Ronan Keane is the executive editor of the Activated magazine.
One winter some years ago, a group of friends and I were traveling on a mountain road in a passenger van in the southern United States. It was past dusk on a Friday evening, and we were heading to a ski resort a few hours away. We were nearly there when someone pulled up next to us at a stop sign and motioned to the driver to roll the window down.
“Pretty sure your back tire’s losing air,” he said. “I can take a look if you’d like.”
At the time Paul wrote his letter to the church in Philippi, he was languishing in a Roman prison, yet in his introduction, he describes true happiness not as him being released, but as the Christians there having loving, harmonious relations with one another. Then he goes on to describe how they can do that:
For Christians, success cannot be measured simply by money. It’s not about becoming the richest or most famous, but about using the talents God has given us to the best of our ability.1 The person doing the most with what he’s got is the one who is truly successful.
In his very last speech, given in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King imagined God asking him what era he would like to live in. He goes on to survey all of human history, starting with Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery, goes through Greece and Rome, the Renaissance and Reformation, the Emancipation Proclamation, and finally the very troubled times he lived in, when his country was full of hatred, injustice, and fear. Here is his reply:
The baby’s first cry rings out, the umbilical cord is cut, and the proud parents and everyone else present—whether it’s an obstetrician and attendants in a gleaming hospital or a tribal midwife in a thatched hut—rejoice at the wonder they have just witnessed. The birth of Jesus on the first Christmas was all of that, but also involved at least eight more miracles.
In this weary world of ours, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the recurring bad news of terrorism, war, natural disasters, and suffering. The message of Christmas—peace on earth and goodwill toward men—has never been more relevant. And yet I know I sometimes feel my efforts are like a drop of water in the ocean of what needs to be done to truly make a difference.
In the book of Genesis, chapter 12, when Abraham was 75, God promised him descendants. And again in chapter 13. “Some time later,” in chapter 15, God promised him a son and descendants as numerous as the stars. In chapter 16, when Abraham was 86, he fathered Ishmael, but God told him he was not the promised son. In chapter 17, Abraham was 99 years old, and God again promised him a son and “countless descendants,” and then once more in chapter 18. Finally, in chapter 21, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90, Isaac was born. Abraham had continued to believe God’s word as the years and even decades passed, and he reaped the blessing in God’s time.
One of the most mind-boggling questions is “How does God relate to time?”
The Bible does its best to give us God’s perspective. “Don’t forget that for the Lord one day is the same as a thousand years,” it explains helpfully, “and a thousand years is the same as one day.”1 Our relationship to time seems to be a lot simpler, but the truth is we still haven’t figured it all out.
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was known as a master trickster and the most cunning of men. Eventually, the gods were so displeased with his craftiness and deceitfulness that they condemned him in the afterlife to push a huge boulder up a steep hill. The boulder was enchanted so that Sisyphus has never been able to complete the task: whenever he nears the top, the boulder always rolls back down, over and over again, endlessly, for all eternity.
A few years ago, Activated published a special series on what Paul in his letter to the Galatians called the fruit of the Spirit.1 One issue was published for each of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.2 It occurred to us that we hadn’t explored the concept of fruit itself, and this issue will be devoted to that topic.