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Zoom In A New Year's Message

I have good news and bad news. The good news:  2020 is finally over!

The bad news: we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, we are divided politically as a nation, and The Bachelorette TV series shows no signs of slowing down.

They say if you don’t learn from the past, you are doomed to repeat it. What did we learn from last year? We learned that some folks can get very angry. People were mad because they had to wear masks; others because some weren’t wearing masks. Last month, Tom Cruise went ballistic on a movie set in London. The actor launched a profanity-laced attack on some crew members who were huddled around a computer without observing social distancing guidelines.

Preachers became the brunt of a lot of anger, too. They heard from outspoken parishioners who demanded that their churches open back up, while others insisted that the doors remained closed. Add to all of this the rancor of a divisive political season and it’s no wonder that one psychologist said we were all living in a big anger incubator last year.

Other people fell into anxiety and depression. A survey that was conducted in July found that more than half of U.S. adults said virus-related worry had negatively impacted their mental health, up from   39% in May.

We also know that the economy has taken a big hit during the pandemic. A lot of people lost their jobs last year, including my oldest son. One economist has predicted that we will not regain all the jobs lost in 2020 for four more years.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that 2020 was a dumpster fire of a year. And, at least for a while, 2021 doesn’t look too much better. So what should we do; how should we respond? Well, those who are angry can continue to be angry. Those who are fearful can sink deeper into fear. We can bemoan the loss of a job and believe that the cards are stacked against us, paralyzing us from moving forward.

Or …

Do you remember the “Magic Eye” pictures from the  1990s? My boys loved them. Technically they’re called autostereograms – a pattern that contains a hidden 3-D image. At first glance, this particular picture looks like a big, wavy mess. But if you stare at it long enough in the right way, a caduceus (the symbol of medicine) emerges from the center. Trust me – it’s there.

My sons could usually pick out the hidden image in mere seconds. Dad would cross his eyes, drool on his shirt and go into an altered state of consciousness before he could pick out the picture within a picture. . .and sometimes he couldn’t do it at all.

Hebrews 12:2 urges us to “fix our eyes” on Jesus. This New Testament word means to look away from other things so you can gaze on something far more important. We might use the words focus, concentrate, or even zero or zoom in. If you have a camera and zoom in on a flower, you are cutting out most of the surroundings so you can focus solely on the flower.

Do you see where I’m going with this? We have a choice this year – indeed, a choice for the rest of our lives. We can either zoom in on the mess of this world, or we can zoom in on the Messiah. We can zoom out with 2020 vision, looking back at last year to see a big picture of despair and discontent, or we can zoom in with fresh 2021 vision and fix our eyes on Jesus. Like the Magic Eye pictures, we can view the chaos around us and conclude that there’s nothing else to see – or we can slip on the lenses of faith and see something eternal and beautiful emerge.

From the very beginning of the Book of Hebrews, we read about the magnificence of Christ. He is greater than all the angels, even greater than Moses himself, for Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.  As the ultimate High Priest, Christ himself became the sacrifice for our sins, something that the highest archangel or greatest prophet could never achieve.

But this wasn’t meant to be a dry, academic theology lesson; it was an encouraging reminder to zoom in on Jesus. You see, the Christians of that time and place were slogging through the raging flames of persecution. The  10th chapter spells out their sufferings: imprisonment, public ridicule, confiscation of property. Because of this, some Christians were abandoning their faith.

“Remember who Jesus is!” the writer encourages. “He is the pioneer of our faith.” The New Testament word is not an easy one to translate into English. It’s been variously rendered as author, originator, source, and guide. Elsewhere in ancient literature, the word has been translated as prince, leader or captain.

Several years ago, my wife and I took an anniversary dream cruise around the isles of Scotland. We spent about a week with several other couples in a converted fishing boat. The skipper was a New Zealand native who had logged many years on the sea. Because of that, I trusted he knew what he was doing. I had faith that he was steering the vessel to the correct tourist destinations. And when I went to bed at night, I slept soundly, knowing that an experienced captain was at the helm.

We can trust Jesus as the commander of our ship. He’s been over every sea we could possibly imagine, from the waters of joy to the oceans of despair. If we place our lives in His capable hands, He will expertly navigate our passage and take us to safe port.  

The author of Hebrews also calls Jesus the perfecter of our faith. This word can be translated as “finisher” or “completer.” I bet some of you will remember an iconic moment in the  1992 Barcelona Olympics. Derek Redmond from Great Britain had qualified for the semifinal of the   400m with the fastest time in his heat. He was looking strong when suddenly he pulled up, the result of a torn hamstring. His face twisted in agony, Redmond began limping toward the finish line. Suddenly, his father appeared at his side, brushing off security guards as he wrapped his son’s arm around his neck. They finished the race together. The crowd went wild, giving Redmond a standing ovation.

At some point in our lives, we will stumble on the course laid out before us. There will be pain. We might even fall flat on our face and be tempted to quit. Don’t! First of all, the writer of Hebrews tells us that a great cloud of witnesses surrounds us, a multitude of spectators who are applauding us we run our race. These cheerleaders are the great saints of the Old Testament – figures like Abraham, Moses and Samuel – who did not see the promise of Messiah fulfilled in their lifetimes, but who now join us in spirit. Think about that for a moment – the great patriarchs and matriarchs of the Bible are cheering us on as we race toward Jesus!

Most importantly, there is One who doesn’t sit idly on the sidelines, watching us with an indifferent eye. Two thousand years ago, He came out of the stands and joined us in this messy race called “life.” He was born under humble circumstances, grew up in a small town, and not only taught about the way to God, but actually became the Way by dying on the cross for sin and rising again on the third day. Christ was with us at the starting line of faith; every step of our faith journey He walks with us, and He will be with us at the finish line. As Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, “I am confident that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Yes, I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is, challenging things will still happen in 2021. Every year contains its own share of problems and predicaments. And, sadly, there will still be some people who will focus on the mess.

The good news is, there is another way. Instead of the mess, we can focus on the Messiah. We can decide to fix our eyes on the author and finisher of our faith, who promises to impart His own joy, peace and strength to us. We can zoom in on Christ Jesus and, in doing so, deepen our faith in ways that will triumphantly carry us through life – and into eternity.

 

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