I hope that everyone enjoyed a peaceful and merry Christmas. For me, the week afterward is filled with mixed emotions – Christmas excitement let down and the excitement of starting a new year. Many of us will proclaim “Resolutions” for change in the coming year, while others look at the new year with dread. So many people are unsure of what is coming in the new year or are disappointed in what transpired in the past year, that they simply dread the reminder of a new calendar year. This holiday is a great time to be reminded that each day, month and year that passes, is a part of God’s plan. Author Rick Warren in his book Purpose Driven Life, starts the book reminding the reader that “it (life) is not about you.” We concentrate so much on ourselves that we lose focus on what is God’s plan or that God is in control. We should be asking God for clarity on what He wants us to know or do in the coming year. Setting resolutions is about doing things for yourself or staying focused on what you want to get done. We never seem to ask God what He wants us to accomplish. Resolutions and dread for a new year are a result of things of this world. Try focusing on a relationship with God and seeking to understand what He is doing in your life; it will make hanging up a new calendar much easier.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
I hope that this verse kick-starts your new year by helping to refocus on what is really important. If you create any resolutions, resolve to grow in your faith and understanding of God’s will in your life. God has laid the path, from the day you were born to your final day; He is in control. Do not let this world get to you. Everywhere we turn, we see signs of the terrible patterns of this world. Turn away from them and renew your mind. These words, written more than 2000 years ago, are as if St. Paul was present in 2014. God keeps His promises, it is us who fail to see them or open our hearts and minds to them. We expect things given to us of this world and when God doesn’t deliver, we feel let down. I’d suggest that perhaps, God was at work teaching and not punishing us. I hope that you begin 2015 with an open mind, an open heart and the understanding that “it’s not about you”, it’s about God. Happy New Year!
This week we celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. God recognized that we couldn’t obey the law that He had given to us. God knew that we were simply too involved in ourselves to be faithful to Him. However, God also knew that He could not forsake us and that His love for us was greater than His disappointment. We learn throughout the bible that God foresaw this as He continued to tell of a savior in the Old Testament. His angels had been preparing the way. John the Baptist was busy in the Jordan River preparing for the coming of Jesus. Mary was spoken to by the Angel Gabriel in preparation for her role in saving the world. Elizabeth was given a child as a further sign by God of the miraculous things to come. All signs pointed to the new King and Jesus revealed himself as an adult when God was ready for Him to begin His work. The bible has been the most scrutinized “book” in history. It has been authenticated to within years of accuracy, closer than any other historical document. God so ordered the world to allow this “proof” to exist. The bible is God’s word, given to us as a testament of His love for us.
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13
We have all been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Now that’s something to celebrate! God gave His only Son to save the world; He gave us His Devine Word to read and understand; He gave us eternal life through Jesus Christ. Mankind has never done anything to be worthy of eternal life and never can. No amount of works or prayer or tithing can give us what Jesus Christ did. Only God’s promise and His love for all of His children is what allow us to be with Him forever in heaven. Jesus took all of our sins and all of our faults with Him on the cross and then left them in hell. When He ascended into heaven, he took us with Him there too, leaving us innocent in God’s eyes. We became marked with a seal only possible through our faith in Jesus Christ. We not only should celebrate the birth of our savior but we should celebrate God’s love for us.
I usually try to stick to one subject at a time but this week, these two seemed to go hand and hand – Love and Hate. Frank Sinatra sang a song made popular by the TV show “Married with Children” called Love and Marriage. The words tell us that “they go together like a horse and carriage” and often, so do the words Love and Hate. We throw them around as we generalize most things in our lives; “I love football” or “I hate spinach”. It’s when we use these words towards people that things change. Love and Hate become very powerful words that can change a situation in the blink of an eye. For anyone dating, the first time you say “I love you” is pretty powerful. The phrase is either repeated back to you in affirmation or left unreturned like an envelop with no forwarding address. The word hate is just as powerful when it’s directed at a person; to be told you are hated goes right to the core of your soul. We don’t mind if people don’t like us but no one wants to be hated. I’m not going to pretend that we will go around our lives “loving” everything or everyone but the act of love can be just as meaningful. I would submit that the “act of love” involves compassion, understanding, empathy, commitment and building a sense of community (being one). Today, we need more Love, less Hate. Use this time of the year when people are more open to acts of kindness to be more loving. Spread the joy of this season with the ones you know and then spread it with those you don’t. Say hi to someone at church for the first time, step in and help someone at work who isn’t expecting it, sit and listen to someone who needs a friend or be forgiving of past mistakes. This is the season of Love, so go out and spread the joy.
“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs” Proverbs 10:12 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9
I thought that I would share closely related verses this week since they both talk about Love and Hate. This is the last week of Advent; the week before we celebrate the birth of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ and these verses remind us of the Love that God has for us. God had so many opportunities to demonstrate his contempt with us and turn toward hate. We continued to deny Him and we disobeyed His laws until He finally took things in His own hands and sent us a Savior. He showed us the ultimate form of Love by sending His one and only Son to die for our sins. It was all Love. God’s inspired word is found in the bible, which teaches us that hatred stirs dissension. We’ve often heard about “the company we keep” and if we are around those that hate, we too soon will. We are encouraged to stay by what is good and to remember that love covers all. The wrongs of this world were covered by God’s love for us through Jesus Christ, His Son and our savior. His love is sincere and we must cling to that because it is good and righteous. No matter what you have done or what you have thought, God loves you and wants eternal life with all of His children who believe. Cling to God and nothing can separate you.
“If I want a job done right, I better just do it myself”, is an old phrase that you often hear today. People are impatient and less tolerant of change for some reason. The growth of the Internet is allowing people to work anywhere in the world. There are virtual workplaces and virtual jobs – I’m intentionally leaving the puns alone. So many things have changed that it isn’t too surprising people want to hang on to some control over a process or project. As humans, we learn best by trial and error. We make mistakes and learn a great deal from them. As parents we try to tell our kids what to do and how to do it so they avoid making the same mistakes, even small ones, we’ve made. Sooner or later they will rebel and do it anyway. I’ve taught firefighters and officers to avoid repeating my mistakes and I’ve watched them make their own mistakes (safely) so they too could learn. As leaders or parents, we have to let people do things the way that is best for them. We’ve added our extra step or we’ve done just one something a little different and we have to let others do the same; this is how great things are made. I’ve said it before, Velcro and Post-it notes were mistakes that turned out awesome. Today’s workforce is more innovative, more experimental, more adventurous and less risk adverse than we were. We need to embrace the change, support them and watch what happens. Your way is not the only way to get something done; it’s “a” way to do it. Imagine what you would have missed if someone you worked for said that there is only one way to do your job. The irony of the statement that started this is that the person who said it first was really saying, “If I want a job done my way, I’d better do it myself”. Unless you intend to do all of the work around you, give people a desired outcome or goal and let them work.
“8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
Can you imagine God saying “If I want a job done right, I better do it myself”. When I started to write that phrase I said to myself He’d never say that, however it’s exactly what He did. God tried to give us signs, miracles, prophets and even 10 Commandments as a guide for us to follow and we still failed. God did it Himself and sent His Son to save the world from itself. We couldn’t get it right, so God did it for us. In these verses, we are reminded that our thoughts and our ways are not God’s. He gave us the desired goal or outcome – Believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you will receive the eternal life. God tells us that we are not like Him and we could never be. His ways and thoughts are higher than the heavens. We focus on earthly things and earthly desires and He is telling us in the New Testament of the Good News found in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter what our deeds are or what our thoughts are or anything else; what matters is our faith in Jesus Christ. We need to stop worrying about doing things perfectly and focus on our faith in Jesus. We should be focused on growing our faith and understanding of God’s word not to become superior but to express our love to God for not treating us like we treat those don’t do it our way.
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, no matter where you are. After a week of prayer and thanksgiving for all that we have, I thought focusing on praise might be a good follow-up. There is so much negativity in the world these days. Even the President’s daughters couldn’t escape being criticized for making faces; they are teenage girls after all. Black Friday sales brought angry shoppers pushing for the few sale items or upset people who missed the deals. Not to mention the scores of people of who complained about being with their families on Thanksgiving Day. A day set aside for thanks and there was an awful lot of complaining. Where was the praise? My sister had most of our family to her house for dinner. She cooked all day, made more than enough food (which was delicious by the way) and even opened her house to friends without their family nearby. She did a great job and we all had a great time. When we left, everyone said thanks and kissed her as we walked out the door but it was not what I think of when I say praise. Sure, we could have heaped on the accolades but to truly praise her is to call a day or two later to thank her again or even send an old fashioned “thank you card”. What about the other people in your life, how well do you praise them? Try praising people that you work with or serve you somewhere or help you out. Don’t just say “thanks” give them some praise with a specific reference like: “You did a great job on that special project, it really made the difference for us” or “That was the best service we have had anywhere in a long time, you did a great job”. A little love and praise can carry someone a long way in this world of negativity.
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation…” Isaiah 52:7
God loves it when we thank him for all that he has done for us but he also likes the praise that should precede it. He is the one who makes all things possible. God is the giver of life and in Him, all things are possible. He is controlling everything and we have a hard time understanding or comprehending that we are not in control. Without Him, we are simply left to die a lonely short existence here on earth. We can do nothing that will earn us a place in heaven; no amount of good works or tithing or kindness can earn for us what God has already given to us through His grace and mercy. Our salvation is found in one thing – faith in Jesus Christ as our savior. God sent His son into the world to save us from our sinful nature and our selves. Without God’s grace, we would not have salvation. For us this means giving praise for the awesome things that God has done by bringing the good news to others or simply demonstrating the love that God has shown us. We do good works and give our tithes not to win God’s favor but as a demonstration of His love for us. As we enter this season of joy and gladness, lets remember to praise the one who made it possible.