Tag Archives: holidays

Two Things That Will Not Change This Coming Year

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I’m not sure what I was thinking last year around this time, but I’m sure I had some kind of optimistic notion about all of the ways that 2013 would be better than 2012, just as I’m trying to be optimistic about 2014 being better than 2013.

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Looking ahead, there’s all kinds of stuff I want to change like being more efficient with my work so I have more time for my family or finding more reliable ways to earn freelance writing income. I want to be more generous with others and less self-serving, as well as less focused on my own little world with my insecurities and anxieties.

Actually, my goals kind of look the same from last year.

OK, they’re a carbon copy.

Fine.

Whatever.

It’s not that I haven’t made progress. We have a lot of great stuff going on in our family. Ethan is a true joy, and I love him more than ever. My wife and I survived a really demanding fall semester for her, and we’re looking forward to several road trips this coming year that are work-related but should be fun to do together. I’ve written/co-written 3 books in 2013, and I’m excited to share them with the world in 2014.

So many good things happened in 2013. I want to be grateful for it all, but I also have this way of focusing on the stuff that didn’t quite work out. The stuff that I wish was different about our circumstances and about myself.

It’s easy to focus on the failures because they have a real weight. They sit on your heart, driving home the depths of my failures and inability to REALLY change. It’s all slow, incremental progress.

I saw a Twitter hash tag for “#BestYearEver” the other night, and it just made me depressed. Maybe I’m becoming a pessimistic New Englander at heart, but gosh, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself.

We all want to snap out of it. We want to make progress by leaps and bounds. We want to fly out of the mire and make bold new amazing life-affirming changes. We want to leave our struggles and problems behind.

I want all of that. Don’t you?

But I wonder how many of us will just feel a bit defeated and weary at this time next year. As the optimists and life coaches on Twitter cajole us into seeing bright sparkly wonderfulness in the coming year, we’ll look back at all of the ways 2014 wasn’t the best year ever. It was just the “#MehYearEver.”

Every person is different, but here’s what I’m at with all of this…

We all live with this tension of who we are and who we hope we’ll become. We want to do big things for God, but we also struggle to pray and discern God’s will. We know the good we should do, but sometimes our sense of self-preservation, greed, or self-righteousness get in the way.

We will fail. Even if we do end up making big bold leaps forward, there will be low moments. Sometimes those low moments stretch into long periods of time that feel defeating and endless.

That’s what will never change. We’ll always struggle to one degree or another with our aspirations and God’s best for us. We’re going to fall short. At one point or another, we’re going to need to confess something, maybe even something really big. We’re going to have to face shame, disappointment, and self doubt.

We could give up right now. Who wants to mess with all of that? Isn’t it safer to just scroll through Facebook in search of the outrage of the day?

As certain as it is that we’ll struggle and meet disappointment, it’s just as certain that God is right here with us in this mess. this presence of God among us is why we need Christmas every year.

We don’t need a new gadget, pair of pants, or gift card. We need the grace-filled, hope-infusing reminder that Jesus has come into our mess. He’s not surprised that we’re high maintenance and dripping with drama. He’s not disgusted by our envy, greed, or anger because he’s come to heal it all.

Don’t jump right to the cross during Christmas. Take some time to dwell in the crowded stench of the manger. If you have children, that should be really easy to imagine.

Here is God incarnate entering into our world of political intrigue, children written off as collateral damage, people enslaved, families broken by addiction, parents distracted by smart phones, and children searching for something to believe in. God is right here in our disappointments, anxieties, and fears.

This coming year may not be the best year ever. But I wonder if we are using the wrong measurement for the “best year ever.”

We can’t change the fact that we will struggle.

By the same token, we can’t change the fact that Jesus has come to dwell among us and is here right now.

We can’t control everything that will happen to us. We’ll catch breaks, we’ll work hard, we’ll make smart moves, mentors will support us, and we’ll fail miserably.

If we stake everything on the results of the coming year, we’ll most likely be disappointed in one way or another. At the very least we’ll stir up a lot of anxiety trying to control circumstances in this big chaotic world.

Do you want the best year ever?

Try this: Convince yourself every morning that Jesus is with you.

This is not rocket science. It’s the big promise he made to his disciples before his ascension.

He’s with us until the end of the age.

I know that the Star Wars prequels were terrible and Miley Cyrus was almost voted TIME’s person of the year, but shockingly the world has not come to an end. What can I say? God made this world of sturdy stuff.

Try as you may, you can’t change the presence of Jesus. We will struggle to pray. We will doubt the presence of Jesus. We will go through circumstances that make it appear untrue.

But Christmas is our annual opportunity to once again take hold of the truth that God is indeed among us and is mighty to save us even if we’re going through the worst year ever.

Whether you face storms or sunshine in the coming year, Jesus will be there.

We cannot change our struggles, but that doesn’t change God’s presence.

I Am the Worst Choir Member for A Deeper Family

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microphone choirI was standing on stage with the choir for my high school’s Christmas concert because it was the second to last place in the world where I wanted to be.

Study Hall with notorious hard guy Mr. Jenkins was number one last place I wanted to be, and it coincided with choir and band practice at my small Christian high school. Jenkins somehow managed to be an incredibly kind and caring man outside of the classroom, and a hard nosed staff sergeant  once he crossed the threshold to his room. He wore cheerful sweaters and put product into his hair, but he also ran his classroom with strict precision and demanding standards that brought me back to my days of Catholic school.

I can’t say whether my animosity toward Jenkins in the classroom came from our clash of personalities or whether he really did have some extreme control issues that manifested in nitpicky classroom management. Either way, when I stepped into his room for study hall and met his guns a blazing gaze, I vowed to audition for choir the next day.

Read the rest at A Deeper Family.

Christine Sine Helps Us Celebrate the Coming of Jesus During Advent

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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA  This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, and I’ve asked Christine Sine, an author and blogger at God Space, one of the best Advent and Lent resources around, to share a guest post about the Advent Season.  She most recently edited a collection of brief devotions for Advent and beyond called Waiting for the Light:

 

The Christian calendar begins at the end of November, with the season of Advent and our preparation for the coming of the Christ child at Christmas. This season means different things to different people.

For some the season of Advent is just a time to enter into the hype of consumer binging and overindulgence. For those of us who follow Christ, this season is meant to have a different focus. This is the season when we all should await the coming of Christ in quiet expectation.  We don’t just await his coming to us as a baby, we enter into the anticipation of the coming of a Savior who not only brings personal salvation for those who choose to follow him but who will also redeem all creation with love and righteousness. 

This is also the season when we anticipate the coming of a God who brings justice for the poor and freedom for the oppressed and judgment for the oppressors.  For still others it is the remembrance of a child whose birth two thousand years ago radically refocused our world.

Christians of all traditions are discovering the value of taking time in the days that lead up to Christmas to break away from the consumer frenzy of our culture and prepare their hearts and minds for the coming of Christ.  Waiting for the Light is a book that responds to this desire. It is more than a devotional; it is a complete guide to the Advent and Christmas seasons providing liturgies, weekly activities and daily reflections to equip and nourish us throughout the season. Reflections are contributed by bloggers across the globe who love God and love to share their faith with others.

And if you want to spend more time in quiet reflection during this season you may also like to follow along at http://godspace.wordpress.com where we will continue to add new thoughts on the theme Jesus is Coming – What Do We Expect?

Dear Jesus, I’ll Pray After I Check Twitter

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A few days ago I had about twenty minutes to spare before running off to an appointment. I sensed a gentle nudge to sit quietly before God to pray and to just make myself available to him.

And then I thought, well, twenty minutes is a pretty big chunk of time. I’ll just go on Twitter to see what’s happening, and then I’ll sit to pray.

I read through the latest stream of updates, and then I noticed an interesting article. Without even thinking about it, I clicked it.

After reading the article, I obviously had to leave a comment.

After hitting the submit button for my comment,  I checked the time. I had five minutes.

Shoot.

We can always justify doing one more thing, but when I look back at that moment, I essentially squandered a chance to love God with all of my strength and to seek his Kingdom first. It was a good blog post, but I once heard someone say that the good is sometimes the enemy of the best.

Did reading that blog post and leaving a comment actually move me closer toward the most important objectives in my life? Probably not. While we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over our to-do lists, there is something to be said for hearing God’s voice and responding with quiet time before him.

Sometimes we need to just stop.

We can always add another chore to the list during the holiday season. However, are we leaving space for God and letting him rise to the top of our priority lists?

Lately, God has been claiming my time in the car. It has been really great. I’ve had some refreshing moments of prayer and meditation while driving that I would have missed if I’d had the radio on. Nevertheless, when God wanted to move in my time at home, I found reasons to distract myself.

It’s a process. It’s a relationship. There will come times when we lose sight of what’s most important. Thankfully God is passionate for his people, and he is patient with us. I’m blown away that he sticks with us.

As our schedules fill up during the holidays, may we find the time to stick with him and to enjoy the love he has for us.

For more posts about finding Jesus during the Christmas season, drop by Bonnie Gray’s Faith Barista Blog.

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