The Revelation of a New Year

We’ve reached the end of another year! The one thing I’ve been hearing from quite a few people on their thoughts about this year that’s ending and the one we’re heading into is about how we’re going into it. We talk plenty about the new slate/new year/new opportunity that this new upcoming year brings. We sometimes talk about how we’re sad to see the present year go or that we’re unbelievably thankful to be done with it. But we don’t always talk about the move between the two years.

I believe there’s a lot that can be revealed in looking at both the year that is ending as well as thinking about what we want different in this upcoming year. I know it can be painful to look back, it’s never really fun to review your failures, mistakes and bloopers. But I don’t believe we can really become a better person, or the person we were born to be if we don’t take the time to look at the good and bad of our lives.

I also don’t believe that we can really move into the gift that we’re being given of the new year if we don’t make time to release all that happened in the past year. Yes, reviewing the past year is important, but once you’ve reviewed it, you’ve got to apply the lessons and then let go of all that happened that you don’t want to carry forward. Think about it this way: countless people every year make a resolution to lose weight, even if it’s just the weight they gained over the holidays, right? Some people lose that weight in the upcoming months, but many people don’t. If you were to ask anyone who is overweight if they enjoy carrying that weight around, 99% would say no. Do you really enjoy carrying the weight (mental or emotional) of your past year (or past years) with you?

This year I encourage you to make a break with your past and truly start the year fresh. What do you need to let go of so that you can move forward new?

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Hope for 2018

As we approach the new year in less than a week I wanted to take one last opportunity in 2017 to encourage you and share some thoughts on how you can make 2018 your best year yet.   Elbert Hubbard said: “A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.”

First, know that if you’re heading out of 2017 feeling frustrated, lost, challenged, kicked, down or like you’re a failure, know that 2018 is in front of you waiting to be conquered, overcome and your best year yet.  A new year is like a new pad of paper or fresh canvas: it’s just waiting for you to fill it.  No one said it has to be done one way or the other, but it will be filled whether you like it or not.  In this day and age you’ve got more freedom to do your own thing and be your own person than ever before.

Second, know that if you want it to be a better year you’ll have to do things differently.  From the definition of insanity (doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results) you know that if you really want a different result with your next attempt at a year of your life and the next step in your journey, you’ll have to make some changes.  They don’t have to be big (although they could be), but they do have to happen if you want something else for your future.

Finally, I believe in a better future for you.  I believe that you’re an amazing human with tons and tons of potential.  If you can’t see your own potential it’s time to take a fresh look or ask someone for help seeing and realizing that potential.  Don’t assume that because of how bad 2017 and/or years previous were that you’re not amazing.  The past is over and it’s time to move forward a wiser, smarter, stronger person.

So with 2017 ending and 2018 beginning the choice is up to you.  What will your next year look like?

The Revelations of Christmas: God in Christmas

I hope that you had a blessed Christmas with family and friends and that you were able to experience even just a little of the First Christmas many years later whether in your own personal quiet time or in church services. As we wind down this year and this Christmas season, today I want to talk about what Christmas really is: it’s a reflection on who God is.

God is big and bold:
It’s kind of hard for the shepherds to miss the big announcement regarding Jesus’ birth. With the stars and the angels and the heavenly chorus you would have to be an excellent sleeper to miss that. The wise men who also knew what they were looking for were able to track the star that God put in the sky to announce the birth as well.

God is in the little things:
God chose to send Jesus to earth as a baby, not as the ruler/master/king as some expected. God also chose to send an Angel to Mary so that she would know exactly what was going on and reassured Joseph in a dream that Mary (and the baby she now carried) was the right choice for him. These are pretty clear indications that God isn’t just about the big showy revelations, but is present in the little things, and attends to the little details.

God makes everything work out as it should:
A big part of the Christmas story is the journey to Bethlehem. The census journey that Augustus, the emperor, forced everyone on was a huge inconvenience for everyone, including Mary and Joseph. But it happened and fulfilled what was predicted many years before Jesus was born: that the savior would be born in Bethlehem.  Without the census that’s not where Jesus would have been born.

God has a plan for the future:
The book of Matthew shares the genealogy of Jesus. It’s a bit tedious to read through, and all it is is just a list of names. But what it says is that there were some pretty important people that we read about through the Bible who had a direct connection to Jesus. While anyone could have been in Mary and Joseph’s ancestral line, God planned that each of these special people brought the Bible a step closer to Jesus.

As we finish out this Christmas season, I would encourage you to spend a little more time reflecting on someone who wasn’t really the focus of the story, yet can be seen in every step of the journey: God. If God could line all of this up to lead to the birth of a baby, what miracles could He do in your life?

“Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” Psalm 46:10

The Revelations of Christmas: Love

With Christmas only hours away, today I want to talk about one of the most important things that Christmas reveals: love. Especially through the Biblical Christmas we see examples of love everywhere, what else would drive people and God to the lengths they were willing to go? Without love God never would have sent Jesus. Without love Mary would not have had the faith she did. Without love Joseph would have separated from Mary. Without love we would be a very sorry group of people because we never would have had the gift of Jesus being part of us. Let’s take a look at a few keys to love (with some inspiration from Neale Donald Walsch):

Decide: ultimately love is a decision. We’ve all got the ability to choose what to do with our lives, which means we’ve got the ability to choose if we’re going to love with our lives, or not. Yes, sometimes it can be a more challenging decision, but in my experience it’s always worth choosing.

Define: what does love look like to you? Love can look like many things. It can look like a baby in a manger, being delivered breakfast in bed, a trip to the alps and/or moments alone with your significant other that just feel so right.

Declare: if it’s true love you should have no issue declaring that love to the world. Yes, sometimes it can be a little intimidating to share your love with the world because you have had previous negative experiences or know that someone you care greatly about has a very specific opinion on the thing (or person) you love.

Demonstrate: around the world there are countless demonstrations of love, in the US we’ve taken to dedicating a specific day each and every year to those demonstrations: Valentine’s Day. One of the things that’s so important to remember about love is that it’s alive, living and visible.

Delight: love should be a delight to you and to those you love. Love should not feel like a chore or struggle or evoke lots of fear in you. Jesus may have felt some fear when He approached the cross, but it was the overwhelming love He has for us that encouraged Him on.

This Christmas, above all else, I encourage you to give love. There’s nothing better than knowing without a doubt that you’re loved and valued by someone, especially someone you care greatly for. Who do you choose to show love to this Christmas?

The Revelations of Christmas: Separate and Together

I’m enjoying our look at Christmas this month and learning what it reveals to us about this holiday and about each other. A recurring theme we see in the different Christmas stories is that they all talk about both separation and togetherness. Scrooge is famous for being separate, he lived alone and didn’t like others. Joseph planned to separate from Mary when he heard about her pregnancy, and Herod separated families and friends so that a census could be performed. Even Santa leaves the North Pole for his Christmas Eve sleigh ride.

But that’s just where the stories begin. Scrooge learned, 3 ghosts later, that it was better to give than receive and better to be with friends and family than to be alone. Joseph stayed with Mary and they were even joined by shepherds and wise men. Santa brings presents to good boys and girls, toys they can play with and share with each other. Today most of us have a Christmas tradition that involves being together with friends and family. Many also have the tradition of putting ornaments on a tree, ornaments that have been passed down through the generations or ornaments that were purchased to honor an event, gathering or memory. And many groups get together to visit the shut-ins and those in nursing homes or hospitals to bring them some Christmas cheer.

With Christmas just a few days away you may be getting a bit tired of all this togetherness and all the hustle and bustle that goes along with it. If that’s the case I would encourage you to hang on a bit longer because in just a few short weeks you’ll be wishing we were back in December and sharing, giving and laughing together. But, as the story of Scrooge teaches us, Christmas doesn’t have to be a 4-week or one day thing. It should be something that we keep in our hearts all year long. Who will you share a little Christmas cheer with today?

Lighting a Candle This Christmas

I’ve gotten over my first hump of December, I’ve got lots planned for the last 2 weeks of December, but a big part of that is taking time to celebrate Christmas and enjoy time with family and friends. As I was finally sitting down tonight to cross a few things off my list and plan the rest of the week out, I paused a moment to look at the Christmas lights hung in my office and reflected on the lights of Christmas, as we talked about last week. It also got me thinking about exactly how long it’s been since I lit a candle.

One of the lights that always says “Christmas” to me is the candle light. Countless churches around the world do a candlelit service, during which candles are lit, often while singing Silent Night. Some churches also offer regular opportunities to light a candle for someone, a visual representation of the prayer you’re saying for them. Years ago (before we had all the modern lights) people would put lit candles on their Christmas trees, and candles used to be the main source of light for everyone. Candles still grace many windows today, although they come in the form of plastic with batteries or power cords. There’s something magical about a candle that can’t be duplicated by any other type of light. Many companies have been trying for the past decade or so, but I just don’t feel the same emotion looking at a battery operated candle (or any other type of light) that I do when I look at a true flickering flame candle. I love the opportunity that they give us to put candles where we really shouldn’t, but it’s just not the same as having the real thing.

The candle is such a great reminder for this season of how unique Jesus is and of the light that He brought to the world with His birth, and even of the light of the star that shone on His birth and led the wisemen to Him. It’s also a reminder that each of us has a light to shine in the gifts we give, conversations we have, how we treat others, outlook we have on the world and how we use and develop the gifts and talents we’ve been given by God. You may be in a unique position at this moment to shine your light and guide someone through a dark period in their life, but you won’t know unless you let that light shine. How will you shine your light this Christmas?

“…This is the time of year
We hold our families near
But God let us be a friend to the hurting

Oh Emmanuel, God with us
Spirit revealed in us
That we may be your hope to the world
Oh Emmanuel, God with us
With a light to break the darkness
That we may show your hope to the world
Emmanuel, God with us
Be God in us…”
“Emmanuel, God With Us / O Come, O Come Emmanuel” Point of Grace

The Revelations of Christmas: Secrets

One of the fun and often frustrating things about Christmas are the secrets! From the wrapped presents to the Santa costumes to the shopping in secret to the secret Santa’s, secrets are all around! Even the First Christmas had secrets, as the birth of Jesus was kept secret so He wasn’t killed by Herod or anyone sent on Herod’s behalf. Often the secrets are fun, like when we’re surprising someone with something awesome. Other times they’re tough because we wish we could share the joy and excitement with others.  Other times we’re so overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessing of others, even if they’re keeping their identity a secret.  Other times the secrets remind us about the other secrets that are being kept from us or we’re keeping.

The fact is everyone has secrets. Maybe it’s just about a little guilty pleasure or weird habit like what you enjoy putting on your french fries or the TV show you watch when no one is around. Maybe your secret is a little bigger or even a lot bigger like fears about your capabilities at work or a relationship in your past or a health issue or an addiction to shoes.

In a way it’s normal, healthy and good to have secrets, there are things that should belong to just you or just you and a close confidant like your partner or doctor. Everyone in the world doesn’t need to know everything about you. Sometimes secrets are absolutely necessary, like in the case of Jesus or the witness protection program. And sometimes secrets are even fun to have for a short time, making the reveal all the more exciting. So are your secrets the OK kind, or is it time to share the truth with someone?