So, how as 2022 started off for you? Did you start the year off with multiple resolutions … or did you rid yourself of that practice in years gone by? Are you briming with optimism and hope, trembling with fear and trepidation, or somewhere in-between? I guess it also could be true that your response is, “2022? I am not done with 2021 yet!” (though it seems as though I have mostly heard people saying “good riddance” to 2021) I know of more than a few who started the year with a foul taste in their mouth following the Orange Bowl debacle the night before.
By the end of this week my year will have started out with a snowstorm, a visit to my dentist, a funeral, and a whole host of conversations that could be classified with a wide variety of titles. The snowstorm limited the number of people in our sanctuary but pumped the number of on-line worshipers to a record high. For the first time I can ever remember the hygienist (once she finally took her fingers out of my mouth) said to me, “Whatever you are doing, keep it up.” And the only complaints my dentist had were about the Wolverines. The funeral is tomorrow … and is for a young man who was a couple months shy of his 27th birthday. The conversations? Let’s just say they all seem to be headed in healthy directions.
A hymn that I often sing during my morning devotions goes like this: “With the Lord begin your task; Jesus will direct it. For his aid and counsel ask; Jesus will perfect it. Every morn with Jesus rise, and when day is ended, in his name then close your eyes; be to him commended” (LSB 869, verse 1) David put some similar thoughts this way, “In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. Incline your ear to rescue be speedily! For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me. … I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my persecutors! … Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me … Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 31)
On New Year’s Eve I spoke to the congregation about our Reptilian Brain (see MacLean’s Triune Brain). It is the reactive part of our brain and is solely focused upon feeding, fighting, fleeing, and reproduction. While it is very useful in many ways like quickly removing our fingers from a hot stove, in most instances humans are called to function at a higher level than reptiles.
It is the Rational Brain (Neocortex) that enables us to slow down – observing what is happening, organize our thoughts, and then act appropriately. For the baptized believer the organizing process includes, among other things, consideration of God’s Word, application of previous learnings, multiple questions, conversation, and prayer. And the question/challenge I placed before us all was simply, “In 2022 are we going to function like reptiles or Spirit-filled humans?”
Shortly after the Lord told Joshua “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1.9) God instructed him to lead a few million people across the Jordan while it was in flood-stage. The reptilian reaction, which would have been to step back in fear, would have introduced the debilitating cycle of fear causing a lack of action, a lack of action causing a lack of experience, a lack of experience causing ignorance, and ignorance breeding increased fear, … and God’s people never would have entered the promised land. However, because of God’s Word and Spirit active in him, Joshua led God’s people across saying to them, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive from before you (all their enemies).” (Joshua 3.10) They then joyfully marched around Jericho with the audacious promise that the fortified city would be given to them!
Does wherever really mean wherever? The answer is yes when God says it. He is with us when we make mistakes and when we rebel against him – even when we fail miserably or fall back to our reptilian ways. As he forgives us, he says to us, “Please use this as a learning experience. Know that you can trust me and continue to ‘be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’”
No matter how your opening round is going so far, God’s word to you remains, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1.9) My summary for this remains the same. We are called to be caring (focusing upon the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing of others) … cautious (by thinking before acting or reacting, and listening to our primary care physician more than our neighbors or the internet) … courageous (as we trust in our God to trust and provide) … and creative (in discovering new ways of sharing Christ’s priceless treasures).
While this is not a time to throw caution to the wind, it is neither the time to live in fear. It is just as bad risking the wellbeing of our neighbors through selfish behaviors as it is to push the panic button. Reptiles are just as good at fighting as they are at fleeing. Spirit filled Christians use the other 2/3 of their brain to “trust in the Lord with all their heart, leaning not on their own understanding, acknowledging him in all their ways knowing that he will make (even their crooked and reptilian) paths straight” (Proverbs 2.5-6) … giving you his victory in the opening round and in all that follow.