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?


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?


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.

Being Great

14 12 2011

Do you want to be great? Deep down, everybody wants to be great, to make a difference, to leave a lasting impact on those we love and meet each day. More often than not, though, we settle for mediocre. We long to be great, but are not truly sure we have it in us.

Children don’t have that problem. Children believe they can be great. They are sure that they can accomplish their dreams, be anything they want to be, and have the power to change the world. No child says, “I hope I grow up to be just so-so.” Their imaginations let them soar. Somewhere along the way, we lose our confidence. We begin to let our failures define our limits.

The problem is that we let the world define what it means to be great. As we get older, our society projects a very clear image of what greatness looks like. Money, power, influence, intelligence, fame, popularity, and good looks frame what it means to be great.

But Christians don’t live by the standard of the world. We are defined by Jesus, and Jesus defines greatness this way. “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20:26) Having a servant heart, a heart that looks like Jesus, is at the core of what it means to be great.

Building on Jesus’ definition of greatness, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

My Jesus Resolution today is to commit to greatness. I am not looking for applause, the spotlight, or the praise of men. I want a heart that is great in the sight of God. I want to make a difference in the lives of the people God puts in my path. Today, I am going to commit a deliberate act of greatness – an offering of service to someone I meet, and use the moment to point them to the greatest One of all.


12 12 2011

The seasons are changing again. Autumn leaves, bright with color, fall to the ground creating a jeweled blanket on the earth. The cold wind encourages us to pull out the quilts, snuggle up in sweaters, and sip hot chocolate. Two of my children woke up this week to a world wrapped in white. Snow covered everything in a canopy of new wonder, dazzling sparkle, and frosty freshness. They made snowmen, threw snowballs, and scraped ice off of cars.

Evidence of transformation is all around us. Seasons change. Children grow. Butterflies spin cocoons. Snow falls. Leaves turn. Flowers bloom. Seeds become plants. Semesters start, and then finish. Babies are born. Eggs hatch. Ice freezes, and then melts. We celebrate the first snowfall, the first green blade of grass, the first day of flip flops, and the first autumn leaf. Why do we do that? We do that because God has wired us for transformation.

Transformation is at the heart of God’s plan for us. Every day He plants reminders, pictures, examples, and stories of transformation all around us. He wants us to celebrate the caterpillar, and watch for the butterfly. He loves that we dance in the first snow, and smile at the evidence of spring poking up through the earth. He created the wonder we feel when babies are born. He ignites anticipation in our souls as we learn to pay attention to the transformation all around us. All of that transformation points us back to His heart.

Every picture of transformation, every story of renewal, and every moment of metamorphosis is meant to remind us of what God is willing and able to do in us. He can change the seasons, bring flowers to life from a seed, move in time and space to make us aware of His presence, and paint the autumn leaves and the spring wildflowers with the rich palette of His colors. Every time He does, He is looking at you. Those are just hints of the transformation He longs to work in you.

My Jesus Resolution today is to notice one example of transformation God plants in my day. The transformation all around me is an invitation to walk in the transformation He has in store for me. Each picture, each story has the power to teach me a lesson about trusting Him, honoring His faithfulness, and surrendering to His plan for me. Maybe I need to be still like the new fallen snow and let His grace cover me. Perhaps I need to die to self, burying my desires and ambitions, so that I can bloom into something that will bear fruit. Maybe I need to anticipate a new beginning, take the time to enjoy a new beauty, or let worship overwhelm me as I watch the many cycles of life unfold. Perhaps I need to look in the mirror and ask God to help me look more like Jesus.

Christmas Trees

9 12 2011

Is your house decorated? Our house is transformed. For one month of the year, we live in a wonderland. Snowmen stand watch by the windows. Santas fill the bookshelves, watching for who is naughty or nice. Stockings are hung by the fireplace with care. Lights twinkle in the darkness, and there is a Christmas tree in my living room.

The Christmas tree is the focal point of all of this holiday decorating. It is covered with lights and memories. Ornaments made out of orange juice lids hang next to crystal beauties. Each of my children has their own box of ornaments. The highlight of our decorating adventure is always the moment when they open the box and start remembering. There are ornaments handed down from my grandmother. There are handmade ones, tacky ones, and exquisite ones. They paint a picture of our lives. My husband and I love to find quiet moments to sit by the tree after the kids have all gone to bed and just soak in the beauty.

Gifts are stacked under the tree. Mementoes of love carefully packaged. They are wrapped up in shiny paper to encourage anticipation. My kids love to watch the pile grow through the month as family and friends add to the excitement. Big presents still catch their eyes. I have come to learn that the smaller packages often hold the best gifts.

Our Christmas tree dominates the month of December, but there is another tree that needs to be our focal point all year long. What would happen if we planted the cross as firmly in our lives as our Christmas tree sits in our living room? Over time, our memories would center around the cross. We would spend time together talking about times of grace, moments of forgiveness, and occasions of encouragement. There would be faith ornaments handed down from others. We would look forward to quiet moments soaking in its deep beauty and profound message.

My Jesus Resolution today is focus on the cross. Light streams from its beams. It cuts through the darkness, drawing us closer with its warmth and invitation to belong. Today I am going to let my Christmas tree remind me of another tree. A more important tree. And the Savior who died there so that I can live with Him.