The Gift of a New Year

There is just one more day left in the year after today. To finish off this blog for the year I wanted to leave you with a thought about hope and what the year ahead could hold. Elie Wiesel said:

“Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.”

A new year, a new day, a new hour are all gifts that we’re given. It’s up to us what we do with those gifts. We’re given other gifts too: the gifts of friends, health, family, puppies and bunnies, food, coffee, music, art, cars, technology, and our senses are just a very short list of some of the gifts we have or could have in our lives. Of course part of the reason I’m thinking about gifting because we’re finishing up the 2015 holiday season during which most of us gave gifts to others. The cool thing about gifts is they really do more than you may think about. A gift is a joy to the person giving it and the person receiving it. It can but shouldn’t be a one-way thing. Gifting is a way to celebrate and appreciate each other and a reminder to each of us that we’re not alone.

So as we head into the new year I encourage you to remember that a gift is only truly valuable if it’s opened. I may love the gift I picked out for you but if when I give it to you you just put it away in a closet without opening it I’ll be hurt and you won’t be able to experience the true gift I picked out for you, just the pretty wrapping paper.

If you really want the upcoming year to be your best year yet it’s time you started unwrapping the gifts you’ve been given. Start living up to your potential and using the gifts you were born with or have developed. Don’t waste another year, make 2016 your year.

God’s Promise for 2016

Can you believe it’s the last Monday of 2015? Today I want to share with you a few hope-filled reminders as we finish this year and head into a new one.

God will go with you.

God has not forgotten you.

God forgives you.

God believes in you.

God doesn’t hold your past against you.

God knows you’ve got an amazing potential future.

God is your strength.

God loves you (even in your most unlovable moments).

God hears you.

God wants to talk with you.

God wants to reveal the world to you.

God wants to grow and bless you.

2016 is a new year filled with new opportunities, new blessings, new friends, new people to help, and new challenges. It’s a year that God wants to tackle with you if you’ll allow Him to be an intimate part of your life. Are you ready to let the old go and welcome the new?

Christmas Miracles

Christmas day so we’re taking another look at the Christmas story for this year. Today I wanted to focus on what the Christmas story really is: a miracle.  We may jokingly celebrate parking spaces and kid’s good behavior as “miracles” but the Christmas story is a real miracle that goes beyond something that blesses you for the next few minutes or hours.  The choice that God made to send His son to earth so that He could eventually die for our sins is nothing short of miraculous.  There’s been nothing done before or since then that can even come close to how big that gift was.  So as we celebrate Christmas I want us to reflect on the miracles in our lives and the miracles yet to come.  So what are miracles?

Miracles are a fulfillment of hope.
Miracles are these really awesome surprises and things that we really hope will happen but often aren’t likely to happen.  We most often hear about miracles in connection with healings or other really big things that come through for us that we didn’t think possible like the money for rent that month or a better position at work.  Miracles are a reminder that God hasn’t forgotten us and doesn’t want the world to be only a miserable place filled with miserable people.

Miracles begin with you.
The Christmas story is a reminder that often miracles happen through people.  God could have just sent Jesus down to earth and let Him take over but instead He chose to go with something more normal and sent him as a baby which made it that much more of a miraculous happening.  God can use any of us to do miracles, it’s up to us to be open to facilitating them as Mary, Joseph and Elizabeth were.

Miracles bring joy.
Christmas is all about bringing joy and hope to those around you, and there is no better place to find that hope and joy than through a relationship with God.  The first Christmas may have been 2000 years ago, but that doesn’t change the need for miracles today, that people are still used by God and that there are still miracles, joy and hope to be found even in this world that we live in that often seems so hopeless.

This Christmas I encourage you to look for, share and be part of the miracles happening all around the world, and don’t be afraid to ask God for a miracle if you need one, too.

Christmas Future

With Christmas just a few days away we’re taking one last look at the story of Scrooge. Over the last 3 Fridays we’ve looked at who Scrooge was when the story opened, the presence of the first ghost, the journey with the 3 ghosts and today we’re taking a look at the result of the 4 ghosts’ visits. As a result of the visits of the ghosts Scrooge changed his life. He started financially and emotionally supporting the community, became a family man and turned ‘bah humbug’ into ‘Merry Christmas’ all year long. Not everyone is able to make as drastic a change that Scrooge did, but we can all find encouragement and hope that we too don’t have to end up a sorry, lonely soul in the grave.

If you’re realizing that your past and present aren’t lining up for the future you want, the holiday season is a great time to turn over a new leaf. Take time during the parties and family gatherings to apologize and start making things right with those you’ve wronged in the past. Bring gifts that show you really care about people and aren’t just getting a gift because you’re socially obligated or want to make people’s lives miserable or get a laugh at their expense. And donate to charities and support the changes that need to happen so that we can all live in a healthier, happier world.

A better future starts the instant you realize how your past and present really look. Scrooge didn’t see anything wrong with his life initially because he didn’t understand how different (and wrong) he was versus the rest of the world. Scrooge had lots of great skills that he could use to benefit the community, but until the ghosts he was only using them to benefit himself. Scrooge didn’t have to find a new job or move to a new place just to create a better future. All he had to do was realize how his actions and attitudes were affecting the world around him. I encourage you to take a similar look at your life in these last few days of the year and see what you should change for the new year.

The Questions of Christmas

With less than a week until Christmas today we’re taking our third look at the Christmas story and the questions of Christmas. The whole Christmas story is full of questions. From start to finish everyone was asking lots of questions, and still today we’re asking questions about the Biblical Christmas story. What’s so important about questions?

Questions are the key that help us understand the world around us and figure out what decisions are the right ones for us. Of all the questions asked it’s interesting to note that Zechariah was the only one who really received backlash for asking. In most cases the questions were answered in kindness and details. Mary and Joseph asked how this situation could come to pass and were given the encouragement that what would happen was exactly what God wanted for each of them. The shepherds and the wisemen all asked about the treasure they were being sent to and were given the guidance to get there. So what was different about Zechariah’s questions and what can we learn about the questions we ask in our lives?

One of the big differences between Zechariah’s questions and those of the other people were that Zechariah was looking for a guarantee that what he had been told would come to pass, as opposed to the others asking for help to understand what seemed to be an impossibility or something very unlikely. There are very few guarantees in life (death, taxes, change) so asking for a guarantee isn’t the best question to ask usually. It’s much better to ask for help in putting together a plan, understanding your role in things, or questions that will move you forward rather than, especially in this case, trying to one-up God.

This Christmas and as this year comes to a close you probably have questions. Don’t be discouraged by them or the challenges in your life, take time to ask lots of questions that will help bring clarity to your situation and options for the future.

The Three Ghosts of Christmas

We’ve reached week 3 in our discussion on the story of Scrooge as told by Charles Dickens, there’s only one more week until Christmas! Today we’re going to talk about the great ghost experience! I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that there’s more to life than just what we see here. As a person of faith I believe there is and science is proving every day that there is more than just what you or I see, hear or feel, and that there’s a ton that we don’t know yet about this life. Scrooge clearly was not a believer, even after seeing Marley’s ghost. But after meeting with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, he becomes a believer. What did the ghosts do that convinced Scrooge and may teach us too?

First the ghosts revealed they knew him.  We’re creatures of habit no matter how much we may deny it or how much we may say that we’re trying new things or making strides in our lives. Scrooge may have enjoyed the trip through memory lane and may have even been entertained by what his present world showed, but it turned out that Scrooge didn’t like what the ghosts saw as his future.

Second, they did what many people do today: used the past and present to anticipate or predict the future Scrooge would have.  Maybe that doesn’t sound scary to you, but as TV shows like Beyond Scared Straight (A&E TV) go to show, when you’re faced with your seemingly inevitable future things get real fast.

Finally, they got him to see the reality of the situation.  When you’re faced with the serious diagnosis, when you’re forced to face your financial situation, when you’re forced to own up to how you’ve been living your life it can be scary.  When there’s no more room to run and hide you have to either change or face the consequences.  Scrooge’s dead partner Marley ended up facing the consequences, and at the end of the third ghost Scrooge is pleading for the chance to change.

So what about you?  Should you be looking at some serious coal in your stocking this Christmas based on how you’ve been living your life in the past and present?  Are you in need of a reality check from your very own Ghost of Christmas future?  I encourage you to take time as you wrap gifts this weekend to consider what your future holds.

Who Makes You Feel Great?

The holiday season brings into sharp focus that the world revolves around people.  I have to admit to sounding like a Scrooge by the time I get off the roads at the end of the day during the holiday season, I just can’t believe who has a license to drive on the roads some times.  But there’s a lot of other joy that can be found in people especially during the holiday season.  It’s such a blessing to watch a child open a gift, especially if it’s something they really want.  And the holidays provide an opportunity if you don’t take the time on a regular basis to show the people in your lives that you do indeed appreciate them.

I’ve watched about a dozen versions on the traditional Scrooge story this year and there are tons more I haven’t watched.  The holidays (and the end of another year) also are a reminder to pay attention to the type of person we are.  Scrooge may be a holiday character but we have Scrooges in our lives all year long (you may even be one!).  We have the ability to a certain extent to choose how much time we spend with those types of people and how much influence we allow them to have in our lives.  It’s not always easy to stand up to or ignore these people though, they have very commanding, intimidating and overwhelming presences.

But I believe that each and every person has value.  You can choose to use that value to help or hurt others.  You also have a choice in how you develop the value you have.  Do you choose to spend your (free) time with people who support you and build you up and occasionally challenge you to be better, or do you choose to spend your time with people who could get you in trouble and crush your dreams?   Your choices in how you contribute to people’s lives and who you choose to contribute to yours is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions.  Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you, too, can become great.”  Mark Twain

The People of Christmas

It’s our second week in the look at the story of the birth of Jesus, the story that many believe Christmas originated from and is the reason why they celebrate every December 25th. Today we’re taking a look at something that’s central throughout just about every story there is about Jesus: people. From the very beginning of the Christmas story as told in the book of Matthew we’re introduced to the people who came before Jesus. It’s an incredible whos-who list of men and women throughout the Old Testament who through birth or marriage make up the lineage that leads to Mary and Joseph and to Jesus. It’s a great reminder for all of us that none of us are here without others coming before us.

But that’s not where the story ends. No, from the very beginning of the Christmas story as told in Matthew and Luke we get intimately involved in people’s lives. We learn about a woman who’s barren, a guy who questions if God can work miracles, a woman who’s a virgin, a guy who doesn’t like messes, people who travel great distances following rumors and stories, those who spend a lot of time in the cold and up late at night and even some of the things that other-worldy beings are called to do. We often know these types of details today about people because they’re all over social media sharing tons of personal stuff that in years past would be considered information best kept private. But back then this wasn’t information you usually shared with the world, although I suppose there have always been people who were different that people talked about, and we all do have our very own story even if most people aren’t privy to the majority of the details.

As much as the Christmas story is about Jesus, it’s really also about all the people He touched before, during and after his life on earth. Jesus isn’t about conquering the world, being known by everyone, instilling fear in everyone over his power or any of the other things most people who have ambitions of world domination have or want. Jesus was and always will be about the people. He wants to know each of our stories, to know the things that make us tick and we are passionate about. He wants to know our stories because He truly cares about us. And He knows that no matter what the rest of the world says we’re each very different people with very different stories, no matter how similar we may look.

So as you go about your life this week with the hustling and bustling you plan to do, I encourage you to think about whether or not you’re as people-focused as Jesus or if you’re only centered on yourself because you’re who the story is about after all.

Are You Haunted by 3 Ghosts?

Today is week 2 in our look at Charles Dickens’ Scrooge. Last week we talked about the first impressions we make on people, and the first impression that everyone got when they met Scrooge at the beginning of the story. Today we’re moving on to the turning point in the story, Scrooge’s interactions with the ghost of Marley.

Marley was Scrooge’s business partner, and he was just as unfeeling and tight-fisted as Scrooge when it came to money and humanity. According to the story after he died he found out the consequences of his actions-that he was to forever carry around chains that were representations of his cruelty and lack of compassion. He appears to Scrooge to let him know about a last-ditch effort the universe is making to turn him and his life around so that he doesn’t end up like Marley with chains after he dies. Scrooge is shaken by his interaction with Marley, and of course of Marley’s promise of 3 ghosts yet to come, but while he may go to bed a little wary, it’s a good thing that Marley was only the first ghost because Scrooge clearly didn’t get it.

We experience these scares in our lives, sometimes they’re the possibility of a test coming back with a bad result, talk of layoffs at work, bad grades our kids get, car accidents or other things that remind us just how mortal we are. The question is how serious will we take them? Will we register them but mostly brush them off like Scrooge or will that little warning be enough to get us moving in the right direction and taking the action that needs to happen to get our life going in the right direction? How many warnings will it take you to realize exactly what’s wrong in your life? Don’t ignore the feelings or signs that you’re seeing, pay attention before you have to see your version of 3 ghosts.

Hoping for a Snowball Effect

More than ever we’re in a time of great change. With the technology we have that connects the world and the innovations we’ve been able to make over the last century we’ve created more possibilities than ever that we can solve the world’s problems. However, from the news it doesn’t really look like we’re doing much with what we’ve been given and the technology we have. Instead we’re focused on how destructive we can be and how much harm we can do in the world.

All that destruction may make you feel helpless and that your one voice isn’t doing much to make a difference, but the truth is that just like all it takes is one little stone started at the top of a mountain to create a huge snowball by the time it reaches the bottom of the mountain, we too can be the impetus of a better future.

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season makes us feel like we should put aside our issues and hold off on things until the new year. We say that we’re just going to do a little celebrating and that we’ll be better able to focus on fixing things in the new year. But when the new year comes most of us will come up with new excuses as to why we can’t get it done then. The reality is that the best Christmas gift anyone can get and the best New Years Resolution that can be made is to choose to do something to make the world a better place each day. Maybe that’s to sign a petition, maybe it’s to donate to the food bank each week, maybe it’s to help a coworker, or maybe it’s to spend time teaching your kids what matters most in this life (and showing them that they matter to you). It won’t be easy but if you’re willing to be that little stone at the top of the mountain it’s possible that you might just start that snowball effect that it will take to transform the world.

“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” Michelle Obama