Tag Archives: Hope

Happy New Year

Happy New Year 2015

“I’m going to get up early and take a picture of the sunrise,” I said to my wife on New Year’s Eve. I checked Dark Sky and sun-up would be 7:17 am so, to be safe, I set my alarm for 6:00. I would walk our dog, Gertie, down the street to the place where a new subdivision is being built and I have a clear view of the river through the trees to the east. As the sun peeked over the river, I’d snap a picture, spend a moment quietly pondering the year ahead. Say a prayer asking God’s blessing over what’s in store for us in 2015. Then head back and make breakfast for Christina and the boys.

When my alarm rang at 6:00, I turned it off, fell asleep, and didn’t get up till 8:00.

I really wanted that picture. Something about welcoming in the New Year at sunrise felt important, like it was something I needed to do. Because a new year brings new hope, new dreams, new possibilities for who we might become. Sunrise on New Year’s Day is when all that begins and I wanted to be there to see it. It’s when life seems free for the taking. On New Year’s Day we assume the best parts of us will emerge, and we’ll finally be that person we always wanted to be and do that thing we always wanted to do. “This is the year!” we tell ourselves.

But I didn’t take the picture. Before I ever woke up, I already failed the New Year. So what does that mean?

CAPABLE AND WILLING

Resolutions are interesting because they point to something we believe we’re already capable of achieving but, for whatever reason, never did . We can be skinny. We can be runners. We can be writers. We can be debt-free. We can be holy. We can get up to snap a picture of the New Year’s sun. We believe we’re capable. But being capable only matters when we’re also willing.

New Year’s Day brings a collective jumpstart for a willing humanity. This week gyms and workout centers across America will be flooded with people. Blogs will be updated for the first time since last summer (like the one you’re reading now). Churches will see new faces. Savings accounts will open. Joggers in brand new dri-fit clothes and colorful shoes will slam into one another while figuring out their Nike+ app. This will be the new normal for about a month, but by February all the hype will settle and we’ll return to our regularly-scheduled lives.

We’re a capable people, but our willingness needs work.

A NEW RHYTHM

It’s hard to start an entirely new routine. I’m a person who recoils at routine as though it were roadkill served up for dinner. The thought of doing the same thing at the same time in the same place every single day makes me claustrophobic. I have a routine of sorts because my job as a preacher requires it (I must have a sermon ready every Sunday). As a whole, though, routine is a four-letter word.

But it’s often a routine that breeds the necessary willingness to stick with what we set out to do on New Year’s Day. In routine we find rhythm, and rhythm is a very holy thing.

All life is set to rhythm. Time moves in rhythm around our clocks. There are rotating seasons and ebbing tides on a planet making its way across the same path in space year after year. There’s something about being caught up in a rhythm that sets us right with God, with creation, and with each other. Creation requires rhythm, and so do we. Without it our lives are chaotic.

Some people are really good at routines; I am not. Rhythm works for me where routine fails. Sure, it’s a bit of a semantics thing, but routine is about discipline while rhythm is about life. Perhaps our New Year’s resolutions shouldn’t be about our weight, fitness, or achievements. Perhaps they should be about our ability to persevere, to find rhythm, to re-make ourselves from the inside. If you’re interested in a “New You,” it’s going to require more than cosmetic touch ups and a few less pounds. A New You requires a new take on life, a new heart, a new rhythm. If the same Old You is trying to reach a goal, you’ll never make it. The Old You never did.

Instead of making New Years resolutions, what about creating an entirely new rhythm? What if you offer parts of each day to God in prayer and meditation; parts to friends and family in shared, selfless community; parts to your work so that you’re productive and contributing something to humanity as a whole; parts to creation so you’re living in a responsible way with what you wear, what you eat, what you consume, and how you enjoy all that God has made; and parts to yourself so that you’re healthy in mind, body, and spirit? Until we change our rhythm, our resolutions will never see February.

May God bless us as we enter into this new year with all its hope, anticipation, and joy. May we align ourselves more and more with the rhythm of God and creation. May our world find peace, and may 2015 be the year that life on earth becomes as it is heaven.

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The Night I Went to Prison

Thursday night I joined a couple guys from CrossWalk on their weekly visit to Wrightsville prison where they teach classes in the prison’s Pathway to Freedom program. I wasn’t terribly nervous and I didn’t see anything alarming. The inmates were very friendly, outgoing, shared a lot about their lives and the struggles they face, and, more than anything else, were surprisingly grateful. I met guys with regular names like Darnell and Gregg and James and Calvin. No Mad Dog’s or Spike’s or Killer’s. No fights. No riots. No drug deals.

I know – boring, right?

Actually it was anything but.

When we walked in I was a little unsettled at the sight of the first inmate wearing all white. Something about that uniform – the anonymity, the conformity, the loss of self – made me pause. But after meeting the first few guys, that quickly evaporated. As the men filed in the room, Euel Dove, one of our CW shepherds, began introducing me to the men. One by one I shook their hands and gave some of them hugs. Each one smiled and shook my hand firmly. Some said they had been anxious to meet me (apparently Euel was quite generous in describing his new teaching minister).

Euel and I left the room and walked down the hall to the barracks – a larger room filled with bunk beds, showers, toilets, and sinks. No walls. No barriers. No stalls for the showers or toilets. One big room.

About 30 inmates sat in chairs circled near the front of the room and Euel went around the circle shaking hands and calling each of them by name. He asked some about their upcoming parole hearings, some about their families, some about past disciplinary action. If you live in Little Rock and want to see a man doing what he was made to do, go watch Euel with the inmates at Wrightsville.

We began with the serenity prayer and one man offered a story of how that prayer helped him last week. We talked briefly about the importance of changing ourselves before we worry about others. Then we moved into the night’s lesson on hope. Each man had a book with about a page and a half of information followed by six reflective questions. They are to come to class each week ready to discuss the questions.

After some pretty lengthy discussion – probably an hour or so – Euel asked the men to tell me why they value volunteers coming out to Wrightsville. A couple guys said that the volunteers – Euel, Curtis, and others from CW – have impacted their lives more than any guard or therapist or attorney ever has. One young man – probably in his early 20’s – who had been pretty quiet – raised his hand. He said before coming to prison he hated everybody. He believed everybody was selfish and inherently bad. But since coming to Wrightsville he’s learned there are good people in the world, people he can trust, people who will really look out for his interests. And he learned that from the volunteers.

We stood, joined hands, and recited the Lord’s Prayer. Then I got to chat with a few guys who asked me to pray for them. For me, that was the climax – men asking me to pray for reconciliation with their kids, for upcoming parole hearings, for their families. Each one had tears welling up as they exposed their innermost worries and fears.

We found the rest of our group and a guard escorted us through a series of doors and gates. We got in the car and drove home.

I’m still processing everything I experienced that night. And I cannot wait to go again. One of the thoughts I keep returning to is that Jesus said one reason he came was to set the prisoner free. I always thought it was a little strange because a prisoner broke the law, so they’re serving their punishment for wrongdoing. Why would Jesus come to throw open the bars and yell, “Everybody run!” But the “prison” those guys are in – the one that holds them hostage – has no walls and no bars. The prison they’re in has no guards or parole boards or work time or good behavior. The prison they’re in is inside. The prison they’re in is in their minds and their hearts. It’s a prison that tells them there is no other way. It’s a prison that tells them they are evil. It’s a prison that tells them nobody cares. It’s a prison that tells them they’ll never be better. It’s a prison they can leave as soon as they realize that they are holding the key.

This is the prison Jesus came to blow open.

At the end of October CW is leading the Wednesday night worship time at Wrightsville and I get to share a word with the inmates. I’m a little nervous about it – okay, I’m kinda freaking out. I haven’t nailed down what my message will be that night, but I know it must be full of love. It must be full of hope. And it must be full of Jesus.

Love.

Hope.

Jesus.

What else do we need?