Life’s Perfect Path: Lists

list

I love making lists; it’s because I’m a list lover. But making them is only part of it; the real joy comes from crossing them off. It’s so deliciously satisfying drawing lines through completed tasks. Yes, making a list is the best step towards efficiency; but real productivity isn’t measured by the list itself. Books on productivity aren’t published with only pages of well-crafted lists. No, the effectiveness is in the completion, in achieving the goal, that’s the power of it, that’s what makes it great!

Here is a list of my top seven goals for 2016:

  1. Make more lists.
  2. Create the lists alphabetically.
  3. Use Roman numerals.
  4. Have a ruler ready for drawing straight lines.
  5. Compare each new list to the one before it.
  6. Experiment with different colors of ink.
  7. Select a list each month for “List Of The Month.”

Sub List:

  1. Have each List Of The Month framed & placed on the List Wall of Honor.

Wow, 2016 is shaping up to be my most productive year ever! Okay, maybe I’m stretching the fabric of sincerity and possibly underscoring this blog with a bit of sarcasm. I should make a list about that. (note to self)

Truly Jesus was God, but he was also a man, like me. He knew temptation’s power and the weakness of men. He understood the struggle. He experienced them, without surrendering to them; whereas I have surrendered thousands of times. Each day he got up and went about preaching the Kingdom, helping, healing, and making disciples. I wonder if he did all that without a list?

Yes, we need to focus, to be disciplined, and productive. But can there be room for some down time or a little spontaneity? Is there any value in planning some time with nothing planned?

Here’s a different list; see what you think:

  1. Allow the Holy Spirit to interrupt your list.
  2. Mature emotionally so unfinished lists don’t guilt you.
  3. Learn the value of being still, quiet, and meditative.
  4. Believe that God works through you, even without a list.
  5. Open your eyes to see people not on your list.
  6. Pick one day a week to not have a list.
  7. If you can’t do #6, at least pray over that day’s list.

More than anything, I pray that that this coming year, your relationship with our Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, fills your hearts, directs your steps, and provides you with great peace.

Was that a list?

ManPraying

Happy New Year

What About the Chickens?

eggs in store

Recently I was in a grocery store, at the egg section, when suddenly a woman said, “I just don’t know what we’re going to do with these chickens.” I replied, “Excuse me Ma’am, were you speaking to me?” She replied, “Yes, what are we going to do with these chickens?  Every time I come in here the cost of eggs goes up.” Well, I felt a little awkward. So I smilingly responded with, “Hey, why don’t we pluck them,  fry them, and eat them. That’ll teach those chickens to raise their prices.” She nodded, smiled oddly, then quickly walked away. I think the paradox of teaching chickens a lesson by eating them left her confused, especially since there wouldn’t be any more eggs. I thought it was funny.

For me, “What about the chickens,” has become a metaphor for unsolvable problems, for the things I can’t do anything about. As a preacher and spiritual leader, I bear some responsibility for making things better, at least on a small scale. I’m not alone; these same responsibilities rest on shoulders larger than mine. But still, I think God is looking to me to help.

To that end, I’ve been considering my goals for the coming year. I like to think of myself as a goal setter and a go-getter. Sometimes my go-getting needs some getty-up, but I’m trying. So what will I choose? Should I tackle some big chicken type goals, maybe? Not to limit God, but even with His help there are problems I can’t solve, like poverty, crime, or violence. I can’t stop abuse against women and children, or eliminate hatred and prejudice. So I need to ask: “With your help Lord, what can I do, want do you want me to do?” 

Here is what I’ve come up with so far: Jesus wants me to practice humility, to be more kind, and to trust him more than I have. He is encouraging me to be busy praying, instead of neglecting to pray. I think he wants me to soften my heart, to be less stubborn and more submissive. I know he wants me to serve more, especially to those who are less fortunate or unable to help themselves. Do these goals seem too small?

Jesus-washing-feet

I know, none of these address the big chicken problems of our world. And I have no idea what to do about the rising cost of eggs. But maybe in the eyes of Jesus, these smaller goals will do just fine for this coming year.

Think about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas

      Final piece of a twelve part series on Christmas and the Messiah’s birth. 

after christmas.png

It’s now the day after Christmas. This evening, I’m reflecting on the last few weeks.The parties in our home with friends and coworkers enriched me. There was shopping and planning. Then Christmas Eve arrived, with the Candle Light Service at church; a beautiful expression of God’s love through his son’s birth. The songs, singing, and sights move me. Seeing hundreds of candles lifted up in honor of Bethlehem’s infant king just overwhelms me! Then its home and fabulous food, fun family events, and the anticipation of tomorrow morning. Christmas starts very early. I get up, build a fire, turn on the tree lights, get some music going, and make the coffee. Then I wake up my daughter, as I’ve done for many years. We sit in front of the fire to greet Christmas morning. She’s married now, but we still sit in front of the fire, moments I still treasure. Finally, everyone gets up. We get our overflowing stockings, enjoy a special breakfast, then it’s presents and paper. I love Christmas. But there is more isn’t there?

I’ve thought more about what it cost Joseph and Mary to bring Christmas to us. Culturally, the holiday seems decreasingly holy and increasingly secular. So I decided to write about the birth of Jesus for my own edification. I started with his visit to the temple at age 12 then worked backwards to the night of his birth, thinking about Mary and Joseph. I thought about their fear with Herod’s plan to kill Jesus. On how horrible for them to hear about the infant boys Herod had killed. Egypt must have been difficult. Joseph and Mary, each demonstrated deep faith and character. Their trip to Bethlehem,  with Mary nine months pregnant, must have been very difficult. I’ve imagined the night of the angels and shepherds, and then the Magi’s visit. But mostly, I reflected on the night of his birth, in the stalls for sheep and donkeys. And yet, it was a night divine, a silent and holy night. A night when the Judean desert was illuminated by a magnificent star.

It was the night of Emmanuel. The night our Heavenly Father came near. For our world was His to love and a world in need of forgiveness.This could only happen through Messiah, who came as a newborn. The infant king was the light of the world, and the way, the truth, and the life.

When we say,”Merry Christmas” we are really saying:

“May God’s joyous grace bless you on the day of our Savior’s birth.” 

TheNativity (600 x 300)

 

Congratulations, It’s a Boy!

          Part 11 of a series counting down to Christmas and the Messiah’s Birth

dreamy-christmas-living-room-decor_christmas-tree-garlands-with-wreaths-ornament-led-lamp_candle-in-the-glass-above-the-table_warm-living-room-interior-inspiration-for-christmas

It’s early Christmas morning, really early, and I’m the first one up. Perhaps it’s my childhood muscle memory; all those gifts just begging to be opened. I’m in Houston, so there isn’t any snow and it’s too warm for a fire, but it matters not. When it comes to Christmas, I’m a hopeless romantic. For Mary and Joseph, well, it was probably different for them.

They made it to Bethlehem. It was long, difficult, and exhausting, especially for Mary. As they approached the village, they surely were looking forward to good food, a warm room, and a comfortable bed. But it wasn’t to be, for the inn was full. The exchange might have been like this: The inn keeper, “I’m sorry folks, but we’re booked solid.” Then Joseph, “You don’t understand, we’ve traveled so far and my wife is so close to the birth. You must have something?” “Well,” said the inn keeper, “it isn’t much but you’re welcome to stay out back with the sheep and donkeys. I can give you some blankets and food.” Joseph looked at Mary, thought for a moment, and said, “Okay, we’ll take it.”

The time had come for the birth. Was this how Mary imagined it, in a cold, dirty, stinking stall? But the time had come. Those words referred not only to Mary’s condition but the condition of the world. For the world desperately needed the one she was about to deliver. Was it a difficult delivery, long and painful, or quick and easy? Or something else?

Whatever the conditions, however the delivery, the Savior of the world was born. Joseph cut the cord, wrapped him in cloth, and placed the baby in his mother’s arms. The Messiah was warmed by the brave young woman God had chosen. Was all of heaven weeping in joyous celebration? Were angels  rejoicing in glorious praise? Was our Heavenly Father beaming with pride? Certainly Joseph must have been; and I hope there was someone to say, “Congratulations, it’s a boy!”

But of course it was a boy, for his bride was with child by the power of the Spirit. The angel said that the virgin would give birth to a son, named Jesus, and would be called Emmanuel. It was a silent night, a holy night, a night illuminated by the brightest star. The infant King slept in heavenly peace, for he was the Prince of Peace. At long last, God had done it, He had finally come near.

It’s early Christmas morning, really early, and in a few minutes I will be surrounded by the family I love. And in spite of Houston’s heat, I’ll crank the AC down, turn the fireplace on, and celebrate the greatest gift of all.

Merry Christmas

nativity-baby-jesus-christmas-2008-christmas-2806967-1000-5581

 

 

 

On the Road to Bethlehem

Part 10 of a series counting down to Christmas and our Messiah’s birth.

These days, I define a difficult journey by flight delays, lost bags, and rude passengers. Airplane seats aren’t my favorite either. It can be down right brutal just getting from here to there and back again. Bless my heart.

Mary Joseph

Our Christmas couple, young and betrothed, were facing a journey. It was made necessary by Caesar Augustus who decreed an empire wide census. Each man returned to his ancestral home to register, for Joseph, that was Bethlehem, the town of David. It was a journey made at least annually, to observe Passover and the Feasts in Jerusalem. Bethlehem lay eight miles below Jerusalem.

They headed southeast, circumventing Samaria, then south along the Jordan River. At Jericho, they went west, up into the mountains, then south to Bethlehem. It was 90 miles and Mary was 9 months pregnant.

Mary Joseph 2

With a donkey or camel, travelers could make 20 miles a day. We don’t know if Joseph owned any, but given Mary’s condition, he would have borrowed one. Normally, it took four days, but was for them closer to eight. They could stay in homes at night, given the sacred honor of Jewish hospitality. But they might have camped out. Joseph would pack food and water, warm clothes, and other necessities. Daytime reached the mid 50’s with low 40’s at night. December nights could drop to freezing, and possibly have freezing drizzle, since December was the rainy season. It was a difficult trip for Mary and Joseph.

I wonder what they talked about; probably it was all about the baby. Did they discuss the Messianic prophecies and their son’s future? Had they grown accustomed to Mary carrying the Son of David? Did Mary talk about decorating the nursery, or adding a room to their house? Did they have the slightest inkling of what was about to happen? Could they imagine the Magi’s visit, or Herod’s murderous threats, or escaping to Egypt?

Mary Joseph 3

I think of the Bethlehem journey as quick and easy; just part of the warm and magical Christmas experience. But it was more likely painful, difficult, and dangerous. His birth was announced by angels, witnessed by shepherds, and honored by wise men. It was immersed in the light of an eastern star. But before all of that, Mary and Joseph had to get to Bethlehem.

The Savior was born to courageous and determined people. Emmanuel was about to arrive, but his arrival happened because of that brave young couple. Our spiritual blessings began with them; for there is no Christmas without Joseph and Mary.

Merry Christmas

What Was God Looking For?

Part 9 of a series counting down to Christmas and the Messiah’s birth.

028-028-angel-gabriel-appears-to-mary-full.jpg
Illustration of Gabriel talking to Mary

I’ve been thinking about this question: What criteria did God use for selecting the Messiah’s birth mother? Was He looking for personality, talent, and good looks? What about I.Q.? Was He interested in a top tier, upwardly mobile, take control super woman? Did any of that even matter? If not, then what did?

There were some non negotiable elements for whoever was selected. The Messiah had to be from Judah, of David’s line, and must come from a virgin. He must also be called a Nazarene. Well, God chose Mary, who was betrothed to a man from David’s line; and she remained a virgin until after the birth. They were from Nazareth, and after Egypt, they went home to raise their son in Nazareth.

But I think God was searching for something deeper. Mary possessed an inner strength sustained from a deep and abiding faith. Gabriel said some pretty incredible things to her. He said that God favored her and that she would deliver the Holy One, the son of David. Gabriel explained how she would be with child and yet remain a virgin. Being told that the power of the Most High would overshadow her would be scary enough. Can you imagine?  Most girls would have fainted or gone screaming  into the night. But not Mary. Her response was simply amazing, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” Was that the primary quality God was searching for?

The strength of her faith was strategically significant. What did Simeon say to Mary at Jesus’s consecration, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” She would have to endure; she would have to watch her son’s enemies abuse, beat and scourge him. She would have to endure the hatred and violence aimed at her son. How would she be able to stand at Golgotha and watch? Only a mother could do that.

Mary was amazing, and she was the Father’s choice. But His choice wasn’t based on her beauty, intelligence, or giftedness. It was based on her faith and her strength of character.

So this Christmas, let us honor Mary, for she stood up and faced the most difficult challenge any mother has ever faced. She gave birth to her son, and then raised her son to die.

Thank you Mary.

Merry Christmas

baby-jesus-mary-joseph-by-dewey

Only A Righteous Man

Part 8 of a series counting down daily to Christmas and the Messiah’s birth.

JosephAngel

What would you have done? You’ve just been devastated by your fiancé’s confession; she is pregnant, and it couldn’t possibly be yours. Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, she swears she hasn’t been with another man. “So how in the world could you be pregnant,” you ask her. She says, “It’s from God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.” You respond with, “Sure, yeah, okay.” Then you get angry, yell, and walk out forever. Calling off the wedding is a no brainer.

How about this option; you choose to be gentle, considerate, and righteous. You’ll end the engagement, but discreetly, so as not do embarrass her with pubic disgrace. Sound good? No? But that’s exactly what Joseph did. He knew Mary had wronged him; he was torn apart and broken hearted. But in place of vengeance he chose compassion. Instead of getting even he pardoned her from shame and scandal. Only a truly righteous man could do that, one who chooses what’s best for someone in spite of what they’ve done to him. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? Is it any wonder God chose Joseph to be His son’s earthly father?

Then the angel came.”Don’t be afraid Joseph, you can wholeheartedly embrace Mary as your virgin bride, for the child she carries is from the Holy Spirit.” It was good that Joseph got this in a dream, if he had been awake, he might have fainted, fallen, and forgotten the whole thing.

Joseph woke and did exactly as the angel said; he took Mary home as his wife. Imagine how she felt in that moment? Part of Joseph’s righteousness was measured by how he honored the angel’s message. Even though they were together as husband and wife, he didn’t consummate his marriage, for Mary must be a virgin when the Messiah was born. He was a good man.

I worship Jesus as Lord of Lords and King of Kings; he is the Son of David and Savior of the world. But some 2,000 years ago, in a sleepy little village, it almost ended before it started. Any less of a man would have walked away, angel or not, and Mary might have been stoned to death for adultery.

In this season of the Messiah’s birth, I’m grateful for Joseph, for who he was and what he did. We don’t know much about him. But I beleive he was a wonderful man of God, with a heart of gold, and heaven’s choice to be the Messiah’s earthly father. Thank you Joseph.

Merry Christmas

joseph and mary

 

Believing My Father

              Part 7 of a series ending Christmas Day with the Messiah’s birth.

glider plane

When I was 13, I endeavored to build a balsa wood glider. It was much harder than I imagined. But I had help from my Father who was a pilot and an expert on all things aviation. Often he advised me to build the plane in ways that I thought unnecessary. But he was always right. I could have saved a lot of time if I had just believed what my Father told me.

What our Heavenly Father said about the Messiah started in Genesis and continued throughout the Old Testament. He said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. That his mother would be a virgin and give birth to a son; calling him Emmanuel. He would sit on David’s throne, reigning over his kingdom. The Messiah would be anointed with the Holy Spirit, to be a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. The Father foretold that His Son would be despised, forsaken, and pierced. Scripture said his disciples would abandon him and sell him for 30 pieces of silver.

In a few days Christians worldwide will acknowledge the birth of Christ. Millions of beleivers will attend a Christmas Eve service. Fireplaces will glow with the warmth and joy of stockings hung. Presents will be exchanged, special music played, and candles lit. Countless other traditions will be observed, the traditions of nations, cultures, and homes around the globe. But the celebrations would cease, in fact would never happen, if the Father hadn’t said so. Before the world began, before time even started, the Father’s plan to create humanity in His image already existed. As was his plan to redeem them for having chosen the darkness.

Remember that glider I built? It was really sweet, and beautiful, and perfect. It flew like the wind, just like my Father said it would. I only needed to believe.

Father and son with Plane

Along with the presents and the knee deep wrapping paper, take a moment to reflect that from the beginning God planned to come near. He came in perfection, he came as an infant in innocence, and he came destined to die for a sinful world; and why? Because the Father said so, we only need to believe.

Merry Christmas

TheNativity (600 x 300)

Holy Messengers of God

Part 6 in a series ending on Christmas Day with his birth.

John Long Elementary School had a milk program meaning we were given a carton of milk to go with our sack lunch. At 11:45 AM the milk monitor left with the number of cartons needed, would state the teacher’s name, and return with the milk. It was a huge privilege to be milk monitor, it was earned by being an outstanding student, which sometimes was me. I felt so grown up with such responsibility. I was the messenger of my class; because of me, they got milk!

03f32angels-468339

God used messengers: prophets, teachers, and sometimes angels. On the night of Jesus’ birth an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds in a field. God’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified, but the angel calmed their angst. He gave them good news of great joy, a Savior had been born in the town of David. Here was an angel of the Lord, a messenger immersed in splendent glory, proclaiming Emmanuel’s birth. God had come near. The shepherds found the new born Messiah. When they left him, they left glorifying and praising God.

nativity-baby-jesus-christmas-2008-christmas-2806967-1000-5581

These were simple men, not wealthy or noble, or of royal blood. They weren’t priests or rabbis or Sadducees or Pharisees. They were just sheep herders who, except for  Mary and Joseph, were the first to see the new born Christ. Imagine, plain shepherds coming to see the savior of the world. And where did they find  him? He was in a manger, not a feeding trough; but a hewn out stone floor used for feeding livestock.

Do you think the shepherds told anyone? Did they keep this to themselves? I’m guessing no. Perhaps the simple shepherds had themselves become messengers of mercy. The glorious angel came to deliver the message; the illuminated shepherds left to share the message.

Milk monitor was a pretty awesome thing. But it suddenly seems less than  a messenger sharing the good news of great joy.

Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born; he is Christ the Lord.

Merry Christmas

The Wise and Wicked

Part 5 of a series finishing on Christmas Eve, the night of his birth.

Wise men and Jesus

Often, the three Wise men are depicted kneeling before Jesus, in the company of angels, on the night of his birth. The Bible doesn’t say how many wise men came, traditionally it’s three, due to the three gifts. It’s unlikely they got to Bethlehem so quickly. They were from the East, perhaps from ancient Babylonia. They saw his star, came to Jerusalem, and inquired about the one born king of the Jews. All of this would have taken many days, perhaps weeks.

The Wise men, or Magi, have fascinating history. They were scholars, astronomers, and philosophers, even king makers. It’s likely they had the writings of Daniel; and throughout their generations passed down the  knowledge of the coming king. It explains their reason for coming. They presented costly and appropriate gifts of royalty. The Wise men’s visit was miraculous and served notice to Jerusalem and the world that the Messiah had come. Their visit was a coronation.

King Herod

Then there was the Wicked, King Herod. He descended from Esau and Ishmael, not from David; the throne wasn’t his. But he did have political skills and was a visionary architect and builder. He built Caesarea Maritime, the Temple Mount, the palace Herodium, the mountain fortress Masada, and the grand Tomb of the Patriarchs. He was also vicious and insecure. He had three of his sons and one wife put to death, all to hold on to his crown. He was a wicked man, so a wicked king.

Herod wanted the Magi to find Jesus so he could worship him. Of course, he really just wanted to kill him. The Magi out foxed Herod, and the whereabouts of the infant Messiah was kept hidden from Herod, the most powerful man in Palestine .

The Wise and the Wicked: the one was looking to kill, the others were looking to honor. The one protected his fragile empire, the others praised the coming Kingdom. Herod in his pride would have no rivals, the Magi in humility came to lift him up, high and exalted.

This Christmas, children will give milk and cookies to Santa. But what will God’s children give to Jesus? Will it be loving devotion? A heart felt desire to please him? I guess the answer depends on whether we are more like the wicked or the wise? This holiday season, let’s take a moment to answer this question:

What gift does the King of Kings most want from me?

Merry Christmas!