It’s a fun word when it comes to writing. It’s fun to take an inanimate object and personify it. Me and my spot on the couch are best buddies. He knows me and I know him. When things are rough, my friend knows just how to comfort me.
What does personify mean?
v. to attribute human nature or character to an inanimate object or an abstraction.
That’s how we generally think of the word. But there’s another way the word is often used.
v. to embody a quality, idea, etc. in a real person or a concrete thing.
to be an embodiment or incarnation of; typify.
To embody a quality. To be an incarnation of something. In other words, we might say that Joe personifies hard work. Or that Jane is the personification of a caring person. When we look at Joe’s life, we see in him the embodiment of hard work. When we look at Jane, we see in her the incarnation of care.
As believers, we are supposed to be the personification…the embodiment…the incarnation of God’s love.
Pause: what does it mean to be a believer?
It’s worth figuring that one out. Because the essence of being a believer is not just someone who believes in the existence of something. People will say all the time that they believe in God. But that does not make that person a believer.
In the book of Acts we see the disciples say “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household.” (By the way, that word for household is the same word we get our idea of 6 to 8 from – there are 6 to 8 people God has put in your life to reach for His Kingdom.) So, if salvation comes from believing in Jesus christ, then it becomes very important that we understand what it means to believe.
So, what does it mean? Believe means to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, to place confidence in the thing to be believed. Here is the distinction. You can say you believe in God and still not be saved. Belief in the existence of someone or something is not the same as placing your belief in it.
Faith is important, but it’s not just faith. It’s a belief that leads us to change our lives completely. A belief that leads us to place our confidence in Christ.
Think about how you act when you really believe in something. When you really believe in a product what do you do? You completely incorporate it into your life and you tell everyone else about it.
Play: Back to personification
The point of being a believer in Jesus is that our lives look more and more like His life and less and less like the life of others who are still completely entangled in this world. We are supposed to look different, sound different, act different.
When it comes to our families, we love them differently. When it comes to our neighbors we love them differently. When it comes to our jobs, we work differently. When it comes to how we spend our time, we invest it wisely. When it comes to how we spend our money, we don’t hold on to as much as we can for ourselves, but we see it as something God has entrusted us with to build His Kingdom on earth.
We aren’t completely wrapped up in this world any more. We are being untangled. And as we are being untangled, we start to stand out. The more we are untangled, the more we will stand out.
The question is: Based on the actions of your life the past few weeks, would people be able to say that you are the personification of God’s love? Are you noticeably different? Do you make decisions that differ from the decisions your non-believer friends and family make? Of equal importance, do you live your life in close enough proximity to them that they are able to see the personification of this change?
I know I have work to do. I’m not there yet. But I’m getting there. It’s not okay to stay the same. I have to make progress. I have to grow in my walk with God. If I’m not growing I’m dying.
Where are you?
There are probably hundreds of articles written and shared today about the one thing you need to do as the new year begins. Lose weight, get organized, spend more time with your family and less time with your phone, and so on. And those are some good things.
But, I would like to propose to you the predecessor to starting anything. Whether you’re starting a new year, starting a new job, a new phase in life or any other new thing, this will help you.
But before tell you about letting go, let me share with you from my own experience. I’ve been in ministry for 15 years. I’ve been around a lot of people during that time. But, there is something I’ve observed. In nearly every church I’ve worked in, there has been something that people were holding on to that ended up costing them.
For some it was holding on to a traditional style of worship. For others it was control over a ministry or program that they had been running for decades. For others, they got overly attached to a leader or pastor.
Then, when it came time for things to change, all hell broke loose. Quite literally.
When the worship style started to change, people started clinging more tightly to it. The style of worship became the most important thing. More important than anything else.
When the leadership of a program was changed, people would try to subvert the new leadership. They would intentionally set up the new leaders for failure by withholding critical information. Or they would gossip behind the scenes to try to create dissention.
When it was time for the pastor to move on, people never gave the new pastor a chance. They would constantly compare him to the old pastor. They would talk about all the ways the new pastor didn’t measure up, or how different he was or about his weaknesses – never giving any credit for his strengths and differences in areas that the former pastor was weak in.
What many of these otherwise wonderful people didn’t realize is that their clinging was only strangling what they were holding so dear.
If you’re going to have any success moving forward in this new year, you’re going to have to let go of last year. You’re going to have to let go of some specific things that will hold you back.
The predecessor to starting anything is letting go of anything that’s holding you back.
What are these things?
The Past, Control and People
1. The Past
The past isn’t the past if it’s still affecting your present. The past is over. It’s gone. It’s never coming back. Yesterday is gone. There is nothing you can do to change it. There is nothing you can do to fix it. Whatever yesterday was is what it will always be.
So, stop trying to compensate for the mistakes of yesterday by making up for it today.
Another perspective. Things will never be like they used to be. The world is constantly changing. People change. Churches change. Families change. Everything changes. Don’t forget the past, but don’t cling to it any longer. Celebrate what it was.
When we try to cling to the past (which is impossible), we dilute the possibility of today. Today can’t make up for yesterday, but today has tons of potential in and of itself. You are only defined by your past when you stop doing anything of significance today. Make today great, and be determined to make tomorrow great too.
You may be a control freak. I’m not. But I’ve worked for a lot of control freaks. I’ve known a lot of people who have a hard time not being in control. If you’re not a control freak and you have one in your life, you know what it’s like.
When life is only what we can control, we’re never open to the possibilities of what exists outside our own abilities.
You can’t control everything. It’s impossible. All you can control is yourself. You can have influence in the lives of others, but you will lose that influence if you try to control. There will be things that happen that you can’t plan on. There will be things that change that you will just have to accept. You cannot control every situation. You cannot control every person.
If you look around you, and you find that you can control everyone and everything, look in the mirror. You’re a control freak. You need to release people to be who they can be, and focus on yourself. Let go.
We all have people who used to be in our life that we miss. For some of us it’s family. For others, it’s an influential leader. For others of us, it’s a friend. Losing people is hard. Whether someone dies, moves away or simply moves on, it’s hard to lose someone.
But, if we never move past that relationship, we are yielding control to something that never will be. I miss my grandfathers. But, if I never move on and try to make the most of those who are around me today, I severely limit what today can be. I never open up to new relationships – ones that could potentially create more impact and greater memories that before. Aside from family, most of the significant relationships we have lost were at some point new relationships. Don’t miss out on a potentially meaningful relationship because you’re clinging to the memory of a relationship that used to be.
Celebrate the memories of those relationship. Laugh at the stories. Think fondly of the time you had with them. They shaped your life. They helped you become who you are today. But, don’t get stuck there. Don’t stay there. Start some new friendships. Meet some new people. Stretch yourself.
The gist of what I’m saying is, I want you to have an awesome 2016. It will be tremendously difficult to reach new heights if you have one hand clasping to something that was, but will never be again. Stop choking out the possibilities of today by grasping so tightly to yesterday. Let go of it and reach toward something new and exciting this new year.
I wrote a post a couple of days ago about how annoying Social Media has been lately. If you haven’t read it, you ought to. As a follow up to that post, I have a question to ask you: Have you noticed how easily offended we have become?
Why do you think that is? Why is it that, no matter what you say, there is a good chance you’re going to offend someone? I have offended people by talking about tupperware sippy cups. Seriously. Why have we become offended about everything.
Let’s try it out. I’m not going to say anything offensive in this paragraph, but tell me if you do. It’s offensive to be a Christian, and people are offended by Christians. It’s offensive to be American and americans are offended by people being american. It’s offensive to eat meat. It’s offensive to drink cow’s milk. Those are some of the easy ones to talk about. I don’t even want to mention the others because I don’t want people to be distracted by them.
Why? Why are we so easily offended? It didn’t used to be this way. People have always been offended by things, but not like this. In the past, people would get offended if you said something that they took personally. We would get offended if someone called us fat or ugly, rich or poor, stupid or smart.
Why are we offended by silly things like milk and meat now? I think it boils down to this one thing: truth.
Truth, morality and reality used to be something that was defined outside of ourselves. Definitions to reality existed outside of who we are. Honesty was defined. Integrity too. Our humanity was defined by biology.
That has all changed. Now we define truth, morality and reality within ourselves. We decide who we are and who we are want to be. When we make a stand on something, we are doing so because we are that thing. Whatever the issue is, it’s not just a battle of ideas, it’s personal.
That’s why we are so easily offended. Because when you disagree with someone who has defined their own truth, morality and reality, you aren’t just disagreeing with an idea. You’re actually insulting that person.
It’s the same as calling someone fat, ugly or stupid. (All names I’ve been called, by the way.) You may thing you’re discussing an idea, but you’re not. You’re discussing a person.
This is one reason why absolute truth is so important. Without it, we are at the mercy of the most popular idea of the time. Without it, we are at war with each other.
With absolute truth, we are at the mercy of truth and the God who created it. And He is a God who loved us enough to send his Son to walk in Grace and Truth. He is a God who sent His son to die to pay the ransom for my sins and to restore me into the likeness His son.
Without absolute truth, there is no right or wrong. There is no way to decide who gets to decide. There is no way to determine if I am right and you are wrong. With absolute truth, there is a right and wrong. And, even though you may not think so, that’s a good thing.
Why is it good? Because, let’s say someone breaks into your house, steals your stuff and harms your family. You go to the trial, only to hear the defendant say that he was only doing what he thought was his right. And it just so happens that the jury and judge agree with him. He was doing what he thought was his right. It doesn’t matter how it affected you, because it is what was right for him.
It may seem ridiculous, but it’s not that far off. “But we have laws that protect us against that!?” I know! That’s what I think. But, those laws are continuously being changed to match our new moral relativism. It is not too far fetched to imagine that most, if not all laws will be done away with over time.
And, how do we decide what should be laws if we don’t have any absolute truth to base them on. You may feel that all life is precious and valuable, but that doesn’t mean I do, or that the judge does. If we all disagree, how do we decide what is right and wrong? We are left to do what’s right for us. And if that affects you negatively, that’s just your too bad.
That’s why we’re easily offended. Because we have become the be all end all for everything. We are the source of our own truth. And when something conflicts with that truth, the person doing the offending is in the wrong. I can’t possibly be wrong because I decided it was right in the first place.
If you find yourself being offended about an issue, try to dig into it a little bit. Try to discover if this belief is based on absolute truth or something you have created. If it isn’t, try to discover what the truth is. If you don’t know how to figure it out, ask someone. Ask me, and let’s see if we can’t find the truth together.
As long as you’re interested in the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth.
I wasn’t one of the first people to jump on Facebook. It took me a while. But, it didn’t take me long to discover there was tremendous potential in this tool.
As a pastor, I do my best to keep up on what’s going on in people’s lives. Prior to Facebook, this was quite a challenge. It took a lot of time, a lot of phone calls and coffee, etc.
Once I learned how to use Facebook, I could be in the know with a lot more people. It wasn’t necessarily the deepest knowledge, but I at least knew what was going on. I could make a list of people and scroll through their updates in about an hour.
Then I got on Twitter. I’m still not huge into it. I try. I’m not a big conversationalist. I can do better, I’m sure.
But, Facebook has changed. Twitter too. We’ve gone from sharing about our own personal lives to sharing news and politics. Social Media has become a platform for whatever propaganda we agree with.
You can’t get on Facebook right now without being bombarded with people’s politics and other opinions. Which, if you think about it, is kind of funny. We won’t talk about these issues with people face to face, but we’ll destroy our relationship with someone behind the security of the blue and white.
I loved being able to know what was happening in your life. I loved that I can connect with friends and family who are thousands of miles away and see what they’re doing today. I didn’t even mind the posts about food and coffee.
It’s fun to be able to celebrate when a new life is brought into this world. It’s fun to be able to celebrate a new job or a new house. Those are the things Facebook was meant for.
I don’t even mind you sharing when things are going bad in your life, and you need encouragement. That’s you. That’s your life. I don’t think our social media lives should be only the good parts. It’s good to share the raw parts too. The point is, I want to hear from you. I want to hear about your life. I know there’s a bunch of junk going on in the world. We all do. I don’t troll Facebook & Twitter to see the garbage. I do so because I want to know what’s happening in the lives of the people I care about.
But, for far too many, social media has become the prime landing strip for all the things we don’t like about the world, politics, religion, culture, society, etc. etc. etc.
I understand why we do it. Those things matter to us. They matter to me too. We want to have a voice in the discussion. We want to be heard. If we post something on Facebook, we can gauge if people have heard it. We see the metrics right before our eyes. These important things, that we’re probably too scared to share face to face with someone, have become the status quo for what’s in Social Media.
Right now, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of people arguing about Syrian Refugees. Last week it was full of people arguing about a red cup.
Considering this is the week leading up to Thanksgiving, could we all try to overwhelm our Facebook feeds with the things we love & the things we are thankful for. I know some of you are going through tremendous struggles right now, and I don’t discount them. But, the majority of us, if not all, have a mountain of blessings in our lives.
So, before you hit share on some political propaganda that will spread wide the divide, stop and think about something positive, encouraging, uplifting and inspiring you can share. Not a meme. Not the equivalent of an email forward. Something encouraging in your life. Something you are thankful for. Something good that is happening for you.
Will you join me in this joy revolution? I may not be able to start a revolution on my own. But I’m going to try. I could use your help. I’m not asking you to share this post, instead, all I’m asking is that you go share something about you on Social Media. Share something joyful and encouraging. Share something that has happened in your life. I have a feeling, that’s what we’re all wanting to hear.
Have you ever found yourself disappointed with God? You can’t believe He let you down, He didn’t do what you wanted Him to do or what you thought He would do. Maybe you feel like God has broken one of His promises, or that God doesn’t seem to be consistent – sometimes He gives us what we ask for and other times He seems silent.
I know I have felt those things. There have been plenty of times in my life when I have expected God to act one way, only to experience Him in a completely different way. Why does that happen?
I think there are two basic reasons for this that we all relate to. And when we understand them, I think it’s quite simple, and we can recognize it.
1. We are trying to define God from our humanity.
God is infinite. God is immutable. God is both transcendent and immanent. That’s just four characteristics of who God is, and we, in our humanity do not have the ability to really understand any of them. God is immortal, immovable, all powerful, all knowing, all seeing. God is huge.
God is infinite. He is not constrained by time. He has always been, will always be and always is. We have a birthday. We celebrate it each year. We go to funerals. We have a beginning. We have a start date.
God is immutable. God never changes. We change all the time. We are growing. We grow in our understanding of God’s word and ways. We adapt our lives to Him. Our lives were never perfect. We are fickle. We change our minds all the time.
At these two foundational aspects of God’s nature we discover that we cannot possibly come to a complete understanding of who God is. We are constrained by our humanity.
Problems arise when we critique God because we can’t understand his nature. Let me give you an example. Because we are constantly changing, we can’t understand how God could stay the same for all of time. Because we are confined by time, we can’t understand a God who isn’t.
So, out of frustration we change God. Certainly God would change if He knew what I knew. Certainly, if God knew how long it was going to take to do this or to change this or to become this, he would circumvent the process.
We take our humanity and try to define God. And we fail. Miserably. When God’s nature isn’t measuring up to our standards, it is not God who is incorrect but our standards. We adapt to his nature, we can’t change his nature to adapt to ours.
2. We are trying to understand His ways in the context of our ways.
Because God is all of these things, He has a way of doing things. The way that God does things is in perfect keeping with His nature and character. God is not hindered by imperfections and flaws like we are. God is not tempted by sin like we are. God is not hindered by time, by a lack of knowledge, by a lack of wisdom or any kind of lack we can imagine. God lacks nothing. There is no part of God that is not perfect. God is perfectly complete and completely perfect.
So, when God doesn’t answer our prayer the way we think He should, He isn’t doing so to punish us or to keep us unhappy. God isn’t out to get us or to keep us miserable. God’s wisdom is perfect. So, when the timing isn’t right, He leads us in a different direction until the timing is right. If it ever will be.
We don’t critique God for not working as we think He should. He is God, we are not. If God doesn’t move like we think He should, it’s not because He doesn’t love us but because He does. If God doesn’t do what we want, it’s not because He doesn’t care, but because He does. He cares enough to lead us in the everlasting way. He cares enough to say no to something good because there is something great that He can see and knows is what we need. Not only does He see it, He has planned it.
Another example: Culture around us is constantly changing. Currently at a pace that is hard to keep up with. There is great pressure on believers to change their beliefs to adapt to culture. And it’s hard not to. It feels wrong to stay the same when everyone else is changing.
But, God never changes. His wisdom never changes. His understanding never changes. This system He created operates on the same foundation as it did when He created it. The promises God made to Abraham are still in keeping with what God’s nature is for us today. The value God placed on life at the beginning of creation is the same value He still places on life today. The way the whole system functions today is the same way God created it to function in the beginning.
When God’s ways do not measure up to our ways, it is not God who has failed but our understanding of His ways that has failed.
So, no matter where you find yourself this day, I hope you are encouraged. And if you are not encouraged, but discouraged because God isn’t measuring up, I hope you have found definition for your discouragement. Our frustration with God is because we can’t fully comprehend and understand, not because God has failed. God cannot fail, it isn’t in his nature. We fail all the time.
If the answer from God right now is no, it’s not because He doesn’t love you, it’s because He does and He exists outside of the confines of time we experience and He knows and sees better for you. If you are frustrated that God isn’t giving you something you want, He hasn’t given it to you because He knows what it will do to you right now to let you have it. That’s because He is God and can see things we can’t see. He is God and knows things we will never know.
God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. If your frustrated with the way your life is working out, could it be that you’ve been fighting God for your way and not following His?
It’s no secret that I love Christmas music. A couple of years ago I did a whole series of posts about Christmas. 25 days worth. I even made a playlist! I have loved Christmas music for as long as I can remember. It was a big part of our family growing up, as was music in general. Our church choir would start working on Christmas music in September or October. So, it wasn’t unusual to hear music before that. During my time as a worship pastor I would often start in June/July to find just the right music so we’d be ready to start rehearsals in September.
But that’s not the reason I listen to Christmas music in October.
One reason is, I just love it. I know I said it already. I don’t love the top 20 songs that get played on most radio stations and in most stores. That stuff is old and annoying, and if that’s the only Christmas music you hear, I’m not surprised to hear you say you don’t like it. But, there are thousands of albums by thousands of artists. There is some great stuff out there, and that’s what I listen to. There’s so much more, that if you waited until Christmas to listen to it, you’d never hear most of it.
Another reason is I just love Christmas. I love the weather at Christmas time. I love time with family. I love Christmas movies. I am actually glad to see decorations in the stores already. Christmas is wonderful.
But the real reason I listen to Christmas music in October is because it reminds me of the story of Christmas. Not the commercialized story. Not Santa. Not Christmas lists, be they children’s or grown up. Not Frosty. Those are fun, I don’t have a problem with them. But, the real story of the incarnation. God becoming a man. Redemption. It’s the beginning of everything we celebrate as followers of Christ.
I love Christmas because it celebrates that at the time Jesus came there was great despair. There were vast amounts of people who had lost hope that a savior would ever come. There was a great hopelessness in the world and a longing for emmanuel to come (I just listened to that song).
I love Christmas because Christ came to the lowliest of low people. His big grant introduction was to shepherds instead of kings.
I love Christmas because it reminds us that the one true God actually walked on this earth and knows what it is like to be a human being. The one true God was among the people He created. He breathed our air and walked our sod. Immanuel, God With Us.
Yes, I love Easter and Good Friday. In fact, I wish we had more resurrection songs. We have a lot of songs about the cross and a lot of songs about Jesus paying for our sins. Not enough about Jesus’ triumph over death, hell and the grave.
But, during these few months, we have Christmas music. It reminds us of Jesus’ coming. It reminds us of the beginning of the story. It gets me thinking about how to share this story with more people. It gets me thinking about being thankful for what Jesus did. You could could say it gets me in the Christmas mood.
And let’s be honest. The Christmas mood is a good thing. The world would be a lot better off if more people were in the Christmas mood more. I’m not talking about the bad memories you might have surrounding Christmas. I’m talking about the mood that comes when you know the truth of the real story of Christmas. The joy that comes when you have a personal relationship with the central character of the story.
That’s why I love Christmas. That’s why I love Christmas music. It was obviously a big deal to God. He disseminated details about Christmas for hundreds and hundreds of years before it happened. The first Christmas songs were written hundreds of years before Jesus came. People were hoping for the arrival of Immanuel long before. The anticipation lasted much more than a couple of weeks or a couple of months or even a couple of centuries.
So, whoever tells you that you’re crazy for listening to Christmas music, feel free to ignore their comments. You may be come kind of scrooge that thinks you can’t listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. I’m sorry you feel that way because you’re missing out on a lot. And don’t use that “I don’t want to downplay Thanksgiving” excuse. Thanksgiving is an American holiday. God created Christmas. Big difference. I’m thankful – thankful that Jesus came – thankful for Christmas.
Give it a try today. Let yourself listen to Christmas music before November 1st. See if you don’t find yourself experiencing more Joy. Let the lyrics of the songs of the real Christmas story remind you that God loved you so much that He sent His son to be born as a baby.
Don’t rebel against the commercialization of Christmas either. Yes, it can be disgusting. No we don’t need to focus so much on presents. But, nearly the entire, unbelieving world is focused around this one day. Think of that, more than Easter, people who don’t believe in Christ stop to celebrate his arrival on earth! Don’t be someone who showers condemnation on those who like to celebrate it in big fashion. Just let the way the true Christmas story has changed you shine the light of the star that points the way to the messiah.
It’s okay. Go ahead. Hit the play button. Don’t let yourself be swayed from listening by all the Christmas music haters out there. It’s your choice. Enjoy it. Let it lift your spirit.
Sing we now of Christmas? Yes, let’s sing now!