Resolutions, Anyone?

     Statistics say that 40 to 45% of American adults will make one or more resolutions this new year. 34% will  set resolutions related to money, 38% will set resolutions related to weight, 47% will set resolutions related to self-improvement or education and 31% will set resolutions related to relationships. So less than half of us will even make them…but how will that less that half do about KEEPING them? Again, statistics bear out that 75% will still be keeping their resolution past the first week, 71% will make it past 2 weeks, the number will be down to 64% after one month, and after 6 months only 46% of that original 45% will still be keeping their resolutions. 

     Apparently there is some truth to the “old dog, new tricks” thing…because statistically the younger you are, the more likely you are to achieve your resolutions. 39% of those in their twenties achieve their resolutions every year or every other year, while less than 15% of those over 50 achieve their resolutions every year or every other year. All in all, not a GREAT winning percentage, is it?!
     Do YOU set New Year’s resolutions, and if so- what kind do you typically set? Why do you set those particular resolutions? What do you hope to gain by setting them? What will you do to be more successful than you were last year? Here’s a suggestion…take it for what it’s worth…DON’T make New Year’s resolutions this year. Instead…set goals. And yes, Virgina…there IS a big difference…if done correctly! A resolution is “I’m going to TRY and do better about (fill in your weakness here) next year!” That “TRY” is the caveat that let’s us off the hook when we fail. Instead, set goals. And here’s what a goal is: SMART. And yes…that’s an acronym! And here’s what it stands for: 
S is for specific- a goal can’t be “I want to lose some weight”…NOT specific.
M is for measurable- a goal can’t be “I want to be a better person”…NOT measurable.
A is for achievable- a goal can’t be “I want to lose 200 lbs. by Feb. 1…NOT achievable.
R is for reasonable- a goal can’t be “I want to lose 4 ounces”…NOT reasonable.
And T is for timely- a goal can’t be “I want to learn the guitar sometime”…NOT timely. 
     So, goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable and timely. If you set them with those guidelines, it’s NOT a guarantee that you will achieve them…but you have a MUCH better chance! Tomorrow begins the New Year- along with looking forward to what you want, make sure and spend some time reflecting on what you have. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a great 2011! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Year’s Worth of Reflection

     I don’t know about you, but 2010 has been a pretty big year in my life and the lives of my family. Among the biggest things that happened to us involved our two boys. My oldest son graduated from college this spring. Wow! How did THAT happen? I swear it was just a few days ago that he was a pre-schooler, running around pretending to be a superhero. Now…he’s “all growed up”! We went from supporting him as he went through college (and PAYING for college!) to trying to schedule times when he can come home for the weekend or we can go and see him. It’s hard to believe…and adjust to.

     So, if it were for our ” surprise  miracle” younger son (who was prayed into existence, as I have shared in the past), we would be empty-nesters…and BOY and I glad we aren’t. Otherwise, we would have never had the joy of a 2nd child! His life changed radically this year as he entered Middle School. (If you don’t think that’s a BIG change…you haven’t had anybody IN Middle School for a while!) He’s NOT a little kid anymore, being walked into school every day. Instead, he’s this tall, long-haired…manchild who says “Love ya'” as he bounces out of the car every morning. He started playing the trumpet this year (in our house, you HAVE to play an instrument- we don’t care which one, but you have to play something!), so that has changed our routine. He also started running cross country, which started out as a good thing and quickly became the hardest thing he’s ever done! He developed tendinitis on BOTH knees and had to “limp” through the rest of the season while taking rigorous physical therapy twice a week for 6 weeks! He also developed substantial allergies in the midst of everything else and had to go through a battery of blood tests to find out the root cause…we’re still struggling with that one!
     My wife and I both have aging parents who continue to struggle with a variety of health issues, so that has changed MANY dynamics in our household! Church work gets more demanding…and more rewarding…every day, and in the midst of it all, I have never been more sure of God’s call on my life!
     What has your year been like? Did you have a super fantastic awesome year…or was this one you would just as soon forget? If you had a great year, I am delighted for you! Celebrate that and pray that God will help you have another great year in 2011. If you did NOT have such a great 2010, I’m sorry. My suggestion would be to review the year, see what you can learn from the trials and tribulations, and pray that God will give you the strength and the courage to put those troubles behind you and start the new year fresh! You deserve it!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

It’s Not the Years, Honey, It’s the Mileage!

     I am a big fan of adventure movies, and one of my favorite movie characters of all time is Indiana Jones. In Raiders of the Lost Ark (the 1st and best of the series, followed pretty closely by The Last Crusade, with The Temple of Doom and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tied at a relatively distant 3rd!) Indy meets up with Marion Ravenwood, a long-lost love. After a…stormy…reunion, she says to him, “You’re not the man I knew 10 years ago.” To which he replies, “It’s not the years, honey- it’s the mileage!” 

     I was 20 years old when Raiders came out (you do the math…I’m busy!), and that line from Indy didn’t really resonate with me, beyond simply being a funny “throw-away” comment. Now, however, I am (did you DO the math?) 49 years old, with 50 JUST around the corner, and that line means a WHOLE lot more to me than it did! I have comer to understand, at least to a much better extent than I did as a 20-year old, that age IS a state of mind. At least at SOME level, that is. I feel younger at almost 50 than I did at 35. At 35, I was making a MAJOR life change- quitting a career that seemed to be finally going somewhere to go back to school AND go into the ministry! (I must have been at least slightly insane to do it!) I was going to school full-time, working at a church part-time (I actually worked there much closer to full-time…I just got PAID part-time!), trying to balance a family in the middle of all that, AND then finding out we were having a baby at the age of 39! I was exhausted all the time! I made it through seminary on guile and gallons and gallons of strong coffee…period! Oh yeah, and God had a little something to do with it, as well! 
     Now, I have been in the ministry for 14 years (can it REALLY be that long?) and I am more…alive…than I have ever been. It doesn’t mean there aren’t days when I am exhausted. It doesn’t mean there aren’t days when I could scrap it all and go live in a cabin in the backwoods of Montana. It doesn’t mean that my life is perfect…far from it. Instead, what it means is that I have a different perspective, a different outlook on life than I used to. Why? Because God is tenacious! He wanted me to go into the ministry…and I didn’t want to. So…I ignore Him. I ran from Him. I told Him “NO!” But He didn’t give up ion me…He kept pushing, until finally I relented (couldn’t take it any more!) and gave in! I really didn’t answer as call to the ministry as much as I got tired of fighting and said “OK!”
     Do your years match your mileage…or is there a lot more miles on your body…and soul…than your birth certificate would bear out? If you feel like you have run out of warranty because of excessive mileage…turn to God. I am living proof that when you do that, God has some special tool that allows Him to crack open the dashboard and roll back the odometer. And it feels so GREAT when that happens!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

If I NEVER Hear Another Beach Boys Christmas Song…

     I LOVE Christmas music! I really do! I have shared before that the 2 radio stations I listen to most- one a  contemporary Christian station and the other a classic rock station- both go to Christmas music 24/7 beginning on Thanksgiving Day. I then spend the next month driving my family absolutely CRAZY. The radio goes on the moment I get up, and it is on basically all day! I have heard more Christmas music this season than I thought actually existed! And therein lies the rub!

     It’s now a few days AFTER Christmas, and I am officially SICK of Christmas music! I KNOW that a rather “bah, humbug” Ebeneezer Scrooge attitude and all…but I can’t help it! And I fear it’s because these radio stations have to fill a LOT of airtime with Christmas music. And that leads to hearing EVERYBODY who EVER recorded a song sing Christmas music! And that, in my humble opinion, is just WRONG! 
     I mean, really, do I NEED to hear the Beach Boys, never my favorite group but one that I thought was…fine…sing Christmas songs? Adding that falsetto harmony to “Little Drummer Boy” does not create a happy sound! Likewise, if I hear Madonna sing “Santa Baby” one more time this year, I might well yank the radio from the wall and smash it! (I DO, however, get a kick out of Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”, where he laughs his way through the ending while someone in his E Street Band “ho ho’s” REALLY loudly in the background!) 
     So, I thought I had heard it all, as it pertains to bad Christmas music. But wait…I was wrong! I heard Bob Dylan sing a Christmas song. Now, I must tell you that I am NOT a Bob Dylan fan. In fact, the only thing I can imagine as being worse than Bob Dylan singing ANYTHING would be Bob Dylan and Neil Young singing anything…TOGETHER! So I enter this conversation with a bias. BUT…this was simply a BAD recording. It was enough to make you go off the food for a time. (Which, in my case, might be a helpful thing!) When I heard that song, I decided that EITHER A. the end of times was drawing near OR B it was time to stop listening to Christmas music for the year! (I chose B!) 
     What have you growing particularly SICK of this season? What are you glad to see over about Christmas? What are you going to miss? How will you keep the good parts of Christmas going into the new year? Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The BEST Gift I Got!

     What was the BEST gift YOU got this Christmas? When the Nicholas Cage movie National Treasure first came out, we went to see it. (My boys and I love a good, relatively implausible action movie!) After it was over, we were talking about it. My older son said, “As the movie went on, I began to worry that the treasure was going to turn out to be something lame…like love of family!” (He was, at some level, kidding! We actually love each other very much!) But that mentality DOES raise an interesting point. When I ask the question that started today’s entry, you probably automatically thought something like, “OK. He’s going to talk about gifts, then lead to something about Jesus being the best gift he got! So predictable!” Well, hate to burst your bubble…but WRONG! 

     Now don’t misunderstand me- I got gifts that I liked. I got not one but TWO Peanuts (of the Charlie Brown variety) ties. I got a Snoopy playing drums. I got some clothes. A light for my Kindle. I got lots of great stuff. And I DO appreciate the gift of Jesus Christ even more than the stuff I got this year. But the best gift I got came 3 days before Christmas, and it almost makes me feel guilty! One of the women’s groups in my church “adopted” a family for Christmas. I found the family for them, got the info from the family as to what their needs were and passed that on to the ladies. They did a WONDERFUL job of getting everything on the list, making sure everyone in the family had something for Christmas. Nothing extravagant- mostly clothes that the family needed, with a little something “special” for each person added in. About a week before Christmas, all the gifts were delivered to the church and stored on the couch in my office. I decided to wait until a few days before Christmas to get them delivered, so on the 21st I called the family and made arrangements for them to pick everything up the next day.
     At 9AM on the 22nd, they showed up. I had gathered everything out in the lobby of the church, and it was a rather impressive pile. They were clearly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff! I helped them carry it out to the car. The man of the house turned to me with a tear in his eye, shook my hand, and told me he didn’t know what his family would have done this year with the church. The woman of the house told me I needed a hug…and gave me one! They got in the car and drove off, and I had the sense that, at least for that moment, their faith in humanity was restored. 
     That’s the BEST present I get every year. I get to “broker” deals between folks who want to help and folks who need help. Whether it’s turkeys at Thanksgiving or presents at Christmas, I probably get involved in about 5-10 of these kinds of experiences every year. And it’s amazing! (Although I almost feel guilty- groups within the church do all the work, but I’m the one who gets to see the impact it has!) “Thank you” to everyone who choose to be a giver this holiday season. Thanks for caring about your fellow humans enough to sacrifice part of your Christmas so that someone else could have something. And believe me, those things don’t go  unnoticed in the Heavenly realm!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Whew!!

     “Yes it’s over…call it a day. Sorry that it had to end this way.” Those bittersweet words, crooned so well by Johnny Mathis, sum up may folks’ feelings today! Christmas came, Christmas went, and we feel as if it ran over us on the way by! In fact, I had a REALLY strange experience about Christmas being over a few days ago! It was on the 21st, a full 4 days BEFORE Christmas, and I was working on the church bulletin for today’s service- the 26th. When you write things (Bulletins, newsletters, whatever) that are for a future time, you have to put your mindset in THAT time frame, as opposed to the one you are  actually in. So I’m sitting in my living room  working on a bulletin on my laptop at 8PM on the 21st of December, while in my mind it was the 26th of December. On the TV, a commercial started playing that included a kid looking at a Santa snow globe while Nat King Cole’s version of The Christmas Song (“Chestnuts roasting”…and all that!) was playing in the background. I looked up from the computer and said, “Why are they playing that NOW…AFTER Christmas?!” My wife and son looked at me like I had lost my mind…a real possibility, and then I realized what I had done. I mumbled some half-hearted explanation and then went back to my work, hoping they would just forget the whole thing!

     But any way you slice, Christmas IS over now! All the build-up, all the hype, all the work, all the stress….and BOOM!- it’s over in the blink of an eye. And then reality sets back in. You have to go back to work and/or school. The decorations come down. And many folks stop acting so “merry and bright”- instead they sadly go back to the way they USUALLY act! How was your Christmas? Did it meet your expectations? Did all your wishes come true? If so…I fear you are in the minority on that one! We all set our expectations SO high, and in the WRONG direction, that they can’t POSSIBLY measure up. And then we’re disappointed. 
     If that all sounds way too familiar to you, don’t fret! A. You’re NOT alone, and B. there IS hope! And here’s the hope! Many of the groups, ministries and organizations that get special attention/help during the Christmas season tend to become “persona non grata” as soon as Christmas is over. In other words, everybody wants to do something “warm and fuzzy” for the holidays and many of those groups benefit from it. But when the “warm fuzzies” wear off, those groups still have needs! So here’s what you can do to make that “magic Christmas” feeling last longer- pick an organization or two and help them. Maybe it’s a non-profit charity that feeds the hungry or clothes the needy of shelters the homeless- help them. Maybe it’s a church that does good ministry all year, reaching out beyond their walls to make a difference in their community and beyond- help them. 
     Now, you might be saying, “But preacher, I JUST finished Christmas and spent all my money- I don’t have  anything left to give!” I would argue 2 things: 1. I bet the things that are important to you are still getting paid, and 2. you can help an organization without opening your checkbook. Volunteer your…wait for it…TIME. Those kinds of groups need money, to be sure, but they also need workers- folks who are willing to roll up their sleeves and make a difference. 
     This post-Christmas season…make a difference. Let the season of giving, the season of love, continue well into the New year. Who knows, you may like it so much that you find you are STILL carry on Christmas when NEXT Christmas rolls around! And how cool would THAT be?! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Happy Birthday!

     When I was a kid, Mrs. Martin used to make my birthday cakes. She was a lady who lived up the road (I grew up out in the middle of nowhere…we didn’t have streets…we had ROADS!) and she made cakes shaped like animals. And I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen! (I was 14 years old at the time…but don’t laugh at me!) Actually, I was about 5 years old, and I remember seeing a picture of me, on my knees on a stool at the kitchen counter, holding the edge of a cake shaped like a lamb so that it tipped forward for the camera. I had a MASSIVE smile on my face! 

     Birthdays are a big deal…aren’t they? In our house, we try and make them very special- it’s the one day of the year that’s YOURS, and no one else’s! You get to pick the dessert AND the dinner, and if you get to pick how we celebrate (within reason, that is)! How do YOU celebrate birthdays at your house? What are the special things you do? And why am I asking about birthdays on Christmas Day, you might ask? Because today is the biggest birthday celebration in the history of the world…and many people aren’t even really aware of it. 
     Think about it- a bit over 2,000 years ago a baby was born. Now, you can argue all you want about whether Jesus was REALLY God’s Son, God Incarnate, or not (I’ll always argue that He IS, by the way!), but it would be hard to argue that there is another person who walked the face of this Earth and has had MORE impact that Him. Jesus, very simply, came into the world in a back water town in the middle of nowhere, in a stable, and changed the world. Forever. We even measure TIME by His birth. Seminaries across the nation can change from designating time by BC (before Christ) and AD (anno domini, which means “in the year of our Lord”)  to designating it as BCE (before the common era) and CE (common era) all they want…for my money it’s all smoke and mirrors. Regardless of what you call it, Jesus’ birth STILL forever split time in half. Period. 
     So how will YOU recognize Jesus’ birth today? I doubt you will make a cake shaped like a lamb…although it would be terribly appropriate, what with Jesus being the Lamb of God and all…but what WILL you do? Will you set aside some time today to remember His birth, a birth that changed the world, change me…and you? Take a moment today, in the midst of everything else you will do, to thank God for the best birthday/Christmas gift ever!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you are having a GREAT Christmas! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!