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.

Hawaii-DayOne-2014

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. 

Advent, The Beginning…

Here we are again, the beginning of the liturgical year. Have you pulled out your purple? Advent’s liturgical color is purple and we began it this Sunday. Most of what we celebrate as, “The Holidays” are during this time in the Christian calendar, however this time of year is when we usher in the coming of the Christ child, and prepare our hearts, minds, and souls for the second coming of Christ. In churches across the world people began lighting their wreaths, and they began by lighting the candle of peace.

The church I attended this morning used the following passages…

Isaiah 2:1-5 ESV
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.   It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,  and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord , to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord .

Matthew 24:36-44 ESV
“But concerning that day and hour   no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,   nor the Son,  but the Father only.  For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,  and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.  Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

We have this for which to look forward, Christ is coming back. Although we do not know the amount of time that will pass before Christ returns, we can be assured that Christ IS returning. That is the what we use Advent to celebrate and prepare for the return. When we look in the Matthew passage, we are told that the time of the coming of Christ will be like the rest of our days, there will not be any special warning, no tornado alarms, no early warning signals, not even NSA surveillance will be able to alert us to the coming of Christ. Therefore, we need to make ourselves ready, prepare ourselves for the day that Christ returns. We could call this “Christ-coming Preppers” instead of “Doomsday Preppers”. We need to prepare our hearts and minds for Christ, giving ourselves wholly over to holiness.

However, this time will also usher in a period of peace. God will bring peace on Earth. No longer will disputes between nations lead to war, but rather we will work toward producing instead of destroying. This is also part of preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ. Instead of a constant arguing or fighting with our fellow human over our differences, we need to work on finding common ground and a way to discuss our issues in peace. Working on our hearts to finding and cultivating peace in our daily interactions is something we use our lives for during this season of Advent.

So during this season, as we seek to prepare our hearts for Christ’s return, let us seek toward making peace flow from and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
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Maybe I should start with seeking peace with my daughter as her Advent was ushered in with tears and chants for, “mama”.

3:46:00

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This past summer I ran my fastest marathon in three hours, forty-six minutes, and no seconds. Although this time is not terribly fast by the standards of marathon running, although it was much faster than I could imagine I could run a marathon even a year ago. In Jr. High and in High School I was an athlete, but when in college, I realized I didn’t want to pursue athletics any longer, for many reasons that are not important, I quickly lost the athlete within. I covered him up with sloth, with gluttony, with self-destructive habits, and just letting myself go.

In early 2009, I realized that these habits were going to lead to my ultimate demise. I wasn’t going to be around when my son was going to grow up, I wasn’t going to be able to participate and play with him as he got older. At nearly 350 lbs I was on track toward a shortened life span, and maybe not seeing my son grow up. I decided to begin an exercise regiment. This wasn’t huge, I walked slowly on a treadmill for an hour three times a week, and I jumped in a pool and swam once a week. I also learned portion control, one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, no more “Taco Bell Fourth Meal”. In the midst of this first step, I began losing weight, within six months 50 pounds, and 80 lbs were off by Christmas 2009. There was no magic diet, I ate less, and I exercised more.

Have you noticed the pattern? Have you realized my error? I, I, I, I, I, and I. I am taking the credit for all this hard work. Certainly, I did the work, but it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that I was prompted, I merely answered the call. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I was transformed, not only spiritually, but also emotionally and physically. I was broken, and I needed fixing. God took hold of me, and shook me.

This shook me straight into a crazy thought, I should run a marathon! I set my sights on the next LA Marathon. My sister encouraged me to run at least a half-marathon before that, so we ran in the Las Vegas Half in December 2010. I completed that race in just over two hours, and was able to set a goal for the marathon of five hours. I had lost nearly 100 pounds, and felt as if I was ready to take on 26.2 miles. That was 2011, and a legendary rain filled LA Marathon struck. Shortly into the race, my focus shifted from my goal of five hours to finishing the race. Every joint hurt, my legs were tight, and I started counting down the miles or fractions thereof. All the hard work led to pain, and I was barely able to keep my legs going. After 5 hours and 17 minutes, I crossed the finish line, bruised, battered, and barely walking. (As a thank you, the LA Marathon team gave us the opportunity to walk an additional mile so that we could get our gear.)

I accomplished something, I finished the ridiculous distance, and I was not beaten by the weather. I was proud that I accomplished a feat that only a small percentage of people have accomplished, but my feat was not impressive. I was still far from what I could be, and far from what I was before the stench of sloth covered over body. I kept running more and more and my next race was a two hour half marathon later in the year. After that race my daughter was born and the training took a brief hiatus, but when I restarted I set my sights on another marathon, this one the 2012 Santa Clarita Marathon. I followed a strict training regiment and figured I would improve upon the five hour marathon and set my goal to run it in four and a half hours. However, half way into the race I realized that I was in much better shape and was most likely going to beat the goal I set for myself, and I was on pace to run a four hour marathon. I eventually finished the race in just over four hours as I slowed down at mile 24, but this was a huge win for my psyche.

First I worked hard to lose weight, then I worked hard to get myself into better shape, however it was all worthless compared to the riches I have in Christ. However, the way that I have worked on losing weight, and running faster only serve to show that I am constantly being refined and made better by the work of the Holy Spirit moving in my life. So I sit here tonight, having accomplished running a marathon in three hours and forty-six minutes, and having lost more than 150 pounds, but God is still working on me. Not to lose more weight, and maybe not to even run any faster, but God is working to refine me, and make me more into the man that God desires, a man after God’s own heart.

Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Philippi, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 ESV)

God isn’t finished with us. I have a marker and a path I have followed, and although I took the steps toward where I am today, God is the one that worked on me, and has brought me on this path toward holiness and sanctification. I pray that as I continue in this path toward a deeper relationship with God, that I can be faithful to God’s call. Praise be to God.

No Title

Titles are a part of the old self. These are a part of what stays behind on this Earth, but have no place among us that are not of this Earth. So we must be a people without titles.

Colossians 3:11 ESV
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

These are not easy, because we seek to think more highly of ourselves and less of those that are different than us, or those that set their hearts and minds against us. Therefore, we place titles and names that are intended to entrap and ensnare our “enemies” as the other, because we don’t want them to have any place with us.

This, however, sets our minds on the Earth, but earlier in Colossians we are instructed to be people that set our hearts and minds on that which is above, for with Christ we have been transformed by the death of sin upon the cross.

Colossians 3:1-4 ESV
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Is the glory of God shining through in your life? Is our life so obvious that people cannot help but know that we are transformed and people that are renewed. Or do we have things in our life that are less than glorified. Are we perfect? Or do we still have much work to do?

Colossians points out things that we all still have much work to do. Because we are impure, God’s wrath must be satiated, and we must be cleansed. So if we stop looking outward and pointing the finger at those around us, putting down the people that we are against, we need to look at the stuff, the junk, that weighs us down, look deep down within and cleanse the ugliness within, rather than pointing out the ugliness in the other.

Colossians 3:5-10 ESV
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

We are called to shed titles, and instead let the glory of God shine through us. When we allow the scales of our own sin to fall, we no longer will need to point out how someone is different, but rather you will be able to see the fact that those we see as other, or enemy, or different as Christ’s beloved.