The Hope of Christmas

ChristmasHope.lgI love all the Christmas specials that come on about this time of the year… A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Christmas Vacation, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, and of course, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Each of these Christmas shows have one thing in common. People, or grinches, lose hope. Then by the end of the movie, they get hope back. I suppose hope is one common theme of Christmas.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey has lost his hope and wants to kill himself. I think many people are just like him. For many, financial problems, family dynamics, fractured relationships, personal problems, or some other disaster has brought them to a place of hopelessness.

But Christmas brings us hope. Jesus’ birth reminds us that God is a God of hope. Christmas is a good time for hope.

birth-of-jesusChristmas reminds us that…

God shows up (the incarnation)

In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul tells us that “in the fullness of time” Jesus was born. In other words, at just the right time, God sent His Son as the answer to our primary problem, sin. God’s timing is always right. We may not understand God’s timing in our life, but we can have hope that He is never too late or too early.

Do you remember the movie, Karate Kid. It’s the story of a boy who was bullied by some martial arts kids. So, he asked an older neighbor, Mr. Miagi, to teach him some karate lessons. But every day when he arrived at his house, Mr Miagi had him wax his car, or sand the deck floor, or paint the house. The boy was frustrated that he wasn’t learning karate. Then Mr. Miagi began to attack him and the boy instinctively used some of the moves he had been practicing to defend himself. He had unknowingly been learning karate moves.

I think God sometimes does that to us. He brings situations into our lives that we do not understand. They can be difficult and frustrating and we wonder why God doesn’t do something. But may not be until later in life that we understand God’s timing.

Wait on God. His timing is perfect.

Angels-announcing-Christs-birthChristmas reminds us that…

God speaks up (the angelic announcement)

In Luke 2:8-11, God had an angel announce the birth of Jesus to some shepherds. God communicated with man. This wasn’t the only communication that first Christmas. God communicated to Mary, Joseph, even Zachariah (Jesus’ uncle). We can have hope at Christmas because God wants to communicate to us.

Words are powerful. The right words at the right time can give us hope for the future.

Actress Marlo Thomas wanted to change her name so she wouldn’t be compared to her famous dad, Danny Thomas. But her dad sat her down and said, “”I raised you to be a thoroughbred. When thoroughbreds run they wear blinders to keep their eyes focused straight ahead with no distractions, no other horses. They hear the crowd but they don’t listen. They just run their own race. That’s what you have to do. Don’t listen to anyone comparing you to me or to anyone else. You just run your own race.” In her book, The Right Words at the Right Time, she says that those words helped her have a very successful acting career – “Run your own race, Baby”

But you might think that God doesn’t talk to people today. I won’t get into those who claim to hear the audible voice of God, but I think God does still communicate with us. He communicates through the Bible. He also calls people into speaking ministries, like pastors, teachers, and evangelists. He also speaks to our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Take the time to listen to God. The more you are quiet the more you can hear.

timthumbChristmas reminds us that…

God offers Himself up – the purpose of Jesus’ coming (death)

Why did Jesus come to earth? Why was He born in a manger?

Matthew 20:28 tells us that He came to “give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus came to pay for our sins. Jesus was born to die. He willingly gave His life so that you might have eternal life.

How can Jesus’ death pay for our sins?

Suppose your father were a judge. Then suppose you were caught speeding at 100 mph. For sake of illustration, let’s suppose the officer brought you before your father. I would think that you might be happy and sad. Happy because your dad loves you and might let you off. Sad because your dad is a good judge and he won’t let you get away with it.

So the judge, your dad, asks how you plead. You know you were wrong so you plead guilty. Then your father reads the sentence: “I fine you $500 for excessive speeding.” You didn’t get away with it. But then the dad does something unexpected. He comes down from the judges bench, pulls out his checkbook, and writes out a check for $500 and hands it to you. He has pronounced you guilty, given you the appropriate sentence, and now is willing to pay your penalty. Do you accept it?

That is what God has done for you. You are guilty. Your penalty is death, eternal death. So Jesus came and paid for your penalty. On the cross, He took the full judgment of sin for all mankind. Now it is offered to you. Do you accept it?

Because Jesus came to die for us we can have eternal hope. We will all die, but we must all decide where we will go after we die. Because of Jesus we can have eternal life in Heaven if we receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That is an amazing hope at Christmas.

You can read my other Christmas articles: How to Celebrate Christmas, Breaking Christmas Chains, Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, Are you a Grinch?, Learning from the Shepherds at Christmas

 

Thoughts on Thanksgiving Day – Principles of Gratitude

thanksgiving-snoopyThis is going out on Thanksgiving Day 2016. As I think about all that happens today – food, football, shopping – I hope you will take time to say ‘Thank You’ to God.

In an earlier post, The Attitude of Gratitude, I talked about the story of one leper who who came to thank Jesus for cleansing him. You can read this story in Luke 17:11-19. Ten were cleansed, but only one came to thank Jesus.

As I have read this story over and over again, I discover a few principles about the attitude of gratitude….

Gratitude is the proper response to God’s blessing 

This grateful leper recognized that he had received a tremendous gift. Leprosy had changed his life into a hopeless situation. It had affected his body, his relationships, and his soul. But Jesus brought hope back into his life. He was changed; he would never be the same again, and He had to say thanks.

The others were cleansed. But in the excitement of their new health, they forgot their former condition, their cries for help, and the miraculous response of Jesus. It is so easy for us to forget all the good things that happen to us. In the excitement of God’s blessings, we often forget where they came from. Or maybe we become accustomed to the blessings and the thrill has lessened. We neglect to thank God for common blessings.

Being thankful is a courteous and appropriate response to a kind deed or action. We teach our children to say ‘Thank You.’ Though it should be, gratitude is not an automatic response. Jesus never solicited a grateful response. He didn’t tell any of them to come back and thank Him. They all should have, but He did not require it. Gratitude is a voluntary response from a heart that recognizes God’s blessings and desires to place the attention where it should be – at the feet of Jesus.

Gratitude compels humble action 

This grateful leper recognized that He had received a great gift and his action reflected the magnitude of the gift. He did not simply receive a nice gift. Because he had been radically improved, he responded with radical gratitude at the feet of Jesus. Falling at someone’s feet is a picture of submission and worship. He soiled the very flesh that had just been made clean by falling before the Savior. The voice that cried for healing now rose with a loud cry in gratitude.

I don’t know what motivated the grateful leper to move and the others to stay away. But I know his movement reflected his recognition of the miracle. Our gratitude reflects our deep understanding of the work God has done in our hearts. Jesus taught in another instance that the more we are forgiven, the more we respond in love (Luke 7:47). We all need forgiveness, but most of us don’t recognize our sinfulness enough to be truly grateful. Too often we feel like we somehow deserve the blessings. The measure of our gratitude reveals the measure of our humility.

Most of us would never say we are not grateful for what God has done for us. But often we are like the Pharisee, who was simply grateful that he wasn’t like the publican (Luke 18:9-14). But it was the publican who, like this leper, bowed in humility and was made whole (justified). It is when we think we deserve God’s blessings that we become less grateful. As we remain humble, we will be motivated to express our gratitude more.

Gratitude is a rare attitude

Ten people were touched with God’s power, but only one returned to give Him thanks. Nine were content to receive a blessing, but only one cared enough to return to the source of the blessing. How could anyone not feel thankful after being healed like this? But only one returned to Jesus to say thanks.

If this story is any indication of human nature, only about 10% of us express our gratitude. To make it personal, we probably miss nine out of ten opportunities to be grateful. I’m sure the other nine were grateful, but they failed to express it. I believe Jesus is still saddened by how few of us actually express thanksgiving to Him.

In studying this story, I discovered a slight variation in the meaning of grateful and thanksgiving. We often use them interchangeably, but there is a difference. Grateful is an attitude. Thanksgiving is the action in response to a grateful attitude. This story teaches that we need both. One without the other isn’t complete. Being grateful without expressing thanks is just rude. Expressing thanks without being truly grateful is hypocritical.

Gratitude is an evidence of a deep work of God

Ten were cleansed but only one heard the words, “Your faith has made you whole.” Expressing gratitude lets us know we are on the right path to wholeness. Humble faith combined with heartfelt gratitude is a combination that will truly bring God’s best into our lives.

The other nine were no longer leprous, but they were still sick at heart. It was his display of humility, dependence, and appreciation for Jesus’ goodness that brought this grateful leper to the feet of Jesus. It was an act of worship. He did not just want God’s blessings and miracles, He wanted a personal relationship with Jesus. He wanted to be close to the One who was so kind to him.

When we really understand what God has done for us in saving our soul, it results in a desire to be close to Him and perform grateful acts of service. When gratitude is part of our life, it changes our attitudes, our relationships, and our actions.

Like leprosy, sin is a deadly problem only Jesus can fix. Like these men, to be cleansed from our sin begins with admitting our need and crying out to Jesus. As we realize the great miracle He has done for us, our proper response is gratitude. As Paul encourages us, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

So how can we cultivate an attitude of gratitude?

The supreme way to show gratitude for all you have been given is to humble yourself before God, admit your sinful condition, and beg for forgiveness. Jesus is the perfect Gentleman and will never force you to follow Him. He loves you so much and wants to have a relationship with you. Turn to Him today.

If you have surrendered all you are to Him, I hope you realize the tremendous blessings you have been given. Like the Johnson Oatman hymn reminds us, “Count your many blessings. Name them one by one.” Maybe if we spent more time being thankful for what we have, we will have more to be thankful for.

To practice the attitude of gratitude, try one of ten ideas:

  1. Practice thanking God for every circumstance.
  2. Be grateful for little things.
  3. Say ‘Thank You’ more.
  4. Consider what you possess rather than what you lack.
  5. Hang out more with grateful people.
  6. Every day tell someone why you appreciate them.
  7. Do not let pride stand in the way of thanking God and others.
  8. Begin your day by listing 5 things in which you are thankful.
  9. End your day by thanking God for 3 things that happened to you.
  10. Keep a Gratitude Journal.

You can read some other articles about gratitude: The Attitude of Gratitude, The REAL first Thanksgiving.

The Power of Thank You

Thank YouAs a child most of us were taught to say ‘Thank You.’ Even as an adult, we find it common courtesy to express gratitude toward others. But did you know that showing gratitude and extending an honest ‘Thank You’ will work wonders in your life.

But it takes effort to have gratitude. The hardest arithmetic to master is to count our blessings.

Here’s an example of what I mean by the power of Thank You….

A Scientific Study of Thank You

University of Miami professor, Michael McCullough & University of California professor, Robert Emmons took three groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on one of three things for a week: hassles, things for which they were grateful, or ordinary life events. Group A focused on everything that went wrong or was irritating, such as “The battery was dead on my car” or “That jerk cut me off on the highway.” Group B volunteers honed in on situations that they felt enhanced their lives, e.g., “My boyfriend is so kind and caring; I am lucky to have him” or “That was the most spectacular sunrise; I’m glad I got up early.” Group C just remembered events: “I cleaned my closet,” or “I went shoe shopping.” Participants were asked to list five examples in their respective categories and then quantify how they felt about what they’d listed: irritated, ashamed, stressed, joyful, grateful, forgiving, calm, proud, etc. They were also asked specific lifestyle questions: How much time do you spend exercising? What physical symptoms do you experience—are you sick, suffering from allergies? Do you feel particularly energetic? If they had received assistance from someone, participants were asked how they felt about it: grateful? annoyed? embarrassed? appreciated? Finally, they were asked how they felt overall, both as they looked back at the past week and as they looked forward to the week ahead. The people who focused on gratitude were just flat-out happier. They saw their lives in favorable terms. They reported fewer negative physical symptoms, such as headaches or colds, and they were active in ways that were good for them: they spent almost an hour and a half more per week exercising than the people who focused on their hassles. In addition, those who’d been on the receiving end of someone else’s kindness rated higher in joy and happiness than the others. In short, those who focused on what they were grateful for felt a higher level of gratitude. Life just seemed better for them.

What Thank You can do for you

Here’s a laundry list of the study’s conclusions about test subjects who were consciously grateful: 

  1. They felt better about their lives as a whole. 
  2. They were more optimistic. Better resilience during tough time
  3. They were more energetic. 
  4. They were more enthusiastic. 
  5. They were more determined. 
  6. They were more interested. 
  7. They were more joyful. 
  8. They felt stronger about handling challenges. 
  9. They exercised more (nearly an hour and a half more per week!). 
  10. They had fewer illnesses. Higher immune response
  11. They got more sleep. 
  12. They made progress toward important personal goals. 
  13. They were more likely to have helped someone else. 
  14. They were perceived by others as more generous and helpful. 
  15. They were less envious of those with more possessions. 
  16. They were less cluttered. 
  17. Clearer thinking—more creativity and openness to ideas
  18. Less likelihood of being plagued by stress


In one study, waitresses who simply wrote “thank you” on the check before handing it to their customers received on average 11 percent more in tips than those who didn’t.

Jesus and Thank You

This all confirms what we already know from the Bible. An event in Jesus’ life illustrates this. Ten men were cleansed of leprosy. But only one came to tell Jesus ‘Thank You.’ And he was the only one Jesus said was ‘whole.’ You can read this story in Luke 17:11-19.

I discovered in this story four reasons why just saying ‘Thank You‘ is so powerful…

1 – Thank You shifts the focus. Negative to positive. It forces your focus onto what went right today, versus the inevitable things that went wrong. 

2 – Thank You connects to power. It reminds you of the interconnectedness of life. In today’s fast-paced world, one can literally go for days without human contact, thanks to ATM machines, which allow us to avoid the bank teller; Internet grocery shopping, which keeps us from standing in line; Web-based bill paying, which helps us avoid the post office; and e-mail, which allows us to connect with people without actually having to talk to them. But though eliminating the human element may make transactions go more smoothly, it also eliminates the rich, emotional aspect of living. This exercise reminds you how much others add to the quality of your life. 

3 – Thank You focuses on reality. What could have happened to what did happen. It brings you into the present—no more of the woulda-coulda- shoulda looking at life but rather a positive, concrete look at your life as it is. 

4 – Thank You moves think to do.

5 – Thank You makes you better. Most of life is a mental game. When you think you are a loser, you lose. When you think you are a winner, you will eventually win. You become as you think. Human nature tells us that good things should happen to good people. If the good things on your daily list happened to you, it goes without saying that God was good to you.  

I hope you will discover the power of ‘Thank You.’ Have you experienced this life transforming principle? Share your experience.

“One key piece of gratitude is that it basically has the potential to change everything from its ordinary state to being a gift. Once you see it as a gift, it changes the emotional connection to it.”

You can read another article about gratitude: The Attitude of Gratitude

The Attitude of Gratitude

The_First_Thanksgiving_cph.3g04961In September, I attended the national meeting of the Baptist Bible Fellowship in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was on Cape Cod that the Pilgrim’s first landed in 1620. Several of us went north to view Plymouth Rock, the Mayflower 2, and Burial Hill. Those Pilgrim’s who landed almost 400 years ago knew nothing of the affluent American lifestyle we enjoy today. More than half of the original settlers died that first harsh New England winter. Following a successful agricultural season, aided by Squanto and other Native Americans, the Pilgrims shared a harvest feast in gratitude for all God had done for them.

While the Pilgrims did not have much, they possessed gratitude. Since then, gratitude to God has been a part of the American culture; it is the very thing that built America.

Of all our attitudes, gratitude is the most central. Cicero once said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all others.” There is nothing more toxic than a negative attitude. And there is nothing that compares with the value of a humility that allows us to be truly grateful for everything that we have.

The Bible encourages gratitude…

“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)

“Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:” (Psalm 50:14)

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6)

One Grateful Leper

One of my favorite stories in the Bible about being thankful is in Luke 17:11-19. As Jesus traveled with His disciples through Samaria toward Jerusalem and the cross, He met a small group of ten lepers. This must have been an interesting encounter. I can imagine the awkward silence between disciples and lepers. Jesus had healed lepers before. Would He do it again? Could He do it for ten?

As the lepers cried, “Have mercy on us.” Jesus directed them to go to see the priest. As they left, I expect they were a little disappointed. They finally met Jesus the Miracle Worker and left exactly as they came. Nothing changed. Jesus may have been their last hope. If He couldn’t help them, they were doomed with a life of sickness and isolation.

But as they went, something miraculous happened to them. They were cleansed. I’m sure they were so excited that they ran to tell their family and friends and share the good news. Then we pick up the Bible story about one of the lepers…

“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Luke 17:15-19)

One man turned around and went back to Jesus, falling before His feet and thanking Him. Jesus was pleased with his actions, but He seems to be grieved at the absence of the other nine. Weren’t they cleansed as well? Why did only one return to thank Him?

I don’t know what happened to 90% of the group. Perhaps they journeyed on to show themselves to the priest in obedience to the instruction of Jesus. Maybe they ran back to their families. One of them could have said, ‘I want to see if this really lasts.’ But from Jesus’ response, only one of them did the right thing. He wasn’t content to see the priest. He wanted to see Jesus. Overcome with gratitude, he paused to turn around and offer thanks.

I hope today that you will be one of the few. Even if most others do not, be the one who says ‘Thank You.’

You can read my other articles about gratitude: An Extravagant Act of Love, The REAL first Thanksgiving, Life Lessons from a Bag of Skittles.

My Response to Anti-Trump Protests

urlDump Trump! That’s what protesters are screaming after Hillary Clinton lost the recent Presidential election. In many cases it has turned violent… property damaged, businesses vandalized, and objects thrown at law enforcement.

It grieves me to see our country divided. Blame is thrown around against everyone involved. I understand the anger that occurs when you don’t get what you want. Especially when you feel you have been treated wrongly or unfairly. But in society as in a family, an angry response never solves a problem. It only creates more problems and makes the situation worse, hurting relationships that often never mend.

This is not the first time that a segment of American society has objected to the decisions of government or governmental leaders. The Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Watergate, Gay Rights, Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street and others have occurred in my lifetime. It appears that freedom of speech is part of the fabric of American society.

Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTS_5As I said, this is not the first time people have tried to change policy in America. We can take a lesson from history. Maybe we should go back and see how Martin Luther King, Jr. reacted to mistreatment.

On Dec. 1, 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This caused great concern among African Americans. The next day, several people met at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and formed the Montgomery Improvement Association. They decided to have a one day boycott on Dec. 5 and elected the pastor, Martin Luther King Jr, as the president. The boycott ended up lasted several weeks.

On January 27, 1956 King received a phone call at his home and heard this threat: “Listen N—–, we are tired of you and your mess. If you aren’t out of this town in 3 days, we’re gonna blow your brains out and blow up your house.”

King stayed up late into the night struggling with what he should do. He recalled later that he got a sense of the presence of Jesus that encouraged him. He felt that Jesus was telling him to ‘stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. I will be with you even to the end of the world.’ He was encouraged to continue his good work. And he did.

Three days later (Jan. 30), as King was speaking at another church, he got a message that his house had been bombed. Somebody had placed a bomb under his front porch, and the front of his house was demolished. Fortunately, his wife and 11 week old daughter, Yolanda, were in the back at the time.

King immediately went to his home and as he neared he passed a crowd of over 300 angry black men with guns and knives. They were facing a group of white armed policemen. The situation was nearing the boiling point. King went into the house to make sure his wife and daughter were okay. Then he went out on the porch and spoke to the crowd.

“Don’t get panicky.  Don’t do anything panicky.  Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home.  He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.  Remember that is what Jesus said.  We are not advocating violence.  We want to love our enemies.  I want you to love our enemies.  Be good to them. This is what we must live by.  We must meet hate with love.”

After hearing this, the crowd was calmed and eventually left peaceably.

This gentle response to violence is what made the civil rights movement so successful. Whatever you think of Martin Luther King’s morals, politics, or religion, you can at least be thankful that he is one black man who was gentle.

My prayer is that somehow all involved in our current national turmoil will respond to one another with gentleness. I also hope that you will become more gentle in your dealings with anyone to whom you have conflict.

What do you think about the protests? Are they appropriate? Or is there a better method to display disagreement?

You can read some of my other cards about gentleness: Happy are the Gentle, The Day Jesus Got Mad, Beyond Baseball – Jackie Robinson Day.

 

Do you have JOY down in your heart?

child laughingRemember the children’s song, ‘I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart’? It always brought a smile when someone would shout, ‘Where?’. The answer repeated ‘down in my heart.’

What happened to that joy as we grew older? Why do many adult Christians not embody that song? Why do most churches resemble funerals rather than celebrations? Why don’t we have joy down in our heart?

There was once a young boy who went to spend the week with his grandfather on the farm. While walking around he noticed the chickens, they were scratching and playing around. The little lad said, “They ain’t got it”. Next he saw a colt in the field playing and kicking up its heel’s to which he replied, “He ain’t got it”. After examining all of the animals on his grandfather’s farm and see that none of them had “it”, this boy finally found the old donkey in the barn. When he saw the donkey’s long, frowning face and the way that the donkey just stood there he screamed for his grandfather to come quick. “I found it, I found it” the boy kept yelling. When his grandfather asked what he had found he said, “Pawpaw, I found an animal that has the same kind of religion that you have.”

This story is true of too many Christians. Joy is the attitude that despite my circumstances, I feel inner contentment and understand my purpose in life. A joyful person is one who is becoming a person of inner contentment and purpose in spite of the circumstances.

Jesus told His disciples to have joy in their life. He said….

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11

In this passage, I discovered three principles about joy…

1 – Jesus had joy and wants to share that joy with us.Jesus laughing

Evidently Jesus had joy that was contagious. His disciples must have had joy. But Jesus preparing His followers for His death, so He wanted the joy to continue in His absence. Now that He is absent, He still wants His joy to be in us.

I love being around happy Christians. It’s exciting to be with someone who lightens the room. I think Jesus was this kind of person.

C. S. Lewis once said there is too much solemnity and intensity in dealing with sacred matters. He reminds us that joy is more than happiness. Joy is the enjoyment of God and the good things that come from the hand of God. He said it’s like our life in Christ is a piece of angel food cake and joy is the frosting. The Bible gives us the wonderful words of life but joy supplies the music. The way to Heaven is a narrow, steep climb but joy puts us in the chair lift.

So give yourself permission to smile and laugh. I’m sure Jesus did.

2 – Joy results when we follow a specific pattern.girls laughing

If you read closely, you will notice that Jesus says that an understanding of what He just said will result in joy. A brief reading of John 15:1-10 reveals several key words: Abide, Fruitful, Love, and Obedience. When you do these things, they will bring joy into your life. Joy is not something spontaneous. Joy is the result of certain actions.

Joy is the inevitable outcome of living the normal Christian life. Actually, the lack of joy reveals that something is wrong.

“If you have no joy in your religion, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” – Billy Sunday

Bruce Larson said: ‘Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God. The bottom line for you and me is simply this: grimness is not a Christian virtue. There are no sad saints. If God really is the center ozone’s life and being, joy is inevitable. If we have no joy, we have missed the heart of the Good News and our bodies as much as our souls will suffer the consequences.”

This whole process starts out the key word ‘abide.’Jesus encouraged His disciples to abide with Him. ‘Abide’ is simply to spend time with Jesus. For us, this involves personal prayer and Bible reading. So spend time every day with Jesus and you will discover a life of joy.

3 – Joy is powerful enough to conquer every circumstance.man laughing

Jesus’ joy is full and complete. It has no holes. It is sufficient for every circumstance. It overcomes each crisis. Jesus’ joy was not deterred by suffering or any other circumstance. In fact, it rejoiced even in hardship; for we read that “for the joy that was before him He endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Where did Jesus find joy? The answer is in His intense desire to do the full will of His Father. “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heat is glad, and my glory rejoiceth” (Ps. 16:8,9).

Norman Vincent Peale once visited a friend in the hospital. He had previously had one leg amputated and now he had lost his other one. Nevertheless, he seemed happy and enthusiastic. “Everyone tells me you are the happiest person in the hospital,” he said. “You are not putting it on, are you?” The man replied, “No, no, I am as happy as can be. Do you see that little book lying over there on the table?” the man replied, pointing to the Bible. “There is where I get my medicine. When I feel a little low, I just read that Book.”

Joy is possible. When you have Jesus, you have the source of joy. Joy is expected for Christians. Joy will show to others that Jesus is Lord of your life.

Charles Spurgeon, a famous English pastor once said to other pastors, “When you speak of heaven, you should let your face become bright, happy, alive! But when you speak of hell, well… your ordinary face will do.” 

“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)

What brings you joy? What do you do when you notice your joy is getting low?

You can read some of my similar posts: How to get up when you’re down, How to stop worry,

How to be like Walt Disney

Walt DisneyI recently read a great book, How to be like Walt. It was co-written by Pat Williams, NBA General Manager of the Orlando Magic. He conducted over 1,000 interviews and is one of the foremost experts on the life of Walt Disney.

In this book, I was taken on a journey through the life of Walt Disney. He has a fascinating story that began in rural Missouri. Through all the pitfalls and setbacks, he became one of the iconic entertainment leaders in world history.

I learned about his dreams and struggles as a young boy in Kansas City. I was encouraged about his early mistakes and missteps. Walt’s vision and tenacity should be admired by all who want to change their world.

There is no way I can recap the entire book. But the book lists 16 lessons that we can all learn from various stages of Walt Disney’s life. Every one of these had vivid illustrations from his life experience.

I’m not sure if Walt was a Christian. But I do know that he had a biblical heritage and spiritual foundations. Many of his generation kept their Christianity private. But I discovered a quote he gave…

“A prayer, it seems to me, implies a promise as well as a request; at the highest level, prayer not only is a supplication for strength and guidance, but also becomes an affirmation of life and thus a reverent praise of God.” – Walt Disney

So, here are 16 lessons from the life of Walt Disney…

•    Lesson 1:  Live the Adventure
•    Lesson 2:  Be a Salesman
•    Lesson 3:  Dare to do the Impossible
•    Lesson 4:  Unleash Your Imagination
•    Lesson 5:  Become an Animated Leader
•    Lesson 6:  Take a Risk
•    Lesson 7:  Deal with Loss
•    Lesson 8:  Plus Every Experience
•    Lesson 9:  Be a Person of Stick-To-It-Ivity
•    Lesson 10: Be a Sponge for Ideas
•    Lesson 11: Ask Yourself – “How About Tomorrow”
•    Lesson 12: Live for the Next Generation
•    Lesson 13: Build Complementary Partnerships
•    Lesson 14: Stay Focused
•    Lesson 15: Accept Your Mortality
•    Lesson 16: Make Family Your Top Priority

You can read some of my other posts about life lessons from others: Life Lessons from the Wizard of Oz, Life Lessons from a Bag of Skittles, Life Lessons from Charlie Brown Christmas, Life Lessons from my First Marathon, Life Lessons I learned from Soccer.

The Ultimate Choice

boy with ice creamLife is made up of many decisions. Some are simple. But even simple decisions can be difficult. Like what flavor of ice cream do you want. Two children asked the lady at the ice cream counter why they only had chocolate and vanilla ice cream. She said, “If you knew how long it took people just to make up their mind from these two, you wouldn’t want any more choices.”

It is said that on top of a hill in a Midwestern state stands a courthouse so situated that raindrops falling on one side of the roof travel by way of the Great Lakes into the Atlantic, while drops landing on the opposite side find their way through the Ohio River and the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. Just a breath of wind one way or the other may determine whether a single raindrop will end up either in the Gulf or in the Atlantic.

Even so, one single decision is enough to determine a person’s life and even eternal destination. At the end of the greatest sermon ever given, Jesus asked His listeners to make a decision. This is life’s ultimate choice. Jesus is drawing a line in the life of His listeners and saying, ‘Will you cross this line and make the decision to follow Me?’

Jesus uses four illustrations to show what this eternal decision actually means. Each illustration presents a choice, a consideration as you make that choice, and a criticism about that choice.

What road will you travel on? (Matthew 7:13-14)

  • The Choice: Will you take the wide or narrow road of life? There are only two roads to choose – one seems easy, the other hard. They are entered by only two gates – one is wide, the other narrow.
  • The Consideration: Most people choose the wide road. Each way is traveled by only two groups – many and few.
  • The Criticism: Don’t all roads lead to Heaven? No. Each road ends at only two opposite destinations – destruction and life.

What prophet will you listen to? (Matthew 7:15-20)

  • The Choice: Will you listen to the true prophet or the false prophet? 
  • The Consideration: You can tell false from true messengers, not by their words, but by their life.
  • The Criticism: Aren’t all ministers God’s messengers? No. False prophets disguise themselves as God’s messengers.

What destination are you moving toward? (Matthew 7:21-23)

  • The Choice: There are only two final destinations, Heaven or Hell.
  • The Consideration: Not everyone who does good deeds is going to Heaven. Good works are not required for Heaven.
  • The Criticism: Aren’t all good people go to Heaven? No. Only a relationship with Jesus will get a person to Heaven (John 14:6). 

What foundation are you building your life on? (Matthew 7:24-29)

  • The Choice: There are only two two foundations to build you life, sand or rock.
  • The Consideration: We must not only hear, we must obey. To obey God is to believe in Jesus.
  • The Criticism: Does it really matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere? Yes it matters. You can be sincerely wrong. Are you building your life on Jesus, the rock?

The Devil would like you to think that you are okay as long as you are doing some good things. He would have you believe that God would never send a good person to Hell. But he wants to deceive you until it is too late. Make the right choice today.

Following their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers telegrammed their family and told them all about it. They informed them that they would be home in time for the holidays. Their family reported all this to the local newspaper. The following week the article was entitled, “Local bicycle merchants will be home for the Holidays.” The newspaper editor thought what was newsworthy was the boys were coming home. But what has been remembered is the short air flight. That is similar to the thinking of many good people today. They are concerned about their good works. But God is looking at the one area of obedience: Turning to Christ for salvation.

You can read my other Sermon on the Mount articles: Life Redefined: Sermons from The Sermon on the Mount.

How to conquer fear

scary monsterHalloween is the time we love to scare others. When I was a teenager, we loved to go to the local haunted house and get scared. There’s something funny, and maybe a little weird, about scaring somebody else. But in reality, fear is not funny at all.

Fear can be destructive in your life. Fear stops us from progressing. Fear prevents us from succeeding. Fear pulls us back into a hole of failure. It was fear that kept the ‘Cowardly Lion’ from becoming what he was created to be – the king of the jungle.

But there really are some things in life that are fearful. Cancer, financial disasters, war, pain, hurts all bring on a certain fear. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is acting in spite of our fear.

In Bill Hybels’ book, Simplify, he presents 3 weapons against fear. If there is something in your life that has paralyzed you, I hope these will help you conquer your fear.

Self-Talk. At first this sounded kind of ‘new age’ or too much ‘self-help.’ But as it is explained, I do this all the time. We all talk to ourself. We just need to make sure we are telling ourselves the truth. When I’m afraid, I need to remind myself that I’m going to be okay. This event did not surprise God and He knows how it will all end. God’s not afraid so I’m going to be okay. Fear tends to maximize what might happen bad. I need to remind myself that the ‘worst-case scenario’ is seldom what happens. 

For example, when I am high on a ladder and get a little scared that I might fall, I need to remind myself that this ladder can hold me. Most people don’t fall. I’ve never fallen off a tall ladder. And this time I’m not going to fall. To manage fear we need to stop exaggerating what might happen and push back the panicky feelings we naturally get. Boldly remind yourself the truth of the situation, your own abilities to handle it, and God’s willingness to help you. It will help you regain your balance, both physically and emotionally.

Scripture. As a Christian, I have a Bible full of promises. I can overcome my fear by knowing that when I face my fear, God will help me. Though God is always with me, I have found that His presence is almost tangible when I’m afraid. When you are afraid, remind yourself of some verses. Here are a few.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” – Psalm 34:4

“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:5,9

You never have to face your fear alone. God is your silent partner. Scriptures promise and remind us of this. 

Prayer. In many parts of our world, Christians are persecuted to the extent that it reminds me of the early church. I just finished watching video series “I am N” depicting the persecutions of Islamic terrorists against Christians in the Middle East (Note: ‘N’ in Arabic identifies those who follow the Nazarene, Jesus). It is horrible what they are going through. Yet, many are not fearful, but hopeful. They, like the early church, have resorted to prayer to give them courage (Act 12:5). 

If we are honest, most of our prayers are not life-or-death petitions. But if you have ever had to face cancer or some incident that rocked you to your knees, you know that all you can do at that point is cry out desperately to God in prayer. And even in those times of fear, you somehow know God is there. I honestly don’t know how people who don’t believe in God can go through times like this. But I have been in plenty of desperate situations where the only thing appropriate was to pray. And prayer was the most important thing we could do at the time. 

The Apostle Paul reminds us that when our fears begin to overwhelm us, we should turn to prayer. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to god. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

So when you face your fear, tell God about it. Regardless of the outcome of the circumstance, God is with you and you can expect His peace will follow as you pray to Him.

You can read some of my similar articles: Fear of Rejection, How to Stop Worry, Thy Will Be Done, Life Lessons from the Wizard of Oz.

How to Change a Habit

HabitRecently I listened to an audio book, The Power of Habit (Charles DuHigg). Then talked with my friend, Tim Schmucker, and he just finished reading the book. Then, a few weeks later a podcast by Andy Stanley interviewed the author and talked about many of the principles. 

So I thought I’d share with you some of the ideas that rose to the top and how I applied them to myself.

The Power of Habits.

Habits are powerful (notice the book title). Try to stop a bad habit and you’ll realize how powerful they are. But the power of a habit can really help us become what we should be.

God has created us to be able to develop a habit so we don’t have to constantly think about what we are doing. Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Habits allow our minds to ramp down. We stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors.

The Habit Loop.

There are three basic steps to a habit: Cue, Routine, and Reward.

The Cue is something that initiates our action or reaction. For many, when we get up we have a routine. I don’t know what yours is, but when I wake up I go into the living room to do my ‘Morning Miracle.’ (I’ll try to write a blog about this later). Then, I go for a run, come home to shower, brush my teeth, comb my hair, shave, then get dressed. This has become my Routine in the morning for several months. When I leave the house I feel like I’m ready for whatever happens. This is the Reward I feel.

We all have habits, good or bad. Let’s take one of my bad habits. I watch mindless television sometimes. Here’s what happens. I sit down on my couch, which faces the television (the Cue). The first thing I do is reach over to the remote and start surfing channels untilI I find something interesting. Then I sit back and watch the show through to the next, and then the next. Soon I find I’ve watched a couple of hours of something that added no value to my life (the Routine). So what is the Reward? My brain gets a rest and I don’t have to really think about anything.

Changing a Habit.

Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same. You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it. How it works: Use the same Cue; provide the same reward; change the routine.

For instance, with my TV habit I could put an interesting book or magazine on the end table instead of the remote control. The Cue and Reward are the same. (Cue: Sit on the Couch; Reward: Give my mind a rest). But now I have inserted a more positive Routine. If I do this for several days, it becomes my new habit.

Start a New Habit.

To start a new habit simply attach what we want to do to something that has already become a habit. For instance, many people want to have a time of prayer every day. But they discover at the end of the day they haven’t had a time of meaningful prayer. One idea is identify something we do every day – like brush our teeth. Put a reminder sticky note on your bathroom mirror, and the next time you brush your teeth, have a 1 minute prayer time. Maybe as you continue your bathroom ritual you can continue prayer. Thus, after awhile you have made prayer a part of your daily routine.

More Help.

So, below are a few more helps about habits. I hope you will develop new, good habits that will increase value and productivity in your life.

  1. Isolate the Cue. Location, Time, Emotional state, Other people, Immediately preceding action.
  2.  Identify the Routine. What do you do without thinking once you start?
  3. Experiment with Rewards. The point is to test different hypotheses to determine which craving is driving your routine. Example: You eat a cookie during a work break. Are you craving the cookie itself, or a break from work? If it’s the cookie, is it because you’re hungry? (In which case the apple should work just as well.) Or is it because you want to burst of energy the cookie provides? (And so the coffee should suffice.) Or are you wandering up to the cafeteria as an excuse to socialize, and the cookie is just a convenient excuse? (If so, walking to someone’s desk and talking for a few minutes should satisfy the urge.)
  4. Have a plan. A habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see a Cue, I will do Routine in order to get a Reward.To reengineer that formula, we need to begin making choices again. The easiest way to do this is to have a plan.

Anything you have done to rework a habit? Have you had success with the power of habits?