Why Resolutions?


For better or worse, we are marching swiftly toward the end of another year. In just another day, we will say goodbye to 2017. For some this will result in a huge party and celebration. For others, the evening and night will end more quietly at home with family or a few close friends. Some will also attend services in their churches, praying into the New Year.

A great many persons are already looking at potential “New Year’s Resolutions”. A quick look at a dictionary will tell us that a resolution is “a firm decision to do or not do something”.

If I listen to most people in my sphere, those resolutions typically include three areas: exercise, diet, and finances. The funny thing about that is these are often the same resolutions in one form or another that were on their list a year ago and possibly even a year or so before that.

If our resolutions are meant to help us resolve to take action in an area of weakness or difficulty, what causes them to remain on our list year after year?


 I wonder if we miss the core issue underneath these resolutions even when we include things like daily prayer and Bible reading.

How well do we understand ourselves? How well do we understand the world in which we live, both seen and unseen?

As I consider my own year of 2017, many things occurred within the year I did not anticipate a year ago on the eve of this year. Some were wonderful surprises and paths that the Lord opened. Others were challenges I did not know I would face. Even if I had made resolutions last year at this time (I did not!), the typical ones would not have really addressed either the surprises or challenges.

If my intent is to continue to grow and improve each year in all areas of my life, I am beginning to think I should really be asking the One who knows me better than I know myself what should be on my list for 2018.

Considering He holds and knows the future as well as my strengths and weaknesses, wouldn’t He be the one most qualified to create the list?


 I confess I would like to lose some weight, exercise more, and save a bit more money, but those are largely temporal things that can fluctuate for a variety of reasons. Certainly I need to do my part to manage or steward what is mine, but not every aspect of any of them will always be under my total control.

I think the key resolutions would be those, which are eternal. As a result, today I ask myself some questions of the Lord and myself.

  • What most impedes my spiritual growth?
  • In what areas do I most often yield to temptation?
  • Where does my faith falter and fear creep in?
  • How can I most nourish my daily devotional life?
  • In what ways does my life fail to reflect Jesus to those with whom I am in relationship?
  • Which relationships are those given to me that give support, encouragement, and accountability on my journey through the New Year?

You see, I believe if I have honestly searched my heart and the Lord’s on these questions, He will point me to His resolutions for my 2018 year.

If He has appointed the resolutions, will He not also equip and provide for victory to accomplish them?

I think so if I yield to His direction.

Perhaps we need resolutions to nudge us forward, but we need to adjust what informs us of which ones to make. Consider Paul’s words:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

                                                  Phil. 3:12-14 ESV

Keeping Christmas


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The house is once again quiet as I sit in the glow of the Christmas tree, twinkling mantle lights, and crackling fireplace logs. No wrapped gifts are any longer stacked beneath the tree and the stockings are tucked away for the year.


Has Christmas ended?


I spend weeks before Christmas preparing for the day’s celebration. Shopping, baking, card writing, wrapping gifts, visiting friends and family, and attending Christmas concerts fills my calendar to the brim. Despite all the hustle and bustle, the wearying pace of all the weeks before Christmas, something else seems to happen as well.


I see little kindnesses exchanged between strangers in malls and grocery store lines, in greeting Salvation Army bell ringers, and mailmen in Santa hats. I see more patience here and there as people stand in Starbucks lines exchanging pleasantries. The kindnesses usually cost no money, but represent attitudes of heart and mind that I wish I saw throughout the year.


It’s true there is traffic, which can cause me to flee the mall parking lots and avoid certain streets. It’s also true that selfishness and lack of gratitude does not totally disappear. Even so, I observe a shift as the days before Christmas draw near.


I see more of us focusing on others than ourselves.


I see people looking for gifts or special ways to express care and love to others. I see some making sacrifices to make trips and travel to those living hundreds of miles away. I see people remembering those in nursing homes and hospitals they may not think of on more ordinary days.


What makes the difference we feel in the midst of the hubbub of the season?


 Is it possible as many turn their focus to the birth of Jesus that His Spirit adjusts each of our hearts in some way?


I would like to think so.


Then perhaps the secret to keeping Christmas beyond December 25 is to allow Him access to our hearts each day to adjust our focus, our purpose, our attitude, and our stewardship on the other days of the year.


Perhaps we don’t need stacks of gifts and a glittering tree. Perhaps we don’t need tables laden with goodies, cards to write, or things to bake. Perhaps we don’t even need candles in windows or manger scenes on lawns to remind ourselves of Him whom we celebrate or those dear to us.


To keep Christmas every day means we keep our focus on the One whose birth we celebrate and live each day accordingly.


When we do, we become more like Him. Our hearts soften, our focus clears, our choices reflect Him and His love a bit more and hope continues to flicker even during hard times and difficult seasons.


It is good to celebrate Christmas and savor each part that is dear to our hearts, but this year as so many challenges and uncertainties stack up in headlines and in our own homes, let’s keep the One whom we celebrate in clearer focus remembering once more in whom our hope lies.


Let us take comfort from the truth of the Babe who is now King and celebrate Him every day. That is how we keep Christmas!


Christmas Morn



And so it has come…


Whether you have a large Christmas tree, a small one, or none at all, Christmas has still come.


Whether you have heaps of gifts, just a few gifts, or none at all to unwrap, Christmas has still come.


Whether you are filled with joy, or alone and grieving, Christmas has still come.


The best gift needed no tree, but died on one so you can receive the gift of eternal life with Him.


He simply loved you that much! It had nothing to do with who you were or where you were from, whether you were rich or poor, educated or illiterate.


On this day we celebrate the birth of Jesus,


He brings you the gift of new life in Him, with Him. He wants to dwell in your heart and walk with you through life’s ups and downs. All He asks is that you open your heart and receive Him.


When you are given a gift, your part is to open and receive it.


I have so much enjoyed sharing His story, the Christmas story, with you these last few weeks. I pray the Lord allowed you to sense Him in a special way through the retelling of the story.


Merry Christmas! Shalom!

What the Polar Express Can Show Us



One of our Christmas traditions each year is to take time to watch our favorite Christmas movies. We never tire of them even though we know some of the lines so well we can quote them easily. Each one seems to connect with a family memory of some sort whether from our own childhood or time with our own children. Not all of them focus on the story of the Christ Child’s birth and yet many of them pick up the themes that are the center of Christmas whether they intend to do so or not.


One of our favorites is Polar Express that lit up the screens of movie theaters cbc73331596d464f74de344f97b8116eeverywhere in 2004. The animation is magical and the musical score a delight. At first glance what you discover is how the movie tells the story of one little boy in particular who has stopped believing in Santa Claus. Then one Christmas Eve a magical train appears outside his bedroom window and the conductor invites him to come aboard to travel to the North Pole with a group of other children.


The boy is skeptical about getting on the train because he doesn’t believe Santa Claus exists, but reluctantly decides to do so. Most of you know the story from seeing the movie. Among the many things that happen on the trip and after they arrive at the North Pole, the most poignant is when Santa appears just at midnight heralded by trumpets and cheering elves. Reindeer adorned with beautiful sleigh bells are prancing excitedly, but the boy cannot hear the sound of the bells because of his unbelief. He is so struck by how everyone else can hear them that he makes the decision to believe and once he does, he can hear the bell.


As we watched the movie a few weeks ago, some of the images and themes really stood out as a metaphor for the true Christmas story of the birth of Jesus. You may consider what I am about to share as a bit of a stretch, but bear with me as I try to pull back the view of the story to allow you to see what I began to sense.


Many are like the boy in Polar Express who didn’t believe in Santa Claus. We haven’t seen God so how do we really know He exists. Many at the time of Jesus even saw the child who grew into manhood and still did not believe this was the Son of God.


The boy couldn’t envision how Santa Claus could know every child on the earth and manage to be everywhere on Christmas Eve. We can struggle to wrap our minds around an all knowing and all loving God who is at once everywhere and yet knows each of us intimately and calls us by name.


The boy learned lessons about friendship, sharing, and giving while on the trip even with others who are not like him. Our life in Christ is about that too. It means joining in relationship with others who may not be at all like us in any number of ways and learning lessons about what it means to be selfless, sacrificing, and sharing.


One of the powerful lessons the movie depicts comes at the end of the movie where the sleigh_bell (1)voice of the boy (now a man) shares about how so many others stopped being able to hear the bells after they were older, but he had determined to believe and had never given up so the bells still rang for him.


The metaphor?


I need to decide to believe in the Babe in the manger despite all the things about it that may not make sense. Once I make that decision and He lives within my heart, I can hear Him speaking to my heart, mind, and spirit, even as the boy could hear the bells once he decided to believe in Santa Claus. But I must continue to nurture that belief throughout my lifetime in order to continue to hear His voice whether through His Word, through creation, through a message or a piece of beautiful music. If I allow everything else in my life to crowd out my belief in Him, I will not be able to hear Him because I am not even listening any more.


The conductor of the train portrayed by Tom Hanks speaks one of the most memorable lines in the movie. Look at what he says:


“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”


 The line reminds me of the words of Jesus in John 20:19 (MSG):


Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”


The boy had never really seen Santa Claus so he didn’t believe. For many, they have not seen Christ in the flesh so they cannot believe. For those who make that decision, the verse in John speaks of the blessings that will follow.


The other scene in the movie that made me smile and think of the time ahead is the scene at the North Pole. Just at midnight Santa appears to the sounds of trumpets, bells, and cheering.

Polar Express trumperers

We who believe are inching ever closer to midnight while we anticipate the Second Advent.


Will we hear the trumpets and bells and be cheering in joy?


Will WE believe?






S is For…Ordinary!



Today I come to the end of this nine part Christmas series using as a structure the letters of the word Christmas and the lyrics from the song C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S made famous by country music legend, Jim Reeves some years ago. I hope a closer look at the meanings beyond the words of the lyrics have resulted in deeper reflections about the characters, places, and events of the story we know so well.


This letter “S” has many words associated with the Christmas season. I wonder how many and which ones you might list. Here is my list: Savior, salvation, snowflakes, sleigh, sled, skating, shopping, scarf, season’s greetings, sleigh bells, Saint Nicholas, Santa’s elves, Scrooge, shepherd, stocking, and Santa Claus.


The lyric in the song for the second S in the song’s title is “means shepherds came”.


 I am struck each time I read Luke’s account of the birth of Christ of the significance that the announcement of the angels of the birth of Jesus came first to the shepherds, the ordinary folks. In Luke 2, the seemingly ‘least likely’ are chosen. They are chosen to be the first noted visitors of Jesus after His birth.


Even though sheep might be a livelihood for some, those left to actually tend the sheep were often the youngest and weakest family members (Recall how David who would become King was the youngest of his brothers.) who had few skills for anything else. This might mean that children, older men no longer in their prime, or even perhaps older women would compose the group.


It seems odd to me that the youngest and weakest were given such a difficult and dangerous job. Shepherds were exposed to extremes of heat and cold. Supplies for their own welfare were few and needed to be stewarded and protected. Shepherds also needed to be very watchful and on guard at all times to protect the sheep from robbers, predators, and the terrain itself, which was often rocky.


They also needed to seek out any sheep that were lost after wandering away and find 002-shepherds-sheep (1)food for the flock later in the fall and winter when none was available. A shepherd provided for what the sheep needed right now, whatever that was.


The fields where the shepherds heard the angelic host adjoined Bethlehem. Many of the shepherds may have cared for the very lambs that would be offered as a sacrifice in the temple. Now they would kneel at the manger of the Good Shepherd who would be sacrificed.


I envision the shepherds outside Bethlehem as a group that is both older and younger than images of the scene might depict. Possibly an older woman would have been in the mix as well. I see them with eyes open and on the alert to watch over the sheep and lambs in their charge. What a heart they had for their charges.


At the time of Jesus birth, we see the least likely are chosen, a pattern that follows Him all the way to Calvary. His disciples were not well-educated men and some had dubious reputations. A tax collector was among them, one who was often most despised, along with poor fishermen.


The other message that breaks into my awareness is the shepherds are accorded the honor of first seeing the one that would also be called “the good shepherd”. The Good Shepherd would be as fierce and protective, as loving and as much of a provider as those who gazed upon the manger. He would also be described by John the Baptist in John 1:29 as “the Lamb of God”.


 As you edge closer to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, pause and consider Him as the One who shepherds you with the most tender, fierce love you can imagine. If you have invited Him into your heart and you are His, you can rest in peace when you lay down to sleep because He is always on watch caring for you. You can rest in confidence He will be there when you awaken and no matter where you are in your journey, He will never leave or forsake you. He even died for you.


John records the words of Jesus defining Himself in confirmation of those words in John 10:11 (ESV):


“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”


 In the Message translation of John 10:11, the sentence reads:


“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.”


 He simply loves us, the ordinary, that much.


 Of all the gifts you may open this Christmas, none can compare with Jesus.