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Monday, December 28, 2015

Closing the book on the Past - Looking to the Future

For many years I have spent New Year’s Eve reflecting on the year past and New Year’s Day anticipating the year to come.  I have learned the importance of closing the book on the past and opening a new one for the future.

First, we need to close the book on the insults and injuries we may have suffered. Failure to close the book on these can cripple us in our efforts to embrace the future.  We can only overcome past insults and injuries by practicing forgiveness.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  And, after teaching us to pray, He drew the application: “For, if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” 

Second, we need to close the book on our own sins and transgressions.  We all regret things we did and things we left undone, words spoken and words we failed to speak. The guilt and regret of the past can become a heavy burden that weighs us down and prevents us from achieving our best.  God wants to take this weight from our shoulders.

In Psalms the Bible says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” (Ps 103:11-13).  And in Hebrews, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

We also need to open a new book on a future with endless possibilities. Americans have always been optimistic. Alexis de Tocqueville was the first to document American optimism nourished by widespread Christian faith in the 1830s. That faith and optimism carried us through two World Wars, the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, Kent State, Watergate, Vietnam and the Cold War.   But today, our optimism and our faith are being tested. 

It is always God’s desire that we look to the future with optimism and hope.  We can look forward to the future based on God’s promises.  “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Both Paul and Peter agreed that Jesus is the source of this confidence. “Just as it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.’” (Ro. 9:33; 1 Pe. 2:6; Ps 118:22; Isa. 28:16).

May this be a year of forgiveness, optimism and faith! May it be your best year ever! 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Star Wars Christmas

This has been a “Star Wars Christmas.”  The promotion surrounding the release of the latest Star Wars movie dominated the Christmas season.  Entire aisles were dedicated to  Star Wars toys:  the Millenium Falcon, Battle Droids, Light Sabers, Chubacca, R2D2, C-3PO, and Yoda. Toys R Us offered Darth Vader and Storm Trooper cups for the older generation.  Star Wars smashed all box office records raking in $238 million on its opening weekend.

My oldest son was four when the first Star Wars movie premiered.  He is now 42. Across the years the characters have changed.  Droids come and go (except for R2D2 and C3PO who somehow survive).  One theme remains constant in every Star Wars movie:  the battle between evil and good, the Dark Side and the Force. The Force for good always triumphs. Good overcomes evil and hope remains. 

It is the timeless theme of human history.  The Dark Side represents tyranny, lust for power, absolute control, hate and revenge without regard for the individual.  The Force represents freedom, individuality, respect for persons, the value of life and love, sacrifice for the good of others and hope for the future. Perhaps this is one of the reason Star Wars has “stuck around.” 

Star Wars is fiction. But the battle between good and evil is real.  We see it all around us. With every news report: Paris, San Bernardino, the Boston bombing, 9/11, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Charleston, SC.  Graft, greed, corruption, drugs, murder, abuse.  The news media continually reports the darkness that seeks to overwhelm us.

This Christmas thousands of family members will mourn the loss of loved ones who have been stolen away by the evil among us.  More than 3,000 died in the Twin Towers, and thousands others have perished in senseless slayings, beheadings and massacres around the world. In all of these cases we are left confused and hopeless unless we have “The Story” to help us. 

“The Story” is the Christmas story.  It is the defining story of good and evil, the reason Jesus was born.  Jesus was sent as light to overcome the darkness. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).  Hundreds of years before He was born, Isaiah wrote, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that  my salvation might reach to the ends of the earth.: (Isaiah 49:6).  Jesus said, “This is the verdict, Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19).

Jesus was born into an evil and unjust world.  King Herod sought to wipe out any threat to his throne by slaughtering the children of Bethlehem.  Jesus was only spared by the wisdom of his step-father Joseph, who fled with him to the distant deserts of Egypt after  he was warned in a dream. 

Unlike Star Wars, Jesus’ triumph does not come by rallying others to rebellion and war.  His triumph comes by overcoming evil with good, by refusing to curse those who cursed him, by enduring the Cross and forgiving his tormentors.  His triumph came through the Resurrection and the transformation of human hearts through faith in Him. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Christmas Journey

Christmas is a family event.  Brothers, sisters, parents and children go to great expense to see each other.  They drive hundreds of miles, fly across the continent or around the world to celebrate the holidays together.  Paper stars colored by little hands that grew into manhood and womanhood adorn the Christmas trees.  Decorations, unboxed from Christmases past, remind us of those we loved who are no longer here.  Brightly wrapped packages wait beneath the tree, symbols of our desire to bless one another and look to the future.

That first Christmas was a family event.  When we rehearse the Christmas story, we conjure up images of Joseph trudging along the Jordan valley leading a donkey on which Mary was balanced. He must have glanced at her often, concerned for his young wife, full-term in her pregnancy.  A look of admiration and love played upon his face, mixed with worry.

Faith, above all, propelled them in their journey. But the circumstances were difficult and not of their choosing.  They were on the road, at this most inconvenient and vulnerable time, because Caesar required it. They were making the arduous journey to Bethlehem so Joseph could enroll for the Roman tax.  Even young couples about to deliver a baby were not excused from the census.

They did not know the future.  They believed God was in it, but had no way of knowing where they would sleep, or how they would make their way after the child was born.  Like all fathers, Joseph was concerned about how he would care for his wife and child.  Mary’s thoughts were about the baby that squirmed within her. 

Joseph’s fears would have been multiplied if he had known, while trudging along the stony path, that there would be no place for them to stay, that the child would be born in a common stable, a trough for the animals would have to serve for a crib. But his faith in God sustained him. His hope for the future lifted his face.

Christmas is like that for us today. We are all on a journey.  Some are more difficult and precarious than others.  Our minds are filled with hopes, dreams, anxiety, worry and faith.  Some have been laid off and are searching for a job. Some are starting their careers, uncertain about what the future might hold. Some have suffered tragedy, pain and loss.  Some are battling illness.  Some are celebrating a new birth.

When God sent His Son, He blessed our human experience.  He entered into our journey. When He sent Jesus, he identified with our weaknesses, our fears, our hopes, our dreams and our faith.  He blessed us as families: mothers and fathers loving one another, finding our way, caring for children in challenging circumstances and believing that, somehow, God is in it all.   He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will accomplish His purposes on the earth. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Dog Theology

Over the years, our family has included both cats and dogs that helped us raise our kids.   and became our companions. Our cats seemed willing to allow us the privilege of living with them.  Our dogs seemed grateful for the privilege of living with us. They taught us the difference between dog theology and cat theology.  

It might sound strange, even sacrilegious to a few, but Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison have developed whole seminars and books around “cat and dog theology.” (www.catndogtheology.com). Simply put, cats say, “You feed me, shelter me and care for me.  I must be god.”  Dogs say, “You feed me, shelter me and care for me.  You must be god.”  If you have ever had a cat and a dog you know what I mean.  Cat theology is me-centered.  “What can God do for me?” Dog theology is God centered. “What does God want me to do?” Here are a few things I am learning about “dog theology” from my dog, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Buddy.

Buddy trusts me.  Whenever I get in my truck he jumps in and takes his place, ready to go.  He doesn’t know where we are going or what we are going to do. But he believes that if I am driving it is okay.  I need to be more like that with God.  I always want to know where we are going, when we are going to get there and what we are going to do once we arrive.  I need to jump in the truck with God and give him control of my life.

Buddy wants to be with me.  He doesn’t care if he is at the lake running, splashing and rolling in the mud, sitting in a chair next to me on the patio or in my study lying at my feet while I write.  He just wants to be where I am.   I need to spend time with God.  What made the early disciples different was the fact they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Buddy follows me.  He even follows me from room to room in the house. Whenever we go for a walk in an open field, I let him off his leash and he runs free.  But he keeps an eye on me.  He has developed a radius of his own, about thirty yards from wherever I am.  Within that radius he feels comfortable exploring smells and marking trees.  Occasionally he gets out of eyesight. But, when I call his name he comes running. Not real fast, but as fast as he can. After all he is a Corgi.    It reminds me of what Jesus said to His disciples, “Come, follow me!”  “My sheep know my voice.” 

Buddy waits for me. If I am writing, he lies down, rests his head on his paws, keeps one eye on me and waits.  If we are walking and I stop, he sits down with his tongue hanging out and waits.  If I go to the store, he waits in my truck until I return.  Buddy never complains about waiting on me.  He never gets in a hurry.  Maybe I should be more like that with respect to God and those I love.