Monthly Archives: December 2021

My Whatever-Happens-in-2022 Success Plan

My predicting days are over. 

In January 2020, I (like every other pastor I know) not so cleverly preached a sermon series based on having 20/20 Vision for the coming year. We preachers should have read Ecclesiastes 8:7 that states: Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come? Can I just say, nothing about that sermon series applied to life after March of 2020? Who knew (other than God Almighty) the gale force winds of Covid that were about to hit us all?

In January of 2021, I thought, “OK, we’ve gone through the worst of it. This pandemic will end soon and we will ‘go back to normal.’” That didn’t happen either. Ummm… I still hadn’t read Ecclesiastes 8:7. “Back to normal” (back to pre-March 2020) is never going to happen and some of that isn’t all bad. “Normal” wasn’t working for a lot of people back then. To put it simply: There’s no going back.

So as we sit on the cusp of 2022, and I will make no predictions. I will offer no visions of doom nor will I give glowing reports of things to come. I will only affirm my belief that Jeremiah 29:11 is still true. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 

God knows. I don’t. God is in control. I’m not. Neither are you, by the way. We can trust that God’s hope and future for us is still very, very good. We put our hope in the one who said, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19). God is not asleep at the wheel. He knows what He is doing. He owes us no explanation.

Here’s my 2022 declaration: If we keep our eyes on Jesus (not the wind and the waves my like-Peter-in-the-storm-when-he-jumped-out-of-the-boat friends), then we will make it. Nothing that happens is a surprise to Jesus. We need not fear (“Perfect love drives out fear” 1 John 4:18), but that doesn’t mean that crazy, scary stuff won’t happen. Jesus warned that it will happen (“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33). Keeping “our eyes fixed on the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2) is the key to making it to the other side of troubles, storms, problems and life. Jesus never fails.

To be sure, there are a lot of distractions. The Enemy wants nothing more than for you and me to notice the wind and the waves swirling around us. Our Foe loves it when we get caught up in needless chatter. (Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 2 Timothy 2:23). This isn’t a difficult equation to figure out. Keep our eyes on Jesus in 2022 and we will be just fine.

Here’s my 2022 success plan: 

No wave watching. 

No storm worrying. 

No argument starting. 

No people bothering.

No pandemic pandering.

No political posturing. 

No finger pointing. 

No social media barfing.

No me-first asserting.

No Bible dust-collecting.

No faithless walking.

No why me? Why Now? Why this or that?

Just Jesus in 2022. 

Let’s just keep our eyes on Jesus.

If we do all of the above, we will have a very successful 2022 no matter what happens.

Disappointed in Christmas? Join the Club.

There are just few pictures of my childhood Christmases, but one of my favorites is of my brother, Fred. He’s probably 11 or 12, holding his “big” Christmas present of that year. It was a Risk game. I don’t know what he wanted for Christmas that year, but from his facial expression, it was quite evident that a game of Risk was not on the list. If a picture speaks a thousand words, holding the game with a disappointed scowl took far less words and said, “All I wanted for Christmas is anything other than this dumb game.” (For the record: It took Fotomat two weeks to develop your pictures back in the day. No such thing as “do-overs.” My parents didn’t know the grimace for at least two weeks, maybe not until July when the final picture on the roll of film was used. Anyone remember rolls of film and Fotomats in K-Mart parking lots? Anyone remember K-Mart? I digress. I’m old.). 

Maybe this Christmas, you’re feeling a bit like Fred holding onto his Risk Game. “I don’t like my gift. I don’t want my picture taken. I’m not thrilled with the happenings.” Maybe you are like me reminiscing for the good old days. 

What do you do when you don’t feel like having Christmas? You don’t want to celebrate. You don’t want to sing songs, rejoice, and be of good cheer?

What do you do when grief is still raw; the hurt is still deep; and the news is still bad? You don’t want to be a “Debby Downer.” You know others want to celebrate, and that’s ok for them. But you’d rather sit by a fire, sip some tea (or something else); and say, “This year, I’d rather let Christmas go by without much fanfare.”

If that’s you, join the club!  

There are a lot of us worn out this year. The pandemic, loneliness, grief, political bickering, angst, worry, the economy, grumpy people… you name it— they’ve taken a toll. Police officers (pray for the two shot just down the road from the church this week); health care professionals; teachers; pastors (is it OK to lump my calling into the heap?) and plenty of others are living, working, and hanging on by a thread. 

If anybody gets it, Jesus does. No matter what it has become, Christmas did not begin with merriment and ease. I know the angels announced the event, but the reality is Mary and Joseph had their baby in a barn. A germ infested, dirty barn. Within a short time, they became refugees in Egypt. Their lives were in danger. They were poor. Life wasn’t easy. Even as a man, Jesus didn’t have it easy. For all the fanfare of thousands fed, hundreds healed and great sermons preached, by the end he was dying all alone on a cross. In his time of great need, no one was there. All this to say, Jesus understands. Jesus knows your troubled or lonely heart. So when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29); you can find rest in Him. 

Maybe the best gift you can receive this year isn’t one that you’ll find under a tree, but simply going to Jesus and finding rest for your weary soul. Jesus invites us to come to Him. Do that today, and keep going to Him and until the day that you’ll be ready to sing carols once more. 

The Pandemic and the Last Candle in the Advent Wreathe 

The last of the four candles of Advent wreathe will be lit in churches all over the world on Sunday. If it’s like at our church, somewhere in the service a family or individual will read a passage of scripture, remind us of the candle’s significance (it’s “love” this week) and light the candle. It’s a hiccup in the normal worship routine. We might pay attention, maybe not, then move on with singing of a few carols of the season. But in this “covidy” Christmas (“Covidy” isn’t a word, but it should be. Covid has interrupted, complicated and entangled all of our Christmases), maybe we should pay more attention to the themes of advent– Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. We need them more than ever.

We need Hope. We all thought this covid interruption would surely be over by now, but it’s still raging. In my world, it seems worse than ever. Hope reminds us that we have a future. Hope calls us to look to Jesus and remember (as my cancer fighting friend Lisa likes to remind me) “God’s got this.” It’s grabbing on to Hebrews 10:23 for dear life and not letting that verse go. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

We need peace. Has there ever been such fear and anxiety? A scratchy throat that used to cause the no-brainer popping of a Halls Cough Drop as we moved on through life, now produces worry, anxiety and questioning, “Do I have the virus?” No matter how covid has affected us, Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians needs to be applied: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16 underlining mine).

We need joy. Joy isn’t a passing happiness or a Pollyanna, “ignorance is bliss” outlook. Joy is consumed with the awareness that no matter the circumstance God’s strength is enough. His power is active and able. Joy is a deep, profound satisfaction that God will provide. With the Psalmist we say: “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name… Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:4-5

We need love. The pandemic has pushed people to the edges of their opinions. Homicides and suicides are up in nearly every major city. People are lost, lonely, depressed, confused, and angry. Love is missing. We followers of Jesus need to hear John’s words again:  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. I John 3:7

Too often Hope, Peace, Joy and Love are absent in our pandemic driven, “Covidy” Christmas. These expressions of Advent remind us of God’s activity and promises. Let’s go to the One who is more than able to supply our deepest needs this Christmas.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21