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?

Scrooge-Proof Your Christmas

He had just finished speaking to the members of the Manchester Athenaeum. He had witnessed the harsh conditions of the manufacturing workers in their city. They were experiencing a 15-20% unemployment rate. He had visited schools where children were illiterate, filthy and dressed in rags. 57% of children born to working class children in Manchester died before they reached the age of five.

So he wanted to do something for the cause of the poor. And he thought the time of the year to do it would be Christmas, which at the time was a minor holiday and not what we know today.  And so, after his speech to the library members in which they envisioned a place where anyone could come and learn and better their lives, he walked the dark city streets with his mind formulating what would become his most famous work of fiction.

In 1843 Charles Dickens wanted to revive his writing career and at the same time revive the spirit of Christmas.  The book and movie of the same title—The Man Who Invented Christmas—tells the story behind the story of A Christmas Carol. Dickens observed people living in dark times. He had lived them as a child. And he wanted to birth a story that would bring light to those dark places.

Your world might need some light today. And your Christmas might need a facelift as well. Dickens’ world had become dark because people cared little for others. People were like Ebenezer Scrooge who had made his money but cared little if anything for anyone else.

The Christmas season can surface some Scrooge in all of us. Snarled traffic can snarl our lips. Shaky economy can make us horde what we have. We “want” more than “give.” Before we know it we can be a bit like Scrooge. He was a miser. And that’s only one letter away from misery. How can we keep the holiday season with its crowded malls and decked out halls from making us miserable?

The answer lies in another story, the story behind the story of Christmas. The God who invented Christmas wanted to send light into a dark world too. His plot was to revive the world with Christmas.

Herod is the Scrooge of the story. No room for anyone else in his life, much less another king. The wise men stand in contrast to Herod, like Bob Cratchit did with Scrooge. They were looking for Jesus and came, not wanting anything, but bringing gifts. Most of all they brought him their worship.

With whom do you better relate in the holiday season? Scrooge or Bob Cratchit? Herod or the Wise Men? Which heart is most like yours? Difficult times can make us more like Herod. We hold tight to what we have because we fear we won’t have enough. And it’s been a difficult year. Harvey hit us hard. Some have lost work. Some lost jobs. It would be easy to withdraw into a hard outer shell to keep the harsh world at bay.

But let’s not. The season of Advent is a season for preparing for Christ. It is a perfect time to practice generosity instead of miser-osity. Generosity is not something we fall to naturally. Did you know the average American gives 2.1% of the wages to some form of charity? Generosity has to be cultivated. Here are some ideas of how you can generate generosity in your home:

  • You can be generous to someone in a foreign country. The Wise Men did. They helped Joseph, Mary and Jesus with gifts that enabled them to live while in Egypt. Organizations like World Vision and Compassion International can show you ways to help others in other lands.
  • You can be generous to someone nearby. Give to a nonprofit, volunteer at a shelter, give to a center that provides emergency help, or adopt a family in need for Christmas.
  • You can give to the church. Churches help people in need. And the amount of help is determined by what we give. In most churches, about 20% of the people give 80% of the contributions given. What if that changed beginning this season?

Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the all-time great characters in literature. But let’s keep him on the pages of a book. Let’s let the God who invented Christmas write us into his script of bringing light into our dark world.

Question: How do you plan to cultivate generosity this Christmas?

 

Where to Go with Your Broken Heart

A mentor of mine once said, “I think it’s important to preach like there’s a broken heart on every pew. That’s always been a phrase that stuck with me. Not everybody is having a tough time, but you can bet your buck that there’s a good tenth of your church that’s going through a hard season. There really is a broken heart on every pew.

You never quite know who will be sitting in church on a Sunday morning. And you never know what is going on in their heart while they are sitting there. Maybe there is guilt from a poor decision. Shame over a broken promise. Sadness due to a ruptured relationship.

And they don’t quite know what they will receive. Some churches major in criticism when Jesus calls for his followers to show compassion. A person sitting in the pew might wonder which they will be handed.

David may have wondered the same. He’s on the run. It is no secret now that Saul wants him dead. He’s confused. Maybe angry. Feeling alone.  It wasn’t that long ago he was in the pastures enjoying an obscure life singing to sheep. Before he knew it he was singing for Saul. By the time he killed Goliath the entire nation was singing his praises. Paparazzi followed his every step. TMZ caught him for a sound bite whenever they could.

And now David has to find a place he can go where he can be safe. He runs without even packing his bags. But he can’t go to Bethlehem—that might endanger his family. He certainly can’t go into the land of the Philistines—they’d want revenge for their giants and foreskins. So David ran.

Where do you run when you find yourself in trouble? When your heart is broken? When you may ask, “Where is the Lord in my life?” Some run to drinking. Some run to the arms of someone new. Some run to another experience in another town.

And some even run to church. That’s where David ran. He went to Nob where he found a sanctuary and a priest. He is hungry and he needs a weapon so he does what you’d expect a person “after God’s own heart” would do. He lies.

Ahimelech the priest is forced to make a decision. His task is to keep the sanctuary holy. The only food available is the “bread of the Presence.” The law said it was only for the priests to eat. He could hold the letter of the law and refuse it to David and his men. He could keep things tidy and quiet. He could criticize David for lying.

Or he could out of love show compassion. And that’s what he did. He gave David the bread and the only weapon on hand: Goliath’s sword.

David’s life is not one to emulate at every point. This story does not give us grounds to lie our way through our life. But David’s life is a real life. He’s confused, maybe angry, and feeling like the walls are coming down all around him. He’s doing the best he can to get through his days.

You may be feeling the same way. And in your attempts to figure your way through the maze of your months you’ve said and done things you wish you hadn’t. If so, do what David did. Keep turning to God. That is the part of his story we are to mimic.

And find a sanctuary, a church. David needed bread for the day and a blade for the next. A church that is tasked with helping people connect to God will offer bread for the day—the Word of God—and a blade for the next—the spiritual armor to help you fight the real fight.

You never quite know who will be sitting next to you in church. Ahimelech was surprised to see David. And if, like David, your heart is broken and you’re looking for some bread and a sword, do what he did. Run to the church and find a priest. You’ll find what you need there. You might even surprise a person or two.

Question: Where do you run when your heart is broken?

What You See Sticks

In 1999, Scott Ginsberg attended a convention, the kind where they have everyone attending wear a name tag. The kind of name tags that as soon as you are heading out the door you rip off and toss in the trash.

Except Scott didn’t. He thought it might be fun to keep it on and see what happened. The responses the rest of the night led him to a crazy decision. He decided he would never take off his name tag.

It was a social experiment before you could find them all over YouTube. Cute girls started saying hello to him. People would come up to him, say “Hi Scott,” and give him hugs. One of his favorite stories is the time he was in line to get inside an Irish Pub. The big, brawny bouncer looked at his driver’s license, then his nametag, and said straight-faced: “Sorry, no Scotts allowed.”

Even if he took off the sticky-backed nametag, he’d still have on a nametag. He got it tattooed to his chest which landed him on a number of “worst tattoos” lists. It has also landed him in Ripley’s Believe it or Not as a world record holder.

Where others saw trash, Scott saw a trend. He’s turned his social experiment into a six-figure annual salary. What you see sticks.

The shepherd boy David understood that. He showed up at a battlefront one day to bring his brothers some bread and cheese. But no battle was taking place. Instead, the Israelite army has been listening to the taunts of the six-foot nine-inch giant Goliath for forty days. “I defy the ranks of Israel today. Send me a man so we can fight each other!” For forty days the Israelite army did nothing. The Israelite army saw a giant. What they saw stuck and so they were stuck.

But David saw something else. He speaks up and says: “What will be done for the man who kills that Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Just who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

Pay attention to David’s words. He doesn’t see a giant. He sees an “uncircumcised Philistine.” He doesn’t see the Israelite army. He sees “the armies of the living God.”

It’s important what we see. We have our own giants today.

  • Something from our past resurfaces every year on the anniversary of the event and the giant of depression appears.
  • The giant of unexpected unemployment taunts you with words you don’t think you can defeat: “You’ll never dig yourself out of this hole, your bills are stacking up so high.”
  • Your marriage is shaky and the giant of divorce is challenging you.

You’ve seen your own giants, haven’t you? And when you did and when you do, do you see God?

David did. Nine times in the story he speaks of God. He mentions Goliath only two. Do you think that perhaps your giants would be slayed if your thoughts of God outnumbered your thoughts of your giants by a nine to two ratio?

If so, do what David did. He knelt. He had to in order to pick up the five stones from the wadi. He had developed a practice of kneeling in the quiet of his shepherding duties. There he became saturated with the stories of God.

  • How he delivered his people from the giant named Pharaoh.
  • How he gave them provision when they faced the giants of thirst and hunger in the Wilderness.
  • How ten spies saw real giants and retreated for fear.
  • How Joshua and Caleb saw God instead.

When you kneel, you see God. And what you see sticks. What you see will shape your life. And it may shape the lives of others too. Once David defeated his giants, the others followed and routed their enemy.

You can do the same. You have a spouse, a friend, your family, your children who need someone in their lives to help them face their own giants. They need someone who sees what maybe they don’t. Someone who sees God.

Kneel. Then run.

Then watch your giants run.

Question: What giant are you battling today?

When You Think You’re Forgotten, Think Again.

“The little brother.” That’s what I was known as growing up. My brother Scott was 13 months to the day older than me. We were about as close in age as you could be without being twins.

He’s always been older. Always been taller. Always been a year ahead of me in school and “firsts.” First to get out of diapers. (That’s my assumption.) First to lose a tooth. First to go to school. First to experience Jr. High. First to enter High School. First to get to drive. First to get a job. First to get married. First to have a child.

Being the little brother is not such a great thing. Older brothers seem to think the parents take it easier on the little brother so they can be hard on little brothers. And your parents don’t always cut you much slack. How many times did I hear mine say to my older brother: “Please go play with your little brother. That’s basically the reason we had him.” (OK. I don’t remember them saying that. But it’s a good joke.)

When we’d play in neighborhood pick-up games and would choose teams, being the smallest one there, I’d be one of the last chosen. Last one noticed. I was the “little brother.”

You know that feeling don’t you? You interviewed for a job and made it to the final three but they went with someone else. You were encouraged to try out for the chorus so you did but didn’t make the final cut. You knew a group was getting together on Friday night but they never called you.

You know the feeling. The feeling of being unwanted. We say we’re “left out of the loop” or “didn’t get the memo.” Here’s one you may not have used: “he’s tending the sheep.”

That’s where “the youngest” was when Samuel the prophet came to town. God sent him to Bethlehem to anoint a new king. He went to Jesse’s house and had him line up his sons. The oldest to the youngest. As he passed each one God passed on each one too.

Samuel is a bit perplexed because he is out of options. He asks Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse answers, “There is still the youngest but right now he’s tending the sheep.”

“… he’s tending the sheep, left out of the loop, didn’t get the memo.” That’s where he is because he’s “the youngest.” Not just the little brother. He’s the runt. The Hebrew word is haqqaton. It carries with it the suggestion of insignificance. His society did not esteem him. Even his own family sent him out to the pastures. Even his own father did not think of him when Samuel came calling. No one thought to bring “the youngest” to Bethlehem that day. No one thought much of him at all. Not his brothers. Not his father. Not even Samuel.

But God did. The “youngest” is the one that God tells Samuel to anoint. “Then the Lord said, ‘Anoint him, for he is the one.’ So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him …”

I’m wondering how that last line affected you. Are you wondering what it would have felt like to be this youngest son, left out in the fields, being brought in as the forgotten one, and having Samuel the prophet take his horn of oil and pour it over your head? Can you imagine what it would feel like to have the oil begin to run down your cheeks? Can your heart grasp what it would be like to be chosen?

You are, you know. Those we refuse God will choose. And he chose you: “As you come to him, a living stone — rejected by people but chosen and honored by God…”

What does he see in you that others don’t? Here’s what he told Samuel: “Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” Others may see only the haqqaton. God sees the heart. He sees your heart and mine. It doesn’t matter if no one else does. It matters that God does.

And because he does, you are not forgotten after all.

You are chosen.

Question: When have you felt like the haqqaton?

How Story Can Transform Your Life

Most people love stories. But not all do. One time a number of years ago I had finished preaching when a lady came marching towards me. (It’s never good when a lady comes marching towards you right after a sermon.) The sermon was based in a gospel account, a story of Jesus. She said, “You tell too many stories.”

I said, “I take it you don’t like stories?”

“No,” she said. “You need to teach more Bible.”

“Do you think I should teach more like Jesus, then?” I cast the line and she took the bait.

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

Then I opened to Matthew 13:34: “…and Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables, and he did not tell them anything without a parable…”

Jesus loved to tell stories. In fact, stories are the primary way in which God’s word is given to us. When we come to the Bible we find many stories. They are all important and have something to teach us. But there are two primary stories. Eugene Peterson helps us see these two stories in his book Leap Over a Wall. One is in the Old Testament and one is in the New. The Old Testament story that takes up the most space is the story of David. David’s story is the primary story of the Old Testament. His story requires 66 chapters to be told. His name is mentioned over 600 times in the Old Testament and 60 times in the new. Even a novice reader of scripture would understand that there is something important about this person David.

Stories are powerful. Just think about the movies you love. Take Dunkirk for example. There’s no big setup. The opening scene shows a group of soldiers moving cautiously through a street. Leaflets are falling from the sky, dropped from German planes warning them to surrender or die. Before you have time to settle in with your popcorn and coke the soldiers are running for their lives.

And you are too. You’re not quite sure if you are going to survive or how. When the movie ends you have to check to see if you are still breathing. That’s the power of story. Story invites you into its life. Through it we learn what the world is and what it means to be a human in this world.

That’s why the David story takes up so much space in scripture. His story teaches us what it means to be human. And yet David is always dealing with God. In fact, in Acts 13:22 Paul is preaching a sermon and includes David with these words: “… he [God] raised up David as their king and testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my own heart, who will carry out all my will.’”

Look at David’s story and we find that he deals with danger and enemies. He has friends and lovers. He has children and wives. (Too many wives but that’s another part of his story.) He deals with pride and humiliation. He struggles with sickness and sexuality and fear. He’s not a very good parent. His son will have more wisdom to pass on than he. He’s an unfaithful husband.

“How did David ever wind up taking up so much biblical space?” you ask. David gets so much air time in Scripture because what is important about David is not whether he was a great military leader or a great moral character. What is important is that he deals with God. Listen to David’s story and we find someone who is human in every way and yet keeps connecting with God.

After you get to know David, you’ll think, “Now there’s a down to earth guy I can connect with.”  He’s not so different than you or me. We see him fighting, praying, loving, sinning, angry, devious, generous, and dancing…naked. It’s all very human. And it’s all connected to God.

Often we look to a set of rules or moral guidelines and try to squeeze our lives into them. We think that is what a real spiritual life is all about. But God gave us story because story is powerful. Unlike rules that try to shape us from the outside in, stories get inside us and shape us from the inside out.

God took a very flawed and human David and through him wrote a great story that ended up with Jesus. If he used David, he can use you.

And any story connected to Jesus is an epic one.

Question: What do you think it means to be human and spiritual?