The Most Beautiful Time of the Year

It’s here!

The most beautiful time of the year.

Family gatherings. Kids home from school and grandkids home for the holidays. Roast turkey and spiral hams. Cookies from your neighbors, some to die for and others, well, not to risk your life for!

And stress.

We Americans are drowning in a sea of consumerism and self-indulgence, thinking wrongly that somehow we can create our own heaven on earth with happy times and lots of nice things. Doesn’t the holiday season leave everyone of us struggling to come up for air, gasping for meaning and hope?

For me, the holidays are a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s my favorite time of the year, a reminder of everything that could be and should be right. Giving instead of receiving. Families coming together instead of flying apart. Prayer instead of pain. Peace on earth and good will.

On the other hand, the Season is a metaphor, a symbol, of everything that’s wrong with the human soul, the madness of trying to find happiness and peace in parties and possessions. It’s the contrast between the jingling of Salvation Army silver bells in the mall and the road rage in the vast parking lot as you try to get away from the holidays.

Allow me to suggest a couple “golden rules” for you and your family for the holidays. First, do good works, that is, go out of your way to make life better for other people. It really is more blessed to give than to receive, and don’t just limit that to holiday presents!

Second, decide that you and your family will be more interested in knowing God, more interested in developing the spiritual side of your life, than you are about making sure all your celebrations and gift-giving are “just perfect.”

Third, invite God into the impossibilities of your life. Invite God to empower you with patience for other people and gracious endurance during the difficult moments and times of life. You can’t get out of every big and little trouble in life, but you can press through them with goodness and grace.

Fourth, be joyfully thankful. One of the best gifts you can give the ones you love is to be genuinely grateful for them, to tell them often you love them. Don’t discourage the people you love by trying to “fix” them, by expecting them to be something they aren’t, something you think they should be. Instead, affirm them for who they are!

Did you know that, mathematically, there’s less of a chance that two people will have the same DNA than there are atoms in the universe?! You’re special. Your loved ones are special!

Try doing these things just a few times, and the light of this Season will shine in you brighter than all the Christmas trees your world.!

Peace.

FAMILY NEWS

Everything’s good!  We will be over-dosing on our kids and grandkids during the Holidays.  All of us will be at our son David’s house for Christmas and New Years.

This is David’s son, Zack, building a Lego crane with “pa,” as I am affectionately known by the grandkids.  Is Zack cute?

A few weeks ago his k-garten teacher told his mom Jill that Zack was a little too sociable.  Like, he was hugging everybody in his class.  One morning, his teacher was watching him stare across the table at a little red-haired girl deeply absorbed in her coloring project.  When she realized Zach was studying her face, she looked up.  Smiled.  And Zack said, “I l-o-v-e you.”

MINISTRY UPDATE

This month I was honored to lead a meeting with the Governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, and about fifteen pastors of the largest churches in our state.  With our State in a historic crisis (some have even proposed putting our Capitol up for sale … www.csmonitor.com/Money/2009/0908/to-cut-deficit-arizona-may-sell-its-capitol)  meetings with the Governor have been nearly impossible to arrange. Thanks, though, to Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy, who has a lot of insider contacts, for helping us arrange a time slot in the Governor’s schedule.

We let the Governor’s staff know that our gathering had three purposes:

  • For the Governor to become acquainted with key evangelical pastors in  Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff and Prescott
  • To give the Governor an opportunity to express her concerns about our State … and to ask her how we might be able mobilize our resources to help our communities in this time of grave economic crisis
  • To spend time in prayer for the Governor and for our State … and to present a proposal for a proclamation of prayer for Arizona, which reads as follows:

DAY OF PRAYER FOR ARIZONA’S ECONOMY AND STATE BUDGET

WHEREAS, throughout our national history, government leaders, including Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Governors and Congress, have called for a day of prayer to humbly ask God for His forgiveness, blessings and guidance during times of difficulty; and

WHEREAS, the unique motto of the State of Arizona, Ditat Deus – “God Enriches” – acknowledges the blessings of God; and

WHEREAS, Arizona is suffering from the severe effects of a prolonged national and state economic recession that threatens the livelihood of many of our citizens and reduces the quality of life for all citizens; and

WHEREAS, this recession has dramatically affected the State of Arizona from receiving the necessary tax revenues to achieve many of the State budget objectives and to provide all of the needed services for the citizens of Arizona; and

WHEREAS, throughout this day of prayer, we ask for God’s favor, blessing, wisdom and guidance to rest upon our state government, businesses and our citizens, that God would guide our state government to resolve the state’s budget deficit, renew the vitality of our state’s economy and that God would aid and empower the businesses in our state;

NOW, THEREFORE, we do hereby proclaim the Sunday immediately prior to the first day of the 2nd regular session of the 49th Legislature – January 10, 2010 – as a DAY OF PRAYER FOR ARIZONA’S ECONOMY AND STATE BUDGET

and encourage all Arizonans to pray for God’s blessings on our State and our Nation.

Our meeting was extraordinary.  The Governor was deeply appreciative of our spiritual support, and we are praying that she will issue this proclamation and call for a this special day of prayer in 2010.

Also, as a result of this meeting, I’ve been asked to meet with the Governor’s Chief of Staff for Policy to develop an ongoing relationship with her office to identify key needs in our state to present to local churches as opportunities to make a difference in our communities.

BIBLE STUDY

My life message is Jesus plus nothing,” that is, our relationship with God is based on Jesus plus nothing, which changes everything.  In my e-news next month, I will begin a regular Bible study feature, for which I’ve identified several books of the Bible I’d like to help you understand.  It’s been said that “all roads lead to Rome,” and I’d like to suggest that all the road of Bible interpretation lead to Romans–and its companion book Galatians.  In both, Paul explains salvation and the Christian faith.  Look for the first study in January.

(Yeah, last month I said it would be in here for December … but … )

Leadership and Ministry PERSPECTIVES

Having so much when others have so little …

Just before Thanksgiving, I participated in a CCDA Institute sponsored by Kit Daniel’s Neighborhood Ministries in downtown Phoenix (www.neighborhoodministries.org).  CCDA?  What’s that?!  Christian Community Development Association (www.ccda.org).  Launched some years ago by John Perkins, the mission of CCDA is simple:  to inspire, train, and connect Christians who seek to bear witness to the Kingdom of God by reclaiming and restoring under-resourced communities.

Most of you know that my heart has been into this kind of thing for years, and now, in this season of my life, more than ever I feel I am to be a catalyst for bringing pastors and other key leaders into collaborative relationships to make a difference in our communities.  Now more than ever, in a time of spiraling economic problems and plummeting resources, God’s people must stand in the gap.

According to Linda Morris, who spoke at the CCDA event, nearly one million people in Arizona need food stamps daily, and 40% of all homeless in Arizona this last year are first-timers.  Ok, they’re just numbers, right?  Did you know that 42% of kids 18 and younger in Arizona are “food  insecure.”

Linda, whose church is active in their neighborhood, said, “We see no difference between people who live around the church and the people who go into our church.  We have a building,” she said, “but we love to do ministry outside the building.”  Jesus did, too!  He spent way more time in the hood than in the House of God, and he didn’t limit his ministry to spiritual needs.  Indeed, God became flesh and lived among us.

Deuteronomy 15:11 is a gut punch to well-fed stomachs:

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

A church offering to die for …

A good friend of mine, Scott Jones, pastor at New Life Church in Peoria, Arizona (www.nlcc.org), recently received a huge offering for those who are less fortunate.   He challenged the people in his church (a weekend attendance of about 1000) to “choose to give up what you really don’t need so that others can have what they can’t live without.”  Like food and water.  “Whatever you decide not to buy,” he instructed them, “take that money, the money you would have spent, and set it aside.”

After just a few weeks of a lot of families making daily sacrifices, when they received this special love offering, the people of New Life gave $28,000!  The money is being used to provide clean drinking water through wells and other alternative water sources for villages in Mexico.

THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS AND THAT

And here’s something else to pray about:  http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091222/ap_on_go_co/us_health_overhaul_deal

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