The New Year beckons
Like most of you, I’m quite excited to see in a New Year. With all the craziness and change that 2020 brought to my life, waving goodbye to a year like no other feels different to any of the previous 50 New Years I have seen – admittedly I confess I cannot remember the first ten or so!
At the same time, I also know that there are no guarantees about what 2021 will bring to my life. Who would have thought that 2020 would be the way it was? And the COVID19 pandemic is far from over globally, even with the early stages of a vaccine being distributed in some countries. Here in New Zealand, we know that we are only one nervous step away from a 1pm breaking news broadcast that could usher in a cluster, or worse, restrictions that could hamper our complete freedoms right now (in NZ 1pm is when our Prime Minister and health officials make any announcements about latest cases and other updates).
Reflecting on the past for the future
Over the course of my life I’ve learnt the value of reflecting on my past experiences to help me cope with the present that then prepares me for the future. As I get older there seems to be more to reflect on and 2020 has provided a greater opportunity to grow than previous years.
Growth, however, is always framed by whether I’m willing to embrace it.
The Bible leaves a lot to the imagination
Over the last few months I have begun to recognise that many of the stories that I read in the Bible leave a lot to my imagination; these are great stories that I’ve looked at for many years, but increasingly, just like the ending of a good movie, I’ve been left asking the question, ‘what comes next?’
Two stories have taken a lot my attention recently:
Hosea and Gomer
The prophetic book of Hosea in the Old Testament is a classic love story. The affable and pure Hosea makes it his mission to pursue his adulteress and idolatress wife, Gomer. The ending of Chapter 3 ends with Hosea spending every cent he has to purchase back from slavery his wife who abandoned both him and their children years beforehand. The last dramatic scene (Verse 3) is pure romance as Hosea lovingly looks into the eyes of the love of his life and states, ‘You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.’
This story is both dramatic in its ending and in its obvious themes of redemption and identity that are evoked through its pages, themes that are magnified in our view of God’s unbridled pursuit of his adulteress and idolatress people, like me.
The problem with this story is that there are another eleven chapters in the book of Hosea, but Gomer is not mentioned again. Was their marriage restored? Did Gomer realise the error of her ways and come back to her children? Were counsellors involved? There is not simple answer to what happens next.
Zacchaeus up a tree
I also recently read again a story I remember vividly from my childhood, the story of a short chief tax collector called Zacchaeus who climbed a tree like a child to get a glimpse of the man called Jesus he had heard so much about. It is a story we find in Luke 19:1-10 and is framed by the lens of Luke who prodded at issues of wealth and the treatment of the poor.
The story of Zacchaeus similarly has a dramatic ending. As a result of his personal interaction with Jesus, Zacchaeus declares in Verse 9 that ‘Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus’ response is the dream of any preacher who makes alter calls. ‘Today salvation has come to this house.’
But I am left wondering whether Zacchaeus actually followed through on his promises. It is one thing to say in the heat of the moment with Jesus as your side that you’re going to be generous, it’s another thing to actually count that cost and give huge amounts of money away and make right a lifetime of wrongs.
What happens next?
I think that both stories, and many others like them, are deliberately left with the ‘what happens next?’ question, because they leave us wondering, and in the times when we reflect on our own lives, we are forced to answer that exact same question, what happens next?
2020 has certainly given me plenty of cause for reflection, the opportunity to grow in myself, to change, to pivot my leadership, to continue to think about what is really important. But no one can answer the question, what happens next?, except me. When Jesus pushes me to become more like him, it is my call whether I want to embrace that.
The challenge is real for all of us – will we allow growth to happen in our lives? Only time will tell us the answer to that question. The answer is in our hands.
Grant Harris is the Senior Pastor of Windsor Park Baptist Church in Auckland, New Zealand, a church that was planted 65-years ago and comprises people of all generations seeking to reach a community that consists of people of all generations. The tagline of Windsor Park is ‘doing life and faith, together.’ Grant can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.