Monday, December 31, 2012

New Years 2013

As 2012 draws to a close, and 2013 dawns, it is a good time to take stock of the past year and look forward to the coming one. Of course there is nothing magical about the transition from one year to another; it is after all an arbitrary point selected for convenience rather than one with any real significance. But it is a good time for reflection none-the-less.

My Christmas letter last week has already recounted the highlights of the past year for me, so I will not repeat them here. It was, in many ways, a good year, although when I look back at it, it seems not to have been one where I made much of a difference in the world at large, or in the Kingdom of God. I do indeed enjoy my life; but maybe that is a part of the problem: I am comfortable and growing stagnant. Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 5:17 have been speaking to me as this new year approaches.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. - 2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV 
It's time to get a little uncomfortable and stretch a bit.  It's past time to get off the sidelines and to make a difference in the kingdom.  It's time to quit living in the past and look to the future.  It's time to become more disciplined and quit wasting so much time.  It's time to be a new creature!  I am looking forward to this new year and the opportunities that it holds.  Will you join with me in making the most of every opportunity?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Emanuel: God With Us

In Matthew 1:23 we find a quote from Isaiah 7:14 that is applied to Jesus:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  While the Isaiah passage is given as a sign to Ahaz, king of Judah, concerning his current enemies, the author of Matthew sees in this passage a look ahead to Jesus, who was "God with us".

All too often at Christmas we focus on a baby born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago; looking more at the circumstances of his birth rather than who was born.  Yes, we recognize him as the "Son of God" and that he was born to be our savior.  But how often at Christmas do focus on the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, with their accounts of shepherds, wise men, Herod, angels, imagined inn keepers, sheep, donkeys and drummer boys; and treat Jesus as just one more character in the story?

That little baby, that so many of us picture laying in a miniature manger among our other Christmas decorations, is so much more than a baby.  John says that he was the Word, who was God, and who created this universe, who became flesh and lived among us.  Paul says that he was equal with God, but set aside his glory as God to take on human form and die for us.  The author of Hebrews says that he became a man, just like us, so that he could become a faithful high priest.

This Christmas, remember Emanuel, God with us.  That child that Mary bore and delivered under humble circumstances over 2000 years ago was God, clothed in human flesh.  Like the wise men, come and worship him and give to him the best gift you can: yourself!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012 - The Year in Review

Well another year is nearly in the books.  Time really does seem to go by faster the older I get.  Its hard to believe that 12 months have passed since the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012.  But, unless my calendar is lying to me, it has indeed.  This past year has been generally quite, although it has had its moments.

My near retirement has been somewhat reversed with a move into a part time management position for the contractor I have been working for; and more recently moving into an even more active role, although still limited to 10-12 hours a week.

Sue continues to work for the Olympic Baptist Association as their Ministry Assistant Professional and enjoys the opportunity to be out of the house and working with the folks of the OBA.  And together we continue to travel around to all of the churches in the association.  That continues to be a rewarding ministry opportunity for us.

Sue and I spent the month of August traveling through Oregon and parts of Washington; she in a car and me on foot.  This was my third summer traveling along the Pacific Crest Trail and I have now hiked the full length of Oregon, 150 miles of Washington and 20 miles of California; about 400 miles of that this year.  During the Oregon portion of the trail this year Sue traveled along in the car and we met up every few days to resupply and enjoy some parts of the trail together.  And while I hiked, she explored all of the interesting nooks and crannies along the way that she could find.  Looking forward to a repeat next year with about 400+ miles in California and another 100+ miles in Washington.

Sue has been busy traveling this past year.  In addition to our PCT trip, she and her mom took a week long cruise through the Caribbean in February, joining her brother and his wife for the trip.  She also managed to get out with 'the girls' on a trip to Branson MO in September for a few days.

Sue and I are both running now.  I ran half marathons in May, June and November and Sue joined me for the one in June.  Running is still not Sue's favorite past time, but she has taken it up as therapy to help in the recovery from her broken leg a few years ago.  It is a good form of exercise and does really help during the hiking season, whether multi-day trips for me or long day hikes for Sue.

We have enjoyed gathering with friends on a regular basis for Bible study and fellowship.  We are both finding that it is filling a void that has developed in our spiritual lives.  We are currently working with others in our church to facilitate getting more of our folks involved in similar groups.

Sue's mom, Mary, continues to live with us.  It is indeed a blessing having her with us and being able to care for her as she ages.  She has given us a couple of scares this year, but by and large continues to do well.

Mike is living in the area now and has been attending the local community college and is looking at getting into the nursing field.  He is also preparing to be a world famous musician and touring the country with his band.

Rachael is still in the Air Force in South Carolina and has been able to do some traveling during her time there.  She is looking to be out this next year and head back to school, although likely over on the other coast.

May your Christmas be a wonderful celebration of Christ, and the coming year be blessed.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thoughts on the Sandy Hook School Shooting

On Friday, Dec 14th, a gunman walked into the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown Connecticut and opened fire, killing 20 children and 6 adults before taking his own life.  Why he did this is currently a mystery, and may remain so, unless he left some written glimpse into his thinking prior to going on his killing spree.  But even knowing why he acted will never relieve the hurt of those most affected by this, whether students, faculty, parents, law enforcement, or the community of Newtown.

My heart goes out to the parents of those who lost their little ones yesterday.  I cannot begin to imagine the anguish of losing a child like that.  A quiet neighborhood, a peaceful school, kindergardeners and first graders learning and playing.  And then the peace and quiet, the learning and playing are shattered by a blast of gunfire and 20 children, who only a few minutes before had no concerns greater than learning their ABC's, lie dead, and their classmates potentially scared and traumatized for life.  What parent even considered that a possibility when they dressed their children and sent them off to school that morning?

And of course the debate now begins anew concerning how to prevent massacres like this, that seem to be happening with increased regularity, from continuing to disrupt lives and communities.  What can a free and open society do to protect itself from those who would seek to do it harm?

And likely the most contentious debate will be over gun control.  I see it already boiling over among my Facebook 'friends'.  And it seems like, at least among my friends, for every one that questions the need to have so many guns in our society, there are two more that are adamant that the only way to take any of their guns will be from their cold dead hands.  Interestingly enough that appears to be just what happened in Newtown Connecticut yesterday: the shooter first killed his mother, then took her guns to the school and shot 26 more people, before taking his own life.

I must confess that I do not understand the fascination my country seems to have with guns; personally I have little interest in them.  And the more accounts I hear of children being killed with their parents guns, or using their parents guns to kill other children, or guns being used to shoot up a mall, a theater or a school, the less interest I have in them.  It is indeed true that guns don't kill people, but they sure do make it easier for people to kill people.  And it seems like most of these guns were legally obtained, or stolen from those who had legally obtained them.  Our current gun control laws seem to be doing little beyond making more guns available to the public, sometimes with disastrous results.

Another debate that some are sure to have concerns God's place in all this.  I have already addressed this in an earlier blog concerning the theater shooting in Aurora Colorado, and will not revisit it here.  But it does appear to me that as the US moves toward becoming a post-Christian society, that the number of shootings like this have been increasing.  I don't know if there is any statistical correlation between the two; but it does at least appear that as the Christian influence in our society wanes, that we find more folks looking to solve whatever troubles them with violence.

One thing I hope does not come out of this is the perceived need to lock down all places of public assembly, adding additional guards and metal detectors.  While that might give us more of an illusion of safety, I expect that it would be nothing more than an illusion.  And can you imagine the cost of fitting every door of every school with metal detectors and adding armed guards to patrol the halls, not to mention doing the same thing to malls, theaters, church building and other places where the public assembles?  What impact would that have on our children who would be attending school in fortresses?  I think it would be one more step away from the free and open society that we have enjoyed for so many years;  free and open are not too compatible with armed guards and fear of assembly.

Ultimately I don't know how to solve what is becoming an epidemic of mass shootings in our nation, apart from either making guns harder to come by, or by changing peoples lives with the gospel of Christ.  If we could learn to love each other, instead of focusing on the things that divide us, how much better off would we be?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Les Misérables

I read something in a blog the other day that referenced Les Misérables by Victor Hugo and something then compelled me to get and read this book.  Since I have a Kindle, and it was available for free, it was pretty easy to get a hold of and read.  What was not so easy was plowing all the way through the book.  But I finally finished the task the other day, and am glad that I read it.

The main plot of this story follows Jean Valjean, a convicted criminal who is transformed after an encounter with a merciful Bishop.  As a young man he stole a loaf of bread to feed his sisters hungry children, and spent the next 19 years in prison.  Once released, Valjean, as a convicted criminal, is essentially condemned to be an outcast for the remainder of his life.  After his encounter with the bishop, Valjean takes on a new identity and becomes a pillar of his community.  That is until Javert, a police inspector discovers who he is and he finds himself back in prison for breaking his parole.  Valjean escapes, adopts a young orphan girl, and tries to stay out of sight, hiding in Paris.  But of course Javert continues to pursue him; until Valjean saves the life of Javert, who, unable to deal with his mercy, ultimately commits suicide.

At about 1400 pages, this is a pretty long novel by just about any standard.  It is very easy to get lost in many of the sub plots that the story goes through, most of which seem to add little to the story; and some of which I ended up skipping after a while.  Victor Hugo appears to be doing much more than just telling a tale. This story is very much a commentary on the social conditions existing in France, particularly Paris, during the early 1800's when the story is taking place.  And generally, the places where I would skip over where long discourses on some societal issue that I could either not follow, or got bored with.

Compounding the struggle with finishing this book was that it required a dictionary close at hand to understand what he was sometimes saying. Lugubrious, for instance, was one of his favorite words.  I ignored it for a while but finally had to look it up, along with many others.  Sometimes there would be half a dozen words in a sentence that were meaningless to me.  And, for some unknown reason, Hugo insisted on using French names for all the characters and locations: yes, I know he was French and writing to a French audience.  And that would not have been so bad if a map for Paris in 1830 had been included.  As it was, I was pretty lost whenever he would start to describe a location or a route through the city.  Hugo would have also lost points with most of my English teachers in school: some of his run-on sentences were more than a page long.

Ultimately, I am glad that I read the story, and am now looking forward to seeing the movie, even if it is a musical.  And I would recommend it to anyone else who is willing to commit a significant amount of time to a challenging, but rewarding, read.