Saturday, December 28, 2002

Living Free in 2003

I can’t believe it. It was there, I turned around and now it’s gone. People tell me it didn’t evaporate, but it sure feels like it. They tell me I can’t ever get it back but that I can get a new one if I’ll just wait.

It’s not as if this is the first time this has happened. Seems like it happens all the time. It’s just that it is happening more often these days.

Other people tell me they lose them, too. And that there is nothing we can do to stop it from happening more and more. In fact, those that are older say it happens more quickly to them. That is if they can remember it.

I’ve had a bunch of them – all of which are gone now. Some of them I used, some I wasted, most were a combination of the two. I really want to cherish the next one, the one that people tell me is coming.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HERB TALKING ABOUT? The past year. Is the description above true for you? The older I get, the faster it appears to go. When I was six it felt like forever between birthdays and Christmas days. Now I ignore birthdays. I have been in a holding pattern at 29 for some time. It’s getting harder to hold on to that now that Andrew is 20. Hey, I was a very young groom! Christmas feels like it repeats every couple months. And it feels like someone inserted an extra Sunday into every week. What in the world is going on?

Days are not getting shorter, hours are not moving faster. It is simply that the older we get, a year is a smaller percentage of our total existence. When I was six, a year was about a quarter of the life I could remember. At, ahem, 29, (or 45) a year is a very small slice. I’m not losing my mind; it just seems so much shorter.

“Well, Herb,” you’re thinking, “that is some of the least helpful information I’ve heard.” Hang on. Since there is nothing we can do to make the next year feel longer, we must live it with intentionality to prevent it from slipping through our fingers. Again. To live the coming year with hope and confidence. Let me make some suggestions.

We must intentionally pay attention to DIVINE ENCOUNTERS. Did you know that God is the God of divine encounters – those times when He invades our lives with His Presence and work? God reached into the magi’s circumstances to point them to Jesus. We don’t know how He did it and it doesn’t matter. The point is not the how but the fact. And it changed their lives.
You might think that God reaches into others’ lives, but not yours. Wrong! To say that is to call God a liar. The Bible says that God reaches into each person’s life every day. Most come in the routine, in small ways that might go unnoticed. A call, card or word from a person that brings encouragement. An “aha” moment of direction at just the right moment. A song that touches your soul and connects you to God. Just pay attention; God is intersecting your life all the time. He is the God of divine encounters.

We must intentionally accept God’s SECOND CHANCES. Did you know that God is the God of second chances – reaching into our lives to pick us up, forgive us, brush us off and offer another shot? What were the magi thinking when they went to Herod? They had followed the star for some 2 years, and then when they got close they followed common sense. A king will be born in a palace, right? We would never do that, would we? Of course. We do it all the time. But instead of getting tired of us and taking us out, God offers us second chances.

The Bible is full of people who didn’t deserve even one second chance, but who received a barrel full of them. Your church if full of the same kind of people. So’s your family. In fact, if you look in the mirror you’ll see someone to whom God wants to give second chances in 2003. Trust me, you’ll need them.

The devil tries to paralyze us by convincing us that our failure removes us from God and the work He wants to do through us. But God is the God of second chances.

We must intentionally seize NEW OPPORTUNITIES. Did you know that God is the God of new opportunities – opening doors to serve Him and others in ways that bring meaning to our lives? After the magi left Herod, followed the star to Jesus, worshipped Him and presented their gifts, God gave them a new opportunity to serve by covertly leaving the area instead of returning to tell Herod of Jesus’ location.

December 31 and January 1 are days to think about new opportunities. The world calls them New Year’s resolutions. God calls them new opportunities. What do they look like? Serving and giving in ways that brings meaning to life. Opportunities to grow, to step out in faith, to serve, to sacrifice, to share good news, to suffer, to be a friend, to care, to help, to use what God has given for a purpose higher than ourselves. It’s not about us, but about God and much bigger than us. And when we seize an opportunity our obedience provides another one. They build on one another and are oh, so satisfying. God is the God of new opportunities.

2003 is on its way and 2002 is on its way out. Before you know it, 2003 will be over. Here’s how we can make it a year to remember. Every day look for divine encounters, second chances and new opportunities. When we sight them, let’s write them down and tell a friend about them. Simple, easy, powerful.

Maybe I won’t lose this one.

"Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working."" John 5:17 (NIV)

"I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. " Rev 3:8a (NIV)

Monday, December 23, 2002

Experiencing Christmas

It was a typical elementary school “Winter” pageant. Parents were in the cafeteria with video recorders and cameras, ready to capture the timeless moment for posterity. (We veterans can tell the first time parents by their “this is the most important moment” attitude. I smile and think, “I was never like that.” Well, okay, maybe I was.)

Each class entered the cafeteria with their teacher, sat down cross-legged on the floor and waited for their turn to shine. Long ago the Christmas theme had been replaced by songs of reindeer, snow, the big guy in the red suit, good wishes and holiday greetings. Not much else was expected by those in the audience. It was a surprise, then, when the kindergarten class took the stage to sing, “Christmas Love.” The students were dressed in fuzzy mittens, red sweaters and bright caps. Thirteen of them stood on center stage preparing to hold up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song. As the class sang, “C is for Christmas” a child was to hold up the letter C. Then “H is for happy,” and on and on until each child holding his letter would spell out the complete message, “Christmas Love.”

The performance was going according to plan until the small, quiet girl in charge of the M proudly held up her letter upside down, a W. The children in the audience responded like typical 1st through 6th graders, snickering at the little one’s mistake. Fortunately, she, oblivious to the laughing, proudly held up her W. Though the teachers tried to “shush” the children, the giggling continued until the last letter was raised.

Members of the audience, the adults and many of the children, saw it at the same time. A hush rippled over the audience and eyes began to widen. In that moment they understood the reason they were gathered, the reason why they celebrated the holiday in the first place, why even in the hectic hurry there was a great purpose for the festivities. For when the last letter was raised, the message the class proclaimed loud and clear read:

CHRIST WAS LOVE! He still is, and that is the meaning of Christmas.

Since most would agree, why do we miss it far too often each Christmas season? It is one thing to recognize the truth, it is a far different thing to EXPERIENCE it. We get caught up in “stuff” that causes us to miss the hugeness of the love of Christ. Why? Because we don’t connect with the depth of God’s love represented by December 25th. So how can we? I’m glad you asked.

The love of God expressed at Christmas must be possessed by accepting God’s UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE. We live in a world where love and acceptance are contingent on our performance. Do a good job at work and we’re accepted into the “club.” Be a good child and we’re accepted by our parents. Play well and we’re accepted on the team. Even in religion we’re conditioned to believe that if we do the do’s and don’t do the don’ts then God will accept us and love us.

To experience Christmas we must accept God’s acceptance of us just as we are. Jesus did not wait until we were good enough before He came to earth. The prodigal son’s father did not wait until he cleaned up his life to fly down the lane at breakneck speed to engulf his son in embrace. The father only waited until the son turned toward him. However, the unconditional acceptance is not experienced until it is received. Then how the love flows!!!

The love of God expressed at Christmas must be possessed by deriving our SIGNIFICANCE from God. We live in a world that convinces us that significance comes through what we accomplish, what we possess, what positions we hold, what power we wield or who we know. That is why the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is so loved. We are created with a need for significance yet feel so insignificant because we are so ordinary. We’ve had dreams, just like George Bailey, that we believed would make us happy, prosperous and noticed. Most of us never realize those dreams and believe our lives haven’t mattered.

Experiencing Christmas comes from deriving our significance in our relationship with God. We matter so much to God that He sent His only Son to forgive us and have a relationship with Him. It’s about the relationship. Period. No matter how much we think we’ve done or failed to do. Receiving our significance through the relationship allows the love to flow!!!

The love of God expressed at Christmas must be possessed by gaining our SECURITY from God. Our world has been rocked since February 2000. The stock market has plummeted, the economy has tailspinned, the terrorist attacks filled us with fear, and every year we lose people we cared about. By all natural appearances we should feel insecure. Unless our security comes from Someone beyond this world.

We seek security in our nation, our jobs, our relationships, our money, and so many other things. However true security comes in only one flavor. GOD.

Experiencing Christmas comes from gaining our security in trusting God. God has promised that nothing can touch us in the ways that really matter if we place our whole weight on Him. Even when we cannot see what God is up to. Receiving our security through trust in Him causes the love of God to flow!!!

God created us with the needs for unconditional acceptance, significance and security. We all strive to get those needs met. In many, many ways. In many, many places. Through many, many things. But the only way for them to truly be experienced is in God through Jesus.
The Father sent Jesus that first Christmas to invite us to experience Him and all He provides. That can only be experienced by intentionally receiving Him. Will you accept all that this Christmas? You will not regret it.

"I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." -- Mark 10:15-16

"The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness." -- Jeremiah 31:3

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." -- Matthew 6:26-31-34