Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 - Another New Year!

"Behold I will do a new thing, 
now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? 
I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."
Isaiah 43:19

Why do we make such a big deal about the new year? Of course it is an arbitrary date that man has made in order to help make sense of time. Some cultures even have different dates for the start of the new year. In Ethiopia our September 11th is there start of a new year, in China they will be starting their new year on February 16th. So really there isn't much to be said about the date that we decide is the new year. I don't know about you but I don't really feel any better or worse than I did yesterday.

That being said, it is good to have a time of reflection. A time where we stop, take a look at the direction our life is going and decide whether there is something that we need to change. A time where we can thank God for what has happened in the past and look forward to the new things that God has for us in the future. The new year is as good a time as any for this. 

What happened in your life in 2017?

What are you thankful for?

What do you wish was different?

Take a moment to reflect on the past year. You might be able to say it was a good year or you might feel like it wasn't so good but I guarantee, if you look hard enough, you can find some good and some bad. You can find things to be thankful for and you can find things that you wish were different. Regardless of how your year was thank God for it all.

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; 
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
1 Thessalonians 5:18

This is an important place to start when reflecting on things. It is through thankfulness that we enter into the gates of God's kingdom (Psalm 100:4) and that is where we want to start 2018. 

However, it is also important to recognize what things we would have liked to go differently; what things we would like to change. This is important because, most likely, we are the ones who need to make the initiative to change those things. 

If you want to better your relationship with God then you need to make the first step,
If you want a career change then there are things you can do to ready yourself for that change, 
If you want to increase your income to give more or to pay off debt then there are things you can do to make that happen, 
If you want to improve the relationships with your family and friends then that starts with you, 
If you want to lose weight and get in shape then it is on you to make steps in that direction. 

It all starts with you!

We don't look back on the things we didn't like in order to lament on how bad it was but in order to make steps to keep that from repeating.

If all we do is talk about how bad 2017 was then 2018 will just be a repeat. What are you doing to make a difference in your life and in the life of those around you? What are you changing in yourself that makes the world, at least your world, a better place? 

This is where goals and plans come into place. We have a tradition of making New Year's resolutions but, as we all know, most people don't actually keep them. One of the major problems with how we do New Year's resolutions is that we make broad, general goals that aren't measurable, or they stretch out for too long of a time. It is hard to stick to a goal that we will only know if it is successful a year from now. If you have a goal for 2018 then break it down into smaller steps. 

New Years Resolution: I want to spend more time in prayer.

This is a good resolution but by itself is not measurable. How will we know if we succeeded in spending more time in prayer? 

Step 1: I am going to wake up 15 minutes earlier before work in order to spend that time in prayer each morning for the month of January and February.

Step 2: I am going to increase that time to 30 minutes for the month of March and April.

Step 3: I am going to start going to my room 15 minutes earlier every day to spend time in prayer before bed at night for the month of May and June.

Step 4: I am going to start going to increase that time to 30 minutes in the evening for the months of July and August. 

All of a sudden you have an hour of dedicated prayer time added to every day and the year isn't even over. It would be hard to get this detailed with everything that we want to change but try taking one of your resolutions this year and break it down in step by step increments. Also remember that they say it takes at least 21 days to create a habit so give yourself time to do so.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The True Meaning of Christmas

"Off to one side sits a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him"-- and so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds."
Max Lucado

Do you have time to hear Him this Christmas?

Christmas is known to be one of the busiest times of the year. We have to take time to fight traffic and crowds to buy a gift for each of our family members and maybe for the office party gift exchange. We go to various holiday parties, bake cookies, wrap presents, decorate our house, etc. Then we all have our favorite Christmas movies that we have to watch for it to be Christmas season. If we live in a place where it snows we have to spend time shoveling and icing the sidewalks so it's safe for our family. By the end of it all many of us end up exhausted. But did we ever take time to listen, to hear Him?

The cliche saying that we always see posted by Christian business owners and on 'religious' Christmas cards is, "Jesus is the reason for the season!" It's easy to say or write that but have we taken time to reflect on what it really means? Have we taken time to teach our family what it really means?

What does it mean to have Jesus as the reason for the season?

When we really take time to reflect on this we realize that reminding ourselves that we are celebrating Jesus' birthday still isn't really sufficient. What is it about Jesus' birthday that makes it significant enough to have such an elaborate celebration so many years later? My favorite scripture, that I feel really embodies the reason for celebrating Christmas, is Isaiah 9:6-7:

"For unto us a Child is born,
unto us a Son is given;
and the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
there will be no end,
upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
to order it and establish it with judgement and justice
from that time forward, even for ever.
The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this."
Isaiah 9:6-7

Christmas is more than presents, decorations, Christmas cookies, and a "spirit of giving". Christmas is also about more than just celebrating a baby who was born in a manger more than 2000 years ago. Christmas is about the beginning of a revolution, an overthrow of earthly kingdoms and order, and an establishment of a new kingdom, a monarchy where Christ is the King of kings.

Christmas is one of the most internationally recognized holidays. It is a time in which we can forget our national borders and we can simply wish a Merry Christmas, Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad, or Melkam Genna to whoever we meet wherever we find ourselves during the Christmas season. At most, for the Christians in all countries, it may be celebrated a couple weeks later but it is still celebrated. This is because we are celebrating something beyond national borders, beyond earthly governments. We are celebrating a kingdom greater than any other kingdom ever to exist on this earth, and we are celebrating the fact that, because Jesus was born as a baby in a manger 2000 years ago, we are able to be citizens of that kingdom forevermore.

Take some time today to be silent before God and allow Him to remind you of what it means to be a citizen of His kingdom! 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Risk, Fear, and Faith

"Faith requires that we take risks, so faith requires courage in the face of fear
The greater the risk we take, the greater our fear will be, 
but when we master our fear, great faith is gained."
Neil Cole - Organic Leadership (Emphasis added)

When is the last time you took a risk? 

When is the last time you stepped out in faith?

One of the most repeated phrases in the Bible is, "the just shall live by faith" (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38). When a phrase is repeated then it means it is important, when it is repeated four times, word for word, then I think we should pay attention. 

Clearly God wants us to "live by faith" but what does that mean. Often when we think of faith we associate it with big spectacular miracles like healing someone from cancer, or giving sight to the blind. Faith is important in these things but before we will ever be able to use faith in these large, supernatural events we need to learn to walk, to live, by faith in our daily lives. 

As the quote above implies, fear is the opposite of faith. Fear is faith's arch-nemesis, it's number one enemy. If we are giving into fear than it is impossible for us to operate in faith, but the opposite is also true. Once we learn to give in to faith, fear will no longer direct us. This doesn't mean that we won't feel fear but it won't control us. As Neil Cole says, "faith requires courage in the face of fear". 

So going back to the first question - When was the last time you took a risk? 

It is so easy to get stuck in our comfort zones. It is so easy to stay in the job that we have been doing for years, to live in the same place, to go to the same grocery store, drive the same car, and keep the same routine. Stepping out of that is hard; it can be scary, but remember that faith is on the other side of fear, the other side of risk. 

Has God been leading you to do something that you have put off due to fear?

For the past few years my wife and I had been led to move across the country. Off and on we would make the statement, "if God provides a job then we will move", but the job never came. Finally after prayer we decided that we just needed to make the decision to move. This was a scary decision that put us out of our comfort zone, away from our family and friends, and potentially without a job. God has definitely been faithful in the transition and continues to provide us with surprise after surprise as we work on this transition. 

Has God been leading you to make a step of faith? It is likely not as dramatic as moving across the country but there is probably something. Maybe he has been leading you to make a job or career change. Maybe He has been leading you to volunteer in a new area at your church, or start a ministry of some sort. Or maybe he has been leading you to believe for a much needed family vacation to invest time in your spouse and your children. 

Whatever it is I believe there is something. There is something that God has been leading you to do because God does not want you to be stagnant in your faith. God wants you to continue to grow, to continue to move forward, to continue to affect the world around you. 

It's time to take that step of faith!