New Year 2018 – Four for Forty

As I begin to type this, it is Saturday night, 30th December 2017. In just a couple of hours, in my timezone, we will be well and truly into the last day of the year – New Years Eve. Traditionally, this is a time of revelry and praying as we let go of the year gone by and embrace the year ahead. Looking into a new year is always a time of hope for changes and new things in our lives: “Maybe this year will be my/our year…”

This new year is a particularly significant one for me because I was born in 1978. Yep. as we enter 2018, I am on the extremely fast slide to my 40th birthday (July). To be honest, I am not really that bothered about turning 40 – it is not worrying me in any way, and neither is it exciting me in any way that much either. but i do feel a sense of occasion about it as I look a few months ahead to the actual birthday. Last year, my very best friend took the calendar year of his 40th birthday to enter a year of celebrations and challenges. Inspired by him (as I frequently am) I have come up with my own challenges for the year – “Four Challenges for the Year I Turn Forty,” if you will. The challenges are by no means small. They will stretch me to my very limits if I am to complete them. I have never been the most disciplined person at all, but I feel a sense of wanting to achieve all of the following. Here they are:

1. Memorize the Gospel of Mark.

Mark has 16 chapters containing 661 verses in the New International Version of the Bible. I was introduced to the idea of memorizing the entire Gospel of Mark in 2014 when I attended the Marcy Preaching Fellowship at Candler School of Theology. That little preaching course gave me a brand new love for the shortest of the gospels. I reckon if I take 2 verses a day, I can fir it in to the year. I am also very, very aware that this one will become particularly time consuming as the year goes on and rounds to an end. Nevertheless, the older I get the harder it will be to memorize things, so this is the time to give it a go.

2. The Tonne Run/Walk

Again, inspired by my best mate, who did this a few years ago, I want to achieve this one and believe it to be possible. Three miles a day will cover the 1000 miles in 334 days, leaving me roughly a months worth of days to rest somewhere in it all. It is achievable. It will not be enjoyable. Exercise that doesn’t come in the form of team sport is not my first love at all. This challenged will also push me to my limits, and likely well beyond them too, but that is no bad thing. Again, the older I get, the harder it will become to do this type of thing, so now is the time. I will be running and walking because I do not believe I would have what it takes to run 3 miles every day, but you never know. I might surprise myself…

3. 40lbs off to mark 40 years of life.

I have always been a large fellow, and have always carried extra weight. When in college/seminary I managed to shift a large amount of weight, some of which I have put back on. It’s time to put the effort in and lose it again (and some more). I can do this one. If I am exercising daily, I know I will shift pounds quickly in the first couple of months of the year, and I know that if I keep it going, the rest can follow. As always, my eating will be the enemy of this challenge, as will my enjoyment of wine, but with a little discipline and devotion to this challenge, I think I can do it. We’ll see.

4. A Saving Challenge

This one has done the rounds on social media in the last couple of days. I saw it and thought it would work for me. The idea is simple: each week I save the dollar amount for the week of the year I am in ($1 in week one of 2018, $2 in week two of 2018, and so on) Over the year, this will represent savings of just under $1380 over the year. Again, this will put some pressure on as the year goes on, but I know it can be done – and it will definitely make Christmas 2018 a little easier for sure!!

So there we have it – Four Challenges for the Year I Turn Forty. Who knows if I’ll make it…

But I’ll be trying for sure.

Thanks for reading.


Finding Light in the Daylight

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. I preached a sermon based on the Old Testament text for the day – Isaiah 64:1-9. The main thrust of the sermon was to introduce this season as a season of waiting for the promised savior, and to remember that as we wait we already know the end of the story. The Savior has come and therefore our job is not only to wait in this season, but also to look around and notice the signs that remind us he has come. As I drew the sermon to a close, I invited our church family to keep their eyes open for signs of the Savior all around, and then to tell the stories of what they see and hear.

They say that a leader can’t lead what he or she is not prepared to live. Therefore, I too am keeping my eyes and ears open for those signs of Christ around me, and I too am committed to telling the stories as I experience them.

This morning, I got up and decided to take a walk. It was around 7:15am. The darkness of night time had disappeared and the hope-filled light of a new day was already all around. This time of year is a magnificent time of year to have the privilege of living in America. Regardless of the meta-narrative of political turmoil in the United States, my experience of most ordinary people is that they are simply getting on with life each day while circus of all the other stuff goes on around them. That means that most people in my neighborhood, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, enter into the spirit of the season and put Christmas lights on their houses. That’s why it is so magnificent to live here at this time of the year. There is something amazing about seeing light shine in the darkness of night, right?

We too have put lights up on the outside of our home. Each evening at around 5:30pm we switch the lights on in time for the disappearance of the sun, and then we turn them off as we go to bed (less risk of a fire in the night AND less money to Florida Power & Light!!). Not everyone is as frugal though. Some people leave their lights on through the night and into the light of morning. Thanks to these people, I met with God this morning.

As I walked along one road, I noticed that a person had not switched off their lights for the day. The person’s lights were shining away, right there in the daylight. At first I didn’t notice them, but then, when I focussed a little harder I realized that there they were burning away for all to see.

It made me think that light can be hard to see in the daylight.

Stay with me.

During Advent and around Christmas time, we (in the church) make a big deal of reciting the opening words of John’s Gospel as a means of recognizing and celebrating the Incarnation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NRSV)

The closing words of the above passage are some of my favorite words in all of Scripture – they are a persistent reminder that light always breaks darkness. I have used these words again and again in prayers and sermons and conversations to remind folks that even though the world can seem dark and over bearing, no darkness can ever overcome the Light of the world found in Christ. Those words are so very true. However, as I reflected on the Christmas lights shining in the daylight, I could not help but be reminded that I do not live a life that is persistently in the dark. Sure, I have known times of difficulty in life, and I have even known times of unexplained sadness and depression. I also am deeply aware of the difficulties we face in the world in general – crippling poverty, mindless violence, an obsession with power and control…the list could go on. But if I am very honest with myself, the truth is this: I do not exist in a life clouded with perpetual darkness all around me. I am happily married and have two fantastic children. I have food on the table when I want it. I am employed and have a roof over my head. I have good and reliable friends and have had access to a good education.

Although life can certainly be difficult to experience at times, I would not describe my life as one which is lived in darkness. To the contrary, by and large my life is lived in rich and colorful light. I know that this is privilege. I know this is not everyone’s experience in the world, and I would never presume to say it is. However, I do know that there are many others in the world who also experience life in this way; that there are many others who live in a privileged world of rich and colorful light.

Here’s the thing though – in the same way I almost missed those Christmas lights shining in the daylight this morning, when we live in a privileged and light filled world, it can be difficult to see the “Light of the world”. When we live in such abundance, which many of us do, it can be a real challenge to recognize the Savior. It’s hard to see light shining in the day light unless we are intentionally looking for it.

Today I was reminded by God, in a very simple way, that he is not just a 911 emergency God, who is present and shines in the dark moments. Today, God reminded me that God is ALWAYS present – in the best of times and the worst of times. God is always present and always bringing more light into the world. I was challenged this morning; this first ADVENT morning to watch even more closely for God in this world, and to be amazed at God’s goodness and God’s ability to shine in all places.