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Welcome to 2016.

Pope Francis declared it the Year of Mercy among the Roman Catholics.

Others see the new year as a fresh start, a new beginning, and even the often wished for “do-over.”

With 2015 fading from view in the rear view mirrors of our lives, its aftereffects linger -- be it casting shadows over perception, sunshine on the memories or worry about brewing clouds on the far horizon.

This is why we invited six Lincoln faith leaders -- representing various faiths and denominations -- to share their words of wisdom, their hopes and their encouragement as we head into 2016.

Their words, while often rooted in Biblical passages, share a common message for all -- regardless of doctrine or belief.

***

A few weeks ago, after finishing a swimming workout, I had barely taken a step toward the locker room before panic set in. Everything had gone blurry. I could not see my hand before my face. The world was a blend of smeared colors, one bleeding into the next. Had I been stricken with some terrible disease? Did I need 911?

Fortunately, mortal fear lasted only a moment, alleviated when I realized I had put on someone else's glasses. I have needed glasses since the tender age of 8.

Like many millions, I know the difference between blur and focus depends on the lens through which we see the world. As I think about my wishes for the coming year, this episode at the pool seems an apt metaphor for the state of the world as 2015 comes to an end. Things seem jumbled and chaotic, but we do not have to live in a cloud of fear. We can choose vision over fear and bring the world into clarity.

In 2016, may we not be blinded by anger, fear or hate. Nor may we look through rose colored glasses which prevent us from seeing what needs repair. Let us instead look to the world through corrective lenses, with vision to inspire our better instincts of love, unity, and compassion.

May those on the periphery, the lonely, the hungry, the homeless, be brought into our line of sight. May the images of stranger, refugee, immigrant dissolve into pictures of neighbor, brother, sister, and friend. May our prayer this year be the same as every year, that the many scattered colors of the spectrum be brought together in a united frame of completeness and peace.

We share one world. May 2016 be a year in which we share one vision.

-- Rabbi Craig Lewis

Congregation B’nai Jeshurun

* * *

The transition from one year to another always comes with a sense of freshness, the opportunity to start anew -- sometimes the promise of starting anew!

The year coming to an end, 2015, has not been a good one for my family and me. In fact, it has been the hardest year of my life. So I find that I’m glad to say goodbye to 2015, happy to see it come to an end, to welcome a new period of life.

Whatever our personal situations, all of us can hope for some communal changes in 2016. As is true of so many of you, I find myself praying for more peace and greater justice in the global community in the year ahead, for less pain with which all of us most cope.

At some point most of us carry such desires, and we have to nurture them quite consciously; otherwise we can can become cynical about the possibility: More peace? Right. Greater justice? Sure.

That’s why it’s critical where we place our hope for change. If we place it only -- or even primarily -- in ourselves, we might accomplish some change together.

But if we place our hope for change in the One who loves all creation with the fiercely compassionate love of Jesus, we can feel far more hopeful. Without abdicating our own role in bringing about more peace, greater justice, and less pain, we can also trust that God is working at the same time and with the same intention.

We can trust that we are not alone in a task that at times seems overwhelming because at times it is. By ourselves.

But we never are alone in our hope, or our intention, or our work.

-- Father Jerry Thompson

St. Mark’s Episcopal on the Campus

* * *

“…do not be anxious about your life”

-- Jesus (Matthew 6:24)

“…do not be anxious about anything”

-- St. Paul (Philippians 4:6)

If you are headed into 2016 with great hope and confidence, then you can stop reading. The rest of us are happy for you … sort of. But if you see some challenges, trials, or anxiety-producing-stuff in the coming year, keep reading.

Jesus and Paul spoke to people who had concerns and they had to remind their listeners of some crucial truths. What do I need to remember as I face the coming year?

Anxiety is very common. The same St. Paul who tells the Philippians to “not be anxious” is the Apostle who candidly admits in that letter that he wants to be “less anxious” himself (2:28)! Sometimes people of faith feel even worse about their anxieties because they seem to reveal that we are not properly trusting in God. Anxiety breeds more anxiety!

Paul and Jesus give us clues as to how the Christian (and anyone else who wants to try it) is to begin to deal with anxiety:

* Talk to God about your anxieties. We call this prayer. God wants to hear from us and invites us to pray. He is listening. He cares. Add in some words of thanks for what you’ve received already.

* Put your anxieties in perspective. Jesus says that the Father knows what we need and promises to provide what we really need. Not what I want. Not what I’d like. What I need. That list is a lot shorter than I’d like to admit.

The coming year can be one of fear and anxiety or one of prayer and promises. As a pastor and a fellow anxiety sufferer, I’m here to commend the latter path. Someone who cares is listening.

-- Pastor Stu Kerns

Zion Presbyterian Church

***

When I was a child I was taught the song, “He’s got the Whole World in His Hands.” Maybe you remember it too:

“ … He’s got the little tiny babies, in his hands … He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

This children’s song suggests that we are more connected than it might appear at first glance. This is easy to forget in a day when sitting in the local coffee shop can become an international experience.

I was just a little boy when I was taught that song of trust. I was raised to believe that we are uniquely connected in the race called human. I continue to choose to believe in our common bond as fellow travelers on this terrestrial ball called earth. However, this can be a challenge in an ever increasing shrinking world.

In the fifth installment of the Star Wars saga, “The Empire Strikes Back,” Luke Skywalker finds Yoda to be more intimidating than Luke had envisioned. However, Luke soon realizes he is invested in the relationship more than he is fearful of the little green being, and so Luke begins his training.

One day, in a forest with the Jedi Master Yoda, Luke senses something in the woods, so he asks wise Yoda what is out there. Yoda responds. “Only what you take with you.” Later, while in the woods, Luke encounters Darth Vader and engages the villain in a lightsaber fight. Luke defeats his arch enemy and with a sense of accomplishment he stands over his foe, watching Darth Vader’s mask melt away, revealing Luke’s own face underneath.

Isn’t that how fear works? Fear preys on our deepest insecurities about the other, only to unveil our true selves? We fight the other, only to find out we are the enemy. We need to learn to walk together and, in order to do that, we are going to need to learn to love and respect one another.

How should we respond to fear? Some might consider bravery to be the right response. However, I believe a more virtuous response to fear is love -- because, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

-- Pastor Harry Riggs

First Baptist Church

***

As we turn the page on the calendar, many of us would like to put the last year or race wars, political hotness, terrorist attacks and the life forgetfully behind us. This says nothing of the more personal struggles many of us have faced.

2015, not entirely unlike other years in the history of the world, has been difficult. And yet, as one standing in the long history of orthodox Christianity, I still believe that Jesus is on the throne and that from that throne He has been -- and continues to be -- in control of all things. Theologians call this the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

It’s one of the hardest things to get our heads around as Christians: that God has not promised to deliver us to our own personal definition of the ‘good life.’ Instead, we’re to surrender in faith and trust to a God who is sovereign -- despite how difficult our circumstances may be.

Admittedly, that doesn’t take away the pain we experience. It doesn’t take away suffering or frustration. Faith in the God of the Bible doesn’t make us glib, naive optimists. Instead, God’s sovereignty invites our faith to come alongside our pain, suffering and frustration. It invites us to see that God is with us in the midst of these things working all things together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28)

The 18th century Anglican pastor John Newton summarized it this why when he wrote that “everything is needful that He sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds.” That’s truth that Christians get to hang on to. It’s truth we need to hang on to.

2016 will be difficult in its own ways. But a Christian worldview allows us to see that in the difficulties, God is either teaching us to rely on Him in faith, or return to Him in repentance and all the while encouraging us to cry out in a patient, enduring, expectant prayer: Come, Lord Jesus, come.

-- Pastor Todd Bumgarner

2 Pillars Church

***

As we begin 2016, I have been reflecting on the words of Pope Francis. The Pope says that “mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”

Mercy is a profound and transformative force, one that can unite our families and communities, and can calm and soften our troubled hearts. Mercy can draw each one of us into deeper communion and friendship with one another, and with God.

On December 8, the Catholic Church began a “Jubilee Year of Mercy” that will last for most of 2016. During the Year of Mercy, we’ll give thanks for God’s mercy to us, and seek to become more merciful to one another. During the Year of Mercy, I’ve been encouraged that Catholics across Nebraska are committed to works of mercy: to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visit the lonely and indigent, and to pray for those in need of healing, forgiveness, and peace.

Mercy often does as much good for the merciful as it does for those who receive mercy. When we forgive a wrong, we are relieved from the burden of bearing a grudge. When we give what we have to those who need it, we discover the freedom and joy of unbounded generosity. When we give ourselves to others, we discover the profound meaning of our humanity: to love, simply, in imitation of the profound and merciful love with which God loves us. “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,” said Jesus Christ. “But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Mercy gives our lives meaning. We’re made for mercy, my faith tells me: made to receive mercy, and made to be merciful to others.

Of course mercy is not without challenges. As we practice mercy, we discover our shortcomings, and our egocentricity, and our preference for the comfortable and easy paths. We repent, resolve to do better, and try again. As we’re challenged by the difficulties of being merciful, we discover that we can’t do it on our own. To love other people as they deserve, we need the grace of God in our lives.

Amid the chaos, violence, and hopelessness of modern culture, in a time when so many of people are seeking meaning and answers, we might all consider making 2016 a “year of mercy” in our lives. We might find that mercy has a multiplying effect: one act of mercy encourages another; our merciful choices begin to form the foundation for a civilization of love.

In 2016, I invite each of you to visit the Catholic parishes of Southern Nebraska. We are a Catholic community, like all communities, of sinners, to be sure. But we are a community seeking the mercy of God, and seeking to be mediators of God’s mercy to the world. I invite you to seek God’s mercy in unity with the Catholic Church of southern Nebraska. And I pray that in this “Year of Mercy” you will encounter the love of God, and that you will find love, hope, joy and peace in giving and receiving the boundless gift of mercy.

-- Bishop James D. Conley

Catholic Diocese of Lincoln

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7217 or eandersen@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSerinandersen.

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