You know it’s getting pretty bad when I’m watching reviews of camping equipment on the internet. Cooped up inside during the winter months makes me feel a little stir crazy. I just want to get out, away from everything, and leave pressures and stress of life behind me.

I’m particularly intrigued by all the folks sharing tips and tricks on off-grid living—setting up a house, cabin, or RV out in the boondocks with no running water, generating your own electricity, etc. Of course, all of these folks still manage to have internet access so that they can post their videos…

While I love the idea of getting out of the noise and busyness of day-to-day life, I know that’s no way for a Christian to live. A monastic existence may seem like a wise way to separate yourself from the cares of the world, but such a life can cut us off from others. That’s not good, because Christianity is other-centric—there is nothing about it that’s all about self. Jesus died for others, we are called to love others—the regenerated life is nothing without others.

Jesus prayed to his father, “I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” He desires that we be otherworldly, while still living abundantly in this world—even with all the cares and stress it brings. This is how we witness.

That’s something to think about.

Smooth Ride

After having to buy new wheels for my car, I can tell you that I really hate potholes. Even if you don’t hit them hard enough to damage your vehicle, driving over (through?) them is mighty uncomfortable. We seem to be getting more than our fair share, and that, along with the occasional treacherous weather, has made it pretty unpleasant to drive around here.

It’s so much better to be able to drive along smooth, wide thoroughfares that get us to our destinations in comfort and style, with little concern for accidents and flat tires. But—and you may have noticed this already—life just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes every way you turn is narrow or winding or pockmarked with holes, and a level road and quiet ride seem ever elusive. Financial worries, health woes, relationship concerns—these all eat away at our peace and make us haggard and worn.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be that way. Life happens, but he wants us to experience it abundantly, not apprehensively. That’s why he instructed Paul to write, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That’s something to think about.

The Good Ol’ Days

I like to listen to music from the “Big Band” era. Those wind orchestras cranking out those classic tunes just bring a smile to my face. I used to say, “I hope they have a big band in heaven, and that there’s room for one more trombone player.” Satin Doll, Tuxedo Junction, Take the ‛A’ Train—I just love this music.

As I listen to the forties station on satellite radio, I note that much is said (between tracks) about this period being “the good ol’ days”. I know that this is done tongue-in-cheek, but there are a lot of people out there that seem to think that there actually were some good old days. Certainly society has seen many changes for the worse over the years; the “entertainment” industry seems to be filthier than ever, politeness seems to be all but gone, and “road rage” is a thing. But, as you reflect on the glory of those days of yore, keep a couple of things in mind.

One, every generation has its good and bad. While I would appreciate a return to the manners of June and Ward Cleaver, I wouldn’t really want to live without the modern conveniences I’ve come to depend on. I don’t want to go back to rampant air pollution, harmful strip mining, segregation, the Cold War—you get the idea. Those “good ol’ days” had their bad as well as the modern age.

Two, sin has always been with us, since Adam blew it in Eden. Plays and stories from ancient times can be just as nasty as the stuff they put on cable TV today. Ill-mannered people have always been around. And, did you know that the Greek story of Oedipus describes how he killed a man because he refused to yield to him at an intersection? Talk about road rage…

I enjoy the “retro” craze as much as the next guy, and I get a kick out of reliving some scenes from my childhood, or even my parents’ or grandparents’ childhoods—but I know that those days, or any days since sin entered our world, aren’t all that good. That’s why Jesus sacrificed himself—to usher in good days that will last forever.

That’s something to think about.

Black Ice

A few days ago it got to be pretty treacherous in parking lots and on sidewalks. As the cold temperatures and ice descended on the city the pavement seemed to hold a nefarious secret. Even though it only appeared wet, it was actually very slick. This is what we call “black ice”—that insidious slick stuff that passes itself off as mere moisture when in fact it is far more brutal.

Ensconced within my office I don’t usually go out into it myself until most of the traffic has gone for the day, but I have heard numerous reports of (and have witnessed with my own eyes) people sliding and falling on parking lots and sidewalks. Some of these folks just nonchalantly stepped out of their doors, apparently deceived by the appearance of the pavement, only to be surprised to find themselves flat on their backs. So black ice does. It looks like simple wet concrete—perhaps even a puddle here or there—when in fact it is slick and dangerous.

The accuser has been known to do that. Paul writes that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Deception is in his nature, and he’d trick you if you let him. That’s why it is so important that we fill our lives with prayer. When we’re in conversation with our Father it will be difficult for Satan to lure us onto spiritual black ice: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That’s something to think about.

The Best from Your GPS

If you’ve been traveling you know how useful a GPS can be. (For someone reading this forty years from now, that stands for Global Positioning System.) Usually, they can get you where you need to go pretty accurately, and they’re constantly updated with road changes. Some even keep up with traffic and will offer to reroute you around accidents and traffic jams. Whether you use Maps or Waze, Tom-Tom or Garmin, you can count on a GPS to get you where you want to be with little to no hassle.

But they aren’t perfect. These things only work as long as the data they’ve been given is correct. I was once on Interstate 635 during rush hour when construction had narrowed the road to one lane. The GPS happily reported that I was only 12 minutes from the river (a distance of about eight miles)—except that the freeway had become a parking lot and no one was going to cover eight miles that quickly. Something had gone wrong with the data input, and the system wasn’t aware that traffic had come to a stand still. As they say, “garbage in, garbage out.”

So what you put in is extremely important. It’s the only way you can be sure of what comes out. “Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me,” says the Psalmist. To ensure that the outcome of my life is wisdom and goodness, I must put in God’s words. Those words best tell me how to live life, for they come directly from the Source of life. Better than the fanciest GPS, those words will never steer me wrong.

That’s something to think about.

Fool Me Once

I’ve been fooled before. I know that it’s well and truly winter, but suddenly an unusually warm day appears and I think, “Well, this winter won’t be so bad, after all.” Inevitably it turns out that I was mistaken, and Jack Frost shows his true colors with a vengeance. Winter, you got me again!

Have you felt taken in by someone? That a person’s demeanor seems to promise kindness, friendship, loving care—only to find that the person in question wasn’t that way at all? Humans can be pretty good at showing only what they want you to see in order to get something from you. Imagine how the Lord felt when he went to his people looking for fruits of good works and light, only to find hypocrisy, legalism, and an exclusivity that prevented people from turning to him.

As Jesus approached Jerusalem he saw a fig tree in leaf. Even though it wasn’t the season for figs, the presence of the leaves promised fruit. This was an empty promise, for, aside from the leaves, the tree was barren, and he cursed the tree so that it withered and died. No fruit, no life.

We are called to be fruitful, but if all we have is a show of righteousness we are just as barren and worthless as that fig tree. A lush, green, leafy fruit tree that bears no fruit just isn’t much of a fruit tree. And a Christian who goes to church every Sunday, reads the Bible, and believes all the “right” doctrine, but lacks the fruit of love and good works, just isn’t much of a Christian, either.

That’s something to think about.

A Rolling Stone

We like what we know. We appreciate the familiar. I’m comfortable teaching the same classes over and over—reiterating my routine lectures, providing my stock examples—it’s so nice to stay in my little, unchanging world. But change is inescapable. Recently I’ve been teaching several brand-new classes for the first time. This is stressful to me. Change wears away at my cozy little rut. The erosion of my comfort zone, my safe space, makes me anxious.

Perhaps that was how the disciples felt after Jesus’ resurrection. Strange things had happened. They had seen their Master executed, and then had seen him alive—spoke to him, touched him. The things he had told them about fulfilling the words of the prophets—it was true, but it was unbelievable. Their heads swam in confusion as they attempted to make sense of it all. This wasn’t just the winds of change—it was a full-force gale! Looking for a calm in his mental and emotional storm, Peter declared, “I’m going fishing.” The friends that were with him replied, “We’ll come, too.” And so they returned to the familiar.

They didn’t linger there long, though. Jesus once again showed up and challenged them. Just like he sometimes challenges us. While it may be easy to stay in that rut and keep doing the same old things over and over, Christ calls us to move. We have no time to abide in one place, gathering moss—there is important work to do. There are lost lambs to seek and find and feed.

That’s something to think about.

New Clothes for a New Year

And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”

What a relief! When I would come home from throwing hay, I would be hot and sticky and dirty. I certainly wouldn’t have been invited to any parties in that state. All I wanted to do was to get clean—to get out of the filthy clothes, take a shower, and put on something fresh.

In a vision from God, the prophet Zechariah saw the high priest, Joshua, clothed in dirty rags. Israel had sinned and been sent into exile. The nation would return to the promised land chastised and forgiven but was still in need of spiritual revival. Only God could wash clean the guilt, and this is what Zechariah saw—God’s cleansing power.

While we speak (and sing) much of this power, we ought also to take note of the love behind the washing. God desires to purify us and make us holy. He wants to dress us in clean clothes. He paid an awful price to do just that.

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

That’s something to think about.

The Details

I had a Jewish friend who used to say, “God is in the details.” That means that the smallest things are important. Even if they seem infinitesimally tiny and insignificant to us, they matter. Dave was talking about product quality. He reasoned that if someone cared enough to give thought to what screws or other small components were used in making something, then it was likely a well-built piece of equipment.

Another Jewish man, Jesus, said something similar. “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” The little things we do—helping others, teaching children’s classes, working in the clothes closet, cooking for others—these testify to the quality of our spirits. If we give great care and attention to the small things, we demonstrate that we’ll be faithful in the bigger things. So, in a way, the little things are even more important than the bigger ones, because it’s the details that speak to one’s character. And that’s where others will see God in us—in the details.

That’s something to think about.

Peace on Earth

“Peace on Earth.” We hear this a lot at this time of year. We read it on Christmas cards or decorative displays. We even sing these words in a few of our most beloved Christmas carols. But it seems that most of us don’t understand what the angels were talking about when they declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Once again, we read into the text what we want it to say, missing what it actually means.

You see, God didn’t proclaim peace among men. Don’t get me wrong; that is a beautiful thing to work toward. To some extent, God did make it possible for men to be brothers, for in Christ “he broke down the wall of hostility that separated” Gentiles and Jews. But Jesus made it quite plain that, among the masses, his coming would be divisive. To his disciples in Matthew chapter ten he said, “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.”

If Jesus is such a controversial figure, even today, then what is this peace that the angels proclaimed at his nativity? It is the result of Jesus’ death, not his birth—“God made peace through Christ’s blood, through his death on the cross. At one time you were separated from God. You were enemies in your minds because of your evil ways. But because Christ died, God has brought you back to himself. Christ’s death has made you holy in God’s sight.” [Col 1:20b–22a] This is what’s at the heart of God’s “goodwill toward men.”

That’s something to think about.