Looking Ahead

30 12 2011

I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s. It is a time of both reflection and anticipation. There is something special about sitting under a warm quilt and counting the blessings that have piled up during the last year. I love to trace God’s hand on my family, contemplate the simple things that filled our days with joy, count the friends that touched our hearts, review the struggles that taught us humility and dependence, and stand in wonder at the immeasurable gift of grace that overflowed on us. It is a neat time to take notice of all of the ways God worked, moved, and stood with us. The end of the year is a good time to take inventory of how we have grown, the level of our surrender, and the ways that we see God more clearly.

While we count down to the end of 2011, 2012 lies before us full of possibilities. It is in those possibilities that God wants us to dream. He longs for us to open our eyes to the opportunities that are ours in Him. In 2012, He will invite us deeper into His presence, offer us the chance to experience amazing transformation, and call us to more complete surrender.

As you make your plans for the fresh starts and new beginnings that 2012 has in store for you, here are five suggestions for practical steps that will help you in your desire to look more like Jesus.

1. Start a gratitude journal. Write down three things every day for which you are thankful.

2. Keep a prayer list. Make a list of the people, situations, and circumstances for which you pray. Pay special attention to the way God answers you.

3. Commit to Bible study. Bible study is the most important spiritual discipline you can embrace if you want to look more like Jesus. Read your Bible daily. Join a Bible study group. Invest in a Bible study resource.

4. Find time to be quiet every day. Give God ten minutes of your day. Be still. Let Him speak to your heart. Honor the truth that He is Lord. Sit humbly before Him and let yourself be loved.

5. Sing a song. Singing has a special way of cementing truths in our hearts. Pick a worship song, a psalm of praise, or a verse of “Jesus Loves Me” and sing it out loud every day.

My Jesus Resolution today is to look back and look forward. I am going to stop and count the ways that God has moved in my life to help me look more like Jesus. I am also going to prepare my heart for the adventure that being His child will bring in 2012. I want to bow deeper, surrender more quickly, listen more readily, and see more clearly. I can look back at this last year and see the countless ways God moved to bring me closer to Himself. I can’t wait to see and experience all He has in store for 2012.





Everyday Miracles

28 12 2011

“When we get into the habit of truly paying attention to life, we often find that miracles are all around us. They are simply every day occurrences seen more clearly.”
— Chelle Thompson 

I live a too busy life. It is a wonderful life, a full life, a blessed life, and a crazy life. Like everyone else, my plate is overflowing, my calendar jammed packed, and my to-do list unending. God has blessed me with a terrific family, a job that makes my spirit soar, and opportunities to walk with Him every day. There isn’t really very much about my life that I would change, except perhaps one thing. I want to see better.

In the midst of all the busyness, I tend to go through my days with my eyes half closed. I don’t see all of the treasures God weaves into my day. I get focused on my list, put my attention on going faster, and keep my eyes on myself, what I have to do, what I didn’t get done, and how I am going to do more tomorrow. In the process, I miss the everyday miracles. The little moments of wonder, the possibilities for praise, the touches of eternity that all have the potential to awaken our souls to the presence of God.

Learning to pay attention to life takes practice and discipline. It requires developing a mindset that anticipates the truth that God is going to reveal Himself, call my name, or open the door into His presence somewhere in my day. The habit of awareness involves pausing frequently in the middle of the busyness to look around and notice the small, quiet things that point to the sacred. A heart that lives in full attention hears not only the noise of life, but the subtle rhythms that speak His name and call for our praise.

My Jesus Resolution today is to open my eyes and see better. I want to see people better. I want to see them through the lens of His joy, love, patience, and purpose. I want to see my blessings more clearly. It is in my blessings that I am most easily able to trace the hand of God on my day. I want to be able to look at my obstacles and see opportunities. I want to see Jesus everywhere I look and in everything I do. I want to be able to see Him moving in my day, standing in my relationships, walking in my schedule, and filling the corners of my heart with His presence. Today I am going to look for the everyday miracles God plants all around me. What do you think we will see today?





Returns

26 12 2011

Every day has its traditions, and this one is no exception. Today is the day for returns. Stores open early, lines form in parking lots, and people wait to return the items that are the wrong size, made them raise their eyebrows, or don’t fit in their lives.

Some people dread returns. I don’t. Returns bring with them new possibilities. In the place of the “what were you thinking” gift in my hands, I get to choose something new. Something that will be a better fit. Something I need. Something that will make me smile. When I leave the store, I always feel better. The thing I was returning is out of my hands. I no longer have to carry it around. I can cross off my list and put it out of my mind.

God specializes in returns. We can bring in our old lives, and exchange it for something brand new. Negative attitudes can be traded for the mind of Christ. The behaviors that pull us away from holiness can be exchanged for disciplines that will impress His image deep in our hearts. Old, used up, wrong size, doesn’t fit can all be exchanged in the currency of grace. What He offers in exchange is new, fresh, clean, and hope-filled. Transformation is always just one return away.

My Jesus Resolution today is to take advantage of God’s return policy. I am going to trade in the junk for joy. I want to get rid of the stuff that weighs down my heart and doesn’t fit His character. I am going to delight in the possibilities He is willing to give me. All I can bring in is stuff that doesn’t fit. He takes my returns and gives me Himself, bearing the cost and making the alternations in me that are necessary. Today is Return Day. What will you exchange today?





Presents

23 12 2011

Are you going to open presents this weekend? We are. We are Christmas morning gift openers. We like the anticipation and excitement of waking up Christmas morning, gathering around the Christmas tree, and opening gifts together. Here memories are made, laughter is shared, love is invested, and joy makes it mark.

Tradition plays a huge roll in how we open our gifts. We take turns, opening gifts one at a time. Even when our kids were little we did it this way. We love the opportunity this tradition affords to watch faces, capture smiles, and savor the moments. One-by-one, presents are passed out. The gift receiver reads the tag, announcing the identity of the gift giver. There is guessing and questioning as boxes are poked at and packages are shaken.  Sometime they can identify the gift by the shape and size of the package. Other times the contents are a complete surprise.

However you celebrate this holiday, I pray that you will open all your gifts. The ones under the tree are not the only gifts you are going to receive. Slow down and notice all the ways God touches your day. He has invested His heart in giving you Himself. He was instrumental in the good things you will eat. He shaped the voices that fill your rooms with laughter. Thank Him. He brought together the people with whom you are spending the day. They are each a gift from Him, even when you can’t quite see it. The blessings you enjoy are gifts from One who loves you beyond measure. Read the tags. Pay attention to the Giver. Open them one by one. His presence is your richest present.

My Jesus Resolution today is to open all my gifts. I don’t want to miss seeing His hand on my day. I want to notice every single way that He has touched my life. I want to feel His love, experience His joy, immerse myself in His presence, and relish the gifts He gives me. Today I want to give Him a gift as well. All I have is my heart, but I am going to give it all to Him.





Decorating Cookies

21 12 2011

We decorated cookies today. Our kitchen became a bakery as we filled the house with the sweet aroma of sugar and spices. We mixed, rolled, cut, and baked our cookies, sampling just enough to make sure that everything passed quality control.

Baking the cookies, however, is just the beginning. The decorating party is the highlight event. Friends and family gather at our house for an evening of laughter and artistry. Everyone gets the opportunity to create a personal color. Some go for the traditional primary hues, while others develop their own designer shades. Bottles of sprinkles and jars of colored sugar stand ready on the table. Cookies of all shapes and sizes find their way onto each person’s tray, and the decorating begins.

Everybody’s cookies are unique. Despite some similarities in shape, there are no cookie cutter cookies at our house. Each cookie shines with its own design. Some are simple. Others show meticulous attention to detail. There are cookies loaded with sprinkles, while others prefer to showcase a more refined taste. Colors explode off the plates. The simple yellow star sits next to the snowman that looks like he is wearing Joseph’s coat of many colors. At the end of the evening, it is fun to take in the variety that now graces our kitchen table.

When we decorate our cookies, it is inevitable that a little of bit of the artist shines through each creation. The same is true of the hearts that are all around us. God handmade each of us with unique beauty and special touches. He thought about the color of your eyes, the texture of your hair, and the shape of your nose. He matched up your talents and gifts with where He knew you would walk in the world. There is not another you in the whole universe. Your individuality frames something about the Artist that He knew that only you could show to those around you.

My Jesus Resolution today is to eat a cookie. But I don’t want to eat it mindlessly, with a distracted heart, or on the run. I am going to savor it. I want to take the time to examine the details, enjoy the flavors, and thank the baker. In the same way, I am going to be thoughtful about the way I interact with the God’s creations today. I don’t want to pass by people; I want to see them in all their God-given beauty. I don’t want to be in such a hurry that I never look in their eyes or remember how much they are loved. I want to look for the touch of the Artist in each face I see today.





Knowing the Book

19 12 2011

She is in the fifth grade. Curly chocolate hair frames beautiful brown eyes. She walks with a bounce that expresses her joy to be at church. She comes for a hug, hardly containing her excitement. “I can say all of the books of the Old Testament!” she tells me.

This is a big moment. I take a step back, watching her straighten her back and grin. She takes a deep breath, and begins reciting the books of the Old Testament. “Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus…” She only pauses once or twice. She doesn’t even need a hint or a nudge. She finds her place and keeps on going. A little audience gathers around her as she walks through the books that tell the story of God’s movement through history and His plan to bring us a Savior.

“Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi!” She finishes the list with a flourish. She is beaming with pride. She has worked hard to meet a goal and we all cherish her accomplishment.  We clap, hug, and high five, telling her that she has taken another step toward looking like Jesus.

I wish I could bottle the look on her face. Her hunger to know the Bible is priceless. Her enthusiasm for learning the things of God is precious. Her excitement at taking these steps into knowing Him better have eternal value. I want to have that same look on my face every time I open my Bible.

My Jesus Resolution today is to open my Bible with joy. Jerome, a fifth century Bible scholar, wrote that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” My Bible is the key to knowing God. It is His heart on a page, His portrait painted in bright colors for me to see, His love letter to His beloved, and His guide for walking together into eternity. When I open my Bible, I get to meet God, enter His presence, hear His voice, and experience His love. It is a place of hope, guidance, purpose, discipline, grace, and transformation. If I want to look like Jesus, I have to know what Jesus looks like. Knowing the Book is the best way to know Him.





The Grinch

16 12 2011

The Grinch is one of my favorites. Dr. Seuss created a character that captures both the best and worst of the Christmas season. The Grinch is a cynical hermit who lives high above Who-ville. Each year, he watches the Whos down in Who-ville bring out bells, stockings, trees, and ornaments in an all-out celebration of Christmas. They prepare a feast, wrap gifts, and sing carols, while the Grinch sinks deeper into a spiral of complaining and crabbiness.

No one really knows why the Grinch is so grinchy, but Dr. Seuss finally reveals that the culprit is the Grinch’s heart, shriveled and withered, two sizes too small.

The Grinch cooks up a plan to steal Christmas from the Whos. He makes a Santa Claus costume and dresses up his dog, Max, as a reindeer. He sneaks into Who-ville, stripping the town of every piece of tinsel, every bow and ribbon, each and every toy, and all the fixings for the feast. He is sure that without all these things, Christmas will not be able to come.

With a smirk on his face, the Grinch leans over the edge of the mountain waiting for the cry that will come when the Whos realize that Christmas is not coming. To his amazement, the Whos gather together, hold hands, and sing. Love is what makes Christmas real.

My Jesus Resolution today is remember the lesson of The Grinch. There are all kinds of Grinches out there trying to steal my joy. It is easy to get caught up in the shopping, the baking, the wrapping, the crowds, and the traffic, and forget that Love is what makes the season special. The Grinches of the world are watching to see what I will celebrate, where my focus lies, and what I will let define my joy. I want them see something that will help their hearts grow three sizes today.