Wednesday, December 28, 2011

15 Minutes

   I saw a commercial recently which informed me that I could have a rock hard 6-pack of abs if I was willing to devote just 15 minutes per day........Wow..........A rock hard 6-pack, huh? In just 15 minutes per day? Really? Sounds like a small investment for such a huge benefit.
   I saw another one that said I could learn a whole new language.........and speak it fluently.....with the same time commitment.
   I saw another that said I could have a "beach-body.".........I'm assuming that they didn't mean a "beached whale body."..........Or a manatee........Because somehow I think that might be worse.
   Then there were the ones that told me I could learn to cook like a master chef, improve my comprehension by 75%, save 50% on my monthly groceries, or earn a degree in robotics while sitting in my underwear by my computer without ever having to leave the comfort of my own home.
   I could thicken my thinning hair..........remove all that gray.........and wipe away the wrinkles on my face and the bags under my eyes.
   I was trying to put all of this together, and it occured to me that if I devoted about 2 hours per day to all of these things.........I'd be incredible...........I'd hot and incredibly intelligent.
   We've all seen the infomercials, right? Sometimes we're tempted to bite on the offers. Come on......Don't lie.....You know you've been tempted. But what do we all know in the back of our minds? There's just no way that spending only 15 minutes per day will give us the body of a supermodel, the complexion of a 12 year-old, or a brilliant mind.
   Of course, now that I've perked up the cynical mind within all of you, I'm going to throw my own little sales pitch at you..........No, I'm not selling Amway.
   What if I told you that if you dedicated just 15 minutes per day doing what I tell you to do, you can change everything in your life. and possibly even change the world? Crazy, huh? Worse than crazy........completely insane, right? Well, just hear me out.
   I don't know what your daily schedule is. I don't know how hectic your job or home life is. But this much I know: We all have 15 minutes somewhere in our day that we can devote to what I'm going to say. How do I know this? Don't question me..........I just know, ok?
   But here's the best part. It won't require you to buy anything, it won't require any workout gear. It won't even require a change of clothes. The only thing it will take is for you to just stop whatever you're doing. That's right........just stop everything for 15 minutes.
   Once you've stopped..........and everything is to God. Tell Him what's on your mind. Tell Him what you're afraid of, tell Him what's hurting you, tell Him as honestly as you can what your thoughts are about Him, about your life, about how you see yourself, about whatever circumstances you may be facing at this time. It's ok to be absolutely honest with Him because, well, He's God. He already knows the truth. If you try to sugarcoat it or minimize it, He'll know.
   Before you're done, ask Him to speak to you. Ask Him to show you how to deal with whatever it is that you're facing at this time. Ask Him to simply show you who He is, and how He feels about you. Ask Him what He would ask of you and of your life.
   With all of the insane New Year's resolutions that we all make every year, nothing with go further in changing your life than doing that. It's so very simple it might sound insane. But I assure you it's not. We're not talking about a salesman or any televangelist you've ever seen on tv. We're not talking about me. We're talking about God Himself. The maker and creator of all things. The one who knows you far better than you could ever wish to know yourself. The one who see's not only your situation, but who also see's countless other people and situations that He can turn and change in ways that will directly impact whatever you're facing in ways you've never even dreamed possible. The possibilities are endless.
   Begin the New Year by doing this. By simply making a commitment to take just 15 minutes out of your day, every day, to just talk to God. I promise you that you will never regret that decision.

Happy New Year, everyone.    

Monday, December 19, 2011

Just a touch of hope

   It's Christmas Eve, just after 8:00pm. A mother huddles with her children around an open stove, which is the only source of heat in their small, empty apartment. It doesn't feel like Christmas Eve to them. As far as they can see, it's been just another day in a long line of days they have gone through with very little to eat, if anything at all.
   During this entire week, they had walked the streets past colorful Christmas displays in store windows. They'd seen happy, well fed families wearing beautiful clothes, strolling down the sidewalks with smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts. After all, the spirit of Christmas was everywhere.
   They'd heard people talk about Jesus being born on this day, Christmas gifts, delicious Christmas dinners and even how Santa Claus was to visit every home and leave beautiful gifts under their Christmas tree.
   But they have no Christmas tree, they have no Christmas dinner, and they have no reason to feel hope or joy in anything. All they have is each other. They stay up as late as they can, huddled around the stove, then go to bed hungry, all of them laying on a single mattress, huddled close to stay warm through the night.
   When morning arrives, their mother gets them dressed, and takes them to church. After all, you almost have to go to church on Christmas morning, don't you? That's just what people do.
   They sit in church and listen to the pastor preach about the joy and hope of Christmas. and how Jesus is the center of that joy and hope. But his seemingly empty words fall softly to the ground for these small children because they've never had the experience of feeling the joy of having any of their hopes fulfilled. To them, Christmas holds no extraordinary sense of joy or hope. It's just another day, full of hunger and cold dispair.
   They leave the church and walk home, planning to spend the day in their empty apartment. As they open the front door, they can't believe their eyes. In the middle of their living room, there now stands a big Christmas tree, loaded with lights and tinsel. Under the tree are gifts for all of the children. The children squeal with excitement as they run toward the tree. Their mother, stunned by this unexpected development, stands in the doorway and scans the room. Her gaze becomes fixed on the kitchen counter, where someone had placed a beautiful Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.
   In that very moment, with the blink of an eye, an entire family suddenly believes in joy. They believe in hope. They believe that the words spoken by the pastor that Sunday morning can actually become true. They weren't just words after all.
   This is not a fictional story. This is a true story that happened in the life of a dear friend of mine back in the late 1960's. As she tells it, the nuns from their local church had learned about their situation, and asked the landlord to let them into the apartment while her family was at church so they could leave them..............hope. As it turns out, all of these children, now grown adults, are mature Christians who all involved in their local churches.
   This past Sunday, Pastor Len talked about having "Extra Ordinary Hope." He talked about Mary and Joseph, and the hope they were given with the birth of Jesus. That hope encouraged them to go above and beyond what might be expected of anyone to accomplish great things that we read about to this very day. But it all began with faith, hope, and love.
   I would ask all of you to look around during this week before Christmas, and find someone, anyone, who might be given a sense of this "Extra Ordinary Hope" from just one small gesture of kindness. It doesn't have to be anything as elaborate as what my friend and her family experienced. Maybe it's something as small as a phone call, a word of encouragement, or even setting another place at the table to invite someone who will otherwise spend this Christmas alone. It might just give that person the very sense of hope they needed at that very moment, and we have no idea how far God can take just a sliver of hope.

Merry Christmas to all 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I got a huge inheritance!!!!

   Imagine for a moment that a very kind, wealthy man lived in your neighborhood. You'd heard about him from other neighbors. You'd seen evidence of the good things he had done for the community. But you'd never met the man personally. What you didn't know was that while you were only remotely aware of his existence, he knew everything about you. He knew where you were raised, he knew your parents, he saw you sitting on the curb as a young child, crying because you had fallen off your bike and skinned your knees. He'd seen you when you were devastated over the loss of a good friend or family member, and his heart went out to you.
   He had actually been very interested in meeting you for quite some time, but he saw that you always seemed so busy, rushing here and there, taking care of whatever seemed most important to you at the time.
   A few years went by, and he passed away unexpectedly, at a relatively young age, having never met you. A few days later, you received a letter in the mail from a presigious law firm, informng you that he had named you as a beneficiary in his will. Perplexed by the news, but cautiously excited, you drive to their office for the reading of his will.
   To your complete and utter shock, you learn that this man who had never met you left you his entire fortune. It was all yours...........everything. All you had to do was sign for it.
   As you stepped back and looked at the list of all that was available to you, it became clear that you would never again have to worry about your future. Every single need you might ever have for the remainder of your life would be met. As you begin to learn more about this man, you find that he earned every penny he had ever made through hard work, discipline, and a determination to do what was right no matter the cost. His life was not an easy one. And yet, he left all of that to you. "Why would he do something like that?" you think to yourself. "I don't deserve this."
   You accept what was left to you, and go on your way. As the years pass, you become comfortable with all that you have. You eventually all but forget about this man. I mean, sure, you think about him every now and then. You believe that he was a good man, and that he was good to you. But you rarely if ever speak about him or even truly allow yourself to give him much thought.
   After a few more years, the people of your town look at the little memorials that had been built to him for being such a positive force in the lives of the people he had touched. They never knew this man, and they wonder why these memorials should remain. After all, there are hundreds of them. They clutter the sidewalks and mark the scenery. People begin to become offended that everywhere they go, they have to see these things.
   You know that this was a very good man who was worthy of these small tokens of rememberance, but you stand by silently as the townspeople begin to tear them down one by one. Before long, there is no memory of this man.
   Shortly after this, the town faces an enormous financial crisis. The leaders within this town break the news that the town will not survive unless some sort of miracle occurs. Everything they have will be lost.
   Upon hearing the news, this man's father, who was still alive, incredibly wealthy, and who knew of his son's love for the people of this town, arranged to stop by for a visit. Upon arriving there, he saw how every last memory of his son had been removed because people found those memorials offensive.
   Would you expect this man to open his arms to the people and graciously offer to help them through their dire circumstances? Or would you expect him to walk away?
   If you answered this the way I would expect you to, then why do we sit by silently as we watch nativity scenes being removed from public property because a select few are offended by them? Why do we say nothing as we learn that the name of Jesus cannot be spoken in our public schools, our courtrooms, our brought up by our political leaders? Why do we allow corporations like Wal-Mart to insist that their employees, many of whom share our faith, do not speak the words "Merry Christmas," instead replacing those words with "Happy Holidays?"
   In Luke 9:26, Jesus said the following:

"Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."

   I don't know about you, but I am not ashamed of my faith. When I leave Wal-Mart and hear the words "Happy Holidays," I will respond with "No, Merry Christmas..........and thank you." Christmas is the day we mark to celebrate the greatest gift we've ever been given. And just like the story about about the man who left all of his riches to an undeserving man, who never knew him when he passed away, we can all share in an inheritance we have in no way earned.
   If that offends some in our society who refuse to accept that inheritance, I will offer no apologies, nor will I keep silent about how great that inheritance is

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Embrace the unexpected

   We all love the classic "underdog story," don't we? We see a report or read an article about someone who rose out of the depths of obscurity, with all odds against them, who then ended up doing something that changed everyone around them in a positive way, and we can't help but to feel warmth in our hearts and smiles come across our faces.
   Maybe their day in the limelight only lasts a few moments, maybe it lasts months or even years, but for that period of time, however short it may be, we cheer them on and we feel encouraged to see something go right for a change in this world that constantly throws more and more bad news at us.
   Maybe it's a homeless person who makes the most of an opportunity and rises to be the CEO of a major company. Maybe it's the kid who rises from the ashes of poverty to become multi-millionaire pro athlete. Maybe it's the family on "Extreme Makeover - Home Edition" that has gone through horrific circumstances while fighting to change their community for the better. I know that, if you've watched that program, you've felt your eyes well up at some point as you've seen these families blessed in incredible ways by complete strangers. We all have our favorite stories along those lines, and I'm sure that you could fill in the blanks here and remember a success story that really touched your heart at some point.
   In just a few weeks, most of us will be celebrating such a story. A child born in a manger. Two parents who had no idea what they were getting into, but who simply followed God's direction and trusted Him with the results. This was not a wealthy family. The weren't royalty. They didn't have "connections." They were, before the birth of their son, just average, everyday people just like you and I who were chosen by God Himself to play a role in a moment of time that would forever change the history of the entire world.
   I believe with all my heart that if either of them came back to this world right now and discussed what was going through their minds at the time, they would tell us a few things about how God works in the lives of ordinary people who are just trying their best, with no expectations of fame or greatness, to accomplish His plans for the world.
   They would humbly admit that they didn't feel worthy of such a profound mission. They would tell you stories of unthinkable pain and absolute confusion. They would tell you about how many times they considered giving up, but in their hearts, they knew that they had to keep pushing forward and trusting God.
   And after God had spoken to them, telling them what was to come, they witnessed what Matthew 2:9-11 tells us in regard to the magi, or 3 wise men as some of us know them:

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

   As we all know, Herod ordered them to return to him and tell him where this child was so that he might kill him. But as we also know, when God has plans, nobody can stop them. Not even the king.
   So here they were, in a stable, on the road, away from home and family, with a brand new baby, and three men appear out of nowhere.............."to worship Him."
   As we also know, this child was none other than Jesus Christ, who would go on to change the history of the entire world, and his parents, who had no idea what to even think of all of this, would have their story told to every generation from then on.
   What do you believe about yourself that stops you from believing God could use you to change your family, your neighborhood, your workplace, your town, your state, your country, or even the entire world?
   The next time you doubt what God can do through you if you just trust Him, remember Mary and Joseph, and how God used them to change........well..........everything.

Friday, December 2, 2011

True Perspective

A boy is born into an exceptionally wealthy family. His father loves him very much, and plans to share all of his wealth with this boy. Everything that's available to him would be available to his son at the proper time in his life. He builds him a beautiful home where they could live together, sharing a bond that can only be shared between a father and his son. As the boy grows older, he looks around and see's what stands before his eyes. He see's nice things, beautiful things, but he's oblivious to the riches that lay in wait for him beyond what he can see.
   In time, he grows accustomed to what he's always known. What once gave him a sense of wide-eyed wonder gradually becomes commonplace. What was once a deep sense of appreciation grows into a sense of entitlement.
   Over time, he begins to understand that his many brothers and sisters are also given nice things. His father begins to teach him that it is important that he share with his brothers and sisters, to look out for their best interest, and just as his father had done for him. To put their needs before his own when called upon to do so.
   The boy doesn't like this idea. He has worked hard to take good care of his things, and after all, these are his things, not theirs. He begins to hide what he has from the other children, ensuring that he will be able to keep it to himself. He also begins to look at what they've been given, becoming jealous of some of the nicer things they have. He wonders why he wasn't given those things too. He falls into the belief that the more he has, the more valuable he himself becomes. What he fails to realize is that his true value doesn't come from what he has been given. His true value comes from how his father, who is far wealthier and generous than he could possibly imagine, see's him. What his father tries repeatedly to teach him, and what he fails to understand, is that the more generous he is with what he's been given, the more his father would give him in return. After all, as long as he lives in his father's house, everything he has ultimately belongs to his father anyway. It was never really his to begin with.
   In the world today, especially here in the U.S., haven't we fallen into a sense of entitlement? Do we ever really sit back and consider the fact that we have been blessed financially far more than many other people in the world? If we look at the rest of the world, and even here in our own back yard, it won't take long for us to find vast numbers of people who live at or below the poverty level. And for many of these people, it's not a matter of whether or not they've made good decisions with what they have. Poverty is all they've ever known. The were born into it, and they remain in it.
   Last week, I heard a story about a man who had traveled to a poverty stricken country. He had grown up here in the U.S., always clothed, always fed, and always with a roof over his head. As he stood watching a 4 year-old boy, crying at his mother's bedside, suffering from starvation, as his mother lay dying from circumstances we rarely see in this country, it occured to him that neither he nor this boy had any choice in where they would be born. They had simply been born where they had been born, by no choice of their own. It occurred to him at that very moment that while he had experienced a life of comfort and abundance, this young boy had been born into a life of hunger and sickness. Is this boy not one of God's children just as much as we are? Does God not love this boy as much as He loves us?
   So, what is my point? Are we to give up all that we have and travel to some far away, poverty-stricken nation to suffer along with him? No. What I'm saying is this: We've all been blessed far beyond what much of the world has ever known. But just like the boy I wrote about earlier in this story, all that we have ultimately belongs to our Father in heaven anyway. He's blessed us with it, and He can take it all away without a moment's notice.
   What I also know is this: In Luke 6:38, Jesus said the following:

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

  I know that there are people out there who are trying to promote a "prosperity gospel" which claims that if we trust God, we will become rich. That is nothing short of heresy. God never promised that He would make us rich, and that's not what this verse means. What He has said is that He has given to us freely, and as such, we should do the same for others. He has also given us His word that whatever we give up for Him, we will be rewarded for in far greater measure.
   It may be in this life, or it may be in the life to come, but God has given us His word on this. All that we need is the faith to believe that and act upon it. God will decide how, when and where we will be rewarded for our acts of generosity.
   It all begins with that first small step. Maybe it's some pocket change for a homeless man, maybe it's a small donation to a local food pantry, maybe you've been blessed enough to do far more. But take that first step, then stand back and be amazed at what God does with that small act of kindness. After all, just like the boy earlier in this story, we have no idea how many riches await us in our Father's house.