You don’t have to wait for Friday to start over

The idea of starting over isn’t always appealing. When I finished my freshman year of college, I changed schools. I went from a super-conservative, unaccredited college in Florida to a public state university in Kansas, and it was looking I was going to have to start over again. I had 33 credits and for all intents and purposes, it didn’t seem like they would be accepted. In that instance, starting over wasn’t going to be fun.

The Lord opened some impossible doors, though, and all 33 of my credits transferred (even my Bible courses) to Wichita State University, and I finished my degree there and had a great experience. I was thankful that I didn’t have to repeat my freshman year. So in that case, beginning again wouldn’t have been my preference. But there are plenty of times in my life that I wish I could have a Do Over moment.

I say something or I do something I shouldn’t say or do. Or I come to my senses later on and wish I could have the moment to do over again. Those are the times when you wish starting over was easy.

explosion-firework-new-year-s-eve-december-31Today’s verses are Lamentations 3:22-26.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
for salvation from the Lord.

This is the time of year that we all start thinking about new beginnings. A new year begins this week, and lots of people will be initiating new ways of living. New diet plans. New budgets. New clothes. New jobs. New everything.

New years mark the time to start over again, and everyone around the world usually embraces the idea whole-heartedly. I mean, after a year like last year, who wouldn’t want a fresh start, right?

But oftentimes, new years are just a rehash of the old year, aren’t they? Not to be a doomsayer. That’s just the truth. Most people who make New Year’s Resolutions end up stuck in the same rut all over again in two or three weeks. That’s a generalization, sure, but it’s not an untrue one.

And that’s okay. You know, we all deal with that. Everyone faces troubles like that.

But what if you need to start over? What if you really do need a new beginning? Well, that’s where God comes in. See, new starts with God really are new beginnings. Every morning, His mercies are new. That means He doesn’t hold sins from yesterday against us. If we’ve confessed them and repented (which means we’ve determined not to live that way anymore), He forgives us and moves on.

God doesn’t hold your sin over your head. He’s forgotten it. There’s no guilt, no shame, no pointing fingers, and no baggage.

Do you need to start over? You don’t have to wait for the New Year to get here. You can start over now, and God will give you fresh start. You just have to turn to Him. Start living your life to please Him. Search for His will in every situation.

The world will remind you of all the wrong you’ve done. The world will condemn you because you aren’t strong enough. The world will give up on you because you don’t have the power to change. That’s not what God does. God makes you into a new person and gives you the power to live a new life for Him.

Don’t wait for Friday. You can start over today. Just ask.

Gifts aren’t always what they seem

I love giving gifts. It’s one of my favorite things in the world. I don’t like to shop, really, but looking for just the right Christmas present is one of the highlights of my year. And the only thing better is wrapping it up and giving it away, anticipating how much joy the receiver will experience, the way their eyes light up and their faces lift.

In the past, I’ve always been able to find exactly what I wanted to give, mostly because I could afford it. But this year is a little different. This year, finances are much tighter than they have been in the past, and that’s to be expected. When you cut your income by more than 50%, you tighten the belt. And that includes Christmas presents.

The gifts I’m giving away this year are a far cry from what I gave away in past years. They’re certainly more personal because there’s so many more homemade gifts rather than purchased ones. But I always hear that niggling little voice in the back of my head that tells me they aren’t good enough. I mean, how could a cheap little hand-made present communicate how much I love someone?

But as I was arguing with my stupid inner-self a few days ago, I had a thought. Or maybe the Lord gave me a thought. See, Christmas is the time we celebrate that Jesus came to earth, and when He was born, shepherds and wise men and all sorts brought presents and had a great big party. And that party continued for like 30 years, because everyone was so excited that God had sent someone to save them from Rome.

Yeah. That’s the gift people were celebrating. But that wasn’t the gift God gave.

gift-present-christmas-xmasToday’s verses are Isaiah 9:6-7.

For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!

See, the people of Israel believed that God had sent them a political Messiah. Someone who would toss the Romans out of the land and restore freedom to their people. But that wasn’t the reason Jesus came. Jesus came with salvation, yes, but salvation for our souls. Not salvation from a government people didn’t like.

We had to be saved from our own selves. That was the gift God gave us when Jesus came to Earth. But nobody saw that. Jesus came and that’s worth celebrating, but the most precious gift He brought wasn’t what everyone expected.

Don’t make the mistake of seeing a gift at face value. Don’t assume you know its worth. God gave His most precious gift to us when He gave us Jesus, but that gift isn’t what people wanted right at that moment. They wanted salvation from Rome immediately. They wanted a ruler to look impressive, sound impressive, be impressive, but God knew what they needed, just like He knows what we need now.

 

We should always be thankful for the gifts we receive, but even if you get a gift that you don’t understand or don’t know how to use, don’t automatically discount it in your mind. A gift isn’t always what it seems at first. After all, Israel thought Jesus had come to rescue them from Rome, but Jesus actually came to rescue them from sin. Which do you think is worth more?

Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful

Nothing is more stressful than the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong. Christmas is my favorite time of year, but it’s also when a lot of stuff happens. A lot of things go wrong. A lot of people come to visit. A lot of things need to get done. And when you add all that up, it can amount to a heaping helping of stress and anxiety.

But the more Christmases I live through, the more I learn that my stress and anxiety during the holiday season doesn’t stem from family and friends visiting or expectations of others or needing to bake and cook and clean. No, anything negative I experience happens because I’ve got my focus in the wrong place.

christmas-xmas-santa-claus-adventToday’s verse is John 15:4.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

The world is complicated and stressful without the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and it’s always a temptation to step away from God’s way and do things ourselves. But when we try to accomplish anything in our own strength, we will ultimately fail.

Like a branch can’t produce fruit if it’s severed from the tree, a Christ-follower can’t accomplish much without God’s power in his or her life. And that relates to everything we do. At our jobs. In our homes. In our churches. Among our families.

So as you gather with family and friends today and tomorrow, don’t let stress dictate how you feel. Don’t let the craziness of the season tempt you away from remembering what it’s all about.

Christmas is about Jesus. It’s the day He came to save us from our sins. It’s the day God kept His promise. Who cares if the pie burns or if your in-laws are being rude? So what if you couldn’t get the exact present you wanted? Whatever is bothering you today, shelf it. Let it go. Instead, focus on what really matters, and find your strength and patience in Christ’s love and grace.

It’s a stressful time of year, but it doesn’t have to be. With God, anything is possible. And if you’re a Christ-follower, you have free access to His power, and God is just waiting for you to sit down at His table.

Following Jesus isn’t about emotional exhaustion

I’m a fairly emotional person, but I decided at a young age that I didn’t trust them. So I always try to make decisions based on what I know rather than what I feel, and that has served me pretty well over the years. There are some biblical precedents for living that way too. But what do you do with all your emotions? Because we all have them, even if we’d like to deny it.

God created us with emotions for a reason, and maybe we can’t always trust the way they make us feel, but they’re a part of our lives, for better or worse. The problem I run into is that I don’t take care of my emotions. I ignore them. I push them down and cover them up. And that might work for a limited amount of time, but eventually they’ll get out of hand. When my emotional batteries drain down to zero, that’s when I implode, and I usually take a few people down with me.

Managing emotions isn’t about ignoring what we feel. That’s just asking for trouble. Instead, it’s learning to recognize what is worth investing in emotionally, and it’s taking the proper time to rest after you’ve been through an emotionally draining experience.

6T45YAK7M1Today’s verses are Matthew 11:28-30.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

This passage has a couple of different meanings, all of which are probably relevant to the average 21st Century Christian’s life. Jesus is mostly talking about the weight of religion and religious rituals that cause stress and exhaustion. Following Jesus isn’t religion. It’s not jumping through hoops or putting on a show so that God will be pleased with your performance. Jesus just asks you to come as you are and follow Him, believe in Him, trust Him, and live like He did. And it’s not a matter of performing or getting a perfect score or wearing the right clothes or knowing all the answers. None of that stuff matters.

Trying to do everything right all the time is exhausting. Trying to keep up appearances all the time wears you out. It’s a never-ending dance that you will keep trying to do for the rest of your life, and you’ll never succeed. That’s not the life Jesus has called us to.

But the meaning of this passage goes beyond just freedom from religion. In the Amplified Version, where it says that “you’ll find rest for your souls” it actually means “renewal and blessed quiet.” Following Jesus means that your soul will be refreshed. You’ll find peace in following Jesus, far beyond what any perfect performance can bring.

Jesus knows that we’re emotional creatures. We were created that way, and it’s not wrong to feel. Yes, our emotions can get the better of us when we stop focusing on what God says is true, but as long as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, we can manage our feelings with wisdom. But even then, you’re going to wear yourself out. The emotional stress of the day is going to take it’s toll, whether it’s a good day or a bad day, and if you don’t take the time to recharge your batteries, you’re going to be running on empty when the sun rises tomorrow.

It’s okay to feel. It’s not wrong. Just be sure that what you’re feeling aligns with God’s Word, and if it doesn’t, take steps to make it right. If what you’re feeling doesn’t match up with what God says is right, shut it out. Don’t think about it. Don’t focus on it. Do what you can to change the way you think, and you will change the way you feel.

Following Jesus isn’t about emotional exhaustion. Jesus never asks us to work ourselves to death. That’s the farthest thing from what He wants. Yes, there are hard choices to make. Yes, following Jesus sometimes means you’ll go through dark times. But you can go through darkness and challenging circumstances and still be emotionally healthy.

So are you feeling rundown today? Run to Jesus. Go tell Him what you’re feeling and let Him take that heavy burden off your shoulders. He’ll replace it with one that’s a lot lighter, and He’ll show you how to find rest and peace in Him.

You don’t have to choose between faith and common sense

I went to the theater yesterday to see the new Star Wars movie (loved it, by the way), but I noticed something. A lot of people didn’t come into the theater until after the previews had started, and there were even some trickling in after the movie had begun. I was close enough to overhear some of them talking, and one particular couple muttered to themselves that they should have come earlier.

That kind of made me chuckle. I mean, it’s only the most anticipated movie of the year–maybe the decade. And, sure, Wichita isn’t like the crazy big cities that sell out movies, but it’s common sense to expect that it’ll be busy.

Just struck me as funny how often we don’t think about a situation before we jump into it and find ourselves over our heads.

night-television-tv-theme-machinesToday’s verse is Romans 12:2.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

I think some people believe that you either think or you live by faith, but I’ve discovered that they aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have faith and still think about a situation.

The movie theater is a lame example, but it works. You can go to a newly released (highly anticipated movie) with a few minutes before it starts and pray that you find a parking place and a seat, but wouldn’t it be better to think about it beforehand and leave a little earlier to get there in time?

God didn’t give us a brain just so we’d have it. We don’t have the ability to think just as some random accident. We’re supposed to use our brains to make wise choices.

Granted, we don’t always do that. Sometimes we do dumb stuff, and it’s those moments where we need to learn how to accept the consequences of our choices.

You don’t have to choose between faith and common sense. Think about your next step before you take it. The key is thinking about life, the universe, and everything the same way that God does. Read the Bible and see how God sees things, and let the truth transform the way you think. That’s when your thinking matches up with God’s wisdom, that’s where faith and common sense intersect.

Trying to make faith make sense outside of God’s way of thinking will bring nothing but confusion and frustration. You can’t make God fit with any religion or set of rules. You can’t explain the Bible using mythology or politically correct idiom.

But even after you’ve let God change the way you think, you still have to choose to think. We’re supposed to live by faith, but that doesn’t mean turning your brain off.