Looking Back, Looking Ahead

The ancient Romans worshiped many so-called gods, one of whom was called Janus.  He was the god of time in their pantheon and was generally pictured as having two faces, one which looked toward the past and one looking toward the future.  As we approach the new year we are in what I guess we could call Janus time, looking at the year now ending and the year ahead.

There’s often not much going on at this time of the year so our newspapers are filled with articles about things they told us already.  You know what I mean–who died this year?, who failed this year?, who succeeded this year?, who–well, who whatever.  I frankly find those articles rather boring and seldom bother to read them.  Neither do I pay too much attention to what some ink-stained wretch is projecting for the next twelve months because their speculations are probably going to be wrong.

But when we turn to look at the things of true and lasting importance, the things divine, well then I encourage people to be Janus-like in their lives.

Look back at what God has done for the world in the Scriptures He inspired.  Oh, there is so much meaning there, there is so much Truth there, there is so much Life there–you could never go wrong or waste your time with the past recorded in those 66 books.

Look back too at your own life.  Look for the times when God has blessed you, sustained you, protected you, loved you.  If you’re clear headed you’ll see there are so many times when you needed Him and He was there for you, just as He promised–even unto the end of the age.

But I encourage you to look forward also–forward to what God will be doing with you and through you in the time ahead.  The seeds of your future faith life have already been planted and they are moving even as this is written.

Finally, look forward to the Day of the Lord–the Day when Jesus will come again with myriads upon myriads of angels and His glory will be visible to everyone so that on that Day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

The past and the future are filled with God and there are few things more pleasant to contemplate on a cold December day.

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Getting Ready

As I drove out to church the other day I saw that a farmer had put manure on his field–the liquefied form that seems popular these days.  Now he isn’t going to grow anything new on there for several months, it’s not growing season by any stretch.  But he’s getting his field ready.  And I dare say with the cows spending more time in the barn in the weeks ahead, he’ll no doubt do it again.

It made me think of where we are in the Church Year right now–Advent.  It’s a time of getting ready for us too.  A time of anticipation and waiting.  A time when there’s all sorts of hustle and bustle going on around the secular gift giving holiday that is incorrectly called Christmas (often pronounced cris-mus, thereby leaving out both Christ and Mass or sacrifice).

As Christians, though, we are busy experiencing Advent, waiting and longing for the One, the Christ, the Messiah, who will save us from our sins and restore us to a right relationship with the Trinity.  And a week from this coming Sunday we will experience the Incarnation of Christ–the fulfillment of the prophecies of old, the coming of the One who is a king but appears as a pauper.  The One who will save, not with weapons that kill, but with “weapons” that give abundant life.

Don’t rush to the Incarnation.  Spend time in Advent, spend time in longing, longing for the greatest love of all times.

Rolling Hills

I’ll bet you’ve heard someone say “youth is wasted on the young.”  If you’re over 40 you’ve probably said it yourself.  I know I wasted lots of opportunities when I was young to experience simple pleasures which today seem somehow powerful to me.

I live in a place where we could speak of our hills as rolling.  We’re sort of at the base of a mountain and under the layers of dirt there are still lots of rock formations that shape our land.  In recent years those who farm the land here have added soy beans to the crops in their rotations and when they cut the beans down in the fall they cut them close to the ground.  That gives you a really good view of how the ground in a field rolls and curves, each field looking unique when compared to others.

For some reason I’ve been fascinated by the shapes in the fields this fall.  I know I never would have seen such a thing when I was 16 or 26 or even 36 probably.  I would have been too busy with whatever I thought was important back then.  But now I’m taking the time to look and to feel a kind of awe at the remarkable variations in the fields.

Too many people are like me–not taking time to see what is around them, not let’s the majesty of existence intrude into their lives.  And I think one of the results of that failure to take a moment is that we don’t spend enough time contemplating God–the one who created everything from the dog-doo on your shoes to the supernovas 50 million light years away.  We’re just all tied up with things that seem to be important this moment and we don’t make the effort to search the Scriptures in a way that will open our eyes to Reality.  God is reality.  The things we let ourselves get all worked up about–they’re just blips in the road.  But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Take some time this week–look at the rolling hills and experience God.  You’ll be glad you did.

The Cattle On 1000 Hills

For the last decade or so my wife and I have spent Thanksgiving in South Carolina with our youngest daughter.  This year was no different.  We had a good time but our travel back and forth was a mixed bag–things went well going south, but not so well going north.  Thanksgiving traffic can be brutal.

Still, we make the best we can of our situation and trying down there God gave me a little reminder of just who is in charge of the world.  We were driving through the western part of Virginia with mountains and hills all around us.  I happened to glance over to my right and saw a good size herd of black Angus cattle on a hillside field.  And the Lord reminded me then of the words of the psalmist in Psalm 50 who, writing in the words of God, said, “The beast of the field are mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.”

One of the great problems we have in this world is the sinful idea that somehow we are in charge of things.  I’m sure the farmer who owns that herd has thought of them as “his” cattle.  But, in point of fact, they aren’t.  In reality those are God’s cattle.  Just as my home is God’s place and my car is God’s car and my retirement money is God’s money.  None of it belongs to me, but it all belongs to Him and I am simply the steward of those things.  Not only does God own everything–He also owns everyone.  We are His people, not independent beings.

Some years ago I spoke about this in a sermon and a parishioner said to me afterwards, “how can a man live if he doesn’t own anything?”  That’s a powerful question and one that deserves an answer.

God’s ownership of everything and everyone is actually Gospel–Good News for us.  You see if I indeed own things like my home, my car, my kids, my own life–well, I’m going to be all the more upset when they’re gone.  Corrie ten Boom once said that she had learned to hold lightly the things of this world so that it wouldn’t hurt so much when God took them away from her.  Ownership of things is not freedom, it is indenture.  If I am tied to my things, then I am imprisoned by them.  If I hold hard to my life and how I live it, I am always afraid of what will happen if it all falls apart.  If I grasp  at stuff–stuff owns me.

But when I acknowledge God’s ownership of all things, including myself, then I am freed to live the life that God has planned for me.  I am ready to step out and experience the great adventure that is the Christian life, unencumbered by anything except faith in Him and His promise that all things will work together for good for those who are called according to His (not my) purpose.

Those cattle on that hill in Virginia reminded me of all that.  And I thank God for bringing it into my mind.