How to make 2017 a better year

“2016 has been the worst year ever,” a friend posted on Facebook.

I personally think that’s a little extreme,…2016 may have had its ups and downs, but worst year ever?

Have they seen all the other years?

I kid. I kid.

As parents, we know what it is like to see the year turn from good to bad, even to “the worst year ever.” School doesn’t go how you or your child thought it would go. Your child’s team doesn’t do as well as she wanted. There’s unexpected injuries, sicknesses, relationship problems, drama of all kinds, and a never-ending list of things that can frustrate your family’s year.

As we step into 2017 you may wonder, is it even possible to have a good year?

I think it is.

If we fill our year with good things.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

Did Jesus just call us evil?

Yes. Yes, he did.

But that’s not his main point. His main point is, even if evil parents (like you and me) know how to give our children good gifts, how much more able is our perfect heavenly Father to give good gifts to his children. Which means, if you and I want good things for our families from God our Father, all we have to do is ask.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “I have asked. And nothing happened.”

Yeah, I’ve been there. It stinks.

But in that stinky disposition I’ve found it helpful to ask God another question, “What do you (God) consider a good gift?” Because, let’s face it, God may be giving us good gifts, but we just don’t recognize them.

So what does God consider a good gift?

Not surprisingly, Himself.

We see this in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus says the same thing (likely to a different audience) as he did in the Gospel of Matthew, but this time there is a slight difference.

Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Did you catch it?

In Luke, Jesus said, the good gift the Father will give to his children who ask, is the Holy Spirit. Why is that a good thing?

The Apostle Paul tells us, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 3:22-23)

Imagine 2017 being a year where your family is filled with more love, more joy, more peace, more patience, more kindness, more goodness, more faithfulness, more gentleness, and more self- control.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty good year to me. And all we have to do is ask.

2017 will be filled with up and downs for our families but it doesn’t have to be the worst year ever.

Parents, ask your heavenly Father to give you and your family good gifts. No matter the time or the situation. No matter the drama at home, at work, or at school. Just ask.

He promises to give you a very good gift, his Holy Spirit. And a year filled with the Holy Spirit is a year filled with many good things.

Blessings,

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Changing Our Christmas Message

It’s December. The month where we as Christians proclaim our sacred message of…outrage. Wait what!?  Yep, you read that right. Outrage.

Outrage, because some people won’t say, “Merry Christmas”. Instead, they’ll say “Happy Holidays” or (God-forbid) nothing at all. Outrage, because some people won’t even write out the word “CHRISTmas” but instead will use the dreaded substitute, “X-mas”. Outrage, because a secular company like Starbucks won’t even use Christian language or symbols on their cups. Oh the humanity!

What could be worse than living in a world where non-Christians don’t respect Christian traditions? How about a world where our message of outrage is the very thing keeping Hell-bound souls from hearing about Christ?

That would be worse.

So this December let’s stop the outrage. Let’s not fall into the Devil’s trap. Let’s not do anything that will take away from the beauty, the goodness, and the truth of the Christmas message. Let’s not do it.

We can, and should be, Christians who still say, “Merry Christmas” to others. Even if others won’t say it to us.

But let us also be Christians who listen to the Holy Spirit. Let us also be Christians who use our words and actions to reflect Jesus. Let us also be Christians who spread a message of hope (rather than outrage).

What might this look like?

In their own words, here’s how the Holy Spirit recently led three members of Fellowship to embody and spread a different message this season:

Carmen said: I was driving to Wendy’s for lunch and I passed the line of people waiting in camping chairs outside of Active Faith. My heart beat a little faster and the Holy Spirit said, “You should get something for them too.” So I added 10 cheeseburgers to my order and handed them out before continuing on my way.

Ben said: I was given by God an opportunity to share with a coworker about the importance of memorizing and meditating on Scripture, because good works can only be accomplished if I put good words into my mind.  What we put into us is what will come out.  This stuck with him.  He started asking more questions, because I explained how the Bible is divinely inspired, and is the best presentation of the one true God that I can examine for myself routinely.  He asked about justice and goodness, turning the other cheek, and why Jesus’ death was any different from other people who have been crucified.  I am sure that this was orchestrated by God, and that God can use this conversation to steer my friend’s life toward Him.  Amen!

Meredith said: I felt like God was calling me to reach out more to the moms of my daughters’ best friends. One thing led to another over the course of a couple of days, and now we’re all getting together at one of Cindi Jackson’s “Paint and Patter” classes for a girls night out. I’m looking forward to seeing where God takes me with this and how these relationships can strengthen and grow.

So how might the Holy Spirit want to lead you?

If we’re willing to give up our “right” to be outraged, I believe we can expect the Holy Spirit to lead us.

He’ll lead us to be Christ to others.

He’ll lead us to share Christ with others.

He’ll lead us to partake in and present the greatest message of all- the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This December, will you allow Him to lead you?

Overcoming Election Anxieties

It’s very easy to say, Jesus is Lord. It’s not easy to live like Jesus is Lord.

Watching the presidential debate the other night reminded me of this. After it was over I felt anxious. And when I woke up the next morning I still felt residual anxiety.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

My feelings of anxiety were not bad in and of themselves, but they did point to something bad. Like a flashing “Check Engine” light in my car, these feelings signaled that something within me was broken and in need of repair.

That broken-something was my lost vision of Jesus. Specifically, that broken-something was my lost vision of Jesus as Lord.  I had lost sight of who Jesus really is.  And as a result, I was no longer living as if Jesus really is Lord.

The remedy was the God-breathed words of Psalm 97:

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and burns up his adversaries all around.

His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.

The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory
.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!

Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O Lord.

For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods
.

O you who love the Lord, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
    he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!

 

These divine words filled my heart and mind with a fresh vision of Jesus as Lord. That Jesus reigns. That his reign is built on righteousness and justice. That Jesus is exalted above all. That he preserves my life and is able to deliver me from the wicked. That because of all these things, I can “rejoice in the Lord” and “give thanks to his holy name.”

With fresh vision came fresh healing. As I reflected on the psalm my attention was taken away from the frustrations of the election and instead was transfixed on the goodness of Jesus. As a result, my feelings of anxiety faded away. I was left, like the people of Zion, feeling “glad.” I was now living like Jesus really is Lord.

If this election season has you feeling anxious, maybe it’s because your “Check Engine” light is flashing. Maybe something within you is broken. Maybe you too have lost sight of Jesus as Lord. Maybe you’re not living as if Jesus really is Lord.

If so, let Jesus heal you.

Come to God’s Word. Reflect on the words of Psalm 97. Then, take a moment to rejoice and to give thanks that Jesus is still the Lord. I promise you’ll feel better… I sure did.

 

“I don’t have pockets in my shorts”

“I don’t have pockets in my shorts.”

That was the moment it hit me, I don’t fit in.

I was in second grade and playing on the handball courts– which, I think we can all agree, was the most awesome game ever.

I’m sure this moment at the handball courts wasn’t the first time I didn’t “fit in.” I was a pasty white kid growing up in sunny Southern California…I pretty much didn’t “fit in” from birth.

But for some reason the memory of the handball court is what sticks out to me. Maybe it was because at that point my elementary brain had developed just enough to be self-conscious of what I was wearing and what other people were wearing. Maybe it was because that was the first time I remember people staring at me, noticing the one thing about me that I didn’t want anyone to notice. Or maybe it was just because on that day I realized in a very real way that I wanted to be just like everyone else.

Unfortunately, this is where a lot of us still find ourselves today…“pocketless.” We’re conscious of the fact that we don’t have “pockets”…at least not the “pockets” we would like to have (or worse, think we should have). We covet other people’s “pockets.” We strive for our own “pockets.” We’re stressed about whether we’ll ever get “pockets.”  We’re angry or depressed when we lose hope of obtaining our “pockets.” All the while our pocketless selves feel like we just don’t “fit in.”

Sure, our now “mature” minds “know” that we don’t need the “pockets.” People should love us and accept us for who we are and not what we have. And that even if we did have the “pockets” we want, it wouldn’t “really” make us happy. Heck, it would only be a matter of time before we had a new desire for some new “pockets” anyway.

We know all this.

And yet, we still want the “pockets.”

Why is this?

One time Jesus was explaining to the crowds what the kingdom of heaven is like. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).

Apparently Jesus believed that the kingdom of heaven is so valuable that it’s worth sacrificing everything to have it. Maybe even our desire for “pockets”?

Now I’m not say we’re not in the kingdom of heaven if we still desire “pockets”…whatever that might be for you. I am also not saying that we’re definitely in the kingdom of heaven if we don’t have a desire for “pockets.”

What I am saying, and I think what Jesus is saying, is the desire for “pockets” and the desire for the kingdom of heaven are mutually exclusive. We still desire “pockets” only because we don’t desire (or desire very little) the kingdom of heaven. If we did desire the kingdom of heaven, as Jesus did, we’d be happy to live “pocketless.”

So how can we stop caring about/desiring “pockets”?

Step one, repent. Jesus says repentance is the only way we leave our “pocket”-demanding kingdom and enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 4:17).

Step two, follow. Jesus says, “come follow me.” Let Jesus lead. Be a part of his community. A community that celebrates giving away “pockets” rather than accumulating them.

Maybe you’ve done these steps before. Maybe it’s time to do them again…and again.

The desire for “pockets” isn’t bad, it just shows us the state of our heart. What do we want more, the things of the world, or the things of God? Where do want to “fit in” more, the kingdom of the world or the kingdom of God?

One kingdom requires “pockets.” The other, celebrates being “pocketless.”

The Need for Dominion

Have you ever thought about what were God’s first words to human beings?

In Genesis 1:28 we read “God blessed them [Adam and Eve] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” God’s first words to Adam and Eve were a command. A command for them to exercise dominion over their world by filling it and ruling over it.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Sadly, when a crafty little serpent known as Satan entered their world they didn’t exercise authority over it. Adam allowed the serpent to tempt Eve and lead her to sin.

What should Adam have done?

He should have killed the serpent. Or, at the very least, thrown it out of the garden.

The results of Adam’s carelessness were tragic. Adam and Eve sinned and were separated from God. Sin entered and contaminated all of their world. Adam and Eve lost their perfect life—literally their perfect life.

What does this have to do with us today?

There are days when I know I should read my Bible first thing in the morning, but instead I check my email and Facebook. I’m completely aware that I if I read my Bible first I will experience peace and have focus for the day. I’m also completely aware that if I check my emails and social media first, often peace and focus are nowhere to be found.

Why do I still do it?

There’s something about email and social media that calls to me. It says “you need to do this first, to make sure you haven’t missed anything.” Or “you need to make sure you’re prepared for the rest of the day.” Or “if you do this you’ll be getting a head start, you’ll actually be more effective.”

Lies. Lies. Lies.

All for the Evil One… or least one of his henchmen.

So what’s keeping me from stopping? Dominion.

I lack dominion over my world. And my careless actions have led to my world having dominion over me. Change will come when I choose to do what Adam should have done: subdue my world and everything in it, including my phone.

That might mean turning my phone off completely (what? no!I know, I know, that’s drastic). It might mean asking someone to hold me accountable for how I use it (well, that would be awkward). If none of that works it could even mean getting rid of it (ok, now you’re just talking crazy).

In reality, none of those tactics will work until something else happens first. Dominion.

Not my exercise of dominion, but Jesus’s dominion over me. If I want to subdue my phone then I must first let Jesus subdue me.

It was supposed to work like this in the Garden. Adam and Eve were to rule as vice regents (little kings) under the authority and direction of The Great Regent, God himself. Their power to rule came from conforming to God’s rule, not by rebelling against it.

In the same way, our ability to have dominion over our world, phones included, comes only through the power and authority of Jesus Christ—the one true King over all creation.

That means I have to repent of my belief and actions that say “this little part of my life [my phone] belongs to me…and not Jesus.” Instead I must confess that if Jesus is my Lord, then he is Lord of all. Everything then, even my phone, belongs to him.

The story of Adam and Eve reminds us that the perfect life is found in the fully submitted life. A life completely submitted to God’s dominion. And it reminds us that apart from God’s dominion even the smallest thing—serpent, phone, or otherwise—is able to rob us of life and lead us to destruction.

 

Where or what in your life do you need to bring under dominion of Jesus Christ?

A Disciple’s Prayer

 

“O My Savior,

Help me.

I am so slow to learn,

So prone to forget,

So weak to climb;

I am in the foothills when I should be

on the heights;

I am pained by my graceless heart,

my prayerless days,

my poverty of love,

my sloth in the heavenly race,

my sullied conscience,

my wasted hours,

my unspent opportunities.

I am blind while light shines around me:

take the scales from my eyes,

grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief.

Make it my chiefest joy to study [you],

meditate on [you],

gaze on [you],

sit like Mary at [your] feet,

lean like John on [your] breast,

appeal like Peter to [your] love,

count like Paul all things dung.

Give me increase and progress in grace

so that there may be

more decision in my character,

more vigour in my purpose,

more elevation in my life,

more fervor in my devotion,

more constancy in my zeal.

As I have a position in the world,

keep me from making the world my position;

May I never seek in the creature

what can be found only in the Creator;

Let not faith cease from seeing [you]

until it vanishes into sight.

Ride forth in me, [you] King of kings

and Lord of lords,

that I may live victoriously,

and in victory attain my end.” [1]

 

 


 

[1] The original title of this prayer is “A Disciple’s Renewal”. It is taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. I slightly edited the original (updating “thee”, “thy”, and “thou” with [you] and [your].

What our world needs…

One day I will react the right way in the right moment–but yesterday I missed that moment.

Meredith had just received some news from a friend and wanted to share it with me. The news—her friend’s eight-year-old cousin had been walking across the street to get the mail when he was hit and killed by a car.

My reaction–repulsion (wrong move). Anger (wrong move again). And distance (wrong move again again). In that moment my mind and body shot up every defense. I did not want to let in the tragic death of an eight-year-old.

In that moment I couldn’t. Because I knew it would make me think about my own soon-to-be eight-year-old. And the nightmare it would be if she was killed by a car in front of our house. (Just typing that last sentence makes my hands shake, and my insides want to vomit.)

Sometimes (particularly when I’m not consciously wearing my “pastor” hat) it is difficult for me to enter into another’s pain. Outside of “work” my flesh does not want to do it.

I think I’m just scared of pain. Real pain. Overwhelming, now-I-feel-helpless, hit-you-in-the-gut, came-out-of left-field kind of pain.

When I’m prepared (like when someone says “can I talk to you?”) I’m fine. Pastor hat on. Silent prayers for guidance check. Eyes forward, ears open—let’s go. But if it comes out of nowhere, and it hits close to home…my gut response is to push it away.

It’s a reaction based on fear.

I’m very thankful Jesus is not like this. In fact I am down right amazed at how Jesus enters into our pain.

Condescended from heaven, he entered our world as a helpless child. His heart was full of compassion for every person who came to him. He never shrunk back or ran away. No defenses. No anger. No distance.

Instead he humbled himself, entering into the pain of others all the way up to the cross. And then on the cross he entered into and was covered in the pain of every human being ever to exist.

I can’t help thinking as I scroll through my Facebook feed, and read news headlines, how unique Jesus is. I also can’t help thinking that what our world needs now is not more people proclaiming what is right and wrong (in their own eyes). Not more people mocking what they see or hear. And not more people being repulsed by what they see or hear.

All of that is just our defenses against the pain.

What our world needs is more people who will take the very unpopular and self-debasing action of entering into the pain of others.

We need people of real courage, full of compassion, who are not afraid to get covered in pain. People who are not afraid to feel overwhelmed or helpless by the stories and actions of others.

We need more Jesus-like people.

I confess, I need help in this area.

Maybe you do too.

Let us confess our fears to God. And let us pray that we, like Jesus, could have the courage to enter into the pain of others.

 

 

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-8)