Seven Lessons 2013 Taught (or Re-taught) Me

Blessed “List Week”!

List Week arrives at the end of the year. By compiling and sharing our top ten list (or 20 or 100 or whatever number) of this or that, we attempt some kind of closure to the calendar year.

Like it or not, List Week inundates us with someone’s (or some entity’s) list of the best or worst or most or funniest of the year coming to an end:

Books, songs, football plays (“Did you see that catch?”), grossing moves (as opposed to gross movies, though there could be a list), celebrity beach bodies, car models, phone apps, sermons (“That one about grace…”), newsworthy moments, political quotes, beautiful people, influential people, powerful people, and so on. (Not to be mean, but I am somewhat disheartened by the certainty that the unseemly behaviors of certain politicians and celebrities will generate multiple lists.)

I am heartened that Jesus Christ does not appear interested in an annual (or millennial, for that matter) Top Ten list of disciples, but instead pronounces that “the last shall be first” and points to the “least of these.” Whatever lists Jesus makes have a different set of criteria.

Have I followed the Lord and his Word faithfully in the year of our Lord 2013?

Since the Christmas light show, soundtrack, and worship are behind us, I am joining the long line of listers. Here are “Seven Lessons That 2013 Taught (or Re-taught) Me.” (I may have learned more than seven things this year, but brevity makes my list of All-time Advisable Communication Practices.)

1. “Do not expect to be applauded for making a difficult decision, especially if it’s the right decision. Still, most will be relieved you made it.” In our current culture, exercising responsible leadership guarantees resistance of some degree. Ask any leader.

2. “The heart does not like to be messed with.” So said my cardiac surgeon a few months after mid-year open-heart surgery to replace a defective (since birth) aortic valve. Obviously, this lesson applies to cardiac and emotional conditions. I am thankful for all the heart healing gifts I have received. On the other hand…

3. “Never expect a tonic from a toxic person.” Years of pastoral counseling and care training, family systems study, and pastoral experience have provided numerous and constant reminders of this sad truth: Hurt people often hurt people.  To paraphrase an old saying: Some folks give peace wherever they go, some give peace WHENEVER they go. Sometimes, the best we can do is love them from a distance.

4. “You are more loved than you know.” Toxic people and situations can demand and dominate our thoughts and time (see above), tempting us to forget the gracious and giving God and people who surround us. What an audacious and accurate statement: Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). My community of faith is immersed in this joyful truth.

5. “God creates and redeems with reliable unpredictability.” My favorite quote this year comes from an article in The Christian Century by Daniel Harrell. This affirmation provokes with a fresh restatement of the old “God’s timing” adages. God’s mysterious providence is not the same as chaos!

6. “Keep your friends close and your mother-in-law closer.” (My wife suggested this one with a smile.) By the grace of God, I married well — “You outkicked your coverage,” one football coach always reminds me of my wife. My widowed mother-in-law moving closer to us (less than 5 minutes away) has drawn us closer and deepened my relationship with her daughter.

7. “The word of God is living and active.” Speaking for myself, 2013 has been one hellacious year of sublime serendipity. What has God been trying to teach me? More than once this year, as in previous ones, when someone has commented on a sermon, I found myself admitting, “I was preaching to myself today.”

What about your most faithful/challenging moments of Christian discipleship in the past year? What lessons have you learned in the Year of our Lord 2013?


The Strong, Silent Type?

‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’


I can't imagine that Joseph looked like this.  What do you think he looked like?  What about when he heard the News?

I can’t imagine that Joseph looked like this. What do you think he looked like? What about when he heard the News?

Have you ever realized that Joseph doesn’t even have a speaking part in the Bible?  In Matthew 1, we see into his dreams and we certainly learn about his character from his actions, but he, himself, is silent.

An ordinary, faithful guy, Joseph was just trying to live his life.  He was a carpenter, engaged to marry.  He concerned himself with ‘making eyes’ at his betrothed, with building, with worship, and what he was going to eat that evening.  Then suddenly, his world stopped.  Mary was pregnant.  The baby wasn’t his.

After what must have been an agonizing thought process, he decided that he would divorce Mary, to whom he was already legally bound.  To us, it may sound cold, but it was the most gracious thing he could think to do.  He could (some would argue should) have publicly disgraced her, he could (should) have had her executed- he was well within his rights.  By divorcing her, the tables would turn, and he would bring shame on himself.  The neighbors would talk, “What has he done to that poor girl?  She’s untouchable now- and it’s probably his baby anyway… sad, really.  They both have such nice parents!”  Joseph was a righteous man, and doing the right thing can have hard consequences.  He resigned himself, quietly, to take them all: the stares, the smirks, the whispers and rumors.

Exhausted from the stress, he fell asleep and was graced by an Angel, and everything changed.  What he had worried over wasn’t going to conclude as he’d expected.  And the truth, his new understanding- was it better or worse than what he’d feared?  What would it all mean?

The one thing he knew (now for sure) was that God had a hand in this situation from the beginning.  And so he remained faithful, and held out hope.  Joseph married Mary.  She had the baby, and his father named him Jesus.

Just before this passage, Matthew begins the gospel by presenting the lineage of Jesus, person to person to person… until it comes down, not to Mary, but to Joseph- and there’s a reason for that: by naming this child, according to ancient tradition, Joseph was claiming him.  He was acknowledging God’s role in his son’s life, while adopting this boy as his own.

Joseph could have ignored the baby from the Holy Spirit, he could have left Mary to go it alone, but instead Joseph shows incredible faith, incredible grace.  He stands up and serves as a father to the Son of God.

Without one recorded word, Joseph speaks volumes. And because of his witness, we have to ask ourselves, When circumstances throw us for a loop, are we Josephs?  Dare we be?   Do we look for God in the midst of our troubles? Do we respond righteously, faithfully, obediently?  Are we quick to show grace?

Living God, may we be more like Joseph: slow to speak but quick to serve.  In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

Someday IS on the Way

Years ago, our oldest son, just under two years old, was sitting in (actually, “confined to”) his high chair while his mom cleaned the kitchen.  To keep him distracted while she worked, she took a piece of bubble gum from a treat bag and began blowing bubbles. Transfixed as his mom blew these big bubbles, he asked, “What’s that?”  His mama told him it was bubble gum. Of course, he immediately stuck out his little hand – “Want some!” She explained that bubble gum was not for him, but for big kids. With a pitiful, plaintive voice, our little fella uttered a line unforgettable in family lore:

“Someday, Imma gonna hava bubba gum!”

That one word sums up human longing – SOMEDAY.  If we listen, we hear that universal yearning for “someday” all around us.  “Someday I’m gonna be a grown up… someday I’m gonna get out of here and see the world….  someday I’m gonna ride a Harley… someday I’m gonna move out of the homeless shelter… someday I’m gonna have enough to eat…. someday I’m gonna be loved.”

“Someday Imma gonna hava bubba gum!”


We wait for someday, and while we wait, we count the days.  This day, there are 16 more shopping days till Christmas, till we light the Christ candle on the Advent wreath, till I open that gift marked “Do not open till Christmas!”

We count the days till the college acceptance deadline… till the baby’s due date… till our children grow up and leave the house… till our children return home to visit… till our loved one comes home safely from an Afghanistan deployment… till my Medicare no longer covers my rehab and I have to relocate… till I have to move out of the shelter… till I am eligible to come back to the food pantry… till my check comes in… till the doctor tells me I am in full remission… we count the days and wait with hope for someday.

The body of Christ knows all about someday.  In the fullness of time, Jesus Christ came to us, born a babe, laid in a cow’s feeding trough, humbled and humiliated on the cross, yet someday he will return in glory.

Our Lord will reckon with sin and evil completely and fully, someday.  Our Lord will restore creation completely and fully, someday.  Our Lord will redeem God’s people completely and fully, someday. Someday we will know fully as we have been known fully… someday tears will be no more, war will be no more… someday swords will be beat and bent into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

Someday fear will have no sway over God’s children. Because Christ Jesus has come to us as one of us for all of us, someday IS on the way.

But when?  In Matthew 13:32, Jesus says simply, “No one knows when that day or hour will come —not the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father.” But someday IS on the way!

The apostle encourages in Romans 13:11:  “Salvation is nearer to us now than we first believed… the night is far gone, the day is at hand.”  Someday IS on the way!

The Christmas story, says Daniel Harrell, reminds us that “God creates and redeems with reliable unpredictability.” (The Christian Century, 12/11/13)  We cannot predict God’s advent.  But redeem God does – someday IS on the way!

Nelson Mandela, whose death this past week we mourn, worked for a day when the racial injustice of Apartheid would no longer be law in South Africa. He was imprisoned for years, looking for someday.


Mandela said that a person will not be prepared for something (someday) “while secretly believing it will never happen.”  Those who believe wholeheartedly in Jesus Christ ARE preparing for someday.  Not just any day, but the day of the Lord.

This is the message of this holy season:  The grace of God has already appeared, bringing salvation to all… live holy and godly lives while you wait for Jesus Christ to return someday. (from Titus 2:11-14).

So, while we wait, counting the days is not as important as making our days count.

While we wait for someday – we, the body of Christ, share his gift of hope – TODAY.  We share his gift of peace – TODAY.  We share his gift of joy – TODAY.  We share his gift of love – TODAY.  We give TODAY because Christ Jesus came to us as one of us for all of us and he will come again as he promised.

This is our message for Christmas and every day:  SOMEDAY IS ON THE WAY!


Looking for the HOLY During the Holidays

In just a few hours, the first of 100 million or more souls will begin scouring cyberspace for the perfect Christmas gift or gifts. How many of us were able to wrap things up during Black Friday or Small Business Saturday? Did we crack the code and find those items that will assure “happy holidays”?

Are you all wrapped, arranged, and ready?

If not, there are plenty of reminders of the number of shopping days left… 23 days and counting as I write this. There’s still time to add to the congestion and commotion of the holidays. And if we do not achieve the hoped for happiness, there will soon be another 364 shopping days and counting.

But why wait?

In the midst of the opening three-day stretch of this generic holiday season — Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday — some have congregated for Sabbath worship, service, and prayer. In the frantic rush of the “holiday season,” God provides a holy day, space and time to receive and rejoice in God’s one perfect gift

Timothy F. Merrill declares, obviously yet boldly at the same time:  “I am a Christian and whether in the marketplace, my church or my home, I am not celebrating [something as innocuous as] the ‘holidays’; I am celebrating the birth of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Homiletics, Nov-Dec 2012)


“The Gift,” by artist Carol Hay