It can be exciting to begin a new year. Something changes between December 31 and January 1. Usually we have had lots of time off. Maybe we’ve really enjoyed the slower pace of the past few days after the holiday rush. In this context of warm feelings supplemented with a constant supply of coffee, fudge, and comfort foods, we get great ideas about how to change our world.
But soon it will be January 5.
We’ll be back to work or school (barring snow days!). Monday will be the kind of “normal day” where the rubber meets the road on all those New Year’s Resolutions. Or maybe the kind of normal day where we’ve skidded off the resolution road and are just trying to hang on to the wheel. Maybe it’s the kind of normal day where we live defeated.
Reality often hits hard, doesn’t it?
I think this is why God gives us toddlers. Have you ever noticed how quickly they can get places on those tiny little legs? They are so stinking determined! They are hard to defeat.
One of my kids fell down on a sidewalk crack one time. He did a total face plant. His nose and forehead were scraped and bleeding.
Crying, he picked himself up, turned a big circle and ran down the sidewalk again. He tripped in the same spot, but caught himself by bracing with his hands. The palms of his hands were now dirty and bleeding, too.
Still crying, he turned another circle, refused my hand, and bolted down the sidewalk again. He tripped, but this time he tucked his shoulder and rolled into the grass. He rose covered in grass clippings, with a grass stain on his shoulder.
A fourth time he turned a big circle and dashed down the sidewalk. Without missing a step, he crossed that crack and continued running toward home.
He was bruised, bleeding, covered in grass and dirt, and had little tracks of mud on his cheeks from where he’d rubbed his tears away with grubby hands, but he was triumphant. My heart swelled with pride as I wiped his tears, cleaned his wounds, and embraced and praised him for his victory.
Maybe we need to learn a little something from toddlers.
1. Know what you want.
Or maybe I should say, know what God wants you to want. Philippians 1:6 suggests that God will accomplish what he wants to accomplish in our lives. Sometimes I have difficulty making progress because I am striving for wrong things – or striving for right things for wrong reasons (James 4:3). God’s purposes tend to direct us toward holiness more than happiness. Happiness (or its fuller counterpart joy) is generally a byproduct, not the goal. When I strive for happiness, it eludes me. When I strive for godliness, I find happiness already there (Psalm 37:3-9).
2. Don’t Over Think It
Ultimately, I can plan all day long, but it is God’s purposes that will play out (Proverbs 19:21; Proverbs 16:9). And he is working all things for my good (Romans 8:28, well Romans 8:26-33, really) and his glory.
3. Start Moving.
My job is obedience, not results. Think about Joseph. He obeyed his father’s instructions to check on his brothers. He obeyed in Potiphar’s house. He was faithful to the baker and cup bearer in prison. And God was with him in the midst of the injustice right up to when he recognized the reason (Genesis 50:20). God has prepared work for me (Ephesians 2:10), planned a path for me to follow (Jeremiah 29:11-14; Psalm 32:8; Psalm 16:11; Colossians 1:9), and provided what I need (Matthew 6:25-34). Maybe I don’t need to prepare for every contingency before I begin. Maybe the rough spells are part of his plan. Maybe I need to learn to obey first and trust him for the results.
4. Look Obstacles in the Eye
Have you seen the way a toddler will just look you in the eye as if maintaining eye contact will keep you from noticing they are still at it? I need to seriously evaluate the obstacles in my path like that. Are they God-ordained and protecting me from going down a wrong road (Acts 16:6-10) or are they attempts to defeat me (Ephesians 6:11)? I cannot tell the difference unless I look an obstacle in the eye.
5. Learn to Bounce
The Bible word for this is perseverance. And perseverance is a good thing (Galatians 6:9, James 1:12). I read this great quote the other day, and I’m going to get it all wrong because I cannot remember where I read it or who said it, but it was something like: there are no losses in life, only lessons. Taken to the extreme, I’d have to disagree. We live in a fallen world, and there are great losses that should be recognized, grieved, and respected. But do you see the kernel truth there, too? It is a matter of perspective. When you “fail,” you either lose or learn. You are defeated or discovering. And God didn’t save us through Christ to be defeated. So learn. Discover.
6. Run Home
And at the end of the day, when we arrive home (John 14:1-3), our Father’s heart will swell with pride as he wipes away our tears (Revelation 21:4), cleans our wounds, and embraces and praises us for persevering to victory (Matthew 25:21).
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6
As we set our New Year’s Resolutions this year, I hope we’ll think beyond January 1st. I hope we’ll think beyond 2015. Maybe we should think about the perseverance required to attain the prize, rather than just the prize.
This year I am resolved to keep circling back when I stumble, because I will stumble.
This year I am resolved to bounce.
This year I am resolved to run toward the arms of my Father.
What about you?
Traditionally the day after Christmas when people boxed alms for the poor or when employers gave servants a Christmas Box.
In our house it ranges from boys boxing each other as the excitement and exhaustion of Christmas finally catches up with us to boxing up Christmas (in the odd years when we are traveling right away and won’t be home for weeks).
If you are like me at this point, the momentum of the Christmas has come to a crashing halt and you are sitting in a bit of lethargy looking at the things that will have to be packed away soon.
Not yet, but soon.
When that day comes, it may be good to have some ideas for packing up the annual decorations with next year in mind. We also like to think through what worked this year and what we would like to change for next year.
So here are some tips to file away to make packing (and unpacking) more efficient:
- Decorating is exciting. Packing away? Not so much. Plan a celebration for when the house is back to normal. If you drink a cup of cocoa as a family when the tree is finished, consider drinking a cup of cocoa when the last pine needle is swept away.
- While you are all together, talk about what you did/didn’t like about this Christmas season. Decide what you’d like Christmas to look or feel like next year. Write it down. File it. Next year you’ll know what to include in your schedule and what to avoid. I also put a reminder on my calendar on November 1st to remind myself where I filed the plan so we will be reminded of want to do differently with time to accomplish it.
- Pack Advent supplies in their own box so that you can get them out by December 1st, even if the rest of the decorating needs to wait. We like to include our advent calendars, our German Pyramid, and our nativity sets in this box, so they are among the first thingsout. A post-it note with any new traditions we want to start next year makes a great addition to this box, too.
- Pack all your Christmas music, books, coasters, and blankets away with the Christmas decorations. It frees up lots of space for the rest of the year and increases the appeal of seeing them again when Christmas rolls around.
- Wrap lights around paper towel tubes. Plug ends into each other to keep from unraveling. Stuff the extra bulbs inside the tube. Next year plug them in before unwinding to verify that they work.
- Pack ornaments by person. Last year we bought a plastic bin for each child. When we packed ornaments, each one wrapped and stored their ornaments in their own bin. This year tree-decorating stress was dramatically reduced. There were no fights over similar-looking ornaments, no congestion waiting for Mommy to unwrap and distribute ornaments, and no tears over “missing” ornaments that would later be found at the bottom of the box. Someday, when they are ready to decorate their own tree, it’ll be easy to “gift” them their ornament bin. I keep a fine-tipped, permanent marker in our ornament bin to label any new ornaments as we decorate.
- Take a page out of Bob the Builder’s book… Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! Cut off card fronts for use as gift tags next year. Or make gift boxes out of greeting cards. It’s a simple way to make the most out of those expensive cards you receive. If you feel funny about having writing on the inside of your box, you can use card stock for the bottom. We read all the cards one last time and then cut off the covers to use next year.
- Make a place mat out of Christmas photos you received. Paste special photos onto 16″ x 12″ piece of poster board. You can overlap or trim photos if needed. Use a metallic marker to add names to photos that aren’t labeled, flip it over and add more photos to make it double sided. Don’t forget to include the year somewhere! Our local office supply store will laminate this for about $3. It is a fun memory builder over the years, and a great way to clean off the refrigerator! I hate throwing all those pictures away.
- Store your wreath hanger in the bag or box with the wreath. We actually store all of the outdoor decorations and their hangers in one box. The outdoor lights are in there, too. So if we have a nice day, we only have to pull out one box and the ladder to get going. If you have lots of duplicate tools laying around, you could also add any tools you always need for this project.
- Pack a box with all of the Christmas wrap, bags, bows, tissue. Purchase additional tags & wrap at after Christmas sales. Store this box in the front of your decorations for easy access. This will free up room wherever you normally keep gift wrap.
- Replace any needed items via after Christmas sales. There will be reduced prices on lights, trees, gift wrap, ornaments, etc. If something wasn’t working this year, now is the time to replace it.
- Make candy cane syrup from all those candy canes left lying around. This is great in hot chocolate or on vanilla ice cream. It’s easy and makes pretty gifts. Pink? Think Valentines!
- Update your Christmas mailing list before you discard the envelopes from this year’s cards.
- Pack up special Christmas clothes with your decorations. If your sweaters, Santa hat, and bell necklaces are in the same bin as your advent calendar, you can get both out to enjoy by Dec. 1, even if the rest of your decorations are still waiting.
As you pack away “Christmas” be sure to recount the memories from this year and Christmases past. And… don’t pack away Jesus. He was born to be a part of your whole year.
Yesterday we celebrated Christmas in our house. I am always surprised by how the Prince of Peace can become the object of such strong division as our kids play with the child-friendly nativity sets we have around the house. I really shouldn’t be surprised. People have been fighting over Jesus for centuries. We could leave Jesus out of it and simply say we’ve been fighting for centuries.
I’m not sure I want to leave Jesus out of it, though. After all, he did come at Christmas. And he did come to be the Prince of Peace. Jesus came because we’d been fighting with God for centuries. He came to reconcile us to God, to be a bridge to a right relationship with God and with others so that there could be peace on earth.
Yet, we continue to fight him and each other. We continue to wage war against things that threaten to undermine our ambitions. And for those of us in Christ, we continue to battle against the flesh for the Kingdom of God even as we struggle against our own ambitions. While I find greatest peace in submitting to the Father’s will, I find myself struggling to lay my will down at his feet.
So where is the peace on earth promised in the Prince of Peace? Is it all a future promise, only to be experienced in heaven? Can we experience his peace now? How do we live at peace with everyone as far as it is up to us (Romans 12:18)?
One way I’ve found for learning to live at peace other people is to immerse myself in an awareness of God, understanding others, and pursuing an honest view of myself. As I learn to bring God into every equation I find relationships – even difficult ones – a little bit more peaceful. And I don’t mean the stuff-it-down-and-pretend-like-everything-is-OK kind of peace-faking, either. I mean real peace. Trusting-God-is-in-control-even-when-this-difficult-person-shows-up kind of peace. I mean it’s-really-OK-to-esteem-others-above-myself kind of peace. I mean the kind of peace that comes from taking up my cross and following Christ, not in some kind of victim-martyr way, but joyful sacrifice because I know I am living well before my Father.
Many of my relationships have dramatically improved – even the good and easy ones – by incorporating the biblical principles I learned (and now teach) through Relational Wisdom 360. I’d love to extend the grace I’ve received by introducing you to RW360, too. So… in the words of Ken Sande:
Getting Upstream of Conflict
By Ken Sande, RW360.org
When people learn about RW360, they often ask, “What’s the difference between relational wisdom and peacemaking, and why, after devoting thirty years to biblical conflict resolution, have you shifted your focus to this new concept?”
One of the best ways to answer these questions is to tell a parable about drowning people …
There was small village located on a wide and dangerous river. One day a young man standing on the bank noticed someone floundering in the water. He jumped into the river and after much effort pulled the drowning man to safety.
The next day a woman saw another person struggling in the water, and she too risked her life to save him. When this cycle repeated itself several times in the following days, the elders realized they had a serious problem on their hands.
“Many people are in danger of drowning in our river,” they said. “Lives are at stake! We must do all we can to save these people.”
Working together, the villagers steadily improved their life-saving practices. They stationed canoes on the bank and assigned pairs of rescuers to work together in regular shifts. They lit bonfires on the shore at night, and eventually strung ropes across the river, which drowning people could grab as they floated by.
These techniques were not always successful, but through their diligence the villagers steadily improved their ability to save people who were struggling in the river.
One older woman watched these noble efforts with quiet reflection, and eventually asked a simple question.
“This is good work you are doing,” she said. “Many lives have been saved through your efforts and other villages are imitating your efforts.”
“But tell me,” she said, “would it not be wise to learn why so many people fall into the river and float by our village? Perhaps we could do something to keep them from getting into this trouble in the first place.”
Humbled by the wisdom in her question, the elders sent an expedition upstream that very day. A mile above their village they discovered an old bridge. A section of its termite-eaten planks had broken, leaving a large gap. Clearly, anyone who used that bridge risked falling into the river below.
Realizing this must be the primary reason people had been floating by their village, the expedition repaired the bridge with fresh ropes and new planks.
The number of people floating by the village dropped dramatically. Of course, there were still people who stumbled off the riverbank and found themselves floundering in the river. They were certainly thankful that the village still trained and posted rescue teams.
But by fixing the bridge, the elders greatly reduced the number of people who fell into the river in the first place … reducing the number who drowned before they got to the village, as well as the workload of the teams who still stood ready to help.
Having “stood beside the river” myself for many years, I thank God for Peacemaker Ministries, Crossroads Resolution Group, and other related organizations that are available to teach biblical peacemaking and help people who fall into conflict. These outstanding ministries meet a vital, ongoing need in the body of Christ.
I’m equally grateful that God has given Corlette and me the opportunity to complement their work by developing a new generation of resources and training to equip people with skills that will help them to build stronger relationships that actually prevent conflict–or to put it in terms of our parable–to safely bridge the conflicts of life without falling in.
We’ve been especially pleased to see how naturally relational wisdom and biblical peacemaking can be integrated, just as swimming and life-saving go hand-in-hand. Seeing the complementary nature of these disciplines, a growing number of Christian conciliators are cross-training in relational wisdom so they can serve the church more effectively.
We look forward to drawing on the lessons we learn through this integration and to exploring more ways to weave these skills tightly together, so that more Christians become increasingly effective at both preventing and resolving conflict … and building relationships that reflect the love of Christ.
– Ken Sande
To learn more about the resources and training you can use in your church, ministry, or business to strengthen relational skills and reduce conflict, read about our online 101 Seminar, Advanced 201/202 Training, and the live teaching available through our Certified RW Instructors.
- How does the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” apply to bankruptcy? Heart-attacks? Divorce? Conflict in general?
- How does the gospel empower and guide both conflict prevention and conflict resolution? (see RW and the Gospel)
- How can improved God-awareness, self-awareness, and other-awareness help to prevent conflict? To resolve conflict?
- How can the ability to understand “idols of the heart” improve both relational and peacemaking abilities?
- How can improved skills in biblical negotiation (the PAUSE Principle) help to prevent conflict? To resolve conflict?
Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.
© 2014 Ken Sande
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Wishing you a Merry Christmas, with the greatest Presence of all.
By Michael D. Quillen, Sr.
One of my favorite stories as a young man was about a character with leprosy who reluctantly saved the people of an alternate “earth” through his death. There are interesting parallels to the Gospel in the story, but the part I want you to think about is the truth I learned about leprosy from this character.
The problem with leprosy, it turns out, is really the numbness that occurs as the disease injures nerves. Lepers lose parts of their bodies because they don’t sense pain when an extremity is hurt. They don’t know to attend to a wound and treat it because they don’t even know the injury is there. A leper could walk around with a raging infection in their foot or reach out to grab something with a broken hand without even knowing there was a problem.
For those reasons, the character was constantly doing what he called “Visual Surveillance of Extremities” (VSE). He surveyed his body all the time for injuries. His life and health depended upon looking at his edges.
This is a very good picture for Christian life and health. We tend to rationalize little sins on the edges of our lives. We bump into sin that harms us more than we realize.
God created us with sensitivity to sin that can be dulled if we don’t pay attention to it. As surely as a leper loses physical feeling in his extremities, people lose spiritual sensitivity on the edges of their lives. If we do not pay attention, eventually serious damage will show up.
Before you make resolutions about dieting and exercise this New Year, do a little VSE of your life from a spiritual perspective. Extend the eyes of your heart to the edges of your life. You will certainly find health and wholeness. Praise the Lord for it. But don’t let the little wounds fester. Repent of them when you see them – and praise the Lord for that, too!
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do… They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. — Ephesians 4:17–24