Compare the week from Christmas to New Year’s Day to a lookout point on a scenic highway. It’s a great place to stop, stretch and survey the scenery. If you pay attention, you can scrutinize significant markers on the road just traveled and scan the horizon for adventures ahead.
Each of us will remember personal events from the past year. I’m fairly certain I’ll recall 2014 for a child who arrived, a woman who departed, something that didn’t happen and a big decision.
• Eleanor, our second grandchild, arrived Dec. 4. She’s the first baby born to our younger daughter, Molly, and her husband, David. She’s swaddled sweetness. And Joanna and I can hardly wait to spend the coming years getting to know her.
• Helena Loewen Moore, my grandmother, left for heaven this fall. Grammar was 103 years, six months and 21 days old when she died. I mostly remember her as the vigorous woman who took me for long walks and warbled hymns. If Eleanor lives to be as old as her great, great grandmother, their lives will span 207 years.
• For the first time in four years, neither of my parents spent even a single day in intensive care. Praise be to God.
• Late this summer, after years of hard work, fervent prayers and bountiful tears, Baptist Standard Publishing decided to close FaithVillage, our resources website/social network. Perhaps FaithVillage arrived ahead of its time. I hope one day to turn on my computer and visit a site very much like it, touching millions of Christians around the globe.
You can pause to contemplate 2014 developments imbedded in your memory. Every year writes stories on the pages of each life.
The year past
The year just ended also coded monumental stories on the transcript of history. We’re bound to remember 2014 for:
• The Ebola crisis, which ravaged West Africa, jumped the Atlantic and demonstrated the vulnerability of a small planet populated by highly mobile people.
• The rise of extreme militant Islam—known as the Islamic State, or ISIS or ISIL—in Iraq and Syria. Also, systematic beheadings staged as ISIS fund-raisers/intimidation snuff films/recruitment videos
• Other violent terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Sudan and the Taliban in, among other nations, Pakistan, where they slaughtered schoolchildren in mid-December.
• Deaths of a black teenager, a black man and a black child. We may not recall the names of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Brown, but we won’t be able to forget their deaths disproved America is a post-racial society.
• Revelations of U.S.-sanctioned torture, inflicted since 2001 by the CIA.
• U.S. political division, clearly represented by results of the mid-term elections, which set up a titanic battle between the Democratic White House and the Republican-controlled Congress.
• An airplane that veered off course, never to be found, but presumably resting on the bottom of the Indian Ocean.
• An airplane shot down over Ukraine, civil war in that Eastern European nation and the specter of Russian empire-building.
• Thousands of Latin American children and teenagers who teemed across the United States’ southern border.
• The military tar-babies of the late 20th/early 21st centuries, otherwise known as Iraq and Afghanistan.
• The political battle over immigration reform, stalled again.
• An improving economy that lowered unemployment but still left a widening gap between the rich and poor.
• The tragic suicide of one comic genius, Robin Williams, and the public shaming of another, Bill Cosby.
The year ahead
A litany of letdowns from 2014 is enough to divert wind from the sails of the most diehard optimist. Even more dispiriting is the apprehension we’ll be reviewing a similar list for 2015 a year from now.
Still, as you consider the mishaps, catastrophes and atrocities of the past year, ponder words from one of Texas Baptists’ great gifts to the church (and world), gospel artist Cynthia Clawson.
Near the end of a Christmas concert, she observed: “As people of faith, we don’t expect much anymore.”
She’s correct, you know. Life’s destruction and disappointment beat us down. We review the malignant machinations of a year like 2014, and our God shrinks. We consider the obstacles, challenges and outright evil looming in 2015, and our hope shrivels.
“As people of faith, we don’t expect much anymore.”
What if we decide that won’t be true in the coming year? What if we expect more of God, ourselves and others?
Human nature being what it is, and the world broken as it is, 2015 probably will produce as much carnage as its elder brother, 2014. But what if we refuse to let that define us? What if we reject the ensmallment of God? What if we decline to allow circumstances to handcuff our spirits?
We may not heal all the world’s ills. We won’t even get close enough to inoculate for many of them. But living out of vibrant, expectant faith, we can make a difference in our homes, offices, schools, churches, communities—even our state and nation and selected corners of this big old world.
With God all things are possible
Once upon a time, Jesus encountered a young man who expected too little of himself, much less of God. Jesus told his followers an eternal truth about salvation, which also applies to divine expectation, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
The Apostle Paul likewise possessed expectant faith. He promised the early church—and us, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
Missionary pioneer William Carey lived a large faith. He is known for launching the Baptist missions movement. He admonished: “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”
As 2014 draws to a close, let’s expect more of ourselves and of God in 2015.