As another new year begins, it is time to reflect on the last 365 days. In welcoming 2010, we not only say good-bye to 2009 but also cross the threshold into the second decade of the new millennium. Regardless of uncertainty, fear and unsettling headlines, the pages of the calendar continue to turn. And they will until God says otherwise!
Reflection gives each of us the opportunity to look back and remember all the Lord has done for us and with us during the last year. Reflection is an opportunity to put events in perspective. In many ways, reflection provides that last piece of the year's jigsaw puzzle necessary for launching into the new.
I had to laugh when I read this USA Today newspaper headline: "Psychologists now know what makes people happy." I didn't know happiness was a secret to be discovered by my noble profession! Curious, I kept reading. What were these exciting new findings?
If you are a student of the Bible, you won't be surprised. Research only validates God's way of doing things.
The happiest people are those who spend the least time alone and pursue intimacy and personal growth. When I read this, I immediately thought of Jesus. He was proactive when it came to community. He poured His life into a faithful band of followers and developed an intimate circle of 12 men. And through those men, He established the church. The early church was all about community, intimacy and personal growth.
Happy people don't judge themselves by what others do or have. That is, they don't compare themselves with others. The Bible is clear that we are not to measure ourselves by the yardstick of others, only by the Word of God. As we obey God's Word and choose to please Him, blessing and contentment follow.
Materialism is toxic for happiness. The parable of the rich young ruler in Matthew bears this out. Despite this man's riches, he wanted something more—eternal life. Jesus stressed the importance of keeping the commandments but told him something more was required. He must sell his possessions and follow Him. Sadly, the young man chose material possessions over Christ and walked away feeling "sorrowful."
Optimism is important, even in dark times. Because of Christ, hope abounds. Jeremiah 32:17 proclaims, "'Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You'" (NKJV). In the last chapter of Job, after Job suffers much and has been tested, he cries out, "'I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You'" (Job 42:2). Over and over, we are given biblical examples of people who refused to be downtrodden because of circumstances or events. Their hope was in the Lord. The end result is rest and peace.
Actions matter. It's not just what you believe or your outlook on life that contributes to happiness. People who give to others and aren't self-absorbed are more satisfied with life. No surprise here. God gave His only begotten Son, the ultimate sacrificial gift. Giving is a biblical principle whether it involves finances, service, food, shelter, time or talent. The result of giving is blessing.
Happy people know their strengths and use them. We are stewards of God's gifts and are to use them for His glory. When you move in those gifts and do what God has equipped you to do, you are happy. Psychologists call this moving in the "flow." People of faith "flow" in the Spirit.
People who feel gratitude are happy. We are eternally grateful for Jesus and His sacrifice and for all God has done in our lives. Out of that genuine gratitude flows happiness.
The strongest link to happiness is a willingness to forgive others. The benefits of forgiveness are well documented psychologically. And for the believer, forgiveness is not an option; it is a command from Jesus. We forgive others because He forgave us.
The search for happiness will fall short if it doesn't lead to the One in whom contentment can be found. Authentic happiness is unrelated to events, money, power, fame or anything else our culture associates it with. Happiness is a choice, as the Scriptures declare: "Happy are the people who are in such a state. Happy are the people whose God is the Lord" (Ps. 144:15).
This new year, make it a goal to choose happiness by following the guidelines above. Look to God for your satisfaction and learn to trust in His sovereignty and omniscience. Obey Him and believe that He works all things for your good. Remember, His joy is available to you, and it is that which gives you strength.
I despise airplane turbulence. Even though I enjoy high-speed roller coasters, there is something about hurling through stormy skies in a commercial jetliner at 37,000 feet that turns my knuckles white. This is why I always ask for a window seat. Whenever we hit rough air and the seat belt sign flashes on, I feel safer if I can look outside.
But that didn’t help me recently when I was flying into Canada. I was not aware that rough weather was raging below and that parts of Vancouver were flooding. All I knew was that our journey though Canadian airspace reminded me of Doctor Doom’s Fearfall—a theme-park ride I’ve enjoyed many times with my daughters.
That ride lasts only a few seconds, and it is firmly bolted to the ground. The turbulence over British Columbia lasted half an hour.
It was 11 p.m., and I couldn’t see anything outside my window except horizontal rain. I kept reminding myself that the pilot was using radar and other high-tech instruments to avoid crashing into the side of a mountain. But my knuckles did not believe this. I clutched the armrest, prayed and—for a few seconds—wondered how my wife would plan my funeral.
Of course the plane did not break apart in mid-air. When we descended below the cloud cover and the lights of the city became visible, all my color returned. I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving when I heard the familiar sound of wheels touching the runway.
You may not share my fear of turbulence, but all of us have walked though scary times in life when we couldn’t see the path in front of us. Many people I know are going through such times right now because of the economic downturn. Some are facing job loss, financial hardships, foreclosures or unusual spiritual challenges.
Churches, too, are finding it hard to navigate change. More people than ever are in a season of transition because old business models don’t work, and ministry paradigms are shifting. Some of us find ourselves digging our fingernails into the armrest while the plane is bouncing all over the stormy sky. And when we look out the window we see nothing but darkness.
I have found comfort in the words David penned after he escaped from Saul’s pursuits. He wrote in Psalm 18:4-6: “The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me. ... In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help came into His ears” (NASB).
In describing God’s just-in-the-nick-of-time rescue, David borrowed vivid imagery from the day when God opened the Red Sea to deliver His children from Egypt. “The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered His voice. ...Then the channels of water appeared, and the foundations of the world were laid bare. ...He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. ... He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me” (vv. 13-19).
David’s transition wasn’t easy. In the most difficult moment he noted that God had “made darkness His hiding place” (v. 11). We must remember that darkness is not a sign that God has abandoned us. It became stormy just before the Red Sea split open. Yet God was working behind the scenes, even when the clouds were black and the wind was violent.
If you are in the midst of a transition, hold tightly to His promise as you enter this new year of 2010. You can trust Him. Better things are still to come. In yet a little while He will intervene.
Don’t focus on your job crisis, the bad economic news, your lack of options or the bumpiness of the ride. Call upon the Lord. When His lightning flashes, He will split the obstacles in front of you and make a dry roadbed in the midst of the sea. He can make a way where there is no way.
Ask the Lord to transport you. Eventually you will hear the sound of wheels touching down on the wet runway. You are helpless to make this transition on your own, but your Deliverer will safely carry you from your present crisis into a broad place of future fruitfulness.
J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma. You can find him on Twitter at leegrady.
I frequently stay in hotels during my ministry travels. When I am in my room, I always put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door so nobody will bother me. Hanging this sign on my hotel room door is acceptable. Putting it on my life isn’t.
Have you ever noticed that God does not always do things on your timetable or in ways that are convenient to you? Paul told Timothy that as a servant of God and a minister of the gospel Timothy had to fulfill his duties whether doing so was convenient or inconvenient (see 2 Tim. 4:2).
The last 10 years weren't just about terrorism and recession. Amid the storm clouds, God was working in profound ways.
We didn't know what to call it—was it the '00s?—yet we've just passed through quite a decade. We had natural disasters (the 2004 Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina in 2005), financial meltdowns (bank failures and 10 percent unemployment) and global conflict (9/11 and the war on terror). It brought doom and gloom on one hand and technological breakthroughs on the other. What a ride it has been.
How has God been working during this tumultuous season? Here's my list of seven megatrends that marked these last 10 years:
1. Third-World Christianity kept growing. There are now about 600 million Christians in Africa. Protestant Christianity grew 600 percent in Vietnam in the last decade. In China, where a 50,000-member megachurch was raided in Shanxi province a few weeks ago, there are now an estimated 130 million churchgoers.
Paging through a botanical magazine last winter, I found myself marveling at the beautiful flowering trees and exotic plants pictured inside. In a moment of sheer inspiration, I decided it would be awesome to have more in my yard than one scruffy pine tree surrounded by a few faded wood chips. Whether impetus or impetuous, this surge of enthusiasm compelled me to order the "Jasmineflowering tree" so exquisitely displayed on page 5.
I was jazzed. In fact, I couldn't wait to get my plant.
Weeks after I had placed the order, however, my excitement was beginning to wane. "Where's my tree?" I wondered. "Spring will be over next week, and I still don't have an award-winning landscape!"
Finally, a package from California arrived. Staring blankly at the way-too-small parcel, I decided it must be the invoice or perhaps the all-important stakes needed to support my new tree. As I opened the little brown box, I simultaneously surveyed the area around me, looking to see where the rest of my delivery was hiding.
After carefully unveiling the mysterious arrival, I stared motionless into the shallow carton. Finally, in disbelief and agitation, I drew out a package of tiny, unimpressive seeds.
My initial excitement quickly dissipated. "You've got to be kidding me," I moaned. "They actually expect me to plant these dead flakes?" I simply could not imagine that I would have to WORK to obtain this tree.
Suddenly I came to a sobering realization: That's how many people would like to go through life—wanting results without doing the work, expecting a harvest without planting the seeds. Unfortunately in God's kingdom it doesn't work that way. In fact, most of what God accomplishes on Earth today starts in seed form.
When God wanted to send a deliverer to save mankind, He sent a seed and placed it in a plain human package. No wonder those who had so long awaited the coming of the Messiah were less than impressed to see an ordinary baby instead of a king.
And what about the teachings of this infant grown to full stature? He taught that the kingdom of God was like a seed which, when planted, would grow gradually: "first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head" (Mark 4:28, NASB).
In other words, Jesus told us that the dealings of God would almost always involve a maturing process. God gives us seedlings of promise that must be nurtured and cared for until they can stand tall like an oak tree.
So many times we get discouraged when we don't see quick results from our labors. We may even become so frustrated that we are tempted to stop and quit. But God's Word helps us remember this principle: The plantings of the Lord begin in seed form.
In Old Testament times when Zerubbabel was rebuilding the temple, people laughed and scoffed as they compared the fledgling work to the majesty of the original built by Solomon. But through a messenger the Lord sent reassurance: "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin" (Zech. 4:10, NLT).
Right now you may have a beautiful picture in your heart of what you long for. You may even have dared to ask God for great things and have sensed His promise to you of success.
But when you opened your hands to receive, all you found was seeds—small, unimpressive conceptions. Don't be discouraged! Remember that seeds contain life and have within them the very essence of your promise. If you plant them in good soil and invest yourself in the nurture and development of them, they will grow and bloom forth with fruit.
Today, hear the Holy Spirit whisper to you, "Do not despise the day of small beginnings, for I delight to see the work begin." Plant your faith, my friend, and watch and see what God will do.
The poll results are counted. Charisma readers chimed in on their favorite and least favorite holiday songs.
Long before the advent of iTunes and political correctness, Christmas music was about, well ... Christmas. People actually sat around fireplaces or gathered in churches and sang carols that made overt references to the birth of Jesus.
Nowadays, however, some radio stations play holiday music 24 hours a day that rarely mentions the reason for the season. We hear lyrics about snow and winter weather (even though Christmas is hot in most parts of the world), overcoats, shopping, sleighs, Santa Claus, reindeer, toys, holly, elves, bells and chipmunks.
The Bible tells us that on the night Jesus was born, an angel appeared to some shepherds in the fields and told them the good news. When the angel finished delivering the message that the Saviour of the world had come to Earth, "suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'" (Luke 2:13-14, NKJV).
It was 1957, Christmastime. Elvis was my favorite singer. And Christmas was my favorite holiday—except for this year. Daddy's job with the Santa Fe railroad had moved our family—Daddy, Mother, my two younger sisters and me—from our small, friendly town in Kansas to a strange, dusty town in the southwestern desert.
Instead of celebrating a white Christmas with the typical warm and fuzzy sights, sounds and smells I had known each year at Grandma and Grandpa's big festively decorated house, I was thrown into a strange brown land with neighborhoods of small row houses near the train tracks and neighbors who spoke little English.
Last Friday, two historic events occurred. A signing ceremony for D.C.'s same-sex marriage law and a blizzard that blanketed the Northeast and left everyone in the capital physically isolated except for the almost-too-frequent weather updates on TV and radio. Ironically, the two events bore a strange similarity.
Their similarity was the level of local media coverage along with the real sense of isolation that most citizens felt. We either trust in both these situations that "big brother" is looking out for us or we become concerned and questioning.
I could sense heaven's ecstatic joy last weekend when I visited a multiethnic church in Montgomery, Ala.—birthplace of the civil rights movement.
There were two very separate worlds in Montgomery, Ala., when I lived there as a child. I lived in the white world, on the east side of town in the Dalraida area. Everybody at Dalraida Baptist Church was white. All the kids at Dalraida Elementary School were white. The only black people I saw in my neighborhood on Green Forest Drive were the maids who arrived each day to clean houses.
I was oblivious to what was happening in Montgomery in 1964 when I started school. No one told me about Martin Luther King Jr., who fueled the civil rights movement from his pulpit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church downtown. I didn't know about the bus boycotts, the lunch-counter sit-ins or the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham that killed four black girls.
"Stay connected this week! Stay connected this week! There is something that you are going to have to praise your way through. ... Do not disconnect from Me. Do not disconnect from My throne room. Do not disconnect from where you are. Do not disconnect from each other. Stay connected so you can press on through what you'll be going through.
Last week, the worldwide summit on climate change in Denmark encouraged some and terrified others. During the past few years, the debate among many informed people has not just been focused on whether or not the globe is getting warmer, but about how our nation should respond to the perceived international threat.
A few years ago Tony Perkins, president of The Family Research Council, and I decided to tackle the question of climate change and evaluate popular proposals based on two things: 1.) a measurable return on investment and 2.) the value of human life. Our thoughts are catalogued in the book Personal Faith, Public Policy. Based on our study, we are very concerned about the direction that our current administration may be seduced into following in the name of saving the planet. Unfortunately for the U.S., there are always wolves dressed in sheep's clothing --- supposed "saviors" that may lead us astray.
The Christmas season is so hectic we can sometimes feel like contest winners who are given 15 minutes to grab $500 worth of free groceries. But though not every activity we engage in during this special time is a spiritual one, we can learn to treasure the moments of preparation by keeping the right perspective.
First, there's the planning. How am I going to afford it all this year? This question bounces around inside my head like tennis shoes in a dryer for about a month before the season actually begins. When I'm driving or showering I click out the number of names on my list and how much I can spend on each person, how I can make or bake some gifts to offset the cost of others, which names must go to the top of the list, who will just have to understand, and so on. At some point in my mental calculations, the Holy Spirit breaks through and reminds me that where God guides, He provides.
Then there's the bake-a-thon. Every evening after work the kitchen fills with a cloud of flour. Nuts are chopped in one corner of the room, trays are stacked in another, gingerbread boys and sugar cookies are decorated on the kitchen table, and rows of filled, jellied, balled and candied cookies are cooled and stacked on another counter. They may not be perfect, but I'm comforted by the knowledge that man does not live by bread alone!
Next the tree must be bought and old decorations dragged out of their boxes. My son is delighted to find the special ornament he made in school last year—long since forgotten. He solemnly tells the history and genealogy of each hand-made item. "We got this one when I was very, very young," he—still a young boy—tells his even younger sister. "And I made this one before you were born."
The tree must go up. And no matter how perfectly full and even-branched it looked on the lot, I can't seem to turn it to find the perfect vantage point. Plus, the bottom of the trunk, instead of being straight, appears to be shaped at a right angle to the rest of the tree. Someone is going to need muscle surgery after holding it up until it is finally braced into the stand! But once the tree is in place, I realize my Herculean efforts paid off—the end result is a delight to my children and a perfect symbol of the Trinity.
Before you know it, it's Christmas Eve. I'll send the children on an errand to some corner of the house while I search through packages to find new socks for them to wear to church. Bows will be tied, faces washed, shirts buttoned, and belts fastened, and we'll rush off to church for the candlelight service.
I'll straighten my daughter's burning candle over and over, worried that hot wax will drip on her arm. I'll tell my little boy to shush a thousand times—until the beauty of the candlelit church and singing choir fills us with a silent sense of awe.
But that's not the end of the preparations. Driving home, I'll worry about putting toys together. Instructions become destructions in my hand. It's a good thing the Master Carpenter is there to direct me!
I'll reassure my daughter for the millionth time that Santa will not get burned when he comes down the chimney. We'll fill plates with cookies, and the children will argue over which ones are Santa's favorites. We'll carefully decide where to place the notes and cookies so Santa won't miss them.
After the children have been shooed to bed a dozen times and warned that Santa won't come if they're awake, after the last bows have been fastened to the packages, when the whole house sparkles with the aura of candlelight and shiny wrapping paper—I'll rest.
I'll stare into the glowing embers of a dying fire and recall the sweet scenes of the previous weeks, the treasures of my heart: my daughter's hair filled with flour and her tongue hanging out of the corner of her mouth as she vigorously rolls cookie dough with her toy roller pin; my son's eagerness to give me the gift he made at school; the excited squeals when we lit up the tree; the children wrapping tiny gifts they bought with pounds of paper and tons of tape.
And in those moments of reflection, I'll think about the reason we did all the planning and shopping and baking and decorating in the first place. I'll think about the most important treasure of my heart—Jesus—and I'll thank God for Christmas.
This year, don't let all the demands of the holiday season get you down. Try to treasure each memory you're making, and in the midst of your busyness, take time to reflect on the greatest treasure of all—Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.
I gave away my second daughter last weekend, and it wasn't any easier this time around.
I've never met George Banks. That would be impossible, since he is the fictional dad played by Steve Martin in the 1991 film Father of the Bride. But I feel I know George because I've watched this sappy comedy so many times. I watched it again last week just before my second daughter's wedding.
I guess the film provides a mild form of therapy. It helps me deal with my loss. Despite what they all say ("You're not losing a daughter! You're gaining a son!") I started to feel an uncomfortable lump in my throat at least 72 hours before the ceremony.
In April of 2006, during the worship service of a conference at which I was scheduled to speak, an unusual presence of God began to settle upon me. The heavier God's presence became, the more caught up in a heavenly realm I was. I found myself in the middle of an IMAX or 3-D-like experience. It was as if I were in the middle of an action movie.
Last week was momentous in the battle for marriage in the U.S. It was a little like riding a roller coaster. On Tuesday, the D.C. City Council finished their first of two readings of their proposed same-sex marriage law. The reading passed by a margin of 11 to 2. The council seems determined to prevent the people from voting on this issue. Their rationale is that "civil rights" is not something that should be voted on by the masses. One councilman, who represents a strong, pro-marriage ward, looked visibly shaken. He spoke with a quavering voice. Ironically Harry Thomas, Jr., son of a former city council member, stated that he would not allow anyone in his ward to be "disenfranchised." Undoubtedly, he meant to say that he did not want anyone to experience discrimination.
Disenfranchisement, however, is exactly what is happening to the average voter in D.C. The council feels that it has a right to vote on this issue, but it will not allow the citizens to vote. They also chafe at the fact that the District does not have a genuine vote on the Hill - it only has a shadow congresswoman. Sadly, there was only voice for democratic justice on the council --- Marion Barry. The former mayor correctly told the group that the city council had not gone far enough in allowing liberty and true democracy to have their way. As a result of the fact the city is "deeply divided," he announced that he would be working for a popular vote on the issue.
I used to be a consummate Christmas shopper. By the time December hit, I was way ahead of the game. I would have a mountain of bargain finds, admired goodies and toys to die for tucked away on a shelf just waiting to be wrapped and stowed lovingly under the tree. I found that shopping ahead spread the financial burden throughout the year and helped me avoid the last-minute holiday shopping rush.
Sounds like a plan, doesn't it? I thought so, too, until several years ago. Something happened that made me rethink my supposedly brilliant strategy.
It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, but I felt like a louse! The tree looked bulimic — only I was the one who had binged. Brilliantly wrapped packages were bulging from every available nook and cranny.
I slumped to the floor and thought, "We have only two children. There's enough here for 10!"
My husband and I stared at each other. We realized that things had gotten out of hand. We had to ask ourselves: What message are we giving our children?
One by one we started dismantling the swollen pile. This present can wait for a birthday, this one for next Christmas, this one for a special reward for hard work.
Finally the stack looked sensible.
Right then and there, we made a decision. In the future, Christmas gifts would be limited to three types: (1) A gift really desired; (2) a needed item; 3) something educational. Of course, our children hated the idea and hoped we would eventually come to our senses.
And we've seen a change. No longer is Christmas an endless list of "wants." There is a new emphasis on cherished gifts. This represents a stark contrast to the disturbing trend among kids today to feel entitled to get whatever they want, whenever they want it.
As I've listened to children move through the hallways of our house, I've heard the chatter of "more." "We have more videos than you." "I have a CD player in my room." "You don't have your own phone line?" "I'm asking for a laptop." "You need a cell phone to look important."
They get it from their parents. My favorite is the mother who proudly boasts that her daughter will outdo everyone in the neighborhood. She will have the best of everything -- before everyone else. The daughter knows this strategy and is horrified if anyone beats her to the material punch.
Not understanding her conscious intention to overload her daughter with "stuff," I naively asked, "Aren't you worried you're spoiling her?" The blank stare she gave me was enough to answer my question.
One summer the hot ticket was a scooter. Everyone on our block ran to the stores to buy one. My kids asked, but they knew what was coming: "Tell me again why I should run to the store to buy you a $100 item?"
Materialism not only distorts the meaning of Christmas but also creates ungrateful kids. It's time to stop the madness. Instead of a new scooter, take your kids to a soup kitchen and let them serve. Visit a homeless shelter or a hospital children's ward, and put things in perspective.
I know what I am saying isn't new, but we need to hear it regularly. It's so easy to indulge our kids this time of year. But we need to examine our motives.
Is our overindulgence related to guilt from being absent or unavailable? Is it an attempt to communicate love, compete with others, create an identity or look successful? Is it the result of idol worship, a lack of self-restraint or misguided thinking?
When I see kids quickly open presents and throw them off to the side without even a thank you, I know something is wrong. When little Suzie tells me Christmas was no fun because she didn't get what she wanted, I am concerned. The Grinch hasn't stolen Christmas; our ungratefulness has.
Christmas is about God's giving His Son as a glorious gift to mankind. Don't clutter that gift with so many others that He gets lost in the fray. This season teach the children in your life to cherish the gift they already have — Jesus.
I tell my friends in Latin America that my Spanish is peligroso—dangerous. Here's why.
I took three semesters of Spanish in college and spent hours practicing conversation with a Nicaraguan immigrant a few years ago. But when I travel in Latin America these days, my mantra is: Mi español es muy peligroso. My Spanish is very dangerous.
On my first visit to Guatemala, for example, I discovered its most popular fast-food restaurant, Pollo Campero. It means "country chicken," and (with apologies to KFC) it is the moistest, tastiest, most delectable fried chicken on the planet. You will smell it on flights from Guatemala to Miami because people like to take boxes of it to relatives.
Several weeks ago I (Mahesh) was sitting in my library when I suddenly heard a noise behind me. I turned and saw an angel right there. He was young-looking, majestic, awesome, and full of strength, joy, and vigor. He was smiling, but there was the fragrance and atmosphere of battle all around him. He was a warring angel, and he had just come from battle.