Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ready or Not

by Tim Howard

Are you prepared for 2015? Ready or not, it will be here in a few days! Listen to a paraphrase of what the Apostle Paul said as he prepared himself for his future.

I want to know Christ in a very real way. I’m on the right path but haven’t arrived yet – far from it!  There is a goal that I am pressing on to obtain and that goal is to live a lifestyle honoring God. I am focusing on what is ahead and letting go of that which is behind. I encourage all of you to do the same. Philippians 3.

The first thing to consider as you prepare for 2015 is the importance of declaring and verbalizing your desires! If you aim at nothing you will hit it! That’s right: You will hit nothing! Sometimes my wife and I will sit in the car and say: “Where do you want to go? – I don’t know where do you want to go?” “Where do you want to eat? – I don’t know, where do you want to eat”? This goes on until someone breaks the cycle by declaring his or her desire. What do you really want to accomplish in 2015? Speak it out. Write it down. Share it with someone.
Second: Let go of the past. All of us accumulate baggage over the years as we travel on life’s journey. It may come from disappointments and hurts. Maybe we failed miserably and carry memories that bring on depression. Before you know it the pain piles up and we carry a suitcase full of anger, resentment and bitterness. Baggage that needs to be released! Paul recommends that we leave behind those things that will detract us from a bright future. Here are three things you should leave behind as you exit 2014 and enter 2015.   
1. Guilt
There’s always someone around who loves to point out your mistakes, failures inadequacies and sins. They make you feel guilty. When you have received the gift of forgiveness from Jesus through confession of your sins, however, your guilt gives way to God’s goodness and your past gives way to freedom!
2. Grudges
We’ve all been hurt by others but you don’t have to ‘hold a grudge.’ You can let it go. Turn it over to God. They aren’t getting off the hook for what they have done to you – they are simply being turned over to the One who can judge properly. It’s amazing how lighter and brighter you feel when you let a grudge go.
3. Grief
Jesus came to help us with our grief. In this world you will have trouble, the Bible says but Jesus said: “take heart! I have overcome the world.” According to Isaiah the prophet, Jesus came to help us find the gold in the midst of the dirt we find ourselves mired in at times. He can help us praise instead of grieve.
Last of all, to be ready for 2015 you must change your focus. Paul said: I press on – I focus on what is ahead and commit myself to reaching the goal. What is your goal? What do you need to do in order to become a better mom or a better dad in 2015? What do you need to do in order to be a better friend – a better employee? Focus on that and go full steam ahead.
The New Year is full of opportunities and challenges. Ready or not, here it comes!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Unexpected Gift

by Andrew Cromwell

By the time you have experienced 15 or 20 Christmases, you tend to get the hang of things. You know that right after Thanksgiving, all eyes turn towards the Christmas season. The lights go up on the houses, the trees go up inside, the Christmas music invades every available auditory space and the shopping begins. If you are under 12 (or 18 or 65), then you start working on your Christmas list. Christmas is in the air.

Many families have Christmas traditions that lend a special tone to this time of the year. Some make the annual trek to find the perfect tree, others make an evening of trimming the tree or visiting the snow. Some families look forward to attending midnight mass or singing Christmas carols together. These annual events become a treasured part of the season.

There is a certain rhythm to it all, and soon enough we get the hang of it. We know what comes next. And even if Christmas is not our favorite time of the year, it is something that we understand. Something consistent. And something expected.

And that’s a problem.

You see, Christmas is so much a part of our culture and life that we often forget that once upon a time there was no Christmas. And what’s more, the very fact that Christmas happened to begin with was pretty much a shock to everyone. Even our attempts at retelling the story of the angels appearing in the sky at night and the two teenagers trekking to that city in the middle of nowhere looking for a place to have a baby, even these attempts, easily lose that vibrant spark that should always accompany the tale.

That God would send His Son—the Savior of the world, the Messiah and King—to a backwater town in the middle of the night wrapped in rags, bloody and crying, that was a bit of a surprise. That God’s plan for salvation was entrusted to 12 men of questionable character—fishermen (who are known for their tall tales), political zealots (who we all roll our eyes at), and a thief (who Jesus entrusted with the money!)—that was quite a surprise too. And then, just when Jesus was becoming famous, the plan was to have Him executed in the most demeaning way possible—a death reserved for the lowest of criminals.

Not exactly the type of plan we would expect. And that is exactly it. Christmas was unexpected. It was surprising. And it should continue to surprise us today.

That God would love us -- when we didn’t love Him. That God would offer total forgiveness to people who don’t deserve it. That He would give His Son to make a way for us. That should surprise us each and every day.

So, this Christmas, in the midst of all the wonderful tradition, don’t forget the incredible surprise that the Great Mastermind has given to all of us. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wise Men Still Seek Him

by Tim Howard

Several years ago I heard a person say: “Wise Men Still Seek Him.”  That idiom is familiar to many, around Christmas time because it refers to the narrative recorded in Matthew chapter 2. The author documents the time when some wise men were seeking Jesus, shortly after His birth.

These wise men had an encounter with King Herod regarding the birth of a new king and the conversation didn’t go well. It caused fear in the king’ heart and through deception he pretended to rejoice, while in reality – he was threatened. His intent was to kill this new king – so he sent these wise men off to find Jesus and instructed them to notify him once the task had been accomplished. 

Matt. 2:9-11 “Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.”

King Herod wanted nothing to do with Jesus. He was intimidated – full of fear and we all know – what we fear – we tend to kill. This is not just history – there are those, currently in our society who have the same heart and desire as this king. The wise men, however, were filled with joy, worshipped Him and brought gifts. Two polar responses!

Wise people follow in the footsteps of the wise men. They choose to worship God! It’s the beginning of wisdom and understanding according to Solomon.

Wise people worship God and reveal their love through actions and gifts. Who loves someone and doesn’t shower him or her with gifts? It’s not possible to love without giving! You may give and not love but you can’t love and not give. Love is synonyms with giving. 

God’s love is revealed in His giving and our love for Him is revealed in our worship. Two verses of Scripture come to mind as I think about Christmas and the coming of Christ.

 John 3:16 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. 

John 3:17 God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” MSG

Jesus didn’t come to take something from you. He came to give you a gift! A gift of grace! He wants you to know you have found favor with Him. That is grace! And with grace comes forgiveness and with forgiveness comes acceptance and with acceptance comes restoration and with restoration comes times of refreshing…

I don’t know about you but I love receiving gifts and these are worth the price. Especially since they are free and at no expense to you. 
Jesus paid for them! He was born; He lived, died and rose again. Why? To give you the gift of Eternal life! I understand why wise people seek Him.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Do Christmas Different

by Andrew Cromwell

‘Tis the season! If you haven’t noticed, we are in the throes of the most anticipated time of the year. It also can lead to the most dreaded time of the year. No, I’m not talking about the Christmas season; I’m talking about the spending season.

The spending season is anticipated by all of our friendly retailers who have made it a point to offer us “the best discounts of the year” so that we can buy, buy, buy. It is also anticipated by those of us who love to shop, particularly those who love to spave (that’s short for spend to save). 

Right now all of the stores are full of people busy purchasing gifts for friends and family. And, let’s face it, gifts for ourselves — because who can resist the best sales of the year and who knows better what you need, than you?

So many of us drink the kool-aid and with eyes glazed over (from the shopping, not from the spiked eggnog), we frantically swipe our little pieces of plastic (or press our little thumbs to our spiffy new iphones) as we sip our Starbucks (five-bucks) until we collapse in exhaustion. 

The problem is that all this joyful spending leads to the most dreaded time of the year. The dread comes when that little envelope arrives in the mail in January listing all of our purchases. We are reminded that all good things must come to an end, and that everyone pays the tax man, or in this case, the credit card man (or woman). And as we read through the thickest bill of the year, we wonder if it was all worth it.

This Christmas, I want to challenge you to be different. Trade in that dreaded January ritual for a change. Choose not to get caught up in the shopping frenzy, because very few of us really need more stuff after all.

Here are a few ideas that might help you during this season:

First, don’t look at the ads. I mean it. Just don’t look at them. If they come in the paper, throw them away (or burn them if you’re a pyro like me). If they arrive in the mail, put them in the round bin. If they pop-up on your computer, smash it. Ok, don’t smash it, but have you ever considered getting a pop-up blocker? Don’t watch the commercials on TV. This step is based on the simple truth, out of sight, out of mind. You can help curb your appetite for spending by trimming your advertising intake.

Second, shorten your lists. I’m serious. Cut your gift list in half. So what if you don’t get little Jimmy 10 gifts and instead only get him 5? And really, what is going to happen if you drop Great Uncle Nate from your list altogether? This by itself will cut down on your spending and your stress. And if you feel really badly about it, just write them a note that says, “I’m spending less this Christmas so my gift this year is to simply say you matter to me and I love you. Merry Christmas!” 

Third, set a budget for your spending. I know this is unheard of, because most of us consider the budget to be the credit limit on our card. We just keep spending until the card stops working. But here’s a novel idea. Choose how much money you can actually afford to spend on Christmas gifts and ONLY spend that much. 

This Christmas, do things differently! Instead of shopping, spend time with your family playing board games or driving up to the snow for the day. You just might discover that this season really is special.