Tag Archive | New Year

A Christmas Story of Sorts

across-the-water3

There once was an old artist…

He lived in a small home in a setting that was picturesque: His property was wooded with a short hill that ran from his back door down into a vast, calm lake. Looking out over the water into the distance revealed a majestic mountain range. He had few human visitors, but enjoyed watching the fish jump and the ducks and geese gliding effortlessly across the surface of the water. It was not uncommon for him to be visited by squirrels, raccoons, and quite often, deer.

Snow 2JEvery morning (weather permitting), the old artist would walk down the hill from his house to the small dock he had built years before on the lake. He would take his easel and a small box of drawing and painting utensils, and spend hours sitting on the dock, painting and sketching. Often, he would paint his beautiful surroundings — trees, water, the mountains, the woodland creatures — but every once in a while, he would paint images from his mind, and what the serenity of that place inspired in his imagination. He started off just hanging the pictures in his small home but over time, the lack of wall space and the encouragement of a friend inspired him to sell his paintings at a local store. Every once in a while, his art would inspire him to accompany the painting with a poem from his own experience, and although he rarely wrote such poems, they were always filled with beautiful imagery, witty humor, and profound wisdom.

There came a day when a man from a large city visited the area, and stopped by the store for some supplies. The man owned a large publishing company, and upon seeing the art on display, was intrigued. He read a couple of the poems, and was beyond impressed.

“Who is the author of these masterpieces?” he inquired.

The shop owner gave him the old artist’s address, and he hurried away to find the artist. When he arrived at his destination, the old artist was down on the dock, feeding some ducks a little dry bread left over from last evening’s dinner. The publisher proceeded to introduce himself, and compliment the artist on his craft — particularly his poetry. He passionately  made the case that the old artist’s gift of poetry did not need to be hidden from the world, and that his work could reach thousands and millions of people if he would come to work for him. The publisher’s words made the old artist feel respected, needed, and guilty all at the same time. After a couple hours of persuasion, the publisher convinced the old artist to come to work for his company, and share his wonderful insights with the rest of the world. The old man agreed to a contract which required him to move to the city in which the publishing company was located.

bldg-in-philly2For the first six months, his work was incredible. The publisher was overwhelmed by the beauty of the old artist’s eloquent and witty poems and stories. Furthermore, he was overjoyed by the public reception of the old artist — letters and correspondence praising the writings as masterful and insightful. Readership was up for the first time in a decade, with a corresponding rise in revenue. Everyone at the publishing company was happy.

Everyone, that is, except for the old artist.

Over time, sales plateaued and began to fall away. The new readers who at first seemed so excited began to disappear, the praise began to subside, and what little correspondence there was was less than flattering. “Dry”, “passionless”, and “formulaic” were words that critics began to use to describe the writing they once called “fresh”, “genius”, and “inspirational”. The publisher, concerned about not just his company’s bottom line, but having also grown quite fond of the old artist as a friend, decided to talk to the man.

Meeting one evening at the publisher’s home, the publisher asked the old artist if he was alright; had something happened to cause him to lose his inspiration?

The old man replied…

“You became interested in me and my work because of my poetry. You saw it as beautiful and unique, inspiring and insightful. But I’m not sure you understood where it came from. Honestly, until now, I’m not sure I did.

But I do now.
You see, the beautiful poetry you love was always a by-product of the hours I spent alone with my art. Almost every morning (weather permitting), I would go down to my dock — the place you found me feeding the ducks — and paint or sketch what I saw, not just with my eyes, but with my mind and my heart.

The thing is, that art came from a place as well.

That place.

wintertree-charcoalThat place I call home. That place I knew since I was a young boy. That place I shared with the love of my life — my other inspiration — until her time on this earth was done. That place where the wind sings to my spirit, that holds my memories, my laughter, my tears, my joys, and my sorrows. That place that inspired adventure in a young man, and soothed the broken heart of a grieving and lonely old man.

When you hired me and I left that place, I left behind the art and inspiration that gave my poetry its real meaning. You gained the writer, but left behind everything that made the artist.”

Friends, how many times have we done that?

holly-paintingHow many times do we see someone for what they are, but we miss who they are? How many times have we — as friends, acquaintances, leaders, and employers — looked to someone to fill a role in our lives without considering what it is that makes them qualified or even necessary to fill that role? How many times have employers, for the sake of gaining an employee, forsaken an artist? We see how having the abilities of a person can benefit us, but what is that thing that inspires them, that makes them who they are, that makes them of benefit to everyone around them? While we may choose what a person’s assignment is, do we understand what their anointing is?

Well… God does.

He understood it when He told Jeremiah…

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations. ~ Jeremiah 1:5

His creative genius was clear to David, who wrote…

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them. ~ Psalm 139:13-16

Paul recognized that God’s good and perfect gifts come without a return receipt…

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. ~ Romans 11:29

KS12499This Christmas season, I encourage you — actually, I invite you — as we celebrate the story of the Christ Child, to find out someone else’s story. Find out what makes them tick. Look beyond the temporal and temporary exterior and find out about their experiences, dreams, and aspirations.

Look beyond the assignment and find the anointing.

Look past the grit and find the gift.

Solomon recognized the value of God’s gifts when he said…

A man’s gift makes room for him,
And brings him before great men. ~ Proverbs 18:16

This next year, let’s commit ourselves to recognizing the gifts and callings in those around us, and help to clear the path for that anointing to find its way to greatness.

How To Make the Best of a New Year

“It was the best of times… it was the worst of times”.

With these words, Charles Dickens begins his timeless classic, A Tale of Two Cities. Although it was written in 1859, this opening sentence sounds a lot like our world today.

We see turmoil in other countries…

We see political and social unrest right here at home…

We see an economy filled with uncertainty…

NE ChurchBut through it all, we have hope. Hope – not in an ideology, politicians, or financial markets. We have hope in a God who is bigger than any challenges we face, and mightier than the forces of darkness that are trying to tear this world apart.

Because of that, we can find joy in the future, and anticipation for a wonderful New Year.

Burning Ships

Across the Water

According to legend, when Spanish explorer Hernando Cortés came to the new world, upon reaching Veracruz, he had his men unload the ships. As they headed inland, those in the exploration party looked back only to see the entire fleet of ships on fire. Cortés himself had ordered the ships destroyed to make turning back an impossibility.

When the prophet Elijah called his successor – a farmer by the name of Elisha – Elisha asked his master if he could go home and say goodbye to his parents. Once there, Elisha himself proceeded to kill his oxen and burn his plows, thereby totally eliminating any chance of returning home. He committed himself wholeheartedly to the task God had called him to… turning back was not an option.

Here at the start of a new year, maybe you need to “burn down the ships” that have kept you in stagnant water. Maybe you need to “kill the oxen and burn the plows” that have kept you chained to defeat.

This is the year you need to allow radical faith to make a difference in your world.

This is the day you need to lay aside those things that are behind you – the things that have kept you bound to a life that is going nowhere – and start anew with the Father.

Pray… diligently seek the face of God concerning His plan for your life, and have the courage to say, as Jesus did, “Not my will, but YOUR will be done.”

Believe… prayer does little good unless it is accompanied by faith. Believe that God has your best interests at heart. Have confidence that He knows your end from the beginning. The psalmist wrote…

   Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Proceed… determine in your heart that you are going to follow the path He lays out before you. When He opens a door, go through it. If He closes one, trust that another will soon open. Allow your faith in His goodness to influence your decision-making this year. You have a Father in Heaven who is crazy about YOU, child of the Most High… Walk in that assurance!

The winds of change are blowing, so cast off the bow lines, set your gaze on the horizon, and follow the Son. This can be, not just the beginning of a New Year, but the beginning of a New Life as well!

Happy 2014!

Make it the best year ever!

Faith, Philippians, & Fleetwood Mac

Happy New Year!

As with each New Year, for most of us, this one probably started with watching the crystal ball drop in Times Square (we miss you, Dick Clark), a kiss from a loved one, and a string of well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions:

“I’m going to lose that elusive 40 lbs”.

“I’m going to finish that never ending remodeling project .”

“I’m going to quit smoking.”

The list can go on and on for most of us. A New Year is a time for new beginnings… a time at which we contemplate the person we would like to be – a thinner, kinder, healthier, more organized person. However, by the first couple of days into January, any failure to strictly adhere to our good intentions spells doom for the other 363 days. We begin to look at the big picture through the lens of our failure at keeping last year’s resolutions, and the spiral of defeat begins before the last of the spiral-sliced ham (and other Christmas leftovers) has found its way to the garbage can.

But hold on a second! Before you give up completely, and start looking for a yard stick and paper towels with which to construct the white flag of surrender, please allow me to throw a sound-bite of reason into your intellectual quagmire.

Fleetwood Mac.

Christine McVie of the band Fleetwood Mac put it this way…

If you wake up and don’t want to smile
If it takes just a little while
Open your eyes and look at the day
You’ll see things in a different way

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
Don’t stop… it’ll soon be here
It’ll be better than before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone

Years ago, the news media was interviewing soldiers on the front line of Vietnam. It was the Christmas season and the reporter asked a question of a grisly, old Gunnery Sergeant.

“What gift would you like this season?”

The old soldier answered – “Tomorrow”.

Stop trying to bite off a mouthful that it is going to take 365 days to chew. Start with that one thing that this old soldier understood all too well…

Tomorrow.

In Philippians 3, the apostle Paul talked about how he approached the future…

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do,
forgetting those things which are behind,
and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (v. 13-14)

Sounds like good advice to me. However, in spite of the blank page, uncharted waters, open doors, and genuine hope that 2013 offers us (which, incidentally, I am running with), many of you reading this right now have already resigned yourselves to defeat. Because of things such as personal problems, taxes and inflation, wars in the Middle East, and the uncertainty of the stock market, many of you have already decided that 2013 is going to be a bad year.

I, for one, haven’t. But let’s go with this line of thinking for a moment…

If you are bound and determined that this is going to be a bad year, here are several ways to guarantee that outcome:

Keep your eyes on the rear-view mirror.

John Maxwell says that there are four bridges that we all must burn if we want to have a better life.

  1. Wrongs done to us. Successful people let the past go. Ignore the little stuff… forgive the big stuff.
  2. The unfairness of life. Determine that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you are NEVER going to live with a victim mentality.
  3. Bad habits. Break unhealthy patterns from the past.
  4. Our own stupidity. Become intimately acquainted with the phrase, “I was wrong”.

There is a story told of an old black man, age 85, down South, sitting on his porch one summer evening, slowly rocking in his rocking chair, with his pipe, blowing circles into the motionless air. A young hyperactive salesman approaches him and shouts from the sidewalk:

“Grandpa, I got a book for you here that will help you remember everything from your whole life. It costs only five dollars.”

The old man sat there in silence, reflecting, not saying a word as he rocked, and finally, after what seemed like an eternity, said:

“Sonny, I’ll give you a thousand dollars for the book that can help me to forget.”

A really great way to sabotage your year: Don’t pray – Worry instead.

In Matthew 6, Jesus says ten times, “Don’t worry”. The Apostle Paul encourages us:

“Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything” (Philippians 4:6-7).

     So why do we? Why do we worry about tomorrow when it can do nothing but destroy our today? Dr. Charles Mayo of the Mayo Clinic said, “Worry affects the circulation, the heart, the glands and the whole nervous system. I’ve never known a man who died from overwork, but many who died from stress.”

Someone once said that, “Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday.” So what did all of that worrying gain you? What was it about today that had you so in knots yesterday? Was it really worth it, or do you think that a little less worrying and a little more praying might have given you, if nothing else, a little more peace of mind?

Remember: Nothing kills a good year like having a bad attitude.

“If you don’t think every day is a good day, try missing one.” ~ Cavet Robert

So, you walk into a room, and the very first person that speaks to you begins by sneezing in your face.

That is exactly what a bad attitude is like. It is a virus of ill-will that is spread every time you open your mouth. Just like passing a cold, a bad attitude has the potential to infect all of those it comes into contact with.

Life is full of things over which we have no control… where we were born, who our relatives are, what we look like, any physical limitations. The one thing in our life that we have TOTAL control over is our attitude. People cannot make you have a bad attitude. Your job cannot make you have a bad attitude. Your church or pastor cannot make you have a bad attitude.

Attitude is ALL up to you.

       “A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.” ~ Herm Albright, Reader’s Digest (June, 1995)

     But if you are determined to have a bad attitude, then by all means…

  1. Be a fault-finder. Go out of your way to find fault with everything and everyone God puts into your path. Family, co-workers, church leadership… make no one exempt. For the true fault-finder, there are always plenty of targets. However, anyone who wants to be like Jesus will find potential, not pessimism. They will focus on the positive, not the negative.
  2. Kill your passion. You were created for greatness, but if you have your heart set on killing your God-given passion, it can be done. If you never question why you were created, avoid people with passion at all cost, or just shift the transmission of your creativity into neutral, that’s a good beginning to the end of passion. However, if you have a dream you can’t stop talking about, or a vision that excites you, it could be that God is trying to tell you something. As Nelson Mendela once said, “There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”.
  3. Blame others for your situation. This is the one that permeates society. There is never a shortage of people or circumstances to blame for our misfortunes. If your business fails, blame your downline. If you don’t like your looks, blame your parents. If your kids are a mess, blame the church for not raising them right. If you get a speeding ticket, blame the policeman for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, if you want to break the cycle that has made us a nation of “victims, crybabies, and fault-finders”, take responsibility for your life. If something is not working, be willing to change.

     “The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none.” ~ Thomas Carlyle

Good intentions won’t carry the day (or year) if you don’t finish what you start.

Success in anything starts with a determination to finish what you started. No runner ever won a race by lying down on the track 20 feet shy of the finish line. Don’t let mediocrity weaken you… set goals, make a plan, then work the plan.

                  Write them down.
                  Embrace them by faith.
                  Give it your all.
                  Do not be afraid.

If you make your plans for “someday”, just remember this… Someday never comes.

START TODAY!

A promising year will end in a big pile of nothing if you have all of the answers, and never listen to others.

It is what you learn after you know it all that really matters. No one knows less than the “know-it-all”. Be teachable… be humble.

Live out your year with an attitude of defeat… Never take the risk of faith.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” ~ Paul (2 Timothy 1:7)

“Greatness, in the last analysis, is largely bravery. Courage in escaping from old ideas and old standards and respectable ways of doing things.” ~ James Harvey Robinson

Taking the risk of faith begins quite simple, requiring just three things… power, love, and a sound mind.

Hopefully, in the process of reading this New Year’s blog, you’ve changed your mind, and have made the decision to make this the best year ever. The future is full of promise, and tomorrow is (as Annie sang) “only a day away”. Using Philippians 3:12 -16 as a model, we can have a simple formula for not just a great year, but a great life as well…

Stay Hungry“not as though I had attained”
Stay Focused“This one thing I do…”
Stay on Course“… forgetting… reaching…”
Stay Determined“I press”
Stay Disciplined“toward the goal”
Stay Open“God will reveal…”
Stay Together“be of the same mind”

So have a great year, my friend, and may faith and the favor of God find you wherever you are.

Pastor Ron