January 2nd is a bummer because Christmas lights come down. How depressing. It's part of the aftermath of Christmas, and it has a way of inciting loneliness. On January 2nd, I was thinking about:
Those who dread returning to a miserable job.
Widows and widowers living alone in a quiet house.
Those divorced or never married wondering if this is it.
Those mourning a death.
Those who have family far away. They were together, now gone.
Those suffering from a break up.
Some reflections on January 2nd, the loneliest day.
Social media has provided an odd phenomenon. You get to see pictures of friends at parties you weren't invited to. We hear regular reports on the increase of loneliness in our country. Much of it is tied to this sense of being "uninvited," and then the "fear of missing out."
This "uninvited" feeling seems to be on the rise. "I'm on the outside." "I don't belong." "I'm forgotten." "Everyone ignores me." "I'm out of place."
Catholic monk and writer Thomas Merton once wrote:
“Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited.”
When you bake, you might set a timer for 30 or 60 minutes. But what if you could set a timer to go off in years or centuries? Well, there’s a website for that. At OnlineStopwatch.com you can set a custom timer. Here’s a screen shot of a timer that I set for December 1st, in the year 3,000. 358,670 days from now.
The end of the church year calendar is its own timer, reminding us this world is not forever. We often live as if our time is indefinite, like the year 3,000. But what if the world's timer was set for 1 year? One week? Two minutes? What if you had that much time left? The point:
This might be over soon.
There are days that I'm fatigued. Every tragedy and crisis requires emotional energy. Bad news is a burden assumed by the head and heart. At some point, compassion fatigue sets in. We turn numb to violence, pain, and death.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims . . ." It is a pre-packaged catchphrase that rings hollow because we can't find words that really help. So what do we do when we're fatigued by bad news?
My congregation just launched a capital campaign. And we typically do a stewardship emphasis in November. Money and the church. It’s a sensitive topic. So why should a Christian give to their local church? How does a congregation talk about money?
The giving of a tithe or offering is revelatory. It says something about you. For the Christian, sacrificial giving is:
“The ship is safest when it is in port. But that’s not what ships were made for.”
There is a time to harbor and rest. And then there is a time to set sail and face the pounding surf. It is easier to dock at the port in a static state of comfort and ease. It's crushing when the compass points you to a white-capped field of landless horizon.
Sailing is perilous, and so is the Christian life. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) and Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-39) set our rudder toward the tempest. Love takes us into open seas that require the sailor to be relentless and brave.
Are you suffering for a call God has placed on you? Has he pointed you in the direction of gale and gust?
Set your face to the wind.
For you know the harbor from which you come and the Captain who leads on. Hold fast to his promises. "Fear not." "I will never leave you." "I am with you always." He is our Refuge and Strength in times of trouble, our Harbor in the sea.
Rev. 1:17, 2:3
In the 20th century, most American citizens shared a Christian affiliation. It was assumed that your neighbors at least knew the basics of the Christian faith. In this context, any further questions of faith were referred to a professional - a pastor, priest, elder, or professor. There was little need for the average person to articulate, in their own words, the heart of their faith in Christ.
Not so in the 21st century. In our day, such articulation is critical. Missional movements have been founded on the rapid sharing of the Christian message along the relational lines of everyday people. For every St. Paul, there were thousands of Jewish and Gentile converts who shared the heart of their faith in Jesus of Nazareth.
Can everyday Christians respond to these questions?
"What do you believe?"
"Why does it matter?"
"Why is Jesus so important to you?"
In answering these questions, four skills are critical for Christians to speak their heart in an increasingly non-Christian context.
Today's parents of children and young teens are the first parents in human history whose kids have known smart phones and tablets from infancy. The iphone came out in June of 2007. It has completely changed the way we gather information, relate, and spend our time.
A big question is "When do we get our child a phone?" Having recently outfitted our 13-year-old, I'll share our approach. I recognize that some will think we're too strict and others will think we're too loose. This is not meant to be law. My hope is simply that it's useful as you consider your own circumstance, whether you're a tween, parent, grandparent, or guardian.
Serving Christ can be agonizing. Jesus said it himself, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake . . ." (Matt. 5:10).
Especially for those working in called ministry positions, there is a weight. A burden. A cloud of pressure derived from spiritual forces under responsibility which has eternal consequences.
You've asked, "How much difference am I making? Should I go on? Should I give up? "
Here is some help from 19th century English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The following is from his Lectures to My Students.
Although he also traveled by water, walking was the primary mode of transportation for Jesus of Nazareth. As a child, we know Jesus journeyed with his parents to Egypt. Outside of that, most of his life took place in a small territory in Palestine. His public ministry spanned a region no further than 100 miles.
I love these four words from John 9:1: "As he passed by . . ." A great many events in the gospels happened, “as he passed by,” along the way. On the road. In the marketplace. Out in the countryside. By the city gate. On the shoreline, by the water. In a home, at the dinner table. Very little of Jesus' ministry took place "at church," in the temple. Jesus’ ministry happened while he walked, “as he passed by.”
Speed is an ultimate asset in our culture. We have a lust for expediency. Orders from Amazon come faster. We eat fast food. Microchips in computers and phones get exponentially faster. (See Moore's Law.) We want to make money faster, retire faster, finish a degree faster, get projects done faster. Life is done in a rush. We get to the end of a day and it’s a blur. We think, “I did a lot today, but what did I do?”