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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Reflections - Time and Eternity

 The ball will drop in Times Square, fireworks will light the night sky in large cities and small, the Rose Parade will make its way through the streets of Los Angeles, stadiums  will vibrate as the best college teams face off against each other.  This week marks the end of 2021 and the arrival of 2022.

 Every year on New Year’s Eve I write down my reflections of the year past: the goals I achieved, and the ones I failed to meet, the major events that surprised me along the way.  On New Year’s Day, I write down my expectations for the year to come: what I hope to accomplish, my goals and dreams. The process reminds me how swiftly time flies.                                                                                                                          

Time waits for no one. We try to capture the moments with videos and photos, but time continues to fly.  By the time I write this sentence, and by the time you read it, the moment of the writing, and the moment of the reading are gone, never to return. Every moment of every day, week, month and year flees.

 We can remember what was and we suspect that somewhere in the universe the past still exists, just as we experienced it. We can imagine the future, but have no way of knowing what it holds. Only the present is ours, and it slips quickly through our grasp to join the memories of our past. It is the mark of our mortality. We are prisoners and servants of time.  No measure of wealth can restrain it.  No power on earth can contain it.

 Our mad dash to get ahead, to climb the ladder of success, to add to our possessions, to get to our destination faster are symptoms of our mortality.  We know that our time is limited.  There are only so many hours in the day, and so many days in a lifetime.

 The Bible agrees with this sense of mortality.  “We have finished our years like a sigh. As for the days of our life they are seventy years, or if due to strength eighty years. … soon it is gone, and we fly away,” (Psalm 90:9-10).

 Only God is beyond time.  He is the great “I AM.”  He has no beginning and no end.  Past, present and future are alike to Him.  John wrote of Jesus, saying, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:1-3). Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58).

 On this new year. God invites us to transcend time and enter into His immortality. Jesus said, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish.” (John 10:28).  “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26).

Monday, December 20, 2021

Leap of Love

 I grew up near Waco, Texas and have fond childhood memories of family picnics at Cameron Park.  I was ten years old when I first visited Lover’s Leap, a site high atop the limestone cliffs that overlook the Brazos River.  In my youth I could throw a rock across the river striking the trees on the other side.  It was here, as a junior at Baylor that I first dated the girl that would become my wife.  And it was in this park that I proposed to her 53 years ago.

 In 1912 Decca Lamar West published the romantic story of Wah-Wah-Tee and her Apache Indian Brave who leaped from this precipice to their death rather than live their lives separated by tribal hostilities.  The story has been passed down countless times by generations.  

 In Hannibal, Missouri, another majestic site that overlooks the Mississippi claims a similar story.  According to a tradition dating to 1840 an Indian princess and an Indian brave from opposing tribes fell deeply in love. Hunted by the maiden’s tribe, they climbed to this pinnacle, embraced each other and leaped to their death.

 When I lived in Minnesota, I became familiar with Maiden Rock, a high bluff overlooking Lake Pepin, where, by one legend, a beautiful young Indian Maiden, the daughter of Chief Red Wing, leaped to her death after her Dakota Sioux tribe killed the Chippewa brave whom she loved. 

 There are many Lovers Leaps across the country.  You can find them in Texas, Wisconsin, Missouri, Connecticut, Virginia and California.  Mark Twin noted, “There are fifty Lover’s Leaps along the Mississippi from whose summit disappointed Indian girls have jumped.” 

 Why are there so many legends?  Why are they so similar? 

 I suppose it is because we all know that love is a leap. We cannot truly love someone without taking a chance, leaping into the unknown, making a commitment, risking everything.  It is the leap that makes life worthwhile. It was a leap for me, and certainly for my wife, 53 years ago when she was 19 and I was 22. I look back now, and it was the best jump of my life. 

 This Christmas we celebrate God’s leap of love for us.  It was love that caused God to send His son, born as a babe in Bethlehem, destined to die on a cross outside Jerusalem. He made the leap, risking everything in order to rescue us.  This is what the Bible means when it says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Majesty and the Mystery

 For the last four years astronomers have been studying a massive black hole with a total mass greater than 800 million suns.  Scientists estimate the black hole is over 13 billion light years away.  Such dimensions of time, space and mass boggle the mind.

 These dimensions give us a clue to the majesty of our Christmas celebration.  The Apostle Paul tried to capture that majesty with these words: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17).

 Our understanding of God is too small. We think in simple terms of time and space.  But, like the universe, Jesus is more than we can comprehend.

 That is why, when Moses met God in the desert and asked His name, God answered, “I Am That I Am.”

And that is the reason Jesus spoke of Himself in the same terms.  “Before Abraham was, I Am.” These words change all our concepts about existence and time.

 The religious leaders of the first century failed to recognize Jesus because they were conditioned to think in linear terms, past and present. Like them we miss Him as well when we think in such terms.  He is past, present and future.

 John attempted to capture His mystery in more symbolic language: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men,” (John 1:1-5,14).

 We have limited our understanding of Jesus to a mere mortal man who was born, lived and died at a particular time in history. While He was born in Bethlehem, lived in Galilee and was crucified outside Jerusalem, He was far more than anyone understood.  We must chip away all the religious brick and mortar of 2,000 years, remove all the plaster and paint.  We must look beyond the musty pages of theology and church history to discover the miracle and the mystery of that moment when all that is eternal entered into our narrow frame of existence, calling to us from beyond, calling us to be more than we ever imagined, to be better than we believed we could be, to link our lives with the eternal, to enter, literally, eis aionos, “into the age.”

 When Jesus was born, God touched the earth.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Christmas Blind Side

 I like going to the movies.  I like sitting in the front row of the upper section, my wife’s favorite spot.  We prop our feet on the rails in front of us, sit back buried in surround sound and share a box of popcorn and a diet coke. After a year of Covid closure, we are glad to be back.  I especially like movies that are based on true stories: Akeela and the Bee, The Great Debaters, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Chariots of Fire.  They capture faith, hope and courage greater than any fiction. About ten years ago, I added The Blind Side.

 The Blind Side opens with the actual footage from Joe Theisman’s career ending injury.  I watched it live when it happened.  It still makes me cringe. The offensive tackle’s job in football is to protect the quarterback and keep that from happening. The title of the movie comes from the role of the left tackle who protects the quarterback’s blind side. 

 The Blindside is based on Michael Oher’s true story.  A homeless youth who wandered the streets of Memphis, Oher was befriended by a well-to-do Memphis family who took him in.  Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy made him part of their family, paid for his education, encouraged and befriended him. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Ann in the movie.  Michael went on to play 8 years in the NFL, including two Super Bowls.

 All of us have a blind side. We are blind sided when we are surprised by something we didn’t see coming. The title of the movie, “The Blind Side,” could stand for those moments in life when God blindsides us with an opportunity to be transformed by making a remarkable difference.  Leigh Anne and Sean Touhy were, quite literally, blind sided by a homeless black youth named Michael who gave them the opportunity to make a difference.  When commended by a friend for changing Michael’s life, Leigh Anne responded, “No, he is changing me.”

 Jesus was the master of the blindside.  He never missed an opportunity to make a difference.  When others tried to silence a blind beggar by the road, Jesus called for him and gave him sight. When his followers urged him to ignore a woman who timidly touched the hem of his garment, Jesus stopped and healed her twelve-year hemorrhage.  When the citizens of Jericho rebuked the despised tax-collector, Zacchaus, Jesus visited him in his home. When He encountered a crowd of men about to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery, he exposed their hypocrisy and forgave her.

Christmas is, of course, about being blindsided.  The whole world was blindsided by the birth of the babe at Bethlehem.  Few took note, and those who did totally misunderstood.  Most just didn’t see it.  Maybe this Christmas God wants to blindside us with an opportunity that will change us and make a difference in someone else’s life.   Sean Tuohy said regarding Michael Oher, "We think God sent him to us. Earthly explanations don't make sense."

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Vanishing Generation

 Next week the world will mark the 80th anniversary of a date President Franklin Roosevelt declared would live in infamy, December 7, 1941.  Just before 8 AM on a quiet Sunday morning the skies over Honolulu Hawaii echoed with the drone of Japanese Zero aircraft. The first wave bombed and strafed the airfields to prevent the launch of counter attacks.  Fifteen minutes later, the second wave dropped their torpedoes into Pearl Harbor permanently sinking the USS Arizona and the USS Oklahoma. Four other ships were sunk but recovered. 2,403 US service members died. It marked the entrance of the United States into World War II. 

 Tom Brokaw called those who experienced that day “The Greatest Generation.”  They grew up in the Great Depression.  They drove some of the first automobiles on the first paved highways in America. They went to work for the Works Progress Administration and built our nation’s infrastructure.  They strung wires across our country and brought electricity and telephones to  homes throughout America. They bought radios and invented the first television. They landed on the beaches at Normandy, raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and defended our freedom in World War II. More than 12 million served in the war. They were the first to enter space and chose to go to the moon.  Today, their generation is vanishing from the earth. Most have passed their 100th birthday and they will all soon be gone.

 Next week, we will pause to pay our respects to that generation and the price they paid for freedom, peace and prosperity.  Our world continues to owe them a great debt

 Every generation must rise to face the challenges of their day: some they will inherit, others they create. The enemies that today’s generation face are as real as the enemies our fathers faced. In some ways they are more challenging and more difficult and more deadly. 

 We are all citizens of one planet.  We all breathe the same air, share the same space, harbor the same needs for respect, understanding, opportunity, freedom and faith. The past two years of Covid bear evidence to how intimately our world is connected. 

 Our greatest tribute to the “vanishing generation” would be to heed the admonition found in Scripture,   “Today, if you will hear His voice. Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the wilderness, … ‘I was disgusted with that generation, and said they are a people who err in their heart, and they do not know My ways.’”  (Psalm 95:6).   “This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.”  (Psalm 102:12).

 At the end of our days, may we all join Jesus’ mother in her confession, “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is to generation after generation to those who fear Him.” (Luke 1:49-50).