The New You, and a New Year

In 2016, we begin a new year, and so many people make resolutions and goals, and so many of them go “unacheived” as my Runkeeper reminded me last night. We try to be better people, but these goals and resolutions are really our trying to make ourselves better. This was clear as I introduced my wife to the Star Wars franchise this week, and as Yoda is training a young Luke Skywalker, he responds to Luke’s whining about trying, by saying, “You either do, or do not, there is no try.” Thus informing us thatwe all need to stop trying to be better people, and just be better people.

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Luke completed his training by controlling his feelings and allowing the force to move through him, but we have a powerful “force” that enables us to be a new creation, in our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. We need to humble ourselves and allow the power of Christ to make us into more than we were.

The Message paraphrases this passage in 2 Corinthians 5 as the following:

Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.

2 Corinthians 5:16-20 MSG

Therefore, the power and force that leads us into becoming more, and bringing peace and hope to the world begins with a step toward Christ. The work that will be done through you is mighty and miraculous and is not about goal setting, but about witnessing the power of God at work within each of us.

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The Magic of Christmas

As kids, many of us grew up, and waited for Santa to come and deliver us gifts under the tree. However, as we got older this mystery has dissipated and become the drudgery of dealing with the chaos that ensues during every holiday season. On social media, we see the obligatory posts about stores putting the Christmas stuff out earlier and earlier each year. All the more seeing our Christmas slip into a commercialized blob at the end of each year.

When we have children, or new little ones enter our lives this spark is renewed, as some of us get to play Santa to our children. However, eventually they too, lose the Spirit and are more concerned about how many gifts they receive and the smiles are harder to come by, because commercialism becomes king in their Christmas.

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The problem we encounter is the fact that we chase those smiles. We want our children to be in awe and believe, and we think the best way to do that is to make sure we make sure those lists are fulfilled. Unfortunately, this would be a never ending process, because each year would be more, and the smiles get smaller, no matter what we try.

Last night, my daughter surprised me, because she showed me that the mystery of Christmas is alive, when she was reading the story about Jesus’ birth to her siblings, and they were all enraptured at the story of God’s perfect gift.

I was reminded that giving is not about chasing smiles, but about reflecting God’s love shown to us in the free gift of GRACE. This reflection is not about chasing, but about loving, and blessing those we encounter. This is the mystery of Grace and the true mystery of Christmas promoting giving freely to those we encounter, and doing so without wanting any credit, but rather giving others the joy that God has given us through the gift of Christ.

Happy New Year

As we say goodbye to another year, I would like to wish everyone a prosperous, blessed, and joy-filled new year. Today we say goodbye, reflect on what the past year has brought us, and looking forward to another year. I am hoping that 2015 will be revolutionary with regards to my personal life, family, work, and our world. 2014 was a year like no other, but that is the case with every year I can remember. Some of us got married, some of us got divorced, some of us had to deal with loss, while others among us celebrated new life, some of us got new jobs, some of us lost jobs, some of us moved into new homes, some of us had no significant change to our life status whatsoever. Whatever happened in 2014, it is a part of our past, and each new day brings us hope of a new future in front of us, and I hope that 2015 helps us recognize that.

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So many of us make resolutions this time of year, but I am burned out on resolution making, because they don’t work for me if they aren’t specific enough, or aren’t detailed in how I am going to go about accomplishing them. If you believe what they say on the news every single year people tend to make resolutions toward getting in shape, (hence the boom in gym memberships at the beginning of the year); losing weight, (the number of weight watchers, nutrisystem, jenny craig commercials has gone up tenfold this week); or improving their money management. In Christian circles, we also see a lot of people wanting to pray more, or read their Bibles more frequently.

At the beginning of the year we are filled with so much hope and vision for a promising new beginning, but as soon as we stumble off the track toward becoming our new selves, we fall back into the same routines. I remember writing this last year, and I write it again this year because I need the refresher course, and I need to embrace not only the pursuit of long term goal setting, but also the grace when I begin to head in the wrong direction, and need to remind myself of the promise and hope that came at the beginning of the year. (Maybe I will set this post to come up on my feed every two weeks as a reminder of what I said as 2014 wrapped up.)

One way I think we can combat the resolution making fatigue is long term goal setting. Last year I set for myself a goal to run 1700 miles, and somewhere in June I realized that training for two marathons was going to take me past that mark in late October, so I revised my goal at that point to 2000 miles. As of my last run of 2014, I have run just over 2015 miles this year. Those type of goals, for me, are easy to realize and track throughout the year. However, I learned in the process of setting this goal that I was too conservative in my goal setting, and realized I needed to adjust midstream. Sometimes, however, our goal setting might be too ambitious and we need to give ourselves enough grace to modify them midstream.

This year I encourage you to set some goals for yourself, and if you need to adjust them at the midpoint, feel free to do so. I am setting some goals for myself and will list them below to give you an idea of my goals for the year.

I want to use 2015 to run 1500 miles, swim 150 miles, and bike 2000 miles.

I want to use 2015 to read 12 novels (10 new, 2 rereads), and 12 non-fiction books.

I want to use 2015 to write 50 blog posts.

I want to use 2015 to write a short book for my kids at Christmas time, and begin work on my first book.

I want to use 2015 to write my wife a love note once a week.

I want to use 2015 to spend at least 15 minutes in quiet solitude each morning before I go exercise.

As you see above three of my goals have measurable statistics that I can easily modify, and three are behavior modifications toward helping me become a better man, husband, and father. Maybe you think I went to far, or maybe you don’t think I am stretching myself enough, but I think this is what it will take to create a revolution in my behavior, and after that I give it to God to actually do the changing in my heart.

With all of that said, I want to wish you all the happiest 2015, and may we all accomplish our goals toward further sanctification in the new year.

The Cult of Stuff

Much of life is filled with stuff. This stuff invades our lives, consuming our time, our money, our energy, and our strength. The stuff tells me that I need more of the stuff, and that in order to get this stuff I need to work harder, consume more of myself, and move further into the cult of stuff.

My interests push me further into this cult. I have tablets, laptops, the latest iPhone, and each of these items make my life easier (I think), but they also cause me to crave another piece of technology. Guess what, in six months to a year, there will be another device that will be better, and I WILL WANT IT, because I have bought into the cult. Every year I think I will finish my desire to get a new device, but every year I want something new. In recent history, an iPad was going to solve everything, next it was going to be a new phone, then a new tablet, then a new camera, then a new computer, then a shiny new iPhone. The craziest part about this, is that many of the items that I NEEDED are either no longer in my possession, or are just sitting in a desk drawer not being used.

Even the things, outside of this cult have been infiltrated by technology. I cannot remember the last run I took without a wire attached to my body telling me if I need to go faster, slower, and filling my head with music, podcasts, all while telling me how far and how long I have run. I love writing and photography, and I believe that these devices essentially will help me do that more, do it better, and do it more efficiently. Maybe technology does make it better, but the amount of time consumed lusting and coveting the new tech probably balances out the efficiency gained.

The evidence that I have bought in shows itself blatantly, as my wife can attest, when I go to church. By church, I mean the Apple Store. I look at their new devices, and I lust after them, I look at the 27″ iMac, and I covet. Further, I entertain the thought of going into debt to bring home the box, THE BOX THAT WILL BE OBSOLETE IN MONTHS!!!  This is pure craziness.

I am reminded that I am so terribly consumed by these things, and I burn so many calories thinking about what I want, and that this takes away from the energy I should be putting into my job, my family, and even more importantly my God. There is hope, because I don’t have to be consumed by this, and I am reminded that I have carved out a space in my heart for tech that rightly belongs to The Almighty, and that I can be redeemed. Tech isn’t everyone’s cult, but so many of us put so much effort and energy into so many other things. The Almighty God offers us peace and freedom from the pull of whatever it is that consumes our energy in ultimate futility.

A Time for Listening

This time of Lent has reminded me and taught me to be a better listener, and made me aware of how I feel when I am not being heard. This time of going without is not merely an attempt to get in tune with the people that God wants us to be, but also allow ourselves to hear the voice of God speaking to us. Tune out the grumblings of our stomach, tune out the entertainment and other items that vie for our attention, and really listen to the voice of God speaking to each one of us in this season.

Not only have I tended toward the corruption of the season by a focus on self, but I listen to my yearnings for the things that keep me from hearing God. Ecclesiastes 3:7 ESV says, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;” I have learned that silence is something I’m bad at, and speaking is something I do to fill that silence. I need to learn to be quiet more, and just simply listen.

Anyone with me?

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Lenten Reflection (Ash Wednesday)

ImageAs we have sprung into the season of Lent on this Ash Wednesday it begins on a different note for me. Usually this is the first day of my fast from my usual luxuries and indulgences, such as fast food, Starbucks, ice cream, soda, and various other fun food items. This “sacrifice” is meant to draw me nearer to God and carve out a space in which to turn my whole self over to the Almighty. However, much of the time this act of giving up my indulgences turns into an act of false piety. I have probably unconsciously decided that I wanted to give those things up to be healthier during the season of Lent, and less about my relationship with God. In fact, I remember a time in college when I was probably close to 300 pounds and I decided that during Holy Week I would fast from all food. Certainly this began with the best intentions, as the fast got hard, my mind was not disciplined to turn to God in prayer, but rather I turned to consuming the “permitted” juices I allowed myself. That fast, just like many I have begun during Lent, became more about the act of fasting than the fact that I need to be clearing out space in my life for God.

While I have seen many Facebook posts and tweets about the various items my circle of friends are giving up for Lent, I thought long and hard about giving up something for Lent. I knew I wasn’t going to do the usual suspects, because that has become the routine that I wish not to repeat, and besides in the past year many of those things do not have the same grip that they once did. If I were to give up food, I would need to replace that food with something nourishing my body. That led me to the biggest drain on my time, television. It has a weird hold on me, not that I just sit in front of the television and zone out, it is mainly on as background noise, but it diminishes the quality time spent with my loved ones and God. Tonight was the first night that we didn’t turn the television on, and instead I danced with my daughter, had a conversation with my wife, read my Bible, and blogged here. By cutting that one beam of distraction out space was carved out for God to move.

God has not called me to give up television. Sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice is empty, and it is a luxury that I am “sacrificing”, and it is vital that I understand that God HAS called me to give my whole heart, my whole mind, my whole strength, and my whole self to worship. Let’s remember that, in this season of Lent and beyond.