Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith

May We Never Lose Our Wonder

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Thanksgiving is over, and the Christmas season is officially upon us. Carols are playing; people are rushing around to buy the perfect gifts for their loved ones; schedules are filled with parties and social events. It truly is an exciting time of the year.

In the midst of the festive hustle and bustle, I am challenged to remember the reason for the busy-ness in the first place. Christmas is all about the Christ Child coming to the earth to bring salvation to mankind as foretold centuries before. Angels fill the back drop of the Christmas narrative. An angel visits the Virgin Mary. Joseph has a dream where an angel encourages him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. A choir of angels proclaim the birth of the newborn King to the shepherds. It is a season of wonder.

The problem is I have become too familiar with the story. The miracles have become mundane; the extraordinary has become ordinary. Somehow I have put the Savior of the world in a box and placed Him under the tree. And sadly my heart is no longer stirred.

Can you relate to this, my friend? The condition goes beyond the month of December. Losing our sense of wonder for the God of the Universe can plague us throughout the year.

First we lose our sense of wonder, and then we lose our sense of hope.

What can we do to regain our amazement for the Lord?

We must replace apathy with a passion for our Savior. It is not enough to go through the motions of faith. We must engage our hearts and minds with openness and curiosity. No matter how much we think we know about Jesus, we must cultivate an eagerness to learn and discover more.

In the case of the Christmas story, put yourself in the place of the characters. Imagine what they personally thought, felt, and experienced. Allow the story to become alive in your soul.

When it comes to knowing God, ask the Holy Spirit to teach you. Study the Scriptures, trusting the Lord to show you more about Himself. Don’t be complacent about your relationship with Jesus. Expect Him to reveal Himself to you.

My grandson, Rhett, is one year old. The last time he visited me, he started a new game. He motioned for me to pick him up. As I carried him around the house, he would point wide-eyed to items for me to name. At first they were things he hadn’t seen before. After several times of this activity, we returned to the same objects. Rhett never grew tired, and even though he had seen some of the items again and again, his eyes continued to be wide and he studied them with renewed interest.

Oh, that we would be more like Rhett! Allow our Heavenly Father to carry us along, with wide-eyed wonder, learning more about Himself and His glorious Kingdom.

As wonder is restored, hope springs forward in our lives. Faith comes alive. The impossible looks possible. We can see light in the darkest situation.

May we never lose our wonder. Let us continue to grow in amazement of our truly awesome God.

Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare (Psalm 40:5).

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High (Psalm 9:1-2).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, may I never lose the wonder of who You are. Help me to grow in childlike faith. I want to see light in the darkness, and embrace hope instead of fear. During this Christmas season, increase my amazement in You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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Posted in Advent/Christmas, Personal Development, Servant Leadership

Say Goodbye to the Post-Holiday Blues

smiling business people waving hands

Well, the holidays are almost over. Weeks of preparation and anticipation have come to a close. This year I started shopping for Christmas gifts earlier than ever. And for the first time, the days leading up to the holidays were actually enjoyable and relatively stress free. However, with so much time and energy given to celebration, I find that the days after the holidays can be difficult. For me, it’s similar to the adrenaline crash after delivering a message at an event or performing on stage. There is such a let down, even if the production was amazing.

So, as I put away the decorations and gear up for regular life again, I recognize my vulnerability to the post-holiday blues. Rather than ignore them or try to power through, I acknowledge that physical and emotional let down are natural responses, and I am gentle with myself for experiencing them. In addition, I place my attention on three key areas.

  1. It’s still about Jesus. The Christmas story is miraculous and inspiring. There is awe in remembering that God loved the world so much that He left the glory of heaven and arrived as a baby. Fully human and fully divine, He came to fulfill His mission as our Savior. Christmas was just the beginning and led to Easter. Christmas is more than history; it is also present. Jesus came as Emmanuel—God with us. Today in every season and situation, He is still God with us. Every single day is about Jesus. There is power and assurance when I focus on this truth.
  2. Be kind to yourself. For most of us, the holidays are a time when healthy eating and exercise are put on hold, or at least put on the back burner. Celebration is good, but too much of a good thing takes a toll on our bodies. Post-holiday blues come on the heels of poor self care. Nutrition, physical activity, and adequate rest are not optional. Being kind to myself means getting back on track with proper diet, exercise, and rest in order to strengthen my well being.
  3. Pay attention to others. When we are depressed, we lose sight of others. Serving others lifts our attention from our own feelings. It is difficult to wallow in the blues when we notice others and seek ways to make a difference in their lives. It is more blessed to give than to receive. I reap the benefits when I love my neighbors as I love myself.

Don’t let the post-holiday blues get you down. As you focus on Jesus, and then yourself and others, you will chase the blues away. Say hello to the New Year with a sense of purpose and joy.

Scriptures:

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:11).

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank You for this holiday season. I believe that You are Emmanuel, that Your Holy Spirit lives in me. Empower me to live for You, to glorify You with the way I live this life. Help me to care for myself. Help me to love and serve others. As I walk with You, may I say goodbye to the post-holiday blues. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith

The Wonders of God’s Love

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For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17, NIV).

Have you taken an opportunity for a leisurely drive around town to look at Christmas decorations? Among the images of Santa and elves, reindeer and snowmen, trees and gingerbread, every so often a nativity scene emerges. The nativity—the picture of an innocent Baby, God incarnate, Who arrived in humble obscurity to reveal His love to the world. The angels proclaimed His birth to the shepherds. The shepherds rushed to find God’s gift housed in a stable, lying in a manger. I imagine it looked rather plain to them, but nevertheless they rejoiced in the revelation of God’s love.

Love is really what Christmas is about. The miraculous message of Christmas is not that we loved God, but that He so perfectly loved us.

Unfortunately, we often project our own human experience with relationships on God. Our parents say they love us (and they probably do), but they hurt us. Our closest relationships with family and friends bring heartache. Perhaps our spouse has an affair, or our best friend betrays us. At the very least, we are disappointed by the decisions of others.

No matter how hard we try, people fail. Human love falls short. However, God does more than acts of love. He gives us Himself. He is love (1 John 4:8, 16).

Because God is love, everything He does is love. Whether or not we agree with it. Whether or not we understand it.

That is not to discount the presence of evil in the world, and that bad things happen to good people. But that’s a different conversation for another time.

There is such comfort and assurance in knowing that God is love. We do not worship a created being that whimsically and selfishly imposes His agenda on us, and then laughs at our expense. No! We run to Him and are safe. Our God is 100 percent love. He perfectly embodies the qualities of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails (vv. 4-8).

These next few days before Christmas, let’s reflect on the love of God. Let’s drink deeply of the wonders of His love. God came to earth to bring us salvation at His own expense. God is love, and love is what He does.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

PRAYER:
Lord of Love, thank You for sending the Christ Child as Your gift of love to the world. We have received You into our lives, and our hearts desire the warmth of Your love. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior. Help us grow in understanding Your love. Remind us that we are Your children, and that You lavish Your love—Your very self—on us. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Personal Development, Uncategorized

Reflections on Joy

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[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21).

Jesus’ statement struck a chord with the crowd. They knew he had read a portion of what today we call Isaiah 61, a passage that foretold the role of the coming Messiah. They were also familiar with what the passage continued to say after Jesus stopped reading.

[T]o comfort all who mourn,
 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
   instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
   instead of mourning,and a garment of praise
   instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
   a planting of the LORD
   for the display of his splendor (Isaiah 61:3).

Three decades earlier, the angels had proclaimed Good News to the shepherds. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord (Luke 2:10-11).

Joy! There was a common theme. The arrival of the Savior was accompanied by joy. Implicit in Jesus’ announcement of His mission was the presence of joy. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians are established in joy.

And yet, why does joy seem so elusive, even for Christians? Perhaps the answer stems from the misunderstanding of what joy really is.

Happiness and joy are not synonymous. The outward expressions may be similar, but their origins are different.

Happiness is a state of well being in response to satisfying or pleasurable experiences. It is based on circumstances outside of our control. When situations change for the worse, we are no longer happy.

Joy is an inward contentment that is not dependent on situations or people. It originates from our faith in Christ, who is our everlasting source. Joy is constant throughout the extreme ups and downs of life. No matter what happens, we have joy in our eternal inheritance through Jesus.

Joy is a choice.

It was a choice during the birth of Christ. God’s kingdom had come to earth. The shepherds responded, while the rest of Bethlehem remained unaware, cramped in the miserable conditions of an overcrowded city.

It was a choice during the ministry of Christ. Some people opened their hearts to the healing, deliverance, and teachings of the Messiah. Others spurned the gifts of God.

It is a choice for us today. Will we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and His eternal kingdom? Or will we remain stuck in the circumstances of the here and now? We thrive when we choose joy.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (Philippians 4:4-5).

PRAYER:
Heavenly Father, with the angels we rejoice in the birth of your Son. In this great mystery, we find the only joy that never fades – it is an eternal joy! Bring us under Your lordship. Teach us to walk in Your joy. May the world see Your glory through us, and worship Christ as their King. In His name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith, Servant Leadership

The God of Peace

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

The miracle of Christmas is that God came down to earth, a place designed for perfection, but, because of the fall, suffered under the weight of brokenness, sin, and death. The holy Child was born to walk among humanity, proclaiming the message of peace. Jesus Christ healed the sick, fed the hungry, eased suffering, delivered the oppressed, and calmed the storms. Ultimately the manger led to the cross and then His resurrection. The enemy of our souls was conquered by the Prince of Peace.

During this Week of Peace during Advent, let us reflect on God’s peace. It transcends every circumstance and permeates every relationship. The God of Peace gives us peace. As a result, we can enjoy…

Peace with God

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (Romans 5:1-2).

Our relationship with God is secure. Through faith in Jesus, we fear no judgment. There are no obstacles or barriers. We are loved and protected by our heavenly Father, facing each day with assurance.

Peace with others

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Colossians 3:15).

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

Because we have peace with God, we become ambassadors of peace. We follow the example of the Prince of Peace among fellow believers and non-believers alike. It is our calling to forgive as we have been forgiven, to help the needy even if they oppose us, and to overcome evil with good.

Peace with self

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 your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

I know too many people who are kind to others, but are cruel to themselves. They are burdened by self-condemnation or tormented by anxiety. We need to declare, “God’s grace extends to me just as much as to everyone else. I am NOT an exception to His promises of peace.” As we trust Jesus, He surrounds our hearts and minds with peace.

Peace be with you.

PRAYER:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand, to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying [to ourselves] that we are born to eternal life.” –St. Francis of Assisi

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith, Servant Leadership

Questions to Ask Yourself About Hope

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It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving, and Christmas preparations are well underway. The Christmas tree is up and decorated. Most of the gifts on the gift list have been purchased, and the calendar is filled with festive activities. It’s a great feeling to make so much progress. But as I step back and admire my accomplishments, I am reminded of a more important element to consider. How is my heart? In particular, how well do I hold on to hope and pass it on the others?

For those of you celebrating Advent, this is the Week of Hope. It’s a time to reflect on the promise of the Savior, the Light of the World. Jesus Christ is the One who gives us hope. As servant leaders we are to be examples of hope to those around us, both on and off the clock. So then, how are we doing?

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Romans 5:1-5).

How do you rate when circumstances are bad as well as good?

  • How optimistic are you about the future?
  • How focused are you on people?
  • How content are you?
  • How often do you encourage others?
  • How determine are you to move forward?
  • How well do you accept change?
  • How strong is your sense of purpose?

Hope is vital to vision. You cannot have one without the other. God is the author of hope. He came to this earth as the Redeemer to give us hope and to grow hope in us. This Advent Season, trust Him to grow hope in you.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

PRAYER:

Jesus Christ, Light of the World, I hope in You. Thank you for coming to this world to save me from my sins and to give me new life. Help me to keep Your kingdom in focus. Give me your hope and renew my vision. Empower me to make hope strong in my heart, as I remember that I stand by your grace and have your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.