The Gift of New Beginnings

When you hear certain names, the first thing that you think of isn’t good. What comes to your mind when you hear these names? O.J. Simpson. Casey Anthony. Immediately you think of the word murder. We barely remember O.J.’s football career, and we literally don’t know anything else about Casey’s life.

What they did was terrible—I’m not denying that—but I have always felt a little bit sorry for those whose people whose entire life has been reduced to the worst thing they ever did.

Dive into your memory for a moment. What is the worst thing that you’ve ever thought or done? What would your life be like if, when people heard your name, they only mentioned the worst thing you ever did?

I know that some acts of evil are so heinous that it is hard to see anything besides that wickedness, but I believe very few people (if any) are pure evil in the flesh. There is some sliver of good in all of us.

One of the things I love about the new year is the new start it gives us. Teachers like to remind students on the first day of the semester that everybody still has an A. It’s nice to get to start over in a new classroom with a new teacher and a clean slate.

There are people in our lives who could really use a restart.  When we think of their names, we think of how they treated us years ago. Sometimes we’re holding decades-old mistakes over their heads or nursing unending grudges. This new year, would you consider giving someone else a fresh start? Take a step towards reconciliation and forgiveness. See if it isn’t possible to give to others what God has given you. His mercies are new every morning!

The Gift of Joy

The world is filled with joy-stealers. If you gave them a $100 bill, they’d be disappointed that it wasn’t five twenties instead and tell you how much more the dollar was worth when they were kids.

They criticize, complain, and find the fault in anything. The Bible says that we should “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “weep with those who weep,” but they get it backwards. If you’re sorrowful, they’re lecturing you on why you should have a better outlook. If you’re celebrating, they’ll rain on your parade. They don’t empathize; they condescend.

These Grinches often hide behind masks of piety or religion, but their actions don’t reflect any biblical definition of Christianity.

True religion certainly has somber times of reflection on weighty matters, but don’t let the joy stealers neglect the myriad celebrations of scripture. When you read the book of Leviticus, you’ll encounter feast day after feast day celebrating what God has done and is going to do. The Holy Spirit produces joy in his hosts, and Paul commanded a fighting church to knock it off and rejoice—more than once.

Isn’t it interesting that false teachers in scripture are not chastised for celebrating too much, but rather as “grumblers” and “malcontents” in Jude 1:16?

Some churches act like joy is a vice. I wonder if the water in their baptisteries was replaced with lemon juice? Maybe that would explain the sour expressions. If you blindfolded a person and dropped them in a room, they might have trouble distinguishing between some funeral home and some worship assemblies. Isn’t that tragic?

People who are in Jesus have been rescued from disaster and given new life—abundant life! “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). If you’re happy and you know it, then your face should surely show it. Don’t rob your family and your church of the gift of joy.

The Gift of Peacemakers

Some of us really dreaded Thanksgiving Dinner because we knew what would happen once the conversation turned to politics. Your uncle is on the other side of the aisle, and he just can’t keep his mouth shut. Your sister takes the bait and jumps on hi m, and before you’ve even finished the stuffing, World War III has erupted.

As you survey the damage to the turkey and the family, there’s no doubt that Jesus’ words are true: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9)

Too many in our society are so focused on winning the argument that they can’t see the collateral damage of the war. They have won the battle but lost the war. Their desire to be right has caused them to be wrong. Civil discourse devolves into civil war.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

If we remember those words of Jesus, we can be agents of peace in the world. We don’t have to attend every fight we’re invited to. We understand that yes, we are entitled to our opinions, but no, we are not obligated to share them.

Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone.” Yes, even him.

Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Yes, there are some people who are impossible to get along with, make sure that you aren’t that person. Here’s a sign: if everyone in your life likes drama, it’s probably not them, but you!

Peacemakers reduce anxiety and increase comfort. Very little productive happens when we yell, but amazing things happen when we talk—and listen. It might be too late to rescue this year’s thanksgiving dinner, but it’s not too late for Christmas. You can be the one who diffuses the bomb and makes a better day for everyone.

The Gift of Holy Ambition

What are the most important things in the world? My list looks something like this:

  1. My God. The One who created and sustains the universe, who loves me and molds me into his image, who forgives me and is always present with me.
  2. My family. Leslie, Caleb, Katie. My parents and in-laws. My siblings. My extended family.
  3. My friends. The people I share meals with and games with and ride motorcycles with and enjoy life with.
  4. My work. The job that I get to do and all the things that come along with it, including preparing to do it better.

I bet your list looks like my list. These are the things that matter most. Here’s my question this week: do we live our lives in a way that demonstrates our priorities?

People with Passion can Change the World for the Better

If I tell you that my family is important, but I never spend time with them because I’m always at work, you can see that something is out of balance. My actions have communicated that, in reality, they are less important than my job. If I tell you that my job is important, but I work half-heartedly and put in the bare minimum to get by, my actions say that my job is not that important. If I say that I’m a Christian but rarely do the “things” of Christianity—pray, worship, study, serve—my actions suggest that my faith really isn’t that important.

One of the best gifts that we can give ourselves and our families is the gift of holy ambition. Holy ambition is having a good and healthy desire for the things that matter most. Have you communicated to your family that your faith really matters? Are you passionate for the kingdom?

It’s so easy to get our priorities wrong.

We might work and play too hard all week long, then we find ourselves with a case of “Sunday Sickness” – that strange malady that strikes around 9am Sunday morning and miraculously clears up by 1 or 2 that afternoon.

We always can find a way to buy our next toy, but we’re always putting off giving to help others to next week.

We would never dare miss a practice for our sports team, but we wouldn’t bat an eye over skipping dinner with our kids or a study with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

Paul said, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit” (Romans 12:11).

These are pictures of holy ambition—a desire to live passionately for all of the things that matter most. Give yourself and your family the gift of living for the things that matter most.

The Gift of Contentment

Some people are never satisfied. Their waitresses never do a good enough job. They always see the newer car and newer toy. Their kids’ coaches never coach quite right. At work, they are always underpaid, overworked, and overextended. They are tired and in debt, but they still haven’t quite kept up with the Joneses. They are never satisfied, and they’re not a ton of fun to be around, either.

One of the best gifts we can give ourselves and our families is the gift of contentment. Contentment isn’t the normal way of life—it’s way better than that! Desire and greed are monsters that are never satisfied. Proverbs calls them leeches who cry “give, give” (Proverbs 30:15). “Never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20).

Contentment is the ability to be at peace regardless of the circumstances around us. Contentment doesn’t pretend that things are perfect; it is the choice to be happy now instead of waiting for a perfect world to magically appear.

Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Isn’t it interesting that Paul had to learn that skill? He told Timothy that “there is great gain in godliness with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6-11) because all of our material circumstances can and do change.

Nurturing the virtue of contentment will make you happier and more pleasant to be around. It will make life’s difficult days a little bit easier, and will make your life a testimony to the peace that comes from knowing Jesus.

Society tells you that if your circumstances change, you’ll be happy. Contentment reminds us that the path to true happiness is in the heart. Will you make the choice to be content?