Christmas Courage

We’ve reached the end of another holiday season, the end of another year, and also the end of a decade. Unless you’re an unreformed Grinch or Scrooge, you probably don’t want the holidays to end anymore than I do. I’m always sad when December 26 rolls around and every store and radio station packs away the Christmas stuff for another year. As I shared about with my devotion readers this week, Christmas is a beginning, not an end, so for everything to just end so abruptly, it’s sad and not a real reflection on the Reason for the Season.

Today I want to share one last thought on Christmas, and it’s also something that will be relevant as we move into the new year and decade. We can learn a lot from the Christmas story, about God, about how God interacts with us, about God’s plan for the world, about love, and about our fellow humans. The Biblical Christmas story is an intimate look into the lives of 4 key players and several other supporting characters, and we get to see the emotions they work through and their experiences and reactions to how everything goes down and the birth of Jesus. It’s reassuring to know that God has a plan for everyone, that He’s willing to share some reassuring and encouraging words when we’re unsure of the situation (as we saw with Joseph and the dream he had), God wants everyone to be part of the celebrations from the wisest to the average joes, and something very small can really bring hope.

But something that we don’t talk about much with regard to the Christmas story is about courage. Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zechariah were all fully human, and while they were all likely people of faith (we know Zechariah was), the story still tells of the doubt and confusion that these four faced when the angel first came to each of them. They knew that despite it being God’s plan, other people wouldn’t necessarily understand or agree with their choices to accept the babies and that they would always have to accept that as much as the babies were theirs, they were first and foremost God’s. It took courage to step up and say yes to the angel and welcome in those babies.

If the last decade has been rough for you, I can understand why you might be looking at the new one ahead with trepidation, although for the same reason you may be looking at it with excitement. Those mixed emotions are probably exactly what the people of the First Christmas experienced. Just like them we’ve each got the choice to find our courage and move into the new year and decade excited that Jesus has come and is part of our lives, or focus on something more negative. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather move into the new year with a courageous stride than be pulled kicking and screaming over the line. If you’re not sure what to make of or do about the year ahead, maybe you want to focus on living a courageous year.

“”Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”” Deuteronomy 31:8

Let’s Be Brave Together

Back in January I shared that this year I’d be focusing on 2019 being a year of you and living in each day (as opposed to yesterday or tomorrow). We’ll be continuing that for the last 3 months of the year, and this month as we think about Halloween and related topics, I want to spend some time talking about bravery. The dictionary explains bravery and brave as possessing or exhibiting courage or courageous endurance; valor; to defy; to challenge; to dare; boldness; and heroic. But there’s also another word that I see, and that’s magnificence.

That word is one of the reasons why I want to talk about bravery this month, because bravery makes you a better person. It makes you have some extra shine in your countenance, pep in your step, and an almost magnetic quality about you. Bravery not only motivates, inspires, encourages and empowers you, it can do the same for others in your circle or that come into contact with you or hear about your story.

Bravery can positively impact all areas of your life, from the TV you choose to watch to the company you keep to the career you have to the places you choose to go to the shopping choices you make. Bravery isn’t about blindly acting or even about doing dangerous stuff or going dangerous places, but about breaking through what holds you back, ending bad habits, making healthier decisions even if they’re hard, and finding the courage to try new things.

Being brave starts with one step, one action, one decision or one word. It can be as simple as saying no, asking for help, cleaning out a closet, opening your bills, or taking the time to talk with your partner each day (about more than the weather and not as an argument). How will you be brave today?

Prayer and Restoration

School is in full swing, and while I don’t have plans to go back there are still some things that come up each year on the school calendar that I make note of for one reason or another. This week schools around the US are gearing up for See You At The Pole. It’s a student led spiritual ministry for students, by students at schools of all kinds, not just private spiritual based schools. In this day and age students have to communicate with the school about doing it, but back when it started in 1990 students would just show up around the pole and pray.

Each year they do pick a different theme to reflect on, but the ultimate goal of the event whether it’s done at a school or off campus (due to a request to disperse), is to pray for the school and students. Prayer is and has always been a central part of the Christian faith and it’s also a central part of many other religions as well. Faith and prayer is as natural together and intimately connected as peanut butter and jelly or fish and chips. This year the organization has chosen the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to be the focus for the prayers and topics of discussion on Wednesday:

“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”

It’s a great verse for many reasons, including the focus it has on the topic and importance of prayer. What so many people need today is restoration. But this verse, and others throughout the Bible, are clear that like many other things including the seasons, there’s a process that has to be followed. Restoration can only happen after realizing something isn’t right, admitting your part in it, making changes in your life, and asking for forgiveness.

I do pray for restoration, and also for the strength and courage to do what it takes to get to that point. Each student that stands up and joins around a flagpole on Wednesday is taking an important first step and showing great courage and strength. If we were all to stand up and pray for each other, could you imagine the healing, transformation and blessings that could occur in our lives?

Life may be just beginning for those students, but we’re still here too, so it’s not too late to say a prayer and begin a restoration process in your life as well. How will God heal you this week?

When People Stand Up

Today on one of my other blogs I shared about how CNN and MSNBC are stepping up to host climate crisis town halls with some of the 2020 presidential candidates. If you follow the news at all you know that a lot of people are talking about climate and climate issues, how there’s tons of melting up at the poles, how temperatures are fluctuating and hitting extremes that they haven’t before and how there’s increased concern over the earth’s ability to host us for as many years as we want to stay here.

What impressed me about the town halls is that CNN and MSNBC stepped up when it had been made clear that the regular conventions weren’t willing to have any type of discussion about climate, despite thousands of people asking them to. CNN and MSNBC had to work to find a loophole in the rules that allowed them to have these conversations, but they did the work and now there is political and very public conversation happening about climate.

This has reminded me about the power of many individuals standing up for what’s important and how crucial it is to stand up for what’s important. If we don’t make the effort to decide what’s important and stand up for it we’ll never make progress on the big issues in our world, rather they’ll continue to compile. It also gives me hope that someone is hearing what the masses are saying and doing what it takes to step up and actually respond.

We don’t have any answers on the climate crisis nor has there been a revolution of politics, but for the first time in a long time it feels like finally there has been a victory for the people. On the heels of some tragic shootings over the summer and in the middle of a devastating hurricane, it’s encouraging to have a victory. It shows that the voices of thousands spoken together do have an impact, that if we keep going, keep up the pressure, keep speaking up, and get a little creative, maybe we can finally make changes in our world that give our kids a safer and happier place to live and make our world healthier too.

Reality Reflection: Tragedy, Humans and Technology

It’s been over 30 years since the disaster in Chernobyl, when there was an accident at one of the nuclear reactors. I have no personal memories of this tragedy (I was too young), but it’s a story that I’ve always followed, maybe because of the haunting images that have been appearing over the years of the homes, schools and businesses that were suddenly abandoned. We know that slowly over the past 30 years nature has been taking over where people used to live and slowly buildings and other things are decaying and returning to more original forms.

I saw an article the other day about a gentleman who flew helicopters over the site in the days after the disaster to measure the temperature and gasses. I always check out stories like these because they give very personal and personable insights into events that don’t come with a lot of details or are still impacting the world today. In the article he tells how he knew it was dangerous but there wasn’t really an option, someone had to do it because they had to get that information. Today thankfully we would be able to send a drone over the scene of the accident and let the drone get the data without having to put any human lives in harms way.

I’m thankful both for the people who go into harms way to help the rest of us like police and fire workers, as well as for the updates in technology that gives the humans a helping hand and keep them safer. We’re not yet at the place where we’re avoiding all accidents, but we have come very far in these past 30 years to where we are avoiding danger more and staying safer.

I believe that we need to support technology development more because it can help keep us safer, move resources where they can be better used, and reduce waste. But there will always be a need to be brave and courageous, to have people help people. The world is better because we have other people to share it with. If anything as technology develops and advances we need people who are more responsible and keep tabs on technology to make sure we’re using it to help and not to harm.  Both people and technology can be good and bad, it’s up to each of us to make sure that they are helping victories happen.

Victories and Independence

Like many I’m contemplating Independence Day on Thursday this week, and reflecting on the topic of independence. Independence is something we strive for from a very early age, first wanting to walk on our own, then do stuff in the kitchen on our own, and as we get older we have more independence, but with that independence comes more responsibility. And as adults we’ve got a different network of support than we do as a child (where we’ve got more support and others who expect to help you carry the burden).

A topic that has to be considered alongside that of independence, would be that of acceptance and being content. When we think about the pilgrims and first European settlers of the US we’re talking about people who wanted something different for their lives and their future. As the eventual Independence Day and Declaration of Independence shows, they truly wanted independence, separation, from their current existence. However, for many complete independence isn’t necessary if you’re comfortable in general or overall with where things are/how things are going. Sometimes independence only means, to use the earlier example, being able to walk on your own, not to start completely over.

What does that look like as an adult, and more importantly how do you know what you need? One of the biggest keys to not only making steps into your future, but knowing what steps are right for you is being aware of your life and what’s going on around you. How often do you really stop to look at your life, your words, your actions, your relationships, your world? Just taking a moment each day, or several quick moments throughout the day, can help you make sure you’re going in the direction you want to go, and be more aware of potential issues others are having, and may be having with you.

And if you do need to declare an independence day for yourself? Keep your eyes open and take a couple of initial steps to determine if it’s necessary to take drastic action, or if some smaller steps will get you to the point of being content with life and the victories you can create.

Living and Growing

I believe that God has created us with the ability to grow. It’s fairly evident from the fact that while we may be born fully formed almost none of us are born the size we become, or with the abilities and capabilities we grow into. We should work each day on growing more closely into the person that God has created us to be, physically, mentally and spiritually. Very few of us ever stop growing in one way or another, because if we were to stop growing we would become perfect and probably wouldn’t be here on earth anymore. So yes, life is a journey, with many stops along the way, and one destination that we hope to reach some day: heaven. Until that point we keep growing.

But life is about so much more than just growing, because if we only focus on the growth we’ll miss out on things that go on around us or things we could be part of that may not help with our personal growth, but rather the growth, health or happiness of someone else. Which means that as much as we need to focus on growing, we also have to stay present in what’s going on now.

God is a God of yesterday, today and tomorrow. He knows our beginnings and our ends, our ups and downs, our struggles and victories, our potential and our failings. He knows who He created us to be for what’s going on in our lives and in the world now as well as what’s to come in the future. Working on focusing on and living in the now is not only important to what’s going on now, but also sets us up for what the future holds. The lessons we learn, even if they aren’t seemingly relevant today, may have great impact on us in the future.

If you remember the story of Samuel in the Old Testament, his life started off because God fulfilled a prayer request of his mother, and his life really took off when he accepted and listened to the voice of God one night as a young man.  You may have an equally non-traditional upbringing or it may have been very ordinary, but your beginning doesn’t have to dictate your present or your future, the lessons you learn from the past, how you live today, and what you do with your future are all up to you.  What will you do with the life God has given you both today and in the days to come?