A look forward to 2007

I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess. Below are some resolutions for 2007.

  1. Become a better, more Kingdom-minded Christian servant. I can already predict that this one will be hard to quantify on December 31st, 2007. But who knows?

    Specifically, I want to develop a more purposeful ministry to the young singles group Jill and I are leading; especially among the guys. I don’t have a lot of ideas at the moment . . .

  2. Get into a better daily Bible reading discipline. My current plan is to use the ESV Chronological plan.
  3. Become a better reader. I read a lot, but I tend to just re-read things I’ve already read, or read things piecemeal and inconsistently. Many other bloggers I’ve seen keep track of what they read each year (and generally I’m completely amazed by the sheer volume or reading some of these people are capable of!). I used to think that keeping track of a year’s worth of reading was somewhat presumptuous, but I’m beginning to understand that taking stock of yearly reading can be a good thing. That’s what I plan to do this year.

    Part of becoming a better reader for me will be to concentrate on one book at a time until I’m finished. I’m a great book starter, and a poor book finisher.

  4. Start exercising. This is such a no-brainer . . .
  5. Release the 1.0 production version of Bloo. This should be very doable as I’m currently working on the second of three planned Beta releases prior to version 1.0.
  6. Make discernable progress on my novel. I’m not saying I need to finish it, but I’ve got to get Toni out of that hallway, Michael off that phone, and Daniel out of Piper’s office where they’ve been languishing, frozen in chapter 6, for years. There’s a story in there and I need to dig it out. (In my defense, Bloo has been my “novel” for the last two years.)
  7. Be a better employee. I had a talk with my boss a few weeks ago, and it looks like 2007 is going to be one heck of a year, work-wise. There are changes coming, and new duties coming my way. To be honest, I have anxiety as to how ready I am for it all.

We’ll see in a year how I did on these. Thank goodness for God’s grace, which never fails even when I do.

Happy New Year!

Looking back on my 2006 resolutions

Last year on this day I did something I generally don’t do: I listed out some resolutions.

It’s only right that I go back over them again and see how I did.

. . . . . . . . . .

7 things I want to do in 2006:

1. Find a new place of service in my church – Done! Jill and I began working last January with the young singles at our church, and our ministry there continues.

2. Get into a regular writing routine on my novel – Dismally failed . . .

3. Lose weight – Mixed. I lost eighteen pounds this year. But I’m pretty sure I’ve gained it all back

4. Record a family CD on ProTools – To be frank, I completely forgot about this one. My daughters and I sometimes talk about this, and my oldest son has done some recording. But I’d have to mark this one “not done”.

5. Release Bloo into the public domain – Done! I released it in March last year. Currently, Bloo is being used by about a dozen blogs. I have more goals for it this year, but that’s a topic for another post.

6. Love God more – Hard to quantify. I hope so. I know, though, that my love for Him is miniscule compared to His love for me.

7. Have my blogging become more of a ministry – I don’t think I did much on this score.

8. Work harder at work – Toward the middle and end of the year I think I accomplished this – largely because I got a new boss :-).

9. Pray more – I think, on the whole, that I accomplished this goal. But not if you count the last month or two, in which my prayer-life has been somewhat stagnant. And, we have to keep this in perspective: “more” is a relative term.

There were a lot more categories of “what I’ll change in 2006” in the post last year besides just the resolutions listed above. But I don’t think I have the heart to post them at the moment. It’s time to look forward.


It’s a wonderful life

“A toast . . . to my big brother, George. The richest man in town!” – Harry Bailey

We watched that timeless classic It’s a Wonderful Life tonight.

There’s a reason people have been watching this movie for sixty years. It speaks to so many aches in the human heart: the desire for a life of meaning, for friendship, for rescue, for redemption, for joy. And it portrays the high virtues of self-sacrifice, perseverance and goodness in the character of George Bailey, a struggling everyman who, though harried and flawed, gets all the big things right.

George’s innate sense of goodness and honor is displayed well in these two gut-wrenching scenes (script courtesy of corky.net):

GEORGE (harshly): Listen to me! Listen to me! Think! Think!

UNCLE BILLY (sobbing): I can’t think any more, George. I can’t think any more. It hurts . . .

George jerks him to his feet and shakes him. Uncle Billy stands before him like a frisked criminal, all his pockets hanging out, empty. George’s eyes and manner are almost maniacal.

GEORGE (screaming at him): Where’s that money, you stupid, silly old fool? Where’s the money? Do you realize what this means? It means bankruptcy and scandal, and prison!

He throws Uncle Billy down into his chair, and still shouts at him:

GEORGE (cont’d): That’s what it means! One of us is going to jail! Well, it’s not going to be me!

Emphasis mine. Contrast this with a scene a few minutes later:

GEORGE (desperate): Please help me, Mr. Potter. Help me, won’t you please? Can’t you see what it means to my family? I’ll pay you any sort of a bonus on the loan . . . any interest. If you still want the Building and Loan, why I . . .

POTTER (interrupting): George, could it possibly be there’s a slight discrepancy in the books?

GEORGE: No, sir. There’s nothing wrong with the books. I’ve just misplaced eight thousand dollars. I can’t find it anywhere.

POTTER (looking up): You misplaced eight thousand dollars?

GEORGE: Yes, sir.

It’s only for a brief second, but you can almost see a flicker of amazement in Potter’s eyes when George claims responsibility for the loss of the money. Unbeknownst to George, Potter knows full well that Uncle Billy is the one who lost it. George Bailey, in his desperation and humiliation, is still willing to take the blame and give up everything to protect his uncle and business partner. This kind of behavior is incomprehensible to a man like Potter.

In the end, of course, George is unable to save himself. Aren’t we all? Yet saved he is, through the miraculous intervention of a messenger of God sent to heal George’s confused and broken spirit, and the intervention of a loving wife and a hundred friends united in prayer and in tangible help to save George from the financial ruin that faced him.

That’s a picture of what Church is and should be if I’ve ever seen one.

And George’s life, from start to finish, is a picture of the abundant life Christ promises us, full of sacrifice, and perseverance, and honor, and true friendships, and redemption.

It truly is a wonderful life!

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10

Exhausted but happy

One of the greatest things in life is a night of board game fun with friends old and new.

We were hard at it from 7:00pm till . . . whoa . . . 4:15am. It was a blast!

And now . . . to sleep, perchance to dream . . .

Merry Christmas

A Merry Christmas to you all.

Unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is given. Unto us comes this gift, though we knew him not and gave him little welcome.

Yet he came, leaving the majesty and unspeakable glory of his Father’s house, not clinging to the riches of unveiled Deity. He came, a light into the very thick darkness of this world, a darkness that did and does not comprehend, and that did all it could to kill the light.

He came, poor and lowly with a feed trough for his first bed, surrounded by a few of those that the world deemed inconsequential; the outcasts, the poor, the nobodies. It was these who would flock to him for healing, who would joyfully eat the multiplied fish and loaves from his hand, who would without decorum cry for rescue with deformed tongues, blind eyes and stunted limbs, and be made whole, leaping and dancing and praising God. It was these who would scandalize the well-integrated and well-heeled of their day with jars of alabaster and unabashed tears of repentence, kneeling at his feet.

May we join them this day and every day, whispering and cooing in wonder as we kneel by the manger, silent and joyous and awed as we listen to him teach, humble under his healing hand that releases us strong-limbed, clear-eyed, and clean in a broken world. May we stand beside his cross, with eyes that have bled out all the tears in their store and with ears that hear the derision and mockery of the established powers, standing with him in his lonely struggle against the heaped sins of the millenia, unashamed of our kinship with this one that the darkness rages against. And may we run with joy from the empty tomb, our hearts set aflame by the news that he is alive!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. Merry Christmas!

[Hat tip for the image to iMonk]

The Moment

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.

– Luke 2:8-9 (ESV)

It’s likely you’ve read this scene many times. You’ve probably seen it acted out on more than a few Christmases; acted out by businessmen, janitors, lawyers, maybe even you, dressed in clumsy bathrobes in church nativity presentations through the years. It can lose its impact, can’t it?

But I wonder. What was it like to be there, in that moment. These shepherds were regular guys, doing what they had done many nights in the past: marking time and keeping watch over their sheep. As they went to work that night none of them had any idea that their lives would be forever changed. True, things were a bit different these days; the city was jumping with visitors, irritated and weary travellers, census-takers, and profiteers. Perhaps the shepherds were glad for a little peace and quiet. None of them knew of, nor would they have taken note of, the exhausted couple that had arrived in their town that day. They hadn’t seen the young and very pregnant woman grimace in pain, or heard the protestations of her very worried husband at the doors of the inns of Bethlehem. These shepherds, no doubt, had their own problems.

But then there came that moment when the sky exploded with light and everything changed. They were suddenly surrounded by beings heretofore unimagined, and they surely felt the terrifying thrill of what C.S. Lewis has called the salute of mortal flesh when it comes before the presence of immortality. And they heard these words: ““Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

And so these terrified, wondering shepherds heard the greatest announcement that the world had ever heard, brought by the messengers of a God who had specifically commanded them that these poor shepherds were to be the first to know. And so began the confounding of the world that is the Incarnation, in which the greatest of all became the least, coming to a world with no room for Him, not even a proper crib, and born to a poor woman who had only narrowly escaped the scandal, disgrace and condemnation that her society could have heaped on her.

What was it like to be in that stable, to witness a birth which, as far as we know, Mary and Joseph had to accomplish on their own? Here was God, born into a world of dirt and animal smells and the sounds of the simple, rustic wonder of field hands called to His manger by the heavenly hosts; called because they were poor nobodies. They were the ones to which the Son of Righteousness came to preach good news. For to all the world’s eyes, He was a poor nobody too.

It was the moment of the Incarnation, and it changed everything.

It’s not fully Christmas for me unless I am in that moment as well, kneeling in worship by a most inglorious feed trough that was, confoundedly, specially chosen and glorified by God Himself to hold His Son.

Emmanuel has come, God is with us. And every thing’s going to be alright.

It’s Christmas!

[Cross-posted on The Thinklings]

The Christmas Truce of 1914

World War I was a horrific catastrophe that changed the world forever. It was warfare on a scale never before imagined, combining new and terrifying technologies such as planes, tanks, and poison gas with misfit, outmoded tactics that guaranteed maximum casualties in a trench-hell of filth, shells, and death. Yet on Christmas day, 1914, something wonderful, though short-lived, happened:

Although the popular memory of World War One is normally one of horrific casualties and ‘wasted’ life, the conflict does have tales of comradeship and peace. One of the most remarkable, and heavily mythologised, events concerns the ‘Christmas Truce’ of 1914, in which the soldiers of the Western Front laid down their arms on Christmas Day and met in No Man’s Land, exchanging food and cigarettes, as well as playing football. The cessation of violence was entirely unofficial and there had been no prior discussion: troops acted spontaneously from goodwill, not orders. Not only did this truce actually happen, but the event was more widespread than commonly portrayed. There are many accounts of the Christmas truce, the most famous of which concern the meeting of British and German forces; however, French and Belgium troops also took part. The unofficial nature of the truce meant that there was no one single cause or origin; some narratives tell of British troops hearing their German counterparts singing Christmas carols and joining in, while Frank Richards, a private in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, told of how both sides erected signs wishing the other a ‘Merry Christmas’. From these small starts some men crossed the lines with their hands up, and troops from the opposing side went to meet them. By the time officers realised what was happening the initial meetings had been made, and most commanders either turned a blind eye or happily joined in. The fraternisation lasted, in many areas, for the whole of Christmas day. Food and supplies were exchanged on a one to one basis, while in some areas men borrowed tools and equipment from the enemy, in order to quickly improve their own living conditions. Many games of football were played using whatever would suffice for a ball, while bodies that had become trapped within No Man’s Land were buried. Most modern retellings of the Truce finish with the soldiers returning to their trenches and then fighting again the next day, but in many areas the peace lasted much longer. Frank Richard’s account explained how both sides refrained from shooting at each other the next day, until the British troops were relieved and they left the front line. In other areas the goodwill lasted for several weeks, bringing a halt to opportunistic sniping, before the bloody conflict once again resumed.

[Cross-posted on The Thinklings]

What it means to be in Christ

Something to meditate on, from the (digital) pen of Jared Wilson, who I consider to be one of the best writers on the church and discipleship there is:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that when Christ bids a man come, he bids him to come and die. That's not something you hear from America's pulpits too often these days. We are more accustomed to learning about how to let Jesus make us successful at whatever it is we are trying to do. But when Jesus said "Take up your cross and follow me," the flesh and blood people who heard him 2000 years ago thought only of death. We have the luxury of thinking of "taking up our cross" metaphorically, like it is some ordinary life burden to bear. A difficult spouse or boss. A nagging doubt. A problem with our self esteem. Financial debt. Whatever. But the disciples of Jesus had seen hundreds of literal bodies decaying on literal crosses. "Take up your cross" did not mean "put up with something irritating."

So over and over the New Testament, from Jesus in the Gospels to the apostles in the epistles, tells us — urges us, commands us — to be "in Christ." That is where real life is found.
Back in Ephesians 2, verse 14, Paul says that Jesus himself is our peace. Paul will not let us believe for any second there is any virtue or value worth having outside the person of Jesus Christ. Peace is not a general feeling or a universal moral virtue. Jesus Christ himself is peace. Just as love is not niceties or altruistic kindness. God Himself is love. The Bible does this to us over and over again — it continually points to the triune Creator as the epitome of, the manifestation of, the giver and the gift of all the things we think of as good and right and necessary.

Jesus is not a pop song, snuggly sweater, affectionate boyfriend, poster on your wall, self-help book, motivational speech, warm cup of coffee, ultimate fighting champion, knight in shining armor, Robin to your Batman. He is blood. And without blood, you die.

“And ransom captive Israel”

Kingdom People has a written a great meditation on one of my all time favorite Christmas hymns, Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel .

Above all other hymns, I think this one captures best the deep longing for rescue that lives inside the human heart. That longing has been satisfied in the advent of our Savior, Jesus. Rejoice!

And ransom captive Israel… The Jews were not praying for the Messiah’s appearing as one would hope to see a solar eclipse or desire to witness a fascinating event. They knew that when the Messiah would come, He would ransom captive Israel. Surely, God had seen their mourning in lonely exile under Babylon and now Rome. Their warrior – God’s Representative would soon be on the way. Most Jews looked forward to the day when God would come and put His world to rights, end their exile, fulfill His promises and rescue His people. But those events would not transpire until the Son of God appeared.

The whole post is good. Go read it.

[Hat Tip: Jesus Creed]