IT’S A NEW YEAR, SO WHAT?

From one perspective moving from Thursday to Friday this week is no big deal. Many will party Thursday evening and a lot of us will watch college football on Friday, but both are simply a part of the season as we celebrate the New Year’s holiday.

From another perspective, however, closing one year and beginning a new one can be significant. And through the years that significance has been found in New Year’s resolutions. While statistics show most resolutions are broken within the first month, a few people actually keep their resolutions and that changes their lives.

None of us are probably surprised to learn that one research group found that resolutions related to better health was the number one resolution. Somewhat surprising, however, was that a better relationship with God came in a close second. Older Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Christians all were more likely to make resolutions about God than about health. A spokesperson for the research noted, “We don’t hear a lot about it, but a relationship with God is still something people want.”

In reading about the research group’s findings I was reminded of a Facebook post by a longtime friend of mine a couple of days ago that simply said “I want to get closer to God.” I commented on his post “Good for you.” His response made my day: “You planted the mustard seed. I need to grow it. Thank you!”

The ending of one year and the beginning of a new one gives us the opportunity to look back as well as to look forward. We can note some of the things we did that we shouldn’t have done and some of the things we didn’t do that we should have done. For a lot of us that includes how we can make God a greater part of our lives.

I would not presume to suggest you make New Year’s resolutions or not. But I do think we can use the occasion of a New Year to do some thinking and remind ourselves of some things.

I have used the following poem for more than 40 years in speaking to youth and adults about a New Year. As you savor the words of this anonymous author I hope this poem comforts, challenges, and encourages you as we turn the page this year from 2015 to 2016.

He came to my desk with a quivering lip, the lesson was done. “Have you a new sheet for me, dear teacher? I’ve spoiled this one.”

I took his sheet, all soiled and blotted and gave him a new one all unspotted. And into his tired heart I cried, “Do better now, my child.”

I went to the throne with a trembling heart, the year was done. “Have you a new year for me, dear Master? I’ve spoiled this one.”

He took my year, all soiled and blotted and gave me a new one all unspotted. And into my tired heart he cried, “Do better now, my child.”

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this post.)

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/22168167@N00/11681619475″>Nouvel An 2014 à Montréal</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Christmas

Here is the link to an article I wrote about this week’s celebration. I hope you enjoy it.

http://christianstandard.com/2015/12/the-sights-sounds-and-smells-of-christmas/

Feel free to share and post any observations below.

And Merry Christmas.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/20005495@N00/69363174″>meet me at the plaza</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

THREE CHRISTMAS QUESTIONS

As we come to our Christmas celebration next week I want to highlight four non-traditional Christmas Bible references and ask three questions about Christmas. It isn’t that I don’t like the familiar passages from Matthew 2 and Luke 2; how could anyone not like those two wonderful accounts? But these four that are not usually read at Christmas also speak to what we are remembering. And while I don’t think “cherry picking” verses is the best way to read the Bible, these four passages are pretty clear.

The first is John 1:1 and 14: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The second verse is II Corinthians 8:9: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

The third verse is Galatians 4:4: “When the time had fully come, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law.”

The last of these passages is Philippians 2:5b-7: “Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

Before Jesus was conceived and born He was with God and was God. He was also rich, but He did not insist upon maintaining that status. He was willing to become a human, a poor servant. His conception was unique, but not His birth. He was born like you and I, of a woman, and at the time God had selected. He gave up His status and wealth and became a poor human servant for us—that we might become rich. For us to become rich means that we might be redeemed (Galatians 4:5)—forgiven and saved and become children of God (John 1:12). This Jesus whose birth we celebrate was full of grace and truth. And the Apostle Paul calls and challenges us as Jesus’ followers to be like Him.

Now the three questions (the first two were asked by the pastor in a message I heard in church this past Saturday evening).

Are you amazed? As we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus again this year are you amazed by what God did? Think about it. God became a man through the normal birth process with the purpose of providing for our salvation.

Are you humbled? As we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus again this year are you humbled by what God did for you? He became poor that we might become rich. He became human, a humble servant, that we might be restored as children of God.

Is what God did for you through Jesus making a difference in your life? I’m pretty sure we all can say “yes.” Perhaps this Christmas it can make even more of a difference.

Which of these non-traditional Christmas passages or Christmas questions most gets your attention? Let us know in the comments below and feel free to share this post.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7957780@N06/2533021494″>Manger Scene</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

SOUNDS LIKE A GOOD LIFE

“Sounds like a good life” was the last of three emails I received last week from someone I did not know but who contacted me. He was working on a book about a specific aspect of ministry and wanted feedback on the first chapter from some pastors. I don’t know how he got my name and email. I told him I had stepped down from my position of Senior Pastor over a year ago and declined.

I was surprised but appreciative that he wrote back and asked, “What are you doing now?” To which I replied, “Teaching as an adjunct professor, writing, and guest preaching. But my favorite is being a grandpa!” His five word final email got my attention: “Sounds like a good life.”

Prior to this previously unknown pastor’s observation I hadn’t really thought much about how good my current life is. Do I miss leading, working, serving, and preaching as Senior Pastor? Yes I do; most of it. But I have never regretted or questioned my decision to step down after 44 years of ministry and the last 30 at the church I planted. It was a good life. But as my new friend observed, so also is what I am privileged to do now.

Teaching first year college students is both challenging and rewarding. As each semester plays out, and I get to know the students, I find myself relating to them like I did to young adults in the church. What an opportunity I have to teach two introductory Bible classes.

Writing is a joy but it also can be a grind. Occasionally what I want to write flows but usually it takes a lot more time and effort than you might think. (I rewrote the previous sentence five times and I’m still not satisfied!) While completing something brings a sense of accomplishment, hearing from those who read and appreciated what you wrote is the payoff. (I am currently finishing a book entitled Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses that I hope will be available in January.)

Guest preaching is a delight. I love to preach and being invited to different churches to do so is an honor. With 40 years of messages the hardest part is choosing which one to pull out of the file to brush up on and update. I give attention to making sure what I teach is something I am excited about and is fresh. And the people everywhere I have been in the past 14 months have been responsive and complimentary.

I was a grandpa before I stepped down in October of 2014 but the role has continued to evolve and become more and more a privilege. Our two grandsons are now 5 and 2 and with my new schedule I have been able to go to Texas more frequently. Everyone (especially me!) is so excited when we arrive. But with the passing of time I do become fatigued playing games someone my age should not be playing. (So far I have not had any serious injuries.) Then as we prepare to leave and load the car I am sad; and I usually shed a few tears as we drive away.

I have been far more personal in this post than usual and I hope you are encouraged by my update. Does it sound like a good life to you? To me it not only sounds like a good life, it is a good life!

Feel free to share this with others and I welcome comments below.

Photo credit: grandma.

 

 

MY DAD

The following was my “Preacher’s Pen” column in our church newsletter December 8, 1993. It is included in chapter 12 (Preacher’s Pen Columns) of my book A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters. I share it in this week’s blog post as I come to the 22nd anniversary of my dad’s death.

My dad died last night.  It wasn’t unexpected, we knew it was coming; but the phone call and the news still had a significant impact upon me.  As much as you can think ahead and prepare for the inevitable, you can’t face it until it comes.

Dad had been ill for over a year with leukemia.  When he took a turn for the worse in October Jan and I went to visit him.  Although he was weak, we had a good visit.  I asked him about his readiness to go and his confidence in the Lord and he assured me he knew where he was going.  When I left I told him that although I probably wouldn’t see him again in this life, we would see one another in the next life.  He again assured me he knew that was true.

Over the last five weeks I have called home regularly, but because of his condition only spoke with him three or four times.  We last talked Sunday afternoon.  Since our family was planning to visit over the holidays, I asked him if he was going to make it until then.  He said yes, and although we both knew it might not happen, we affirmed we were looking forward to seeing one another then.  There won’t be a visit later this month like we planned, but the plans we made in October are still in place.

The truth is that my dad and I weren’t really that close.  Because of his drinking we weren’t close during my formative years and when he gave that up and committed himself to the Lord I was already a teenager.  For the past 20 years we have lived so far apart that visits were only once or twice a year.

My dad was a trophy of God’s grace.  A trophy is not valuable for what it is, but because of what it represents.  My dad was an example of what God can do in and for a person.  His life, his marriage, and his family were all transformed by God’s grace.

Even though we weren’t that close, there are two extremely important things I know about my dad:  he loved me and he was proud of me.  One of the most gratifying events in my life was when he had the prayer for me when I was ordained as a minister.  I’m pretty sure my dad knew I loved him, but I doubt he knew I was proud of him.  I was, and I am.

Feel free to comment below and to share this post.

Photo: My dad with our daughter and son/his grandchildren a few years before he became ill.