In the (Christmas) Beginning

This week begins the season of Advent which leads up to the birth of Christ.  While Jesus isn’t born each year, it’s still a special time to celebrate life and the amazing gift that He gave us when He came to earth.  You know, every story starts somewhere.  Usually it starts in the beginning.  So today I thought we’d talk about the least favorite beginning of the story of the birth of Jesus: the list of people in Matthew 1. I know, as a kid you probably skipped over the chapters you had to read in the Old Testament of people who were born, died or were just being counted. Endless lists of names don’t really seem to have a purpose, or do they?  So as I was thinking about this and about Christmas, it got me thinking.

The beginning is where people always start.  We can’t skip to the middle of the story of our lives, we have to start at the beginning.  And as Jesus’ story in Matthew reminds us, the beginning technically starts before our true beginning: someone had to come before you in order for you to exist and they had a story.  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with history, mostly because some people have decided that the only way you can talk about history is to make it drier and more boring than an old wild west town during a dust storm.  The truth is that each and every period of history was exciting!  But it was only exciting if you knew where to look, talked with the right people or started looking for the stories behind the people of those times.  Jesus is no different: there are people with amazing stories who come before Him.  Those stories we’re familiar with: Ruth the courageous widow, David from shepherd to king, Josiah the boy king, and Zerubbabel of Nehemiah’s time just to name a few.

However, the truth is also that there are some people with stories in Jesus’ line who aren’t that great: like Ahaz and Manasseh.  Their less-than-stellar lives could lead some people to raise eyebrows or think less of Jesus (or anyone else who came after them).  Think about people in our time who look funny at you just because you’re related to a Kardashian or Cyrus?  But you cannot do anything about who came before you, just like you have no control over who comes after you.  Unless God decides to end the world, there will be people who come after you who may have things to say about your life.

My point today is very simple: everyone starts in the beginning.  How the story ends isn’t set in stone yet.  You’ve got the power to choose not only which ancestors you see as role models as well as where your life takes you.  Even better, just because your past is not so great it doesn’t mean that your future can’t be amazing.  In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says “Don’t think that I have come to destroy the Law of Moses or the teaching of the prophets. I have come not to destroy their teachings but to give full meaning to them.”  You can’t destroy the past, all you can do is create the future.  What will you do with your future?

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What God Asks of Us

Recently I have been thinking about the plans that God has for our lives and how they all work out. So today I thought I would share some verses I came across about what God asks of us and calls us to:

To be forgiving: “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13

To live with honor: “If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Romans 14:8

To live with and show mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience: “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

To do what is right, love mercy and be humble: “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

To pursue righteousness and unfailing love: “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.” Proverbs 21:21

To be a servant: “‘The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.'” Matthew 23:11-12

The things God has called us to and asked of us aren’t things we have to do alone, nor can we, they all require that we work with others to make it happen. This week I encourage you to choose one of the things God has called you to and make it a part of your life.  God doesn’t ask us to do or be things without a reason, I pray that He reveals some of that to you as you work with Him this week.

Partnerships in Creation

Over the past week I’ve been watching a family of bees make a home in the building next to my office window. I’ve worked out of this office for several years and haven’t seen them build here before, but this year they found the spot and decided to build there. They’re very small creatures and have found what looks to me to be a smaller hole to work with, but apparently they can fit quite a few of them in there at one time, so there must be space.

Today as I was watching them get started in the morning for the day’s hunting and building activities and whatever else they do it got me thinking about partnerships, us and nature, and nature and God. One of the things that has been talked about since humans really started growing and building homes is that we’re displacing the animals of nature, some of which have gone extinct as a result. As I’m watching this family of bees work I realized that the animals are doing their best to work with us, but we’re not giving them the same respect.

I get it, it’s not fun to watch the rabbits eat all of your plants, or have the deer run across the road where you’re driving, or have the bears and raccoons get in your garbage, or have the bugs take over spaces where you’re actively living. But I think many of those are signs that we’re not even trying to work with them on letting them have space to exist too.

But this family of bees has been a reminder and a reassurance that God takes care of all of His creatures, big and small. Maybe it’s time that we start working with God on not only how we can help nature thrive while we live where we live, but also work on partnering better with the other people that He’s created and put in our lives. Why fight and have someone be a loser when we can work together and everyone wins?

“”Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”” Matthew 6:26

Fighting the Good Fight

With Independence Day a few hours away here in the US, I was thinking about what that day means and what it’s all about, and a big part of it is the battle that the new nation (the US) went through with Britain to separate from them. Often we think about our spiritual lives in terms of things like hope, peace, patience, love and eternity. But there’s the other side of it that we don’t like to think about but often is our reality: the challenges we face on a regular basis. Sometimes those challenges are fairly innocent and easy to manage, but others really test us, maybe even causing us to metaphorically ‘go to war.’

The good news is that God goes with us whether we’re enjoying a walk through His creation or fighting for our lives. God is just as capable of fighting as He is the loving and the healing. The Bible is filled with many stories of battles, in fact that’s a big part of what the Old Testament shares, whether it’s of the Israelites in battle or of other battles and conquerings that affected them. There’s certainly reference to the military in the New Testament with the centurion and his servant that Jesus healed as well as Cornelius (also a centurion) who had a memorable interaction with Peter.

And then there’s one of the more famous passages in the Bible, the Armor of God, which talks about God equipping us to fight against the devil and the evil that he would throw against us. It’s a reminder that as much as we humans fight a physical war here on earth, we’re also fighting a spiritual one up in Heaven.

So this Fourth of July, Independence Day, do something to help the good guys win the fight, whether donating to a veteran non-profit, praying with someone who is struggling, donating to the local food pantry or even something as simple as sharing encouraging words on social media.  What will you do?

The Hope of Possibilities

Can you believe we’re almost at the end of the month? Almost one month down in this new year. Before we reached the end of this month and the topic of this month, possibility, I wanted to take some time to talk about a very important topic: hope. One of the biggest reasons I love possibilties is because when you’re able to think about and come up with possibilites, there’s always hope.

Jesus was all about the possibilities and about having hope. He experienced some situations and people He had to walk away from during His years of ministry on earth, but most of the stories in the Bible about Jesus share the creative, surprising, and different ways He approached the situiations and people and their challenges that He met. If more people were open to Jesus and the possibilities and hope He could bring to their lives, I think we would have even more incredible stories recorded in the Bible.

What if the challenges you’re facing in your life are there not because you’re walking through a dark path or because God is letting you learn something? What if the challenge is because you’re not open to having hope in regards to it or open to seeing other ways that it could work out or be played out? What if God is waiting for you take a step in a new direction? What if God is just waiting for you to have a little faith in Him and what He can do?

Today I encourage you to open your heart and mind to hope. Look for another opportunity, another way to work, another connection, or take the time to stop and listen and look and see what you may have been missing lately.  Don’t give up yet, I have hope for you and God has a plan for your life.

“Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”” Matthew 19:26

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

Christmas Light

You really can’t miss one of the main ways that people show they celebrate Christmas, whether secular or religious; the lights. They’re on houses, trees, businesses and light poles.  People drive many miles just to see what a particular house or street has created this year.  For people of faith though, light means many things.

Light helps us see our way:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.”  Matthew 3:1-12

Light should fill our lives:
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”  Colossians 3:16

Light is meant to be shared:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

Light means hope and promise:
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

Light begins with Jesus:
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.””  John 8:12

As you look around you and enjoy the sights of the season I encourage you to take a look at your life.  Are you shining light with the words you say and things you do? Are you teaching your kids what it means to be a light, even if that light is just about being a kind, considerate and loving person?  Are you focused on the darkness around you or on what the light shows?  Are you sharing a kind smile, a helping hand, a little love or even a little hope with someone?  Are you giving someone a reason to smile? Are you smiling at the surprises and holiday cheer that you see?  Are you sharing the message and story of the First Christmas?  Are you hanging lights and decorations to bring a smile to someone?

Yes, the holiday season has created many a grump, and there are plenty of reasons to be grumpy. But I believe that being grumpy is a choice, as is being filled with Christmas cheer.  Will you choose to spread light or darkness this Christmas season?