The late sportscaster Skip Carey had the same response to any question involving speculation about the outcome of a yet-to-occur competition: “That’s why they play the game.”

Yet speculation is not soothsaying (that suggests one can see into the future clearly) but using current information to gain a little insight into what may be around the corner.

While we do not know how 2009 will play out, there are some areas in which news is likely to be made. Three are on my radar as we move into a new year.

One is the impact of a weak economy on churches, charities and other not-for-profit organizations. Already we are hearing of organizational downsizing and program cuts from seminaries, para-church groups and variety of church-related organizations across the theological spectrum.

Most ministries will learn to do more with less. Some, however, may even disappear.

Christian stewardship will be tested during the coming year. “Sacrificial giving” will take on a greater meaning.

Two, religious access to political power will change dramatically on Jan. 20. An eight-year political alliance between the Oval Office and spokesmen for the Religious Right will end.

The inclusion of frumpy, compassionate, conservative, creative Rick Warren and straight-talking, civil rights veteran Joseph Lowery in the inaugural ceremony signals a broader reach. Fewer (or at least different) preachers will be able to begin their sermons with: “During my phone call with the White House this week…”

Three, homosexuality is not going away. It will (sadly) be one of the most divisive issues within and without the church in 2009.

Some denominational groups are being pulled apart at the seams by this moral and ethical issue. Opposing forces are now entrenched for battle.

In one corner are those who see homosexuality as a basic human rights issue calling for full equal treatment. In the other corner are those who see efforts to legalize same-sex unions as a threat to the institution of marriage and perhaps even civilization.

In the middle are a lot of people getting beaten up while trying to referee. They struggle against great odds with the hope that these two groups with varying theological viewpoints can somehow reach civil disagreement and respect for the other’s opinion before carnage results.

This issue will not be settled in 2009, but it will demand a lot of time and energy in both the religious and secular political spheres.

There are many other places to cast an eye during the New Year. Some we can predict; others will catch us by surprise.

But look for these three to play out in congregations, conventions and communities near you.

Skip was right. We have to let the game reach the final out before we really know the answers. But future-casting is not always futile — and can be even helpful.

Ultimately, the legendary Corrie ten Boom’s advice is even better. “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

That’s what this Christmas season is about: The God made known.

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