What’s Next for 2014

Christmas has come and gone, we’ve celebrated the birth of Jesus yet another year.  It can’t be seen as anything but a miracle and huge outpouring of grace by God, so each year it is special to remember and celebrate again.  But now that the celebration of the birth of Jesus has passed, and we’re almost out of 2013, what’s next?  I thought it would be appropriate today to share Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19-20:

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

What’s next is a new, fresh year of opportunities to make a difference in the lives of those you come into contact with.  It’s a new chance to be a bigger, better you.  It’s a chance to let God into your life to give you help and strength when you need it most.  Finally, it’s a chance to share God’s love with others.  Jesus didn’t come to earth just for you and me, He came for everyone.  But in order for everyone to know we have to tell them.

If this scares you, don’t worry.  By simply sharing love, kindness, generosity and good will with others, they’ll see and ask what’s different about you.  It’s not about being walked on, that isn’t right.  But it is about doing the right thing, helping those who are less fortunate than you and generally being a nice person.  You’re not expected to be perfect, but you are encouraged to try to live a life that God would be proud of.

What will you make of this new year?  Share your goals, dreams and plans in the comments.

Together After Christmas

Christmas has come and gone, and we’re yet again just a few days away from a new year.  It’s a time many of us use for reflection and plan for changes with this new year.  For some of us it’s a relief to get past Christmas and start getting back to what we fondly call “normal.”  But others of us are sad that the times of celebration and togetherness are over.

This month whether you’ve realized it or not we’ve been talking a bit about being thankful.  And when all is said and done each and every year I am thankful for the craziness that is Christmas.  I never regret the family get-togethers, over eating of cookies (they’re only made in December!), or spending of extra money.  Why?  Because it’s all about showing how thankful we are for each other.  It’s not obvious the other months of the year unfortunately, but from late November to Christmas it’s as if we’re given permission by some invisible force to actually be nice to each other and show how much we love each other.

Which, when it comes down to it, really is sad.  It’s sad that we don’t feel comfortable with ourselves enough to express our emotions more often through the year.  Whether you’re religious or a Scrooge fan, the lesson of Christmas is that it’s not a one time thing.  Jesus wasn’t born and immediately disappeared, and Scrooge wasn’t supposed to learn a lesson in one night but apply it to the rest of his life.  The stories may be brief, but their meanings aren’t to end when the story ends.

Christmas may have passed, but the people you’ve spent time with are still here.  Will you choose this year to celebrate more often with them?  Let’s make 2014 the year of coming together.

Celebrating Christmas Together

“O God, our loving Father, help us to rightly remember the birth of Jesus that we may share in the songs of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Your children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven. We ask this in His name, Jesus our Lord.  Amen”  Robert Louis Stevenson

In my weekly Personal Victories newsletter this week I shared that the miracle of Christmas is really that we’re not alone.  Christmas is really about being together, loving and living with each other.  Christmas is a time when we come together to share in the good and the bad of the past year, remembering loved ones, celebrating life and sharing token appreciations for them in our lives.

Christmas, as so many spiritual songs say, is about singing praises and celebrating with the Angels for the baby born some 2000 years ago.  A baby promised to save the world, and ended up doing so much more than anyone ever imagined.  The Savior didn’t come in to defeat what we people saw as threats, but to defeat all threats against us.  But because he wasn’t just a king and conqueror he left us the ability to choose who we ultimately followed though.  These things combine into the best Christmas presents ever.

This week as you celebrate with family and friends, remember what the Reason for the Season came to earth proclaiming and celebrate with your family with love.  Let them know how much you’re thankful for them with love and forgiveness when necessary.  This could be the best Christmas ever.

Be Yourself this Christmas

“Instead of being a time of unusual behavior, Christmas is perhaps the only time in the year when people can obey their natural impulses and express their true sentiments without feeling self-conscious and, perhaps, foolish.  Christmas, in short, is about the only chance a man has to be himself.”  Francis C. Farley

Over the past year we’ve talked about many things, but for me much of this year has been about discovering who I am.  Although I don’t have a lot of answers yet, I have learned that I’m more capable than I realized.  Don’t worry, I’m not perfect yet, I’ve got lots of room for improvement.  But as I was considering who I am and my place in this world, it saddened me to discover yet again how many people just go through life without purpose or living their life.  Why do people live a lie?  I think there are several reasons why people choose not to live their life including:

fear that they won’t succeed
fear that it will be too hard to do
fear that they aren’t anyone of value when they find out their purpose
fear that they won’t be accepted for who they are

Yet at Christmas, as Farley points out, we seem to put these things aside and step into life as we could live it: together. There is a lot of giving, sharing, loving and living that’s done in the month of December, and come January we seem to pack it all back in and put it away until next December.  Which, when you think about it, is really ridiculous.  Why would you give up the opportunity to live, laugh and love with friends and family?  Why would you want to give up that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you see the joy on your kid’s face?  Why would you give up the camaraderie that seems to exist around the office during this time?  Why would you want to give up the willingness to help others who are in need?

As we get closer to Christmas with each passing day I encourage you to take time to discover who you are and consider how that person can be part of your life come December 26th.  I think you’ll discover, as I have, that life is simply a terrible thing to waste.

Giving Thanks at Christmas

“God gives his people a free gift—eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord…This is a free gift … being made free from sin through Jesus Christ.” Romans 6:23, 3:24

Christmas is the time for giving gifts, one of the greatest gifts to recognize is the gift of freedom from sin and an eternal life from Jesus.  If you think about it, we really have a lot to be thankful for at this time of year, beginning with this fabulous earth we live on, and going above and beyond with the birth of a Baby who would save us and offer eternal life.  But when it comes to gifting, hearing the word “free” always makes us wonder: Is it really free?  What am I giving in exchange for it?  Why is it free (is it that bad?)? Are just a few of the questions we ask.

Technically though, there isn’t a catch to this free gift.  We just have to be willing to accept it, and accept Jesus’ presence in our lives. The good news is, as I shared in my devotional this week, is that:

“…while Jesus was fully divine and fully human, we are not.  We do not have to be, nor are we God.  God has never asked us to take on the responsibility of bearing or fathering his son, all he has asked of us is to be the person he has created us to be.  God doesn’t need or expect you to be God or anything close to that, just to be yourself.”

Accepting the miraculous free gift of salvation, freedom and eternal life isn’t meant to be a leg-shackle, nor does it turn us into God, nor does God expect supernatural miracles of us or our lives.  He asks us to be ourselves, to trust him, to follow his leading as often as possible, and to share the gift of freedom with someone else.  Will you accept the free gift today?

Mandela: A Courageous Man

Last week a great man passed on: Nelson Mandela.  Mandela has always been a man who impressed me, and was someone I considered a hero.  In 1993 Mandela was given the Peace Prize, an honor that was again bestowed on December 10th.  There are many reasons why Mandela deserved this honor, and why he’s a man that we all have much to learn from.  Today we’re going to recognize two bits of advice from Mandela:

“Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.”

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

These two insights that Mandela shared weren’t just insights he had and said, they were words he lived by.  Mandela chose peace instead of retribution, and forgiveness instead of hatred.  Anyone who lived in prison for 27 years would have reason to be angry.  Truly, most of us can find reasons to be mad and hateful if we try. But when we choose to let the past control us, we’re taking away our future.

We can learn from the past and let the past shape our future without it destroying our lives and the lives of those around us.  Mandela never forgot the lessons he learned in prison and lived the rest of his live encouraging change and reform in many areas.

Today I ask you to strive for peace in your life.  It will take a lot of courage to hand over the rage and reach for the courage to be the better, stronger, more compassionate person.  But what Mandela would expect of each of us is to not succumb to the fear or lies that we cannot do it and that we cannot make an impact on the world.  The truth is anyone can.  If Mandela was able to do great things from within prison, why can’t we do great things in our warm, safe homes?  If he can transform a nation, even a world, why can’t we do the same in our relationships and our communities?  You can make a difference in the world, all it takes is a little courage.

Love and Thanks

During this season of Advent and considering the upcoming celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas, one topic that comes up in both spiritual and secular circles is the topic of love.  For some reason, this time of year reminds people that deep down inside all of us want to love and want to be loved.  Love is almost as core to who we are as living in communities or being outside in nature is.  I mean how many times have you felt that warm fuzzy feeling when looking at a cute animal, baby or couple so obviously happy? Often though we get caught up in what goes on in our lives, even when we do find the love of our lives and we forget to appreciate love for what it is.

There are plenty of examples of people who don’t respect the power of love.  Sometimes these people were not shown love as children, others knew love yet have chosen to reject it.  That’s the thing about love, we can choose to acknowledge, accept and act on it, or reject it.  And while we could talk about many aspects of that choice, instead I want to focus on something else: when was the last time you were thankful for love?  Psalm 136:1, 26 says:

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of heaven. His faithful love endures forever.”

God shared the first example of love, and He will always be the best representation of love.  Without love our lives would be miserable.  Not only would there be no magic at Christmas, but our lives would be dull and empty compared to what they can be today because of love.  This season as you consider the people you love and celebrate your relationships with gifts and parties, don’t forget to take time to thank the One who added love to our lives.

Disney’s Dreams

With the holiday season surrounding us, dreams of mistletoe and carols, and magic in the air, what fits better than Walt Disney and the most magical place on earth?  Since today happens to be Disney’s birthday, I thought some inspiration and motivation from him would be appropriate:

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

“If you can dream it, you can do it.”

“The more you like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique.”

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.”

“I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.”

“Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.”

What about Disney and the magic that he and his co-creators have made over the years has inspired you?

Perfect Peace

As we enter into the Christmas season this week, I’m excited to get started on sharing Christmas themes with you, as well as our topic of the month, being thankful.  It may seem to you that I’ve done things backwards, but I think you’ll find that being thankful is very Christmasy after all.  Today we start off talking about peace and thanksgiving.

“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”  Colossians 3:15

We let a lot of things rule in our lives, like craziness, busyness, addictions, people, jobs, money, the list goes on.  But do we let peace rule in our lives?  Not usually.  I think we’re so easily carried away most of the time by what goes on in and around our lives that peace is something we desire but since it doesn’t run in the same circles as busyness and money, we don’t catch it.  But peace isn’t something we can catch or falls into our laps, it’s something we have to actively take time to make into part of our lives.  But when we take time to make peace a foundational part of our lives, we’ll find that everything else goes much smoother. So where do we find peace?

Peace starts with slowing down.  You can’t find peace living at 100 miles an hour.  You can however find peace in the moments that you stop to be thankful for things going well, during that walk in nature, or that first sip of tea or coffee in your day.  The thing is that peace can’t be part of our lives until we’ve made time for it.

True peace is found internally. You’re familiar with the people who look calm and composed on the outside but on the inside they may be freaking out and screaming.  These aren’t people of true peace.  If you’ve got peace on the inside you don’t usually freak out on the outside either, or at least for not very long.  If you want to feel at peace you have to take the time to meditate and relax and develop a core of tranquility and patience.

This holiday season take time each day to develop a peace practice: a time of slowing down and taking time to meditate on the Bible, or just on finding stillness.