Now imagine that the same cure could also help you live a healthier, more vibrant life. Imagine that it could, in fact, make it possible for you to live forever. Now imagine that same miracle cure was equally effective in combating social ills and every interpersonal conflict from sibling rivalry to war between nations. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?
When two of my grown children recently had their own first babies, it reconfirmed something I’d known for years: Parenthood brings out the best in people. New parents feel the impact immediately, both emotionally and physically—the love bond that happens at first sight and grows stronger by the day, and the interrupted sleep and other schedule and priority adjustments. But there are also subtler changes that others are usually the first to notice—that special glow that God reserves for new parents and the maturity that comes from stretching and sacrificing to meet their baby’s needs, for example.
There was a time when I was sure that bringing home a new baby would be my proudest moment, and it was each time. Now I would say that comes in a close second to becoming a grandparent, because each time that happens (I have 11 grandchildren) I’m doubly proud—proud of my new grandchild and proud of their parents.
Easter came early for me this year. As I was putting together this issue, my dear mother, who was already in failing health, suffered a severe stroke and passed away after 87 full and happy years. While she was in hospice care, my brother, sister, and I took turns at her bedside. When it was my turn, I read to her from Glimpses of Heaven, a collection of quotes, reflections, and Bible passages about the next life.
The more I read and thought about the wonders that awaited my mother—the healthy, strong, prime-of-life body; the joyous reunions with my father and other loved ones who had gone on before her; the infinite opportunities to learn and grow (she was an educator and a voracious reader); the boundless, unfathomable love that pervades the heavenly realm; and the awe of seeing her Creator face to face—the more my feelings of impending loss were overtaken by expectant joy for her.
What’s the difference between religion and Jesus? Perhaps you’ve heard this analogy: “Religion is us reaching up to God; Jesus is God reaching down to us.” That’s true, but there is a lot more to the second part than most people realize. We make contact with God through His Son, Jesus, when we receive Him as our Savior, but while salvation is a one-time thing, our contact with Jesus isn’t meant to be. Neither is it meant to be a once-a-week or once-in-a-blue-moon thing. It’s meant to be a daily thing—direct, personal, daily contact that develops over time into a deep, vibrant, and mutually satisfying relationship.