New

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

My wife and I are celebrating New Year’s Eve in our traditional fashion. We are staying home. I am watching football and she is researching on the internet. I pretty usual night. It all started back in 1970 when we were dating. Rosemary got all dressed up to go out on New Year’s Eve and I showed up to pick her up in jeans and a t–shirt. She ended up agreeing to marry me anyway and we’ve never gone out on New Year’s eve for the last forty-five years.

I’ve never understand the big deal over New Year’s anyway. I understand the fondness for newness. Who doesn’t like the smell of a new car or having anything “new?” The “newness” of the first of the year is pretty artificial. Frankly, for most of us, our lives are no different on January the first from what they are on December 31st. Even when we used to write a lot more checks it would take me weeks to update to the new year. I don’t know anyone who really makes long-standing significant life changes through resolutions made on January 1st. We do have one New Year’s tradition I really like. I cook on New Years. The meal is pretty standard: black eye peas and cabbage casserole for sure. Both my culinary skills and imagination are limited. I do enjoy the football games especially when, like tomorrow, the Gators are playing.

Though I’m not impressed by “new” years, I do like to look at each day as “new.” Every day is a chance to move on from the mistakes of yesterday. It’s an opportunity to love and live better. Think about how good our God was to design our world to restart every morning. I don’t know about you but about the time it gets dark I need to start to chill, rest and recycle. When the sun comes back up, I’m usually refreshed in body, mind and spirit and in a better place to take on life’s challenges.

I do pray that you make it through whatever celebrations you are enjoying this evening and have a great new day tomorrow and for the 364 days there after.

Blessings.

 

 

 

Christ Progression

31“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” John 12:31-32

Millions world-wide are wrapping up the celebration of Jesus’ birth. I recognize that many of those celebrating don’t know Jesus as savior or even much about him. To many it’s just a really great holiday. That’s okay. It’s  part of the process. The nature of our Savior is that He continues to draw us closer and deeper. Our relationship with Him is never enough. There is always more. With Jesus, it’s just a higher form of the relationship we might have with any special person. A magnetic personality draws us closer and deeper. Jesus is the super magnet. We can never get enough.

Of the millions who celebrated Christmas just as a great holiday, there will be some who are drawn closer wondering how a birth two thousand yearsago could still be bring joy. They will want to know more about the child. They will be draw closer.

Of the ones who come to believe that Jesus was a real person and, yes, maybe even the son of God sent to save the world, they will come closer. They will seek and obtain a personal salvation. They will recognize that he came for the world, but He came for us one at a time

Of the ones who come to a personal relationship, some will recognize that the relationship demands a response, they will become more than believers, they will be followers. They will seek to live and love as He did and will eventually recognize that He not only provides the example, but the power to accomplish such a loving life.

Of those, some will recognize that they are called not to become more like Him, but to draw point others to him, to make disciples.

With Jesus there is always more. This season, let’s be honest about where we are with Jesus and no matter where that is, let us respond to his magnetic power and move closer where there is greater life, love, joy and purpose.

Be blessed.

Nick

 

 

Presence over Presents

I know it’s cliche’ to say that Christmas is more about presence than presents, but this year I experienced the truth of that like never before. As we age, family begins to experience conflicts especially around the holidays. It’s hard to be everywhere we are expected to be and even want to be. In modern society, this is more stressful than ever because there are more “step” relationships that multiple the obligations.

Yesterday, from where I sat, I could see each person climb the steps to our back door. Someone would announce who had arrived and a bit of relief and excitement would spread through those already gathered. Not once was there a single moan or exclamation of “I hoped they wouldn’t make it.” I was thrilled with the presence of every single person who “made it” for Christmas.

The time for Christmas presents has passed, but the opportunity to give our presence continues. The week between Christmas and the return to school and work after New Years Day is an excellent opportunity to continue to give presence. Perhaps for the first time ever I was unable to make my extended family gathering on the 23rd. I hope this week I will get a chance to spend some time with those I don’t see much more than once a year.

I know that at some point during Christmas vacation parents begin to pray for school to start again. Let me assure you that doesn’t happen with grand parents. Our home will be open and available to anyone whose parents need a break for the next week or so. We can never have enough presence.

I heard someone say yesterday that there is “always next year.” That’s just not true. At some point the “next years” end and so does the chance to share presence. I doubt many of us will wish we had spent less time with those whose love has blessed us. The season of presents is over for another year; the season of presence remains.

Emmanuel

The message of Christmas is simply expressed, yet enormous in impact and miraculous in execution. Since the miracle at Bethlehem, God is now with us in a universal, savior of the world, sense as well as a God is with me personally sense. For this there is amble evidence. For the universal evidence,  there are stars in the east, skies filled with angels, travelling wise men, and a stack of fulfilled prophecies.

The personal proofs are, of course, various and individual but just as convincing. Last April, for example, I was cured of rotator cuff tears in both shoulders. I don’t know if the tears are still present. All I know is I can now raise either arm, lift a reasonable amount, and swim as much as I want without pain. That’s God individually present. I have experienced God providing escape routes out of situations that seemed hopeless. I have known nearly sixty-seven years of faithful provision. I have seen God in loving eyes, felt him in reassuring hugs, and heard him during dark times of doubt.

God’s task of keeping us aware of his presence is tricky. He doesn’t allow the lives of his children to be so problem free that we never feel the need to call on him. Yet He never let’s us get so far down the river that the rapids kill us or that we lose confidence of his nearness. He keeps us in a sweet spot of faith-based living. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for a rich man to experience the kingdom. He calls us to live by faith, but we are often more comfortable relying on bank accounts, self-interest focused employers, credit cards or government largess.

I could go on but I have potatoes to peel, grand kids to hug, presents to open, in short a wonderful Christmas to enjoy. I hope you do to. God is with us as always it just seems more real this day.

Merry Christmas.

It Just Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas

I have to admit that it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. I’m not sure exactly why that is. It could be the weather. Frankly in south Louisiana none of us expect a white Christmas but temperatures in the eighties, rain and tornadoes? Ho, Ho, No.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like Christmas because life isn’t exactly jovial. This year has been a great challenge and 2016 doesn’t look better. Our family has dealt with a lot and will deal with a lot more and I know we are not alone.

How did Christmas get so connected with winter weather, fabulous food and spending too much on gifts?  I grew up in south Louisiana and the Christmases I spent away from home were in places like California and Vietnam. No snow,  sleigh rides or fabulous feast on those Christmases past.

The good Christmases I do remember involve wearing out the Sears catalogue trying to decide on the one gift Santa could afford that year for me and my eight brothers and sisters. There weren’t a lot of extra presents under the tree, a box of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups from Nan Mil was about all you could be sure of. Lots of Christmases my dad was unemployed or underemployed. Our houses were simple and rented, never owned. We didn’t go out looking at Christmas lights because we didn’t own a car. I remember walking to Christmas Eve services and having egg nog after. Those memories are strong and vivid and warm and very good.

This Christmas should actually be one of the best. My Christmas history isn’t about celebrating bounty, fancy ski trips to find snow, or having too many gifts to count. Jesus was not born into a world that was doing so well that it had no need of him. In fact, Long lay the world In sin and error pining,Til He appear’d And the soul felt its worth. He came to a word mired in sin, looking for joy in all the wrong places, having no sense of value or worth.

This year Jesus is coming to struggling lives. People dealing with unemployment, illness, doubt and, even, despair. It’s right perhaps that the weather isn’t Christmas like, that many can’t afford to try to spend themselves into a Merry Christmas. With all that we’ve created Christmas to be stripped away or at least dimmed, maybe we can see Jesus, the hope and the light of the world. Maybe we can thank God for summer weather in December, unemployment in normally oil rich south Louisiana, and all the rest that makes us realize we can’t do it alone. We really need a savior. We always have and always will. Maybe this year it will be easier to recognize that.

A Blessed Christmas to all.

Nick

Faithful, Joyful and Triumphant

Do you ever listen carefully to the songs of the season? Sometimes the words give cause for pause. Take Come all Ye Faithful. This is one of the oldest Christian Christmas songs. Written in the 1600’s by monks, originally it was sung in latin, Adeste Fideles. It’s certainly one of my favorites.

It’s the opening line that has me thinking. Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. It’s a call to come and worship the Christ child. The strange thing is that the child is just born. Where could we expect to find “faithful, joyful, and triumphant” folks before God’s salvation plan was executed? The world was dark and lost and in need of a savior. Even now, two thousand years after Jesus paid the price for our sins, faithfulness, joy and triumph are rare.

As I write this I can see a Christmas card set up on our kitchen counter with a single word on it, “Joy.” It comes across not so much as an experienced reality, but a hopeful possibility. I have experienced times of joy, great joy in fact, but it’s not nearly my normal state. Joy doesn’t describe my daily life, but rather something I experience in quickly fading flashes.

Donald Trump is attracting a lot of political attention by proclaiming that American isn’t winning any more. I think it’s because triumph is rare in our national and personal lives. The forces aligned against us seem too many and too powerful. The “good guys” don’t seem to be winning. In fact, they don’t even seem to be around any more.

Maybe the secret is in “faithfulness.”  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrew 11:1. Joy and triumph are things we are not seeing They are more things hoped for. Faith gives substance to joy and victory for which there is now no real evidence. Real joy and real triumph are only possible through real faith.

The promise of Christmas is that through faith, fear can be vanquished and joy and triumph may reign. Come. Let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. May this Christmas meet with Christ increase our faith and make the joy we should feel and the victory that has been won, really real.With the shepherds on that holy night, we can experience joy and triumph the same way they did, through faith.

From Distraction to Affliction

A follower of Christ is centered on him. He is “in Christ.” Satan’s game is to distract us from Christ. It doesn’t take much. While swimming last Friday I hit one of my hands on the rope that separates the swimming lanes. I apparently lodged a tiny piece of the rope in the area near my  nail. It’s been very painful and even got infected. It’s certainly not a horrible injury to look at but it has been completely distracting for a week.

It doesn’t take much for Satan to distract us: a minor injury, an unexpected expense, a disagreement at home, a tragedy in the news. It doesn’t even have to be something negative: sports, hobbies, friends. Any moment the enemy can get our eyes of Jesus is a moment when we are not growing more like him, not advancing the kingdom, not being truly blessed or a blessing.

We are all sometimes distracted. It’s a loud and busy world out there. Our task is to keep distractions to  a minimum and to keep them from becoming afflictions. An affliction is a state of pain, distress, or grief; misery. Put another way, an affliction is an obsession with a distraction. A distraction can become so intense that it begins to take all our time and attention. It becomes an obsession. 

These self-created afflictions are not to be confused with the tests and circumstances which may come from or be allowed by God. Those have a purpose: to strength us or our faith. Our self or Satan created afflictions only distract and misguide.

Before your dismiss the idea that you might have an affliction, ask yourself things like this: How many times a day do I check Facebook? How much time do I spend doing games? How much energy do I devote to watching, waiting to watch and talking about my favorite television programs or sport teams? How much do I worry about my health, my future, my stuff?

Maybe it’s easier to flip things around. How much time am I spending with Christ? When distractions become afflictions, it’s time to refocus on the only thing that matters eternally: Jesus.

Disappointing Seasons

Most of the football fans around here have suffered through disappointing seasons. The Cajuns who went to and won four bowl games in a row couldn’t beat anyone this year. LSU, at one time rated Number 2, ended up almost firing their coach. Then there are the Saints. How far the  mighty have fallen.

On the other hand, the Florida Gators had a great season. They ended up in the SEC championship game and will play Michigan on New Years Day. Now the gators lost three games so far, just like LSU. The difference is expectations. LSU hoped to contend for a national championship. Florida figured it was going to be another rebuilding year. No one expected them to do as well as they did. The difference between satisfaction and disappointment isn’t so much fact but expectation.

Fourteen people in California expected to have a nice time at a Christmas party and ended up dead. The family of a teenager in Lafayette expected a fun basketball game and ended up with a dead teen age son. We expect to be safe in our daily lives. We expect our kids to outlive us. It doesn’t always happen.

Perhaps we need to adjust our expectations. We shouldn’t expect to have a life free from the impact of violence. The facts just don’t support that. We shouldn’t expect to live to a ripe old age. Not everyone does. We should not expect to always have a good job. Look around Acadiana.

It’s all about avoiding a sense of entitlement. LSU isn’t entitled to a national championship every year. UL isn’t entitled to a bowl game every year. The Saints had one super bowl season. That may be all they will every get. We aren’t entitled to life or liberty or even a lot of happiness. We need to be much more thankful for what we have while we have it. We need to have realistic expectations.

That doesn’t mean we should be hopeless. We just need to be careful what we put our hope in. Jesus never fails or disappoints as long as we followers expect what the one we follow had: a daily walk with God, a life of purpose, peace in the midst of storm, eternity in Glory. Talk about Great Expectations. There’s no disappointment in that season.