Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. James 1:12

Friday, December 31, 2010

“New Year’s Resolution: Live to Die & Die to Live”

What a difference we hope one evening will make! December 31 is here. The ball drops at midnight. Toasts are made as we look back on the year that has passed, looking forward to the year to come. A new year begins, complete with new possibilities, new opportunities, new dreams, and a new hope for a new ME – hence the New Year’s resolution. Unfortunately, more years than not, before too long we realize it’s a new year, but the same old me.

Resolutions are usually made with the best of intentions, but most times made without considering how unrealistic and undisciplined we human beings really can be. We set ourselves up to have to cope with guilt and failure when we discover that our momentum has waned (usually by mid to late January). Some of the most common resolutions made each year include losing weight, exercising & eating healthy, getting out of debt, getting a better job,  reducing stress, learning something new, or taking on a new hobby. Some may resolve to spending more time with their family, spending more time with God, volunteering more, or educating yourself more. We begin January 1 with a bang, but as time passes those very things we thought were important enough to pursue seem to fall by the wayside. Old habits die hard!

I’ve been doing some thinking myself about what my New Year’s resolution might be for 2011. The thought struck me, “we’re just livin’ to die”. But what does that really mean? I guess you could say that some people live their days going about their business. They may be happy, but do they experience true joy that life can bring? It’s difficult to be joyful sometimes, especially if the past year has been a rough one. Maybe in 2010 you lost a loved one – maybe you lost a job – maybe you discovered your own health was failing. Those are not “joyful” times – those are hard times. You’re just barely getting by, or just stuck in the same old routines.

There’s a flipside to that coin. My mind is drawn to a country song by Tim McGraw entitled, “Live Like You Were Dyin”. A man in his early forties has discovered a serious health issue. One, we are led to believe, that has not given him much time to live. The man is asked the question, “How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news. What do you do?” The man’s response was clear. He did the things he always wanted to do, but never took the time. He took some risks. He went sky-diving. He climbed the Rocky Mountains. He went bull-riding. But not all of his choices were physically challenging. No, some of his choices were those of the heart. He loved deeper, he spoke sweeter, and he gave forgiveness to those he had been denying forgiveness. He made a point to be a better husband, a better friend, he read the Bible more, and all of a sudden the simple things he didn’t want to be bothered with at one time, were the very things he came to enjoy about life.  His perspective changed when he realized he was not guaranteed tomorrow.

Living to die means so much more than just putting in your time here on earth. Like the lyrics of this song that go on to question - if we have the gift of tomorrow and an eternity to think about what we would do with it, then what would we do with it? What CAN we do with it? I believe that God desires for us to live life to the fullest, to realize our hopes and dreams and to go after them, to slow down and enjoy what He has created and the blessings that He has given, to make a difference in the lives of others. But before we can truly live to die, we must first die to live.

Have you ever thought about dying to live? There is death that brings life. There is a dying that brings fulfillment and blessing. God longs for us to enjoy an abundant life filled with true joy and it’s available to us now. But to die right now? What does that mean? Colossians 3:1-10 tells us to put ourselves to death – not our physical bodies, but the evil ways and habits we have been accustomed to - such as greed, immorality, improper attitudes, the evil desires of the flesh, and anger, just to name a few.  It means dying to self, putting yourself aside for the benefit of others, dying so you may gain life - life more abundant! New life is found when we give ourselves over to the living Christ and allow him to hide us in Himself. Taking off the old and putting on the new – isn’t that really what New Year’s resolutions are all about? No longer the same old me!

My New Year’s Resolution? - Live to die and die to live. 
Living to die – TRULY living – is wonderful, but dying to live is freedom!

"Friday's Favorite"

"Live Like You Were Dyin" - Tim McGraw

He said: "I was in my early forties,
With a lot of life before me,
An' a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
I spent most of the next days,
Looking at the x-rays,
An' talking 'bout the options an' talkin’ ‘bout sweet time."
I asked him when it sank in,
That this might really be the real end,
How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?
Man whatcha do?

An' he said: "I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dyin'."

He said "I was finally the husband,
That most the time I wasn’t.
An' I became a friend a friend would like to have.
And all of a sudden goin' fishin’,
Wasn’t such an imposition,
And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.
Well, I finally read the Good Book,
And I took a good long hard look,
At what I'd do if I could do it all again,
And then:

"I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dyin'."

Like tomorrow was a gift,
And you got eternity,
To think about what you’d do with it.
An' what did you do with it?
An' what can I do with it?
An' what would I do with it?

"Sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
And I watched Blue Eagle as it was flyin'."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dyin'."

Monday, December 27, 2010

"Monday's Moment"

"Be proud of how far you have come, and have faith in how far you can go." - Richard Springs

Friday, December 24, 2010

"So What's In a Birthday?"

“December 24th” - ring any bells? I’m sure the words “Christmas Eve” come to mind almost immediately. The day before Christmas is a day to finish up the last minute shopping, attend family gatherings, or take part in traditions such as eating a special meal, watching a favorite Christmas movie, or maybe opening stocking gifts. But for me, Christmas Eve marks a separate occasion - my birthday.

Now I could go on and on about how unfortunate this has been for me. Christmas birthdays totally get lost in the shuffle. The anticipation of Christmas has its way of overshadowing a day that should also be special and significant. But like many other things in life, my birth date was not something I could choose. It was totally out of my control. I am sure God had a reason for me to arrive on this day just as He had a plan for you to arrive on the date you were born.

Now consider the date, December 25, which you most certainly recognize as Christmas Day. But once again, a different birthday can so easily get lost in the shuffle of opening gifts, family gatherings, and a ham dinner.

So what’s in a birthday?

Most parents can relate to the feelings of expectation upon the news of a baby on the way. Many thoughts and dreams for the child consume our minds - but fears and worries also make their presence known. Will the baby be a boy or a girl? Will he or she be healthy? Will she look more like her dad, or like her mother? What kind of personality will he have? What will she do when she gets older? I am sure young Mary thought of many of these things when told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to the son of God. Although she had different questions to ponder, such as, “how can this be since I am a virgin?”

Finally the baby arrives and we are so full of love and joy we can hardly contain it! It’s time to make the announcement! “This is the most precious, beautiful, special child EVER”! Fathers hand out candy bars to co-workers and friends. Baby announcements complete with name, weight and length are mailed to proclaim the grand arrival. Visitors arrive to take their turn holding the new bundle of joy and many times baby showers are given in honor of the precious little life that has entered into the world! Even the baby announces her arrival with a strong cry of disapproval to the abrupt change that has taken place in her environment. God didn’t pull out any stops in the announcement of the birth of his son. The first announcement came by way of the angel Gabriel to Mary and in a dream to Joseph. A complete band of angels appearing in the night along with one unmistakable star painted in the sky to point the way.

Once the baby is here it’s time to give him or her a name. It’s one of the most exciting, and sometimes difficult traditions. A child’s name will identify him for the rest of his life. Many times we pass down a name according to a family tradition - maybe a name in honor of a loved one or a famous person, or holds significant meaning. Other names are completely unique by using an unusual spelling or pronouncement. Mary and Joseph didn’t have to worry about the name of their son. Gabriel told Mary at the first announcement that his name would be Jesus (Yeshua), which means “ The Lord saves”.

A birthday would not be complete without a celebration. After all, a birthday comes only once a year! It’s about celebrating life - a very unique life! It’s a time when family and friends recognize you as special to them, celebrating who you are. Candles on a cake stand in honor of the years gone by. And what’s a celebration without gifts? Giving a gift to someone on their birthday says, “you are important to me”, “you mean something to me”, “you are significant”. Even the toddler Jesus (who literally already owned everything in creation) was given gifts of great value by the wise men to celebrate his birth.

So what’s in a birthday?

A birthday is celebrated in thankfulness of the passing of another year. You may not feel like you have much worth celebrating. The past year may have brought you what seems like only pain and grief. But it’s important to take a look at how God has brought you through and how you have grown in your relationship with him. A birthday is not only pondering on the past, but it also signifies a look ahead at accomplishments and blessings to come. The celebration of a birthday should be a reflection of where we have come from and an evaluation of where we are headed - a look at how well we are living out our life’s purpose. In reflection of Jesus’ birth we find that he was born to restore our ability to fulfill this purpose. He was born to give us life - life more abundant! He was born to give us a hope and a future! He was born to die on a cross which would save us from an eternity separated from him! This was his gift to us - what will be our gift to him? What gift could we possibly give to celebrate his birth?

Romans 12:1-2 says we should offer ourselves as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to him. To not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we might discern God’s perfect will for our lives.

So what’s in a birthday?

A birthday is to be remembered. It’s easy for Christmas birthdays to be overlooked, sometimes even forgotten. I have some extra special people in my life who have gone totally out of their way to make sure I feel very special on my birthday. How must Jesus feel when we scurry about getting “wrapped up” in Christmas, not remembering it as the day of his birth? Tomorrow is Jesus’ birthday! Won’t you consider going out of your way to recognize Him? Won’t you celebrate Him by giving the most precious gift ever? The gift of yourself.

Friday, December 17, 2010

“Pace Yourself”

Life moves at an extremely fast pace, wouldn’t you agree? Too many times there are too many things on the to-do list. I often wonder, how on earth will I accomplish all that needs to be done. There are meetings to be had, kid’s activities to attend, housework to be done, people to see and places to go - all thrown on top of physical ailments, a stressful job or marriage, broken relationships, or financial difficulties. I am no different than the average over-worked, over-stimulated, over-whelmed American.

With Christmas upon us, we find ourselves in the midst of one of the prime fast-paced seasons of the year. Be the first in line for the Black Friday specials. Put your Christmas tree up before Thanksgiving. Tear open the gifts in record time. Hurry from feast to feast and banquet to banquet. Our December days become jam packed with baking and shopping and our December nights with programs, wrapping and more shopping. It’s easy to get so busy that we fail to slow down and enjoy this joyous season.

Sometimes I feel like I need a pace car.

I’m not a huge racing fan, but I recently learned a few facts about pace cars that peeked my interest. In motor sports the pace car (also known as the safety car) limits the speed of competing cars on a racetrack. During a caution, the safety car enters the track ahead of the leader. Competitors are not allowed to pass the pace car or other competitors during a caution, and the pace car leads the field at a pre-determined safe speed. Cars use less fuel while running behind the safety car (usually half as much as under racing conditions), which can allow drivers to run longer on a tank of fuel than originally expected.

We get driving so fast in this race called life. Most of the time competing against people who are supposed to be our team mates. Sometimes we make good decisions about taking a pitstop to refuel and check our tires. More frequently we push it to the limit. We don’t seem to grasp the benefit of having a pace car. If we slow down long enough to ponder the thought, we would realize that driving at a more steady speed allows us to run more efficiently.

Hurrying has dramatic negative effects on us. When we are always running at a fast pace, our energy becomes depleted and our stress level goes up. But we continue to go on and on and on. When will we realize that we are not the Energizer Bunny? Besides increasing stress, rushing from place to place has a way of stealing our joy. The faster we move in life, the less time we seem to have to enjoy it. It’s much harder to pay attention to the detail of the landscape or the beauty of the sunset when racing at 200 miles per hour. We don’t know what we’re truly missing until we enter the caution and follow the pace car.

Artists realize that the faster they go, the less productive they are. Traveling at the speed of light causes us to lose the ability to think and act creatively. I have been known to spend much time scrapbooking and making homemade cards. I know for a fact that if I rush, that’s when I make the most mistakes. But taking it slow allows for a steady hand and a mind open to imagination and the flow of ideas.

Most importantly though, is the fact that when I’m pushing it to the limit, I can’t hear God. It’s hard to listen to anyone when we’re in a hurry. Take for example, you’re rushing out the door just as your child gets home from school. He desperately wants to tell you about his day, so as you are putting on your coat, grabbing your purse and the car keys, you nod your head and say, “uh-huh, uh-huh, that’s nice honey - gotta run”. You may have caught a few of his words, but your mind was not focused on him. In the process, you miss out on the detail and you also hurt your child’s feelings. How do we make God feel when we are so wrapped up in getting from place to place, success to success, that we don’t take the time to stop and listen to His voice?

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

We get to know our God when we slow down, be quiet and become still. Activity creates noise and noise drowns out the voice of God. But how do we slow down in a society that seems to encourage us to be constantly doing - in a culture that promotes fast food, high speed, convenience, and get rich quick schemes?

It’s time we destroy the myth that makes us believe that the more we do the more worthy we become. In other words, the more I do, the more valued, loved, and respected I am. We are constantly attempting to prove our worth. The busier I am, the more important I am - right? No way. This process is just a vicious cycle of constantly trying to gain the approval of others, draining a tank that’s already on E.

It’s time we crush the thought that life is a competition. It’s not. The bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most toys wins” is a lie from the enemy. The fact is that you are not in a competition with anybody. You are unique, a one of a kind masterpiece created by God. Everything about you is only yours and no one else’s. Competitions arise when we compare ourselves to others and that in turn only leads to discontentment. Discontentment fosters discouragement, jealousy and pride. Realizing you are not competing against anyone in life is a freeing concept. When you feel free and content, you tend to slow down the pace.

Sometimes we have to cut something out in order to slow down. The things we let go of may be good things, but are they the BEST things. Personally, I have discovered that the more I put on my plate the less effective I become in all areas. I would rather do a few things and make a huge impact than to do many things and impact very few. Focus on your strengths, your passions, the things you enjoy and the areas God has gifted you in. You will accomplish much more when you concentrate on your strengths and your priorities. Any more than that is destined for burn-out.

God thought slowing down was such an important concept that He even made it one of the Ten Commandments - the 4th one to be exact. “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy”. Sabbath literally means “day of rest”. The older I get the more I realize I NEED a day during the week to unwind and refresh. When I don’t, I become irritable and short-tempered, not to mention just plain tired. God knew from the time the earth was created and all living things were formed that we would need to rest - that we would need to set aside a day in our busy week to slow down. Disengaging from a strenuous lifestyle can provide us with the needed mental, physical and emotional break - a break from the “doing” of life. On the other hand - the spiritual hand - the Sabbath is a time to center our focus on worshipping God and worship has a way of placing life in perspective. Perspective helps us to make wise decisions. If I don’t take time to worship and get my focus on God and all that He has done for me, well then my focus remains on me. And if I’m too busy to worship God, well then I’m just too busy.

I truly believe God has a way of using life’s circumstances to slow us down when we don’t do it for ourselves. He may use physical illness and put us to bed. He may get us off the roads due to an ice storm. Or, he may use law enforcement. Twice in two months, I was pulled over by a policeman for speeding. I was appalled at the fact that I shattered a 17-year crystal clear driving record all because I was in too much of a hurry. The most amazing part of it all is that the kind officers took pity on me, only issuing warnings on both occasions. I have no doubt in my mind that God was teaching me a most valuable lesson - slow down. Not just on the road in my vehicle, but in the race of life.  I was spared from the consequence, not just once, but two times. You better believe I’m watching the speedometer much closer these days. I am striving to stay in the caution, safely following close behind the pace car - which will eventually lead me home.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

“Rebuilding the Walls”

It was almost two years ago that I received a call from my sister at 6am. She was in tears and could hardly even speak. You know what it’s like when you get that unexpected call at an unexpected time? You’re heart quivers and a lump finds it’s way to your throat. But I managed to get out the words, “what’s wrong?” She proceeded in the best way she could to inform me that she was standing in her front yard watching her house burn down.

My sister, along with her husband and son, managed to narrowly escape a house fire that had been brewing most of the night. It was by the grace of God that they survived, but most of what they owned did not. It was difficult to imagine how such destruction could ever be restored, but there was no question in their minds - they would rebuild.

This reminds me of an Old Testament story in the book of Nehemiah. I had read the story before, but never truly understood it’s meaning until directed there by a dear friend just recently. I mean, it’s hard enough to just find the book of Nehemiah in the Bible let alone recall all the details of the story.

God, fed up with evil, allowed the Israelites to be overrun by the king of Babylon, who burned down the walls of Jerusalem - killing many people and sending others into exile. Toward the end of this time of exile, Nehemiah returned to a burned out, broken down Jerusalem with a plan and a vision. His intense concern gave him a mission to rebuild the walls of the city. He began by surveying the damage and he confessed his sins as well as his father’s sins and the sins of his father’s father. His prayer immediately led him into a time of commitment to rebuild and restore. But Nehemiah could not rebuild alone. He brought together a whole community. Everyone, including entire families worked together, each building the portion of the wall that was closest to their home.

There were constant distractions - an economic crisis was in progress and many people were starving. Nehemiah encouraged the people to rally around those in need, but they never stopped working on the wall. There were unending threats to progress - Israel’s enemies were not happy to see the walls being built. Again, the community found ways to pull together. They continued to build while defending the city.

Amazingly, the walls were completed in just 52 days - record time. It was almost unthinkable! Their enemies were certain it could not be done and there were days that the people themselves questioned whether it was even possible. But the faithful, combined effort of a community led to unimaginable success.

We can look at this story and believe it’s just that - a story about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. But, it’s so much more. It’s not just about restoring physical walls - it’s about rebuilding the spiritual ruins of our lives. It’s about reclaiming something that was lost, pulling it from the rubble and setting it right again. It’s about reclaiming a hope for the future!

In ancient cities the only real means of protection were the walls. The walls represented strength and defense against the enemy. They were very thick and very high. In our lives, the rebuilding of the walls is a picture of re-establishing strength, restoration to a life in ruins. Do you have a wall that needs rebuilding? Do you feel like you are in exile and in desperate need of restoration? Have the flames of depression, guilt, divorce, joblessness, or physical illness burned down the walls of the place that you once found refuge? You may look at your life and see that your walls are broken down and that your defenses are gone. There is no longer the ability to resist destructive attacks. How can a life in ruins ever be restored?

The first step is concern. Nehemiah surveys the scene and he weeps. He mourns the loss, showing great concern for the city and it’s people. Have you mourned the loss in your life? Have you ever truly grieved the devastation of the hurt you are experiencing? You will never rebuild the walls until you first weep over the ruins.

Second comes confession. Nehemiah’s mourning immediately turns into a prayer of confession. Confession is saying, “there are things that I have done, or things that I failed to do, that have contributed to my life’s ruin”. In some cases, our hurts have been out of our control. But how have we reacted to the suffering? Confession is saying, “I’m sorry for responding in bitterness and anger.”

The next step is commitment. Nehemiah is a man who, out of concern, and after the confession of his heart, commits himself to a building project. We must make a commitment to God and to ourselves to rebuild the walls. Moving forward despite the threats and distractions. Rebuilding takes extreme courage. When we make a commitment to rise up and rebuild, the enemy will rise up and oppose. Satan will do all he can to make it difficult to continue.

Last, but not least is community. Do you really think Nehemiah could have built the walls alone? No way. People were willing to work. Nehemiah set them to work building the part of the wall nearest to them. They worked together as a community. We were not meant to do life alone. We need each other. And yes, we need to make commitments to restore our own devastation, but we also need to make commitments to help rebuild the walls of those closest to us.

Jerusalem remains a symbolic city - used in scriptures as a place God desires to dwell. But as we discover in the New Testament, God’s true desire is to dwell within us - His people. A personal relationship with Him is first and foremost to any restoration project we could ever attempt. You may be in great need of restoration, but it can be done. With the help of a Savior, a great concern, a heart of confession that leads to commitment and the help of a community, a successful rebuilding of your walls can take place. So go, rebuild your portion of the wall - and may God bless your efforts.