How Will the Last Mile Shape the Next?

Here we are…at the brink between December 31 and January 1. Behind us may be a landscape of mountains or valleys, of personal highs or personal lows, of accomplishments or failures. Ahead of us lies a vast expanse of undefined terrain…the land of “What Will Be in 2022.” At this moment every year, we often focus on getting a fresh start or second chance. These are marvelous things, but there’s also value in considering how the mountains and valleys we walked through in 2021 could have prepared us, could even direct us, for a new path ahead.

What items in your backpack, gathered on the 2021 trip, should be dropped before the 2022 border?
Failure you have let define you.
So you botched a relationship, quit a job you shouldn’t have, or didn’t save as much as much money as you said you would. Failure is what you did; it is not who you are.
Regret you have allowed to paralyze you.
So you vented on social media, or to someone’s face, and wish you could take it back. You didn’t make time for the priority or person you said you would at the start of 2021. Don’t let past neglect of a responsibility or a person chain your ankles as you look to step into 2022. Empty your backpack of whatever condemns or cripples your progress in the new year.

“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)

Don’t let stuff in your backpack weigh you down, but DO use it to motivate and shape the new steps you take in 2022. What is the first thing you’ll do toward restoring the relationship? What decision will you take ownership of? What consequences will you take one step to overcome? How will you make the first move to pursue the right job, or the career you sense you were meant to have? How will you bridle your words today or this week so that they build up instead of tear down? What priority needs to be moved down your list so that you can spend more time on the most important responsibility or with the person to whom you truly need to give the most attention? What will you schedule on your calendar so your intentions translate to real life?

Now, you can’t do it all overnight. Pick one thing you don’t want to repeat from 2021, define the new path in 2022, and then take the next right step…and then the next…and the next. Marathons are won one step at a time. What is the best thing you can do to set your feet on and stay on your new course?

Instead of letting past failure or regret limit you, let them launch you.
Allow God to do a new thing in your life in 2022 — to give you a new life in this new year. Leave behind anything of 2021 that you could call wandering, wilderness or wasteland, but let them propel you into the wonder of walking with God as He makes all things new in 2022.


A Christmas Parable: What Have You Done with the Puffy Coat?

Little 4-year old Juan lived in Florida where there were way more palm trees than pines. Though “White Christmas” played often on the radio, Juan had never seen snow. His attention lately had been focused solely on the toy commercials he’d seen on TV. 

Finally, the morning sun sparkled through his window (as it always did), and Juan remembered…it was Christmas! He bounded in and out of his Mom and Dad’s room,  announcing the day, and headed straight to the plastic Christmas tree in the living room. Brightly wrapped packages of all shapes and sizes had appeared overnight and he could see his name written here and there on the tags.

Wrapping paper flew and smiles grew as Juan recognized toy after toy from the TV commercials. There were socks in one box and new shirts in another, but those were quickly tossed aside in anticipation of the next toy treasure. When the frenzy died down, his Mom said, “We saved the best one for last,” and she pulled a large flat box out from behind the tree.  

Anticipating a huge Lego kit or new game, Juan ripped off the paper and tore into the box…where he paused. There was something blue and puffy in tissue paper. He thought it was the thickest fluffiest raincoat he had ever seen. As he wondered what he was supposed to do with it, his Mom pointed out a card with words on it at the bottom of the box. He knew the letters.  S – K – I    T – R – I – P.  His Mom explained that they had planned a family trip where there would be mountains and lots of snow and it would be really, really cold so he would need this special coat. 

Now Juan loved the sound of big mountains and snow, but having lived his whole life in Florida, he had no idea what “really, really cold” meant. He thought the puffy coat was dumb. The flat box was thrown aside as Juan went from new toy to new toy playing and creating new adventures for days, but January came and it was time to go on the trip. Juan hadn’t given the puffy coat a second thought since he had opened it, decided it wasn’t anything he needed, and pushed it away. But Mom had tucked it away in the closet and as they got ready to leave for the airport, she handed the puffy coat to him. “You’ll need this when we get off the plane,” she said. Juan pushed it away, whined something about not needing it and how he would look like a blue marshmallow in it, and ran to get his raincoat from the closet. He put it on, opened the door and stepped outside. “See, I’m not cold,” he said. His Mom decided not to fight this battle.

No, Juan wasn’t cold — not in the car ride to the airport nor on the airplane. And he didn’t pay much attention when the flight attendant announced that they’d be landing in Denver, Colorado shortly and the current temperature was 25 degrees with strong winds. But walking out of the airport in what amounted to a windbreaker against below freezing temperatures and something called “wind chill” definitely got his attention. The air took his breath away; it swirled around him like icy fingers trying to pull off the little light jacket that was no match for the conditions in which Juan suddenly found himself. He ran back into the airport for shelter faster than he had run out in his excitement, dragging his Mom and Dad with him.

His Mom had tried to tell him before, but he had refused to listen. Thankfully for Juan, his Mom had graciously still packed the warm, puffy coat which he now gladly put on. It wrapped around him in warmth and comfort. Having the right coat fully prepared Juan to step back out into this new adventure to enjoy his new beautiful world of mountains and snow for the week.

The Baby Jesus came at Christmas to bring us a special gift, too — the gift of salvation from our sin and of eternal life in a beautiful new world that is different from what we’re used to. Jesus was the first gift of Christmas…wrapped, not in bright colored paper, but in swaddling clothes. He came not just for the cradle, but for the cross, where he bought us the gift of salvation with His very life. Yet how many of us react to this gift like Juan reacted to his puffy coat? People have told us about it, but we refused to listen. We don’t think we’ll ever really need it because it doesn’t seem like we need it now. We’re getting by with what we have. So we push the gift away. We throw it aside as unimportant. 

Thankfully for us, Jesus keeps it packed and continues to hold it out to us — over and over — even now — He offers His precious gift of the Coat of His Goodness, His Righteousness. He is waiting for you and me to reach out, take it from Him, and put it on…to allow Him to wrap us up in his warmth and comfort, His forgiveness, peace and love. Without it, we can never stand before God in the new adventure of Heaven, accepted. 

If you or your loved ones still treating Jesus’ perfect gift of salvation like the puffy coat, I pray that this is the Christmas you choose to unwrap that gift and take it from Him for yourself…so that you are well prepared to step into abundant life here and eternal life with Him forever.

May your Christmas be full of warmth, peace, joy, love and many blessings!

The Word Became Flesh (Wait, What?)

I confess. Before last week, I had never thought much about Biophysics, Cellular or Molecular Biology, or Embryology. As only God could time it, I got to hear some amazing teaching from an expert in those fields (Dr. Jeff Hardin, Hardin Lab, University of Wisconsin-Madison) — last week — right before Christmas. What I learned about Embryology gave a new kind of concrete meaning to what John’s gospel says of Jesus — “The Word became flesh…” (John 1:14)

To grasp the magnitude of this, the first step is understanding that “The Word” refers to Jesus. This phrase is really a picture of relationship, the relationship between God the Father and God the Son (Jesus). (Yes, there are “three persons or divine entities” in the one true God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — but we’ll get to the Holy Spirit shortly. Incidentally, all three — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — are all equally God and work in perfect unity with each other. They really are One God in three persons. This may be old news if you’re familiar with God and the Bible. If you’re not, it may be a brain stretch. (It is for everyone and I didn’t want to leave anyone out.) So…Jesus is called The Word because He “goes out from” the Father.

Consider the biblical account of creation. All three “divine people” of the One true God were involved. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis1:3) God the Father spoke. Words went forth from Him. At that point, Jesus did not yet have a human body; He gets that later. The One we call Jesus was in the Words that went forth from the Father. Where was the Holy Spirit? Genesis 1:2 says, “…the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Jesus is God and Jesus is The Word that goes forth from God the Father.

Jesus is called The Word because
He “goes out from” the Father.

So how did Jesus, The Word, who had no human form until that first Christmas “become flesh”? Well, that how is the WOW where Embryology comes in. Jesus could have just appeared on earth from Heaven as a man, taught us how to live, and then died on the cross. Instead, He chose to relate to the nitty gritty of who we are. The same voice of God the Father that spoke all light and life into being at creation spoke life into being within Mary, Jesus’ human mother, who had never had any physical relationship with a man. It is that point for Jesus that God the Father’s process for how a human embryo develops kicked in.

Now forgive me, I am not going to do this justice or use all the correct scientificky words like the expert did last week, but I hope I can share enough of the process to amaze your Christmas socks off. Once Mary agreed to God’s plan of carrying baby Jesus (God is a gentleman, after all) and God the Father declared that there would be life within Mary, then somehow there was a fertilized ovum or egg within Mary called a zygote.

A zygote, the starting point, is a single cell in which God has packed all the DNA information necessary to develop into a human baby. Let that sink in. So that single cell starts dividing. One becomes two. Two become four. Four become eight and on and on. According to a website by a Cambridge University scientist, it takes about 41 divisions to produce the 2 trillion-ish cells that make up a human baby…in our case, the baby Jesus. But the process doesn’t involve just random multiplication and division. God ordains that, to actually get a human baby, specific cell movements and stages and reshaping must take place in just the right order.

The process continues, forming something called a “blastocyst.” At about 100 cells, an area of fluid forms and a specific set of cells called the “inner cell mass” (from which the baby’s delicate fingers, toes, heart, brain, etc. develop) moves to one end of the fluid; cells for the placenta and nourishment move to the other end of the fluid. In explaining these processes, Dr. Hardin emphasized their inherent intentionality; the cells are moving around and actually building the embryo…knitting the baby together in the mother’s womb as the Bible tells us in Psalm 139:13.

Next comes a process called “gastrulation” where the blastocyst changes to have 3 layers, each one primed to develop into a different kind of tissue. This is followed by “neurulation” during which something called the neural tube forms, the foundation of the baby’s nervous system. Next comes “organogenesis,” the beginning of the baby’s heart, kidneys, and other internal organs.

Zygote. Blastocyst. Gastrulation. Neurulation. Organogenesis. Intricate. Astounding. Miraculous for any human baby. How much more miraculous to consider that The Word became flesh. Jesus, present at creation — never before bound by limitations of space — humbled Himself to be carried in a human body, in order to be “clothed” in His own human body.

Jesus became flesh to convey the depth of His love. He became flesh to convey that He values you and me and every human at every stage. And He demonstrated the ultimate expression of His unconditional love when the same flesh that was knit together in Mary’s womb hung on the cross for us 30 years later. Jesus wanted us to know that He intimately related to our human condition. He did not skip any part of the human experience, except that He never rebelled against God the Father. Jesus never sinned so that on the cross, He could die our death, pay the penalty for our sins, and open the way to life forever with Him.

Jesus — The Word — became flesh.
In doing so, He gave us abundant life in the flesh, and made possible eternal life beyond the flesh.

May you feel valued and loved in a whole new way during this holy season.

Happy Advent. Merry Christmas.

No Room at the Inn

Mary & Joseph’s problem is really the problem of all humanity. They were constrained by the business of life….duties and deadlines, like we all have. As good citizens, they were trying to get to Bethlehem for the census, but Mary was extremely pregnant. Riding on a donkey can’t possibly do anything positive for morning sickness. Arriving in town after their long journey, they went from place to place, seeking a room in which to stay. Over and over they heard, “There is no room. There is no room at the inn.”

Of course, those innkeepers had no idea they were turning away the baby Jesus, the Savior of the world. Today, most Americans own a Bible, (more than four Bibles according to statistics.) Yet we are so busy with our duties and deadlines that there is no room for Jesus in our lives either. Especially during the Christmas season, it’s ironic that we’re running around shopping, wrapping, party planning and party-going, but leave no room for the Christmas baby, Jesus. No room in our lives. No room in our calendars. No room in our days.

How could you make room for Jesus during this season? Could you schedule (yes, on your calendar) a quiet time of talking with Him, taking your needs to Him, before you start your day? Could you read the story of His birth in Luke chapters 1 and 2? Could you take the step of connecting with a Christian community where Jesus is and His Words are at the center? Could you share about how and why you believe in Jesus with a friend or neighbor who needs Him?

Christmas seems like a good time to make a change….to rewrite our lives…so that no one (especially Jesus) will look back at us and say, “There was no room at the inn.”

Happy Advent. Merry Christmas

Why Does Christmas Come After Thanksgiving?

What is the point of Christmas? The obvious point of Thanksgiving is — well, giving thanks. The real point of Christmas, perhaps not so obvious, is hope. And the two are quietly connected. It’s hard to go all-in experiencing hope at Christmas if you haven’t first given thanks.

Giving thanks adjusts our perspective. Giving thanks nudges us to take our eyes off chaos and crisis in order to count our blessings. Giving thanks reminds us that we have needs and opens our eyes as to how many of those needs have been met. Giving thanks shifts, even enlarges our view — to focus on the Giver.

Thanksgiving is preparation for the Hope of Christmas. Lifting our eyes to the Giver in November primes our hearts for the greatest gift of Christmas in December. When my kids were little — and Christmas in their eyes was all about the presents — I tried shifting their focus a little, making a big banner for our front door with a glittery package and the words, “The first gift of Christmas was wrapped in swaddling clothes.”

If Thanksgiving points us to the Giver, then Christmas points us to our greatest need fulfilled. The perfect God, who delights to draw us near and give us what we need, can only dwell with perfect people. While He first created a perfect world, people have rebelled against Him and railed against each other. There has never been a perfect person, except for Jesus — the first Christmas gift, born in a stable and wrapped in swaddling clothes. He alone lived a perfect life and revealed the depth of the Giver’s love for us. His birth at Christmas was His first step toward the cross. There He laid down His perfect life for you and me, taking our imperfections on Himself. Every shameful thought, ugly word and evil action — past present and future — was hung on His shoulders as He hung on the cross. When He died, all of that died, too. When He walked out of the grave alive 3 days later, the hope of new life came out with Him…available to anyone who believes this truth. While fully God and fully man, Jesus conquered death. Since you and I are made in God’s image, Jesus conquered death for us, too. All that is left is for you and me to thank Him for taking our imperfections and offering us the hope of eternal life with Him.

Can you envision living forever in a place of unimaginable beauty, in the presence of the perfect God, the abundant Giver, who loved you enough to give His own life for you? Can you envision living forever with no fears, no tears, no pain, no sickness, no suffering, no death? Can you envision living forever with community and unity, with worthy purpose and passion, with every need fulfilled? Can you envision living forever experiencing perfect peace, joy and soul-satisfying love? THIS is the future for every person who believes in Jesus as God and Savior. THIS is the Hope of Christmas…and what our hearts were prepared for at Thanksgiving.

May the Christ of Christmas and the cross enable you to experience great joy as we celebrate the greatest Hope arriving on earth.

Happy Advent. Merry Christmas.