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.