Dear Friends,

What lies ahead in the New Year? What does God have in store for you, for your family, for your ministry life? As I reflect on the past year I never could have imagined some of the experiences, good and bad. Last Christmas, while we certainly hinted enough, we had no idea that our son and daughter-in-law would give us such a beautiful granddaughter (I’m pretty convinced they did this for us…). I couldn’t imagine life without some of the people who are now home with Jesus. I couldn’t imagine some of the transitions that have occurred in 2014. I suspect that it’s probably similar for you. The truth is, we can’t know what the future holds, but we can be confident of the One who holds our future. Someone said, “If you want to see God laugh, tell Him your plans!”

As I look to 2015, I have no idea what to expect. Sure I have dreams and desires, but I also know that God is in control, and the best thing I can do is submit myself to Him. In fact, for me, 2015 will be a year to refocus on Hebrews 12:2. There we read, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” In 2015 I want to lean on Jesus, and learn to trust Him more and more in the surprises of life and ministry. I want to sharpen my focus on what I do, how I serve, and why I’m doing it, to better honor and glorify Jesus.

The writer to the Hebrews makes it sound so easy. Simply fix your eyes on Jesus. As you well know, this isn’t easy at all. It takes some effort. Oh, not in the sense of somehow earning our salvation, but it takes some determination and commitment if we truly desire to fix our eyes and our hearts on Jesus. Sometimes it must seem to God like we all have a bit of attention deficit disorder. Our minds are so easily distracted from the One who loved us and saved us from our sin. We too easily buy into the values of the world around us, caring for our own needs and forgetting to pay attention to God’s Word.

The Barna Group did a survey back in 2013 regarding how many people read the Bible. The survey showed the Bible is still firmly rooted in American soil: 88 percent of respondents said they own a Bible, 80 percent think the Bible is sacred, 61 percent wish they read the Bible more, and the average household has 4.4 Bibles. Yet only 26% surveyed said they read the Bible on a weekly basis. In the past 20-30 years we have experienced the ongoing decline of the mainline churches. Statisticians tell us that less than half of the people that worship regularly are involved in any formal or regular Bible Study. There are a multitude of resources available to help you study God’s Word, as well as personal devotions, but very few “regular pew sitters” take advantage or make use of them. Then when issues arise in the church, the temptation is to solve them in the same way that corporations might solve them using our own wisdom and strength rather than turning to God’s Word.

2015 is a year for our churches to refocus on Hebrews 12:2 also. Who of us doesn’t need to fix their eyes on Jesus? To do so means that we prioritize a bit differently, that we earnestly pray for God’s wisdom and guidance in all life decisions. Fixing our eyes on Jesus means we seek to do things the way Jesus might do them, following His commands and seeking to honor Him in whatever we do. Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Imagine the renewal that could happen in your own life, in your home, at your business place, in your neighborhood, in your church if we each would fix our eyes on Jesus? It would revolutionize our world. At a minimum it would change your perspective and outlook of God’s call to servanthood. Outreach wouldn’t simply be a word passed like a hot potato until it lands in the pastor’s lap. Stewardship wouldn’t seem like an outstretched hand looking for more money. Worship would become more about being in God’s presence than about my personal preferences or likes and dislikes. Rick Warren, in his acclaimed book, The Purpose Driven Life, began with the simple words, “It’s NOT about you.” While I may not agree with everything he wrote, this one statement I do agree with.

There was a time when the Church had such a passionate desire to enter into a community and share the love of Jesus in engaging ways. Somewhere along the line we’ve misunderstood Luther’s beloved hymn, and we’ve erected a “Mighty Fortress” to keep the world out, or at the least, from “tainting” our churches. Yet, it was for this very reason that Jesus died on a Cross to reach a lost and dying world. Certainly the outside world may look different and not understand our “Lutheran” culture (or series of initials… LHM, LLL, LWML, LCMS…), but aren’t these the very ones for whom Jesus died and called us to serve? In fact, we’ve just celebrated His Incarnation, Jesus entering into the world to become like us so that He might save us from our sin. Now He calls us to be His incarnate presence in the world, sharing His love and forgiveness with those who don’t understand. We need to break down the dividing walls to connect people to Jesus. I believe that we do this best when our eyes are fixed on Jesus!  What a joyful privilege.

To fix our eyes is not an easy decision, but it is a decision we each make. In fact, by failing to make a decision to fix our eyes on Jesus, we’ve made a decision not to! By the way, this isn’t decision theology, as if our decision somehow impacts our salvation. Rather this is about discipleship, challenging those who have already been saved by grace but now desire to walk in the good deeds that God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). This is all about our life of sanctification, living in the blessings of His free redemption.

Years ago I had a friend in high school whose parent’s gave him a car for Christmas. It wasn’t brand new, but it sure seemed like it since up until then we were riding bikes. He had a decision to make. He couldn’t earn or deserve that car—it had been given to him as a gift, so that wasn’t the decision. Instead, the decision was how he would care for this car. Would he attend to the maintenance, changing the oil and keeping it clean, or would he just drive it until it no longer drove? Sadly, he didn’t take care of it, and it ended up in a wreck because of a minor missed maintenance issue. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Here’s the point, each of us can choose how we will live out our discipleship in the free gift of new life we’ve received by faith in Jesus. I choose to fix my eyes on Him. What will you choose? I invite you to join me and fix your eyes on Jesus!

Isaac Watts wrote a beautiful hymn that many will sing at the beginning of the New Year. “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,” reminds us that our God, who has promised to never leave nor forsake us, is with us always. Let me leave you with these two verses, the first and last:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Still be our guard while troubles last
And our eternal home!

Go read this hymn and let God speak to you once again. As you fix your eyes on Jesus in 2015, may He guide our paths, protect and grow us, and give us confidence that He is Lord of 2015, even as He is Lord of eternity.

Happy New Year!

With eyes fixed on Jesus,