Monday, December 29, 2014

Don't Make New Year's Resolutions!

You read the title right. Don't, I mean don't, make resolutions for the New Year. You might wonder why I'm so adamant about it. The reason is more statistical than anything else. Did you know only 8% of those who make New Year's Resolutions succeed in achieving their resolutions. That means a whopping 92% of those who make New Year's Resolutions fail. That doesn't sound like very good odds to me.

So what should you do if you really want to make changes in the coming year but you don't want to fall victim to the horrible failure rate of New Year's Resolutions? Make a change, not a resolution. A resolution is defined as "an answer or solution to something." If you want to weigh less by the end of the year then your resolution would be to lose weight. But having the answer and accomplishing the goal are two different matters. If you don't make a change in your eating habits and activity level, then your answer is only that, an answer. So if you want things to change in your life then you need to make a change and then stick with it. Set goals and make them achievable. Don't plan to lose 50 pounds by January 15th because we all know that isn't possible. Celebrate as you accomplish milestones along the way. You will be amazed at how small things like that will keep you focused on your goal and motivated to accomplish your goal. If possible partner with others that have the same kind of goal. The accountability and support will only strengthen you for the challenge of accomplishing your goal.

Two things that Christians often "resolve" to do at the beginning of a New Year is to read the Bible more and spend more time in prayer. If those are two of our New Year's Resolutions, then the odds are you won't have a deeper relationship with God come February. Make the necessary changes you need to make in your life to carve out time for prayer and Bible study. If that means waking up earlier, do it. If it means rearranging your schedule, do it. Maybe something you need to do to help you grow spiritually is to get more active in attending services at your church. Only spending an hour on Sunday worshiping God isn't going to bring about the results most people hope for in deepening their relationship with God. Most churches have additional services, Bible studies, classes, small groups and other opportunities for you to grow in your faith. If you want to really make a change in your relationship with God spend more time in prayer, study the Bible more, and get involved in other disciple-making processes your church offers.

Here's to a New Year. I hope you'll make the necessary changes in your life in the coming year that will make you healthier physically and spiritually.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Get rid of your Elf on the Shelf!

Yes, we are one of those families that participate in the craziness that is the "Elf on the Shelf." At first it was entertaining to see the boys run around the house looking for Randy the Elf. We would even admit that it was entertaining on some weird level to watch the boys freak out when we pretended like we were going to pick Randy up and move him. We have woke up in a panic praying the boys didn't wake up before us all because we forgot to move the elf the night before. And yes, we've been those parents that had to make up some excuse for why the elf didn't move the night before. If we had small kids again, say 2-6 years old, I'd gladly do it all over again just to see the joy in their eyes. But I have to admit that I'm glad my two are aging out of the Elf phase, although I don't believe Misty is as happy as I am. I'm just glad that we will soon be getting rid of our Elf on the Shelf.

For some people they don't need to wait for their kids to grow up to get rid of their elf. They need to do it right now. You heard me right. Some people need to get rid of their elf right now and not use it again. Here's my reasoning on making such a claim. Your elf on the shelf is like most everything else in life, it's a tool to help teach and train your children. If the only use you have for having an elf on the shelf is to get your kids to behave and have some fun during the month of December, then you're missing a great opportunity to teach your kids about the real reason for Christmas. As parents we should take every opportunity we can to point our children towards God (Deuteronomy 6:7). We should use every day opportunities, like riding down the road or sitting down for a meal, to teach them valuable lessons about faith. With Christmas being solely about the birth of Jesus as the Savior of the world, how can we not use a silly game like Elf on the Shelf to point our children towards the true meaning of Christmas. I know some will say you shouldn't mix the secular views of Christmas and the
traditional religious view of Christmas. To them I'd say, "Why not?" How can we not use something that has so captivated the hearts and minds of our children to point out the reason we celebrate Christmas. If we don't use it from time to time to point to Jesus as the focus of Christmas, then we miss a great teaching opportunity. Plus we make the sole focus of Christmas about getting gifts because they've been good. I think the easiest way to put it is this. If you aren't willing to use your elf to lead your kids just a little closer to Christ, then you need to get rid of your Elf on the Shelf.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas in view of the Cross

My grandmother gave Misty and I a crystal nativity set the year before we were married. Misty has kept it boxed up for 13 years for fear our boys would break it. This year it is displayed on a table in our living room. The other day I started towards bed and noticed something lying on the manger in that crystal nativity set. It was a little cross necklace Cooper had showed me earlier that evening. Before he went to bed, Cooper had laid the cross across the feet of the baby Jesus lying in the manger. I snapped a picture of it and thought to myself how powerful an image this 8 year old had created without even knowing it.

It is amazing to consider Christmas in view of the cross. The thought that this young child we celebrate at Christmas would die a torturous, suffocating death is hard to grasp while singing "Away in a Manger." But we view these events from our limited, finite, and temporal positions. The Advent, or coming, of Christ that we celebrate with hymns, plays, and gift giving was not the start of God's plan of salvation for mankind. His plan didn't even start in the moments after Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It started in eternity past. That plan always existed in the mind of God because, being omniscient, He knew He would create man and that man would fall into sin and need a savior. Since a savior was needed a child was born in Bethlehem and placed in a manger, some 5 miles from the place where His arms would be stretched out and nailed to a cross 33 years later.

Since Jesus is God we know that He has always known that He would be the sacrifice for mankind. He knew it before mankind was ever created. Can you imagine the thoughts as the divine, all-knowing part of Jesus knew the cross was coming and watched as people were crucified by the Romans? Can you imagine the thoughts as the fleshly, life-saving desires flooded His heart and mind as He grew into adulthood? These thoughts are hard to reconcile with our celebrations of the baby lying in the manger.

When we celebrate Christmas, we are really celebrating the beginning of the end of Christ's life here on earth. I'm not suggesting that Christmas should take on some morbid or somber tone. But the birth of that Child should be celebrated with joy since God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die in our place (John 3:16). But as we celebrate, as we give gifts, and as we sing hymns, we need to remember the price this "Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger" paid for you and I. It should bring all the more joy and peace into our lives as we celebrate the arrival of the One who is called "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, NIV).

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Watch out for the cow pie!

Yesterday afternoon Dru, Cooper, a teenager from church, and myself went to feed our cows. Rather than driving the tractor all over creation we drove to one of our farms and loaded two round bales of hay in my truck and headed to another farm to feed the cows. We pulled into the pasture to pull the hay off the truck and I had pulled up to a most inconvenient spot without knowing it. When the other three started to get out on their side of the truck there was a huge pile of cow manure beside the truck. It didn't help matters any that I had hit it with my truck and made it spread out. They were able to get out of the truck relatively safely. That is until it was Dru's turn to jump over this cow pie. When he jumped out of the open door of the truck he made the mistake of jumping downhill. After landing safely beyond the massive cow pie Dru fell victim to Newton's first law of motion and his momentum caused him to go face first towards the ground...and you guessed it, another cow pie. Dru was fortunate not to get a face full of cow manure (because from my perspective I thought he had). He stood up, dusted himself off, laughed it off, and no one was the wiser as to how close he came to a major disaster!

Our spiritual lives are often the filled with the same type of pitfalls and problems. We try to avoid those problems that seem so huge in front of us and by avoiding that one we end up nearly "eating it" on the next problem that we don't see. We have to be very careful spiritually because those problems, temptations and pitfalls that we face are as common as a cow pie in a cow pasture. For those that have never been on a farm that means you have to watch where you step. Those temptations and problems can be handled carefully if we have guidance from One who can truly help us. God knows the troubles we face in life. He sees the struggles that we have. He is more than willing to help us deal with our problems or help us to avoid them all together. We just have to ask Him to help us and then follow His lead. See, if my sons had told me about the cow pie yesterday, I would have told them the right way to avoid it was to get out of the truck on my side where there wasn't one. All we have to do is seek God's help and follow His directions and He will gladly help His children.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Should I encourage my child's belief in Santa Claus?

Here is a confession from a grown man, husband, and father of two boys. Are you ready for it? I believe in Santa Claus. There I said it. It feels good to get that off my chest. Want to know why? There are two reasons really. First, we have a saying in my family that has been passed down from my parents (primarily my mom) and that will be passed down to my boys when they are old enough to understand. The saying is "If you don't believe in Santa there won't be any presents at my house on Christmas morning." So when my boys ask me if I believe in Santa, I am quick to tell them of my belief in the jolly old elf. Call me greedy, childish, materialistic, immature, or what have you, but if you ask me if I believe in Santa I'll tell you I believe. Do I think my parents would leave me out of the gift giving if I said I didn't believe? Probably not. But if I ruined the magic of Santa for their grandkids they might! The second reason is because I don't believe there is any harm in it.

Now understand my second reason to be coming from experience rather than education. My training is in business and theology, not in psychology. That being said, I know some people who from their child's earliest years have never encouraged belief in Santa for their own personal reasons. But like most people, I grew up in a house that celebrated Christmas with cookies and milk left for this guy that would come and leave presents in our living room. And like those that grew up in homes where Santa was allowed, I grew up to be a relatively well adjusted adult (no comments please). So what harm is done to us by allowing us to believe in the fanciful? What harm is there to be on the blind side of belief in a man giving gifts, giant rabbits leaving candy, or a fairy that trades money for molars? In this man's opinion absolutely nothing. Psychologically speaking I don't think there is. When was the last time you met someone with real life issues because they believed in Santa as a kid. Theologically speaking I think it can be helpful.

If nothing else I want my boys to grow up and allow their belief in Santa to help them frame their view of their faith in God. I know that is a stretch for some but hear me out. When my boys are older I want them to have as comprehensive a view as possible of their faith in God. I want them to fully realize this idea that God gave us the greatest gift ever on that first Christmas morning, not because He had to, but because He wanted to. There were no strings attached. There was no reason that He had to give us Christ, but He willingly gave Christ to us at His own personal cost. I believe encouraging belief in Santa (a benevolent man, who gives gifts at his own expense, and with no strings attached) will only help my kids more fully understand the true meaning of Christmas and God's gift of salvation through Christ. Call it simple minded. Call it what you will. But that's just the thought of a man who believes in Santa and hopes his kids will always believe as well.