Sunday, January 4, 2009

A New Year with New Eyes

I have a new year’s resolution for you (and me). Read the Bible. Seriously. Every day. Every other resolution we probably won’t actually do, and so our effort is futile and wasted on anything else. So, my challenge is to resolve to read the Bible, with a plan, every day. It is true and very helpful. There is not much I can or will say that makes any sense outside of the perspective, story, and truth laid out in that timeless book. And there is not much of a chance that I can function without a daily intake of its power. I'm serious. I've tried.

2008 is over. By many accounts, it was not a great year. There were definite highlights, as with any year, but the feeling seemed pretty universal that it was time to send the year into the history books. Personally, it was a year of loss and some confusion. Economically, it was chaotic and not profitable. Politically, it was divisive, exhausting and historic. Theologically, it was exceedingly unbiblical and culturally violent. And now we look with optimism and hope into 2009, and are confident it will be better.

And it will be. But in many of these ways I just mentioned it will be much of the same, and even worse, and that is wonderfully and gloriously OK. Because the Gospel is all that matters, and the Gospel will continue to be true, and the person and work of Jesus Christ will continue to be our only hope, and come what may; loss, depression, persecution, chaos, war, compromise; that will never change. In fact, my great hope and prayer is that the Gospel will continue to become more relevant and compelling and glorious as our culture battles, our economy collapses, and our world manages the inevitable chaos of a race plagued with overwhelming sin. The Bible is true and Jesus is everything. Let me say that again: the Bible is true and Jesus is everything. Do you really believe that? If you do 2009 will be amazing no matter what.

I haven’t posted for awhile and that is not because nothing has happened worth writing about nor that my conviction and passion to unload what God is revealing to me everyday has waned. It is because somehow December and Christmas and January happened. And the fact that the weather in Indianapolis since our last time together has varied from below zero temperatures, to incapacitating ice, to fog, to tornadoes, to 67 degrees, is very appropriate to the pace and nature of the last few weeks.

I will use what actually is not that significant of a thing to set the tone for the theme of this post and hopefully this blog for 2009 (not replacing but enhancing the established theme of simple truth for a complex culture): I got contacts. Not contacts as in connections (i.e. "my people". You got people?); but contacts like glasses. I could no longer manage with the eroding vision that I have been struggling with for too long. So I now again see 20-20. I have new eyes, so to speak. Good thing, too, because the old ones were not sufficient. And oh my goodness is the clarity refreshing – and convicting.

After Christmas, as has been the routine for as long as I can remember, my family headed to Florida for a relaxing and gluttonous (is it possible to use that word positively – because that is what I mean to do) vacation. It not did start off well. Apparently, the combination of severe fog, power outages in Atlanta, general incompetence, and bad management, results in cancelled flights and no viable alternate options to get to your destination. Except, of course, to drive. Old eyes saw an idiotic airline, a sweet but unhelpful flight attendant, and a professional but clueless manager, who could do nothing to help get us to Florida and were therefore unacceptable as people. New eyes saw the handicapped older couple who were devastated and in potential real trouble by the news of a cancelled flight, as a bigger problem than our situation. Old eyes saw an 18 hour drive to Florida, through the night, as terrible and agonizing. New eyes saw a rare and adventurous road trip that could be a lot of fun – and a great story.

First night after we arrived we went to one of our favorite restaurants – famous for crab and with a beautiful view of the Ft. Lauderdale intercoastal. The experience was not ideal. Old eyes saw a hopelessly disorganized wait staff and kitchen, who could not come even close to compensating for a delayed shipment of fish and an unexpectedly large crowd, and who seemed to let a bad situation become worse into the night, without any kind of control. New eyes saw the tall, slender waiter (he looked like Chris Bosh) who went from outgoing, confident, and witty, to humiliated and insecure, because of forces completely outside his control, as a bigger tragedy than the fact that I received clam chowder instead of lobster bisque.

In the middle, the trip was wonderful with immaculate weather, time with family, beach football, amazing meals, New Year's celebrations, and some unique action on the beach that included possible pagan rituals, animal carcass, CSI Officers, bird rescues, and bikini models engulfed by a miniature tsunami on the bank of Port Everglades. But all of that is neither here nor there.

Fittingly, the bookend for my trip home also proved ridiculous. Seems as though planes must fit a certain weight number before they can take off, and this number does not assume a full flight with lots of luggage. So, without a passenger voluntarily removing themselves from the aircraft, accompanied with the self-esteem assault from assuming that their weight made the difference, the plane would wait on the tarmac until the "numbers" balanced. In the meantime, burning fuel was recommended just in case a little less of that would get the weight where it needed to be. Until, too much fuel had been burned and the plane could no longer reach its destination, even if it could leave the ground, and so must return to the gate to refuel. This was all 2 hours after the scheduled departure time. I will spare you the comedy that was the experience on this same flight the next day (my aunt and cousins were on it). It didn't get better.

Old eyes saw an incompetent airline and dispatch tower that raised so many unanswered questions with this ordeal that a thousand comment cards would not suffice. Old eyes saw a wasted day on a crowded airplane in the middle of the Ft. Lauderdale runway. New eyes saw the sweet, professional, frustrated female pilot who about flew the plane anyway despite lack of clearance from the powers that be, and who apologized and sympathized in a way that almost made the debacle totally forgivable. New eyes saw the opportunity to read, pray, and get to know the passenger sitting next to me, who, thankfully, was even more even-keeled than myself. New eyes saw a mutual laugh with a stranger to the explanation that our plane was blocking traffic for the entire runway in route to refuel at the same gate we taxied from 2 hours ago, as a once in a lifetime experience (hopefully).

Old eyes saw a year that will forever be identified with the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression as damaging to our security and not memorable. Old eyes saw the erosion of cultural norms such as Christmas trees in schools and the phrase "So help me God" in the Presidential inauguration as reason for anger and worry. Old eyes saw the escalation of the so-called cultural wars surrounding the election and the eventual conservative defeat as causes for doubt in the Sovereignty of God. Old eyes saw the terror, war, and suffering in the Congo, India, Iraq, and beyond through the lens of an already fatigued compassion.

New eyes see all these things as groans of childbirth of a creation that is being liberated from its bondage to decay and being brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. New eyes see Jesus Christ and the promises of God in the Bible as much better security than retirement accounts. New eyes see the possibility of defending truth while not sacrificing grace and love, and see the actual difference in helping people and caring for the poor. New eyes see a spiritual context and hunger in our culture and generation that absolutely requires the urgent and unswerving preservation, proclamation, and demonstration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by God's people.

New eyes no longer make the assumption that our neighbors, friends, and family are too busy, too cool, too rich, too happy, or too far gone to be gripped by the simple and profound message of the Gospel. It has been entrusted to us, and the God of the Universe has chosen to use us to speak truth and love people to the glory of His name. 2009 is going to be the year of the Gospel, if I have anything to say about it, because that's really all that matters. Everything else is periphery, and a bonus.

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