You Can Get a Grip on Your Money

“Your system is designed perfectly to give you the results you are getting. If you don’t like the results you are getting, you need to change your system.” That statement is a basic teaching when you study Systems Theory. It’s helpful in life where pretty much every place you find yourself you find yourself in a system of some sort: family, work, Boards, neighborhood, etc. And so, if you don’t like what you are seeing you have to change the system.

According to surveys that ask people what their top resolutions for the New Year are, a perennial favorite has something to do with “getting their finances in order.” It’s a good resolution because, according to financial statistics, personal financial “systems” are not giving a good result. Consider these statistics: 76% of people live paycheck to paycheck; 24% of take home pay goes to paying off debt; 64% of Americans can’t cover $1000 for an emergency; the average cost per household per year paying credit card interest is $2630; and 70% of couples do not budget on a consistent basis.

You might have cringed a bit as you listened to these statistics of the average American household because you and I are most likely average Americans. Financial issues are always one of the top two issues in marriages. The other is communication. So when we communicate in a relationship about finances, it’s no wonder 31% of all couple clash over their finances at least once a month.

Anyone need a system reboot? The problem with the resolution to get a grip on your money is that most people do not have a way to view their money. Fortunately, Jesus gave you one. Did you know of the 38 parables he told, 16 have to do with money? He talked about finances more than he talked about heaven and hell: there are 500 passages on prayer and 2000 devoted to money and possessions.

Could it be that Jesus knew one of the greatest struggles we would have would be in our relationship with money and that money could come between us and our relationship with God? I think so. And so Jesus succinctly says: “You cannot serve both God and money.”

The first system reboot when it comes to money is that we need to believe. We need to believe what Jesus says. And what Jesus says is that we have to make a choice that we will serve God and not money. We take care of God’s stuff. It is his. Not ours. That is the definition of stewardship. Stewardship is managing the things of God in the way he would want them managed.

You change your money system by first looking at what you believe about it. Once you and I understand that the money we have is not ours but God’s we will begin to handle it better. We begin to handle money better with a budget. A budget is a plan for your money. You do not have a budget if you merely say you have money in the bank at the end of the month. You do not have a budget if you can pay your bills. Those are good things, but you do not have a budget if you do not plan where your money will be saved, spent, or given before you spend it.

Believe differently about your money. Budget your money. Then “be satisfied” with what you have. The writer of Hebrews gives us this admonition: “Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.”

According to scripture there is a problem and that problem is the “love of money.” Not that we have money. Not the abundance of money. It’s the “love” of money that is the concern. It’s the one love God wants you to hate. Greed is birthed in the lie that the more we have the more we are worth. But Jesus says our life is much more than our stuff.

Jesus will show you a way to reboot your financial system. Believe differently about money. Budget a plan for your money. And be satisfied with what you have. This year instead of a love of money cultivate a love of God. You’ll be richer than you ever imagined.

Question: What needs to change about your money system: what you believe about money, a budget, or being satisfied with what you have?

 

The Perfect Parenting Formula to Become a Better Parent

Jelena Fu teaches all ages, but her work with children led her to looking for a formula that might help parents raise better kids. She paid attention to children and their parents. But it was when she asked her own daughter what she and her friends thought they needed most from their parents that she found her formula. She shares it in her TEDx Talk. You’d probably like to know the formula she discovered, wouldn’t you?

You would because it would be nice to have a formula for parenting. When you took that first child home with you he or she did not come with a User’s Manual. So you turned to innumerable books. But you read one set of suggestions that were countered by the next.

You turned to your parents, but then you looked at your spouse or looked in the mirror and thought, “Surely we can do better than that.”

Even psychologists haven’t cracked the code. I was visiting with one years ago looking for some advice. We were friends and in the course of the conversation I asked her about her daughter and found that she was stumped as to what to do with her. I listened, dispensed some advice, and sent her a bill for the hour.

For those who are followers of Jesus you might wish he had something to say about parenting. But he wasn’t a parent. He was never married. And he didn’t, as far as we know, say much of anything about parenting.

Or did he? Consider the scene we find in John 5. Jesus upsets the religious establishment by healing a lame man by the pool. He tells them: “…For whatever the Father does, the Son likewise does these things.” Jesus explains that the reason he did what he did is that it is what the Father would do. He’s talking about the healing. But he also explains every other action we see him doing. See the connection? If Jesus does what the Father would do, then Jesus is doing what a father would do. We need only watch him to learn how to parent well.

When we watch Jesus we learn to parent more effectively. We find that a parent gives their children time. When disciples followed Jesus, he spent time with them. Walking. Sharing meals. Talking. Serving people together. Handling crisis together. It takes quantity time to find quality time.

We also discover a parent provides teaching to their children. Jesus was directly addressed ninety times in the Gospels. Sixty of those times he is called “Teacher.” Parents are the primary teachers for their children. And if we parent as Jesus demonstrates, those of us who are followers of Jesus will be the primary teachers who teach our children primarily the kingdom of God. How to think like Jesus would think. How to act like Jesus would act. How to pray, find solitude, take in the Word of God, etc. as Jesus would.

As we teach our kids we will also correct. Jesus did. He said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.” I’m not suggesting you call your child Satan! You’ll send them into years of therapy if you do. But you will at times have to steer them back to “God’s concerns” when their talk and actions are more aligned with “human concerns.”

But parenting is not all correction. Parents celebrate with their children too. When the disciples came back from a successful outing to the towns and villages, Jesus celebrated their accomplishments with them. So can we. Birthdays and Christmas for sure. But also celebrate when you see God in their lives. Jesus told his disciples that there was even more cause for joy that “their names were written in heaven.”

After consulting with her friends, Jelena Fu’s daughter offered this five-word-parenting-formula: “We want you to listen.” That’s not bad advice. Fathers and mothers, the good ones, listen to their children. Jesus’ father did. Remember that prayer that he modeled for his disciples? It began with “Abba, Father…” the expectation was that this Father is one who wants more than anything to hear the voice of his children.

And so when you, parent, need help in knowing how to be one, remember you have a Father who will listen to you. There is a parenting formula. It’s not five words but five letters: Jesus.

Master Jesus and you will master parenting.

Question: Which area of parenting can you improve on this year? How will you do that?

 

Discover the Pages of Your Better Life Story

20-year-old Shane Missler recently claimed the $451 million Mega Millions jackpot. He chose to receive his winnings in a one-time, lump-sum payment of $281,874,999. With it he “hopes to do good for humanity.

I hope he does. He has money in abundance. We like things in abundance, don’t we? Can you imagine the lottery officials giving Missler his first million and then asking, “Do you want us to give you the other $280+million?” and him answering, “No. That’s fine. You can keep the rest.”

We like abundance. So does Jesus. He said, “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” But what Jesus is not talking about the “stuff” of life that we buy and accumulate that can get old and rust and get torn up. The life he is talking about is called zoe in the Greek language. It is a life that has to do with quality. For sure zoe life includes the physical things we need in life (or bios life in the Greek). But that’s not much of a life by itself. People who have an abundance of “things” can still be miserable. Zoe life includes the spiritual things we need for life that makes our lives alive and vital.

The “abundant life” Jesus talks about is the kind of life that makes a great story. Jesus’ life is a great story and we can learn from it how to write a better story for our lives. Donald Miller writes about life stories in his book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.” (Read the book. It will inspire you to work on your own story.) His premise is that there are certain tools storytellers use to write great stories. We can utilize those tools to write good stories for our lives too. If you believe you can write a better story than the one you are living now, here are the components you need for a great story.

Every story is built around a lead character and other characters. You are the star of your story. That means you have to give it life. Start moving. “Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into his hands…” Jesus knew when it was time to leave the carpentry shop and begin his ministry.

When the time was right he began to write.

He gathered twelve to be with him by praying all night. We live in an isolationist culture where our connection is through texts and tweets. But great stories have other characters in them. You can write a better story this year by developing relationships.

The lead character has to want something. Jesus knew exactly what he wanted. Before his crucifixion he prayed: “Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you…” Jesus knew his death on the cross would glorify God.

What is it you want in life? And will what you want glorify God? A great story finds its main character wanting something and then pursuing it. When we are not experiencing a better life as Jesus came to give, it is because we have not decided what it is we want. What we want needs to be good—something that will do good for humanity—and it needs to glorify God, not us.

In the pursuit of what we want, every character must go through conflict. Jesus did. Right after his baptism he went to the wilderness and was tempted. Through it his character is strengthened as well as his resolve.

You and I need conflict in our stories to live better stories. Want to lose some weight this year? It won’t come without conflict with some weights or walks or runs at night. Want to grow in your relationships? It won’t come without some hard talks and lengthy listening. Conflict moves our stories along.

And finally, stories must resolve. “[Jesus knew] … that he was going back to God.” Jesus knew where he was going. His beginning, his passion for what he wanted, and the conflict he endured all resolved when he ascended into heaven. He used his authority that was given to him to write a story that had room for you and me.

Our stories will resolve one day too. How do you want your big story to resolve on your last day? Before then and along the way, we have mini-episodes that resolve. You wanted to lose 10 pounds and you set as a goal to run in a 5K by a certain time and you did. Better yet, you wanted to let go of anger so you got some counseling—which surfaced some internal conflict—and you have found yourself more calm.

Want to write a better life story this year? You can learn to tell your story in a way that gets a conversation going. Tell about the main character. Then tell what you want. Share a struggle to get there and end with where you see the story resolving.

That’s it. So start writing. Write one page a day. And don’t stop until the story is over.

Question: What conflict will you engage to make a difference in your story?

What You Need to Write a Better Life Story

Can you tell your life story in thirty seconds to a minute? Probably not. And you probably can’t because you have most likely never thought about your life as a story. You’ve read books. You’ve watched movies. You’ve heard TED Talks or other lectures where the speaker tells you their story.

But most likely you’ve never really focused on yours. And so, when you meet someone at a party or sit next to someone on an airplane and they ask you about yourself, you go to your “go-to” and tell them: your name, whether you’re married or single, where you work, and whether or not you have a dog because if you have a cat you know you’d be more socially acceptable if you just keep that to yourself.

Most of what you share is just some random facts about yourself. Kind of a check-list of the things we think people want to hear when they ask us about ourselves. If you listen to yourself you might find yourself, well, let’s admit it—kind of boring. Nothing like one of those compelling books you read or movies you watched or TED Talk person’s life story you listened to. If they had merely listed some random facts, you would have tossed the book or quit watching or walked out of the lecture.

But what if you and I were on an airplane and somehow our seat selection was not very exact and even though we were traveling together we wound up in the aisle seat and the window seat. Sure enough, some guy comes to our row and gets to sit right between us. He’s very courteous, wants to make sure each of us has plenty of elbow room, and does his best not to step on our toes. He sits down and we ask him about himself and he says: “Well, in a nutshell, I’ve known that I had the ability or power to solve the main problem of this world for some time now. I know where I came from and I know exactly where I’m going. I organize everything I do around this understanding. Want to hear more?”

You and I would be leaning in. Maybe we’d be scratching our heads a bit. We’d certainly want to hear more of this story from someone who seemed to have their life in order. So we ask for more.

Next he tells us: “By the time I’m 33 years old I will have accomplished everything I set out to do.” We give each other knowing looks that say “I can’t even accomplish one day’s worth of ‘to-do’s’ ever. How can he be so certain of this?”

So we ask, “Do you have some sort of mission statement or vision for your life?” Without hesitating he responds, “Sure. Every day I look for ways I can serve other people. I’m not here to have people wait on me. That’s how I find fulfillment in life.”

For the next hour and a half, we hear story after story of how this has played out in his life. We hear how he came from a backwater town, learned a trade from his father, but then left it to start a movement. He goes on to tell how he gathered a small staff of twelve men. As he described these men we wonder why he chose the ones he did. They had no real qualifications. They bickered like brothers. They made big mistakes.

He talks about the opposition he faced and how he wanted his company to know how to handle conflict, how it was going to come and through it things would be learned about people and more importantly about themselves.

We ask more and more questions until the pilot tells us to prepare for landing. We do. And we exit the airplane. The life story we just heard was one we wished we had. Alive. Exciting. Engaging. Purposeful. Our new friend walks off in a different direction and for a moment we pause and want to drop our plans and follow him to find out more.

By now you know the story, don’t you? Jesus lived the greatest story ever. His life was captivating, even to people who do not believe as I do that he was the son of God who came to show us what God is like. His life was meant to show us what life is like so that we could emulate him and live better lives.

If that’s the kind of life for which you wish, then the first thing you need to do is believe you can write a better life story. (And the second thing you need to do is watch for next week’s post on how to do just that.)

Question: Do you believe that starting today you can write a better life story? Why?

 

 

 

Enter into Training for a New You

Most people settle for pseudo-transformation instead of real transformation. People who follow Jesus can do the same. When they do it is damaging. When we aren’t becoming like Jesus—more kind, patient, loving, etc.—we settle for something else. That something else is boundary markers.

Biblical scholar James Dunn says the first century rabbis talked a lot about three boundary markers: dietary laws, Sabbath keeping, and circumcision. In many cases their hearts had not changed—as we see when Jesus confronts the leaders—so these boundary markers helped to decide who was in and who was not.

We have them today. John Ortberg describes it with bikers. What is their favorite mode of transportation? A Harley. What is their favorite color? Black. What is a biker’s favorite drink? Beer. What is a biker’s favorite type of woman? A biker chic. It’s a way of knowing who’s in the group and who is not.

When real change doesn’t happen in us we look for boundary markers outside us to make us feel better about ourselves. Christians do this all the time. Real change isn’t happening so they come up with silly boundary markers of who is in and who is out: music, clothing, to drink or not to drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with … you get the idea. And people even jump from one church to the other in search of the one that appears to have it all together when the real problem is they haven’t changed. Changing location won’t help that.

Neither will trying. And that’s what’s wrong with most resolutions. People say they will “try” to change: try to lose weight, try to get in shape, try to read more, try to (fill in the blank). Those of us who are Christians do the same: try to read more Bible, try to attend more often, try to be better. We try but really do little if nothing. Trying won’t help.

But training will. There is a big difference between training and trying. Paul says, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” The word for “training” is the word “gymnasia.” We get our word “gymnasium” from it. A gymnasium is a place where training takes place.

Want to train for transformation this year? If you want to be a better you this year, you need to start with your thinking. And one of the first things you need to think about is the kind of training you will enter. Eliminate the word “try” from your thinking and your vocabulary. As one wise sage has said: “Do or do not. There is no try!”

The first step is Mind Renewal. Sometimes we call this “personal reflection” or “quiet time.” But Mind Renewal gets to what Paul had in mind. It’s not just something to check off a list. Remember, if you are going to see real change, you have to train to change your thinking. And the best way to get your mind thinking like Jesus is to spend time in the Word. That’s where Jesus said his disciples would be: “If you continue in my word, you really are my disciples” (John 8:31).

When you train in the Word you bring all of what you know about yourself to all of what you know about God. You read scripture, not looking for a rule or a boundary marker, but for who God is and what the experience in the Word tells you about yourself.

You also need some Training Partners. There’s a strategy behind Jesus calling the Twelve. There’s a reason he sent them out by “twos.” There’s a reason he said is disciples were those who loved each other. We are made for community.

We need community in life training. We don’t always see the destructive patterns in our lives. We don’t always hear the negative self-talk. We don’t always know what to make of what we discover in our Mind Renewal moments. But others can help us. We need Training Partners if we want to see change.

We can experience mind renewal. We can receive coaching from training partners. But it will all be wasted if we do not practice Radical Obedience. We have to step into the vision of who we want to be. Jesus said “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.” The word “keep” means to “observe” or “obey.” What Jesus teaches us to do comes out in our life. It’s proof we are his disciples (John 15:8).

God has a desire to see you be the best you you can be. He’s given you a path to get there: a renewing of the mind with some training partners who will help you be obedient. It’s called the church.  With a training regimen in place you might live into your New Year’s Resolutions past February.

Question: What is your plan for transformation to a Better You this year?

Click Planning Sheet 1 if you did not get this in the previous blog and continue work on a Better You.

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Steps to a New You

Another New Year. And you probably fall into one of two categories. Category 1 are those who want to review their lives and set resolutions of how they will do better this year than years past. Category 2 are those who have reviewed their lives, set resolutions, and resolve this year to not even try.

About 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail by February. February! It only takes four weeks for those who set new goals for a new year to bail on them. Why are you people so bad at having the resolve to meet your resolutions?

One answer comes from Peter Herman, a Psychology professor, who talks about the “false hope syndrome.” According to Herman, this syndrome occurs when a person makes a resolution that is unrealistic and is not in line with that person’s internal view of themselves. In other words, you can make all the resolutions you want about being a success in the New Year, but it won’t be attainable if inside your self-talk says you are a failure. He says it not only does not work, it is damaging to your self-worth.

What is needed for making resolutions work is changed behaviors—and in order to change a behavior, you have to change your thinking. You can’t be transformed until your mind is reformed.

That’s what the Scriptures say. “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind” says Paul in Romans 12:2. The word “transformed” in the Greek is the word “metamorphoō” from which we get our word “metamorphosis.” Shortened we get “morph.”

When our sons were little they could not wait each day until their favorite show came on. It told of some average teenage boys and girls who would turn into super heroes with special powers. They changed from one thing into another. And all it took was the utterance of one phrase. Say it with me: “It’s Morphin’ Time!” They turned into The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could become the person we want to be by only saying “It’s Morphin’ Time!”? I hate to break it to you but that’s not how it happens. “Morphing” happens, according to God’s Word, by a renewing of the way we think. It takes “anakainōsis.” That’s another great Greek word that can also be translated “renovation.”

You understand that word. If you’ve watched Chip and Joanna on Fixer Upper or any other home renovation show, you can grasp what Paul is saying. Your mind is like a house. There are some good, sturdy beams in it that are solid and can support your life. But there are cracks too. Cracks in your ideas about reality. Fault lines in your basic images of God and life.

When we hold those ideas and images from our mind up and take a long look at them in light of God and his truth, some things need to go and be replaced by something new. Imagine Chip Gaines getting to do a Demo-Day in your head and then Joanna coming in after and sprucing things up a bit. There’s sure to be some shiplap applied somewhere.

That’s what you and I need to be able to become better people this year. We need resolutions that fall in line with how we think. And when those two match up, transformation can happen. Before outside change can take place, then, inside change has to happen.

Take a few moments and make a list of thought patterns that need to be demo’d. Then create a plan to help you spruce up your inner thoughts. You’ll find some suggestions here next week. But for now, let the renovation begin.

Question: What area of your life would you most like to see renovation/transformation and why?

Click Planning Sheet 1 for a pdf worksheet that can help you move towards transformation.

 

 

A New You in the New Year

We want to know what’s inside, don’t we? Inside the Christmas Cracker. Inside the Christmas presents. Children had trouble sleeping this past Christmas Eve wanting to know what was inside the wrapped boxes under the tree.

Joseph and Mary had some questions too. Not about what was in a box. But what was inside Mary. “It was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant…” Joseph had been a good fiancée. He had been taking cold showers, waiting for their wedding night to consummate their relationship. So when Mary’s midsection began to expand, Joseph’s mind began to explode.

That’s why the angel showed up. He told Joseph in a dream that inside Mary was a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. His name was to be Jesus because he would “save his people from their sins.” The prophet Isaiah had given him another name—Immanuel—or “God with us.”

Something wonderful was inside Mary: Jesus. And here’s a post-Christmas announcement for you. Jesus can be inside you. The best in Mary can bring out the best in you.

When John wrote about the coming of Christ he used words like “light” to describe him. Jesus was a light that shined in the darkness of our world. Our world needs light. Our world needs our best.

Charles Dickens believed his world needed some light. Too much poverty. Horrible working conditions. He wanted to bring out the best in people so he attempted to do so with his story, A Christmas Carol. In it we watch the transformation of Scrooge from a miser to a benefactor of the poor.

There was something better inside Scrooge all along. It just had to come out. It took him looking at the events of his past that had shaped him. It took him becoming aware of his present actions to get honest about his behavior. It took him peering into the future to see what could be. It took a process for him to become the best Scrooge a Scrooge could be.

That’s the best gift of Christmas. You see, Jesus was born in Mary so that he could be born in us. The Apostle Paul liked to remind the church that’s where Jesus is: in us. He called it a mystery. Something that can’t be seen, like what’s inside a Christmas Cracker or a Christmas present. But it has been made known, and that mystery he says is this: “… Christ in you.”

It was a mystery to Joseph how the Holy Spirit placed Jesus in Mary. But he did. And it’s a mystery how the Holy Spirit places Jesus in us. But he does. And with any birth, there is a time for what is being formed in us to come out for others to see.

What will others see in you this New Year? Will they see Jesus? Will they see the best you there is? Or will they see the worst? A birth does not happen overnight and neither does transformation.

We have to let Jesus walk us through our past. Our sin. The sin of others in our lives. And how that has shaped us in ways that caused us to live below our best. We have to let Jesus speak to us about our present behavior, our actions, our feelings and what that tells us about our best and worst self. And we have to let Jesus reveal to us a vision of our future. Where we will end up if our path does not change. Where we would like to end up if we do change. And show us the gap between that future “you” and the one you see in the mirror today.

Wouldn’t you like to see what is inside…you…this year? If Christ is to come out of you he has to first be in you. You have to ask him in. Once there, he can help you get rid of the things that should not be there. Things like immorality, impurity, hatred, anger, selfishness. Then he’ll replace them with things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Wouldn’t you like to open yourself up and find the best you inside? It starts with Jesus in you. And heaven knows: the world could use the best you and me this year.

Question: What is something “new” people need to see from you this New Year?

Don’t Fear Your Christmas Future

Worse case scenarios. “What ifs” fall around us as smoothly as snow on a Denver Christmas morning. Instead of looking forward to the time in the water, the camping trip, or the airplane flight, we wonder “what if?” We can’t enjoy today because of our fear of what might happen tomorrow.

It’s no wonder that Scrooge’s last visiting ghost wore black. The Ghost of Christmas Future’s face is unseen. Only an outstretched hand is visible. He shows Scrooge the future where people are glad that someone has passed on. He then finds the deceased man is himself. Upon seeing his own tombstone, he pleads with the ghost to give him a chance to “sponge away the writing on this stone.”

Does the future terrify you? You’re not alone. Jesus knows the feeling. Surprised? Visit the Garden of Gethsemane just hours before Jesus will experience the cross and you will see it. Mark writes: “He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” The Greek word for “distressed” means “to throw into terror” or “to alarm thoroughly, to terrify.”

What could possibly terrify Jesus? We find the answer in his prayer to the Father. “And he said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me.” Throughout scripture “cup” refers to God’s judgment, his anger, and punishment.

Ask John what the worst case scenario is and he would define it as facing death without Christ. And for Jesus, it was enduring this “cup” himself. He had always been one with the Father. He deserved no judgment as he was perfectly obedient, “even to death on a cross.” He had never experienced physical death: he was immortal from the beginning of time.

Jesus was born on that Christmas Day for this very purpose, that is, to drink the cup that was ours to drink so that we would not have to. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

And he was born on that Christmas day so that we could watch him live this life and learn from him how to live ours. “Disciple” means a “learner.” We are to learn to live the life Jesus would live if he were in our shoes in our family, in our workplace, in our neighborhood. We can learn how to face our fears by looking at how Jesus faced his. He prayed.

When I face the fear of my future, what do I do? I can worry, grow anxious, or panic.  Those come naturally. We have to learn to pray. And to learn to pray we need to watch Jesus when he is struck with “terror.” Jesus faced his worst-case scenario with prayer.

Pay attention to how he prays. He addresses God as “Abba.” It was the word a child would use for her father. It was close and intimate. His prayer is that of one with supreme confidence that his father would take care of him.

Then he makes an honest request: “…if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” Name what it is that frightens you. Here’s a secret you may not be aware of: God already knows. And he can do more for you when you acknowledge that you know too.

Are you fearful of the economy? Tell him. Your health? Tell him. What will happen to your family? Tell him. And ask him, if possible, to take it away. It’s OK to tell the Father what you are afraid of. When fears are exposed they can be deposed.

Then be sure to not miss what Jesus does at the end of his prayer. He verbalizes his trust in God.  “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.” God does not will evil in our lives. But he does will that our character is transformed into the character of Christ. What was born into the world on that Christmas Day he wants to be born in us. Jesus trusted that whatever happened God would work his will in him.

Death is our worst case scenario. And death is where Jesus makes all the difference. He’s been there. He’s walked through it. And he’ll walk you through it too. With Jesus you don’t have to fear your future. You can leave your fears behind and start living today.

Question: What fear can you pray about today?

Discover Peace for your Christmas Present

When we moved to Tomball years ago now, we moved from a one-story house with a low-pitched roof to a two-story house with a high-pitched roof. But lights for our first Christmas was a must.

Our ladder barely reached the first roof level. I climbed up and, with my best James Bond impersonation, leapt from the last rung to the roof. As soon as I landed, Karen and the boys erupted in great applause. I stood to take a bow and instead took a slide. I looked like Jose Altuve coming into second base on a steal.

I clawed my fingers into the shingles and stopped just before my shoes felt the gutter. I crawled my way back up, slowly hanging the string of lights along the roof line. With every move I made I could feel myself sliding a little more. Two crawls up, one slide back.

Within fifteen minutes my nerves were shot. When Karen asked me if my life insurance was paid up, I decided it was time to return to terra firma. I had nothing to hold onto. And my anxiety meter was moving off the charts.

The United States is the most anxious nation in the world. In fact, it’s dangerous for a foreigner to move here. When people from less developed nations move here they become just as anxious as us. And the average child today is showing the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950’s.

Maybe you need some peace in the present. The angels announced, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!” Ever wonder what Mary and Joseph thought about that declaration? They’re poor. Birthing a baby in a borrowed barn. Gossiped about. Joseph wondering how he will afford to raise this child. Mary concerned about the cleanliness of her baby’s crib.

No one needed to remind them of their present problems. And no one needs to remind you of yours. Scrooge, however, did. The ghost of Christmas present took him on a tour of Christmas day in London. He sees the people’s cheer contrasted against his own misery. He observes the poverty of the Cratchits and the declining health of their Tiny Tim. He sees starving children called Ignorance and Want.

Scrooge sees enough to be anxious. You’ve seen enough too. And yet “peace” has been proclaimed at Jesus’ birth. Jesus taught peace for anxious days. He said, “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?

Jesus’ prescription for peace in the present? Look at the birds. And look at where worry gets you. We worry about what we will have to eat, drink or wear. We worry about all the basic things of life and yet the birds don’t. And last I checked, they’re doing OK.

We have a cardinal and a blue jay that bless us with their presence most days. We watch them in all their beauty. And I take Jesus to heart. I think, “Now those birds are not worried about anything. They take the water we have in our bird bath for them. They find food wherever it is available. They enjoy our trees until the stupid squirrel comes out and chases them away. And then I think about the squirrel. “He’s got a pretty easy life, that is, until he decides to cross a street. Then all bets are off.”

Then I get anxious again.

We have not been at peace since the Garden. But Jesus was bent on teaching us to live at peace. His peace is a different kind of peace, mind you. The peace of the world is defined as absence of conflict. When warring nations end their battles we say they are “at peace with each other.” Jesus’ peace is something different. The peace of Jesus is possible in the midst of conflict. It is defined in this way: Peace is when things are operating as God created them to operate. It is a peace that can be experienced regardless of outside circumstances.

If you’re feeling some anxiety this Christmas season, give yourself a present. Look at a bird. Then look at the One who cares for the bird. You’ll have something to hold onto next time your feet are sliding out from under you.

Question: What Christmas worry is causing anxiety in your life today?

 

 

 

 

 

Find Pardon for your Christmas Past

For many, Christmas is a time when the past is conjured up again. It was for Charles Dickens. He was struggling in his writing career in 1843. His last couple of books had not sold well. His finances were tight. And his past revisited him.

When he was twelve years old his father was placed in debtors’ prison and Charles was placed at Warren’s Blacking Factory pasting labels on pots of “blacking,” a mixture used for polishing boots. He worked ten hour days, six days a week.

When his father was released from prison in May of 1824, his mother wanted to leave him there to make money for the family. For years he had to help support his parents who were not gifted in money-management.

And so, when Christmas season approached in 1843, the stress of his own situation surfaced the shame he felt from those earlier days. “No words can express the secret agony of my soul,” he wrote, “…of the sense I had of being utterly neglected and hopeless; of the shame I felt in my position…”

Events from our past can come back to haunt us, especially in times of stress. The Christmas season, for many, is a time of stress. Extra errands. Trying to please family. Loneliness and lists: lists for gifts, lists for parties and lists for cooking. Stress. So much so that one North American survey reported that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season.

Maybe that’s why Dickens created the ghost of Christmas Past. He knew his past haunted him. And so it might be something that haunted others too. Whether Dickens wrote his story with that in mind or not, God did. And so the God who invented Christmas did so by sending his son.

Matthew records the meeting of God’s angel and Joseph. Seeing an angel was as frightening as seeing any ghost. In most instances in the Bible, an angel shows up and people fall down. This one came in a dream and told Joseph, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

His people needed saving from their sins. According to Scripture, so do you and I. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” the Apostle Paul writes. None of us are exempt from the effect of sin in our lives.

Why not let the God who invented Christmas help you revisit your past? Here’s what often happens: something happened in the past—it could be something we did or something that was done to us—and we interpreted it in a way that is twisted. Maybe you had a mother who was constantly on you to lose weight. It could be that she was genuinely concerned about your health or it could be she was just dealing with her own issues and taking them out on you, but either way you interpreted it as not being good enough. You didn’t feel loved as you were. And so the rest of your life you have dieted and starved yourself and tried to be perfect so you can be loved.

That’s what ghosts from the Past do to us. They twist the past. The word “ghost” is connected to the word “wraith” which is connected to our word “wreath.” They all have to do with “twisting.” The things that haunt us twist our thinking and our perception.

When we revisit the past with Jesus he untwists our thinking. Sometimes we will see the lie in our past. We interpreted an event in one way. Jesus sees it another. The enemy told you that you were not smart enough, beautiful enough, strong enough, clever enough…that you were not enough to be loved. And you and I believed it at one time. Those lies come back to haunt us until we learn how to combat them. The way to combat a lie is with the truth.

Get armed with the truth. Here’s one piece of truth for you. “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Had you done anything to earn his love? Did you get yourself together before he loved you? No. You are enough already for him to love you. Let Jesus show you a different perspective on your past.

Dickens had his own shame. He had memories of debt too. When they surfaced near the Christmas season of 1843 he wrote a story. So did God. And at just the right time he wrote the chapter where a baby in Bethlehem was born to die so you and I could live.

Question: What part of your past haunts you that needs to be untwisted?