Continuing the Celebration (Joy For the New Year)

Happy New Year! We are well on our way into 2018. A new year often brings new beginnings and new opportunities. However, an opportunity is only as good as your ability to take advantage of it. Maybe 2017 was not a good year for you. You may have faced many difficulties and challenges. You said to yourself, “Things have got to get better this year.” Every year at this time you believe that this will be “your year”. You’ve been waiting a long time for dreams and promises to come to fruition. The reality is that sometimes it’s difficult to be optimistic while we wait. Circumstances have a way of affecting our joy. Maybe something has already occurred in the first few weeks of 2018 to sap you of the joy and enthusiasm you started out with on January 1.

I want to encourage you to continue the celebration you started several weeks ago. Remember the optimism and expectancy you had when the year first began. Make a choice to keep the party going despite whatever hardship you may be currently enduring. We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can control our responses to them. If we can step back for a moment and look beyond our circumstances to our loving heavenly Father, we can rest in the fact that He knows what is best for us.

If you ask, God will give you direction. I have to admit; sometimes the answer doesn’t make sense. It may seem like you’ve been given foolish instructions, but trust Him. Take a risk. Exercise faith. It is possible for your joy to be restored. You can have joy for the new year and beyond. You’ll soon have a reserve from which you can share joy with others. You will quickly discover that joy is contagious! Let’s keep the celebration going!

Happy Columbus Day?

Today is designated as the Columbus Day holiday in much of the U.S. However, it has become politically incorrect to celebrate Columbus Day these days. Revisionist historians have transformed Christopher Columbus from a brave explorer and proud historical figure into one of the world’s greatest villains. For 500 years, we believed one set of facts about Columbus. He is now credited with singlehandedly decimating the Native American population and forcing them to embrace Christianity. Even the sources that seek to restate Columbus’ place in history differ on the facts.

Columbus has become a poster child for why people should reject Christianity. Columbus certainly had his flaws, but we need to be careful of what the mainstream media tell us to believe. There is often an agenda behind the stories presented. The same people would have us believe, for example, that Margaret Sanger is a hero who should be celebrated. They try to refute the authenticity of Jesus, Himself and what He taught. There is information available with a different perspective on these figures that you may not have considered. It may require a little research, but it’s there.

Some have renamed this day Indigenous Peoples’ Day. While it is proper to celebrate the indigenous people groups of the world, we must be careful that we are not buying into the subtle deception that permeates our information sources. Where are you learning your history? Who’s influencing your children and grandchildren? Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true. It is important to evaluate the context of the quotes cited to prove a point, and determine what information or quotations have been omitted. There’s more at stake here than Christopher Columbus’ legacy.

Forgiveness: A Key to Recovery

I believe one of the keys to recovering from failure is experiencing forgiveness from those we have hurt. Unfortunately this is not always possible. Those individuals we have offended may be unwilling to forgive. They may no longer be alive. One can still, however, experience God’s forgiveness. It only requires repentance and confession on our part.

One must also be willing to be on the giving end of forgiveness. We should forgive others just as we have been forgiven by God. We cannot afford to fall into the trap of bitterness. Extending forgiveness is not so much for the person who has wronged us, as it is for ourselves. Many times the person that we are holding hostage with our unforgiveness is not even aware or affected by it. We are the ones who are being eaten up on the inside by our resentment. We lose sleep, experience health issues, or become agitated when we think about what that person has done to us. We need to release that person and trust God to make things right.

A Season of Renewal

We welcomed the first day of Spring 2016 in our area yesterday with some unexpected snow. We had been spoiled by a warmer-than-normal winter with low amounts of snowfall. My daffodils had already emerged from the ground and my red maple tree had started to bud. Thankfully by the end of the afternoon, all of the snow had melted, although it was still quite cold. Despite this little surprise, I look forward to springtime every year. A few mornings ago, I awoke to the sound of birds chirping outside my window. Spring symbolizes a time of renewal. Things that have been dormant for months begin to blossom with new life. There is all kinds of activity. I also look forward to the warmer temperatures, fragrant blossoms and beautiful scenery that accompanies the season.

(Photo by Valérie Ungerer)

Many of us may need something new to happen in different areas of our lives. There are things that need a fresh start. Like the onset of Spring, life goes through different seasons. We can use this time to make positive changes in our lives. Some people have an annual ritual of spring cleaning during this season. They remove the dirt and unneeded garbage from the past to make room for the future. Others plant a garden or just spend more time outdoors enjoying God’s creation. Whatever the case, shake off the winter blues and begin to bask in the hope that Spring symbolizes. The arrival of Spring is evidence of God’s faithfulness. We have new opportunities to accomplish something great.

May this season propel you into new and exciting endeavors!

It’s Not As Bad As It Seems

joseph_maryOne of the applications we can draw from the Christmas story is that things are not always as bad as they seem.

Joseph and Mary were a young, engaged couple. This carries the idea of hope, promise, dreams and potential. But before they ever came together physically, Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant. Joseph knew that he was not the father of her child. This was, no doubt, devastating news for Joseph. In his mind, the young woman with whom he had planned a future had been unfaithful to him. This was a deal-breaker for Joseph. These types of discoveries force one to make some decisions. Joseph’s decision was to secretly end his engagement.

Although Joseph was not aware of it, God was behind the discovery he had made. The Child Mary was carrying had been conceived by the Holy Spirit. God is often working behind the scenes in our personal situations, and we do not realize it. But after the discovery and the decision, Joseph received some direction from an angel – a messenger from God. The angel told Joseph to proceed with his plans to marry his fiancee. Even though Joseph’s fear and reservation were justified, the angel assured him that he could stop being fearful, because this was all a part of God’s plan.

The thing that Joseph thought was the worst that could have happened, turned out to be the best thing that could have occurred. The Savior that the world had been awaiting was going to be born in his household. Joseph was planning to get rid of Mary and what (who) he really needed the most – Jesus. Joseph’s deliverance was closer than he understood. Just as things were not as bad as they initially seemed to Joseph, your current circumstance is probably not the end for you.

Maybe you started out with great hope, potential and promise, but you discovered something that threatens your dreams. You have made the decision to get rid of something that is ultimately what you need. Don’t make the mistake that Joseph almost did. The situation that you thought would destroy your dreams could actually be orchestrated by God to bring relief. What you thought was the worst may actually be one of the best things that could ever happen to you. Like the angel told Joseph, don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams!

The Grateful Response

Sometimes we fail to stop and thank those who have done something kind for us. This time of year is a great reminder of how we should be grateful for all we have received. We should never be ashamed to show our gratitude. We should do so with excitement and joy, without concern for who may see or hear us.

Even if no one else around us says, thank you, when thanks is appropriate, we should give it. In spite of any challenges you and I may be facing, we still have many reasons to be thankful today.

Thanksgiving is about more than turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce. It’s bigger than football and parades. It’s even more important than spending time with family. Ultimately, God is the source of everything we have, and we should always be thankful to Him for all of His goodness to us. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

The First 48

Tomorrow I will turn 48 years old. As I reflect on the years, I use the title of the A&E television show, ‘The First 48’. I borrowed this idea from a former classmate who recently celebrated her 48th birthday. The opening line from the show states, “For homicide detectives, their chance of solving a murder is cut in half if they don’t get a lead within the first 48 hours.” Similarly, I suppose if a person doesn’t have direction in their life by the age of 48, their chance of success is greatly reduced. Like those critical first 48 hours of a murder investigation, one can say the first forty-something years of life are important. By this age, one is expected to have a certain level of maturity and achievement. However, it is never too late if it hasn’t happened yet. As I write in my book, Go Into The House, “The fact that you are still alive assures you that God has something for you to accomplish.”

There are many things I had envisioned achieving in my life by this point, but there’s still time. I certainly haven’t reached all my goals. In many ways it seems the years have flown by. There have been many significant events–marriage, fatherhood, career, ministry, divorce, as well as the daily highs and lows. Overall, I can say life has been good, even with the setbacks and disappointments. I have been blessed to experience some things that others may have only dreamed of. For that I am grateful, and don’t take those experiences for granted. Even my mistakes have taught me some valuable lessons, and I have grown from them.

I don’t know if I’ll have another “48” to live, but with whatever time I have left, I aim to do my best to fulfill the purpose God has for me. In some ways, I’m just beginning at 48. I believe there are new opportunities ahead of me. I still have a long bucket list, but I’m checking items off as I move ahead. I’m looking forward to a great future. Today I can say it’s been a good first 48.

(Image ©A&E Television Networks, LLC)

Represent Well

Not long ago, I saw an ad in a newspaper insert for an item I was interested in purchasing. I do not normally shop at that store, so I was not familiar with the layout when I arrived. When I got to the particular department for the item, I asked the young cashier where these items were located. She quickly and confidently told me, “We don’t carry those here.” I informed her that the item was in their ad flier. She opened the flier that was in front of her on the checkout counter and saw the item. At this time, another store employee was walking by, so she asked him where this item was located. He took me to the exact spot and actually gave me information on the different choices available.

As I thought about this incident, it reminded me that sadly, there are Christians who are like that cashier. We represent Jesus, and people are looking to us to point them to Jesus and what He has to offer. Unfortunately, many of us don’t know what’s in the “flier” — the Bible, God’s Word. Too often, people who are seeking answers are given misinformation. Like the cashier, these believers are not trying to be deceptive; they simply don’t know the truth. Thankfully, there are believers like the second employee who know the Word and can point people in the right direction.

If you are a Christian, let’s be like that second employee. Get into God’s Word. Read and study it, so we will know how to answer people who have questions. It’s our responsibility. If you’re not a Christian, and have been given faulty information, please don’t be turned off by those of us who don’t represent well. None of us has it all together. We are all works in progress. What you’re looking for is available. Find someone like that second employee who can guide you to Him. Better yet, ask God himself. He’s more than willing to show you.