Forgetting the past, looking forward by PASTOR DICK RILEY Rockford United Methodist Church A pastor from Atlanta once said that it always bothered him in a track meet when the runners were running the hurdles and would knock one or two of the hurdles down. He said that he felt as if they should go back and straighten up the hurdles they had knocked over. He said that if his mother were coaching the team, she would certainly make the runners go back and straighten up the knocked-over hurdles! It was important to her, you see, that the runners leave things “neat and in order” for the next runners. “But,” said the pastor, “hurdlers who win the gold medals don’t look back. They ignore the fallen hurdles and just keep on running to the finish line.” I don’t know if the Apostle Paul ever ran the hurdles in a race, but I do know that he understood one of the basic principles of Christian living. He wrote: “I am still not all that I should be, but I am focusing all of my energies on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us,” (Phil. 3:13-14). As Christians, we are called to continually grow in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and the only way that that is possible is for us to accept the grace of God’s holy forgiveness which He offers us through our faith in Christ our Lord. This will set us free from all of our failures of the past. As we begin this new year of 2011, my prayer for all of us is that we will accept the grace that Christ provides so that we can quit worrying about our mistakes and failures, and, instead, focus on our growing and personal relationship with Him. You see, when grace and growth are the driving forces of our lives, we can be sure that we will truly have a happy new year!
The End is Near! Or Isn’t! by PASTOR SCOTT SWIX Hope Community Church, Rockford The year 2012 is here! The world did not end in 2011 as some predicted. Though others are convinced the Mayan calendar, Nostradamus, Biblical prophecy and other signs assure us that this year is the last year. Well, perhaps. But I’d not bet on it. That’d be a silly bet anyway, wouldn’t it? If you’re right, and you win, you can’t collect. So how do we live in this new year of slowly improving economy, a world of great change? With European crisis, Arab Spring, global warming, Lions winning, China ascending, presidential elections, Washington gridlock (oops, sorry, that’s not new) and on and on, what are we to do? Be faithful. Live as though Christ shall return tomorrow. And as though he won’t. Live faithfully. A faithful Christ-like life is lived the same way, either way. Love God and others, care, forgive, share the good news of the Gospel, give generously. Change a life for the better—our own, and others’. Live in the joy of the holy present moment while prudently considering the future that may come. But do not worry about it, or ignore it. Remember the past, but do not dwell upon it either. We cannot change it, nor can we recapture it. Be faithful. That’s mostly an internal thing. Focus on becoming what God is calling us to be, and less on making others into what we think God expects them to be. Concentrate on our blessings, and less on all the things we want or think we need, and we’ll find more joy and contentment and less anxious depression. Be faithful. Martin Luther said, “Even if I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.” Take care of what we have, and use it wisely, for one day or for many, for we may need it for a very long time. It is a new year. Live it!
God holds the future by REV. LAURIE TENHAVE-CHAPMAN First Congregational Church, Rockford As I walked my dog around the lake in temperatures nearing 50 degrees, I thought back to the headliner forecasts in November. “Harsh Winter Ahead” the meteorologists warned from the newspaper, broadcast studio and Internet news. I remember thinking, “How do they know?” If the 10-day prediction is a guess and the next-day forecast is seldom right, then how can they offer a broad brushstroke prediction for a whole season? “What do they know indeed?” I snorted as I walked on soft soil in early January. (But I knocked on the wood of a nearby tree to make sure!) People like to make predictions and are heralded as true seers when they get it right. Particularly as a new year looms before us, prophets of all stripes are apt to cast their verdict for how reality will shape up the next 12 months. Most of us do not hasten to read the predictions of Jean Dixon or those who have taken over for her in recent years. We’ve learned that envisioning the future is of limited value. What we hopefully have learned is that God alone holds the future. Our best investment of time and energy is in a spiritual life that helps us to know and trust more and more deeply the God who created this Earth in which the snow falls, the storms squall and the sun shines. What we know for sure is that we will have moments of great joy in 2012, surprising beginnings and unexpected endings. There will be losses both great and small, some emotional, some financial, others relational. Through all this we have to know what remains constant. Trust in anyone or anything other than the God who knows and loves us would be misplaced. The Bible describes God as an anchor, a rock, a redeemer, a refuge, a fortress that protects us from enemies. The Bible also says that God is love. So take that walk around the lake as long as you can. Snap on your cross-country skis when snow blankets the ground. When the storms force you to hibernate and your kids get their long-awaited snow day, reflect on the One who provides […]
A pat on the back, kick in the seat by PASTOR JON HUIZENGA River Rock Church A quick scan of Facebook shows people are processing their return to life after the holidays. Some are depressed. Some are unmotivated. A few are launching full speed ahead. How are you? Personally, I’m a mixture: part melancholy, part gung-ho. At times like this, I can use both a pat on the back and a kick in the seat. The following is working for me, maybe it will for you: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight,” the Bible, Proverbs 3:5-6. This is a popular excerpt from the “wisdom” literature in the Bible. It is about how to live a successful life. I see in it God saying three things: 1. Trust me. 2. Acknowledge me. 3. Get there (Doing the first two will result in the third). The “Trust me” section is the pat on the back. The hard part of this new year is its uncertainty. You wonder whether you’ll experience all that life has to offer. Christmas and New Year’s Eve, for good or bad, are over. They were what they were. Will the future be enough? Will it be good? I hear God saying, “Stop trying to be me. You don’t have to have all the answers. What you need is to trust me with all your heart.” The “Acknowledge me” section is the kick in the seat. Since you are not God, get off the throne and acknowledge that He belongs on it! Yes, that takes commitment. If He’s on the throne, He deserves attention. Start reading the Bible; get involved in a local church where you can grow. If you need help, e-mail me at email@example.com. I’ll help you find a way to start. But this isn’t just for beginners. Involved Christians are prone to kicking God off the throne periodically and need to be reminded to get it together. Stop whining and do what you need to do! The “Get there” section is about the peace that comes from trusting and acknowledging God. We may not even know where “there” is […]
Give Yourself a Little Rest by REV. HELEN H. COLLINS North Kent Presbyterian Church It’s the week after Christmas. Soon it will be time to take down the tree, pack away the ornaments and other decorations. My mom always set out all the Christmas cards we received on every flat surface in the dining room and living room and it was a sign that the holidays were done when she took down the display. At this point there will still be some family get-togethers as we ring in the New Year, and we won’t do our “undecorating” party at church until after worship on January 8, but for the most part, by the time you read this, Christmas will be over. I like to send and receive Christmas cards, although I frequently run out of time before the holidays to get them in the mail. I try to find the card that will carry not only my love and greetings, but something of the true meaning of the holiday. Several years ago I found the one that so far has been the most unforgettable. It opened accordion style with five panels. On the front of the card was a full Christmas tree with lights and ornaments. The second panel showed the tree having lost a few of its needles—the way your “real” tree might look a few days after Christmas, especially if you forgot to water it. The third and fourth panels showed the tree as it progressively lost more and more of its needles and as ornaments, with nothing to hang on to, fell to the floor. And in the last panel, the cross became visible as all the trappings, the needles, lights and ornaments were gone. The message was clear that underneath the biggest and best holiday we celebrate each year, underneath the love, the carols and Christmas specials, underneath the family time, the presents and parties, when all is said and done, when everything else is gone, the cross of the One whose birth we proclaim, the giver of God’s immeasurable love is still there. We’ve been doing some landscaping around our church in the last year or so. If you drive down Kuttshill before the snow flies, you’ll be able to […]