Monday, December 19, 2016

God Changes People - We Don't

Some people in your life are just plain toxic.  Trying to fix them only makes things worse . . . but you can respect them from a distance.

This is day 7 of our 12 Days of Christmas that you can have delivered to your inbox if you enter your email above.

Day 7  


 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared.  Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

Matthew 2:7-8

Starting Point:
God changes people – we don’t.

Digging In:

Herod was nasty.

I don’t mean he was mean-spirited.  I mean nasty like cold-blooded-killer nasty.  This was a ruler who had no problem killing thousands of people in order to keep his power.  He’s killed his wife.  He’d even killed a son he thought was suspect.  The saying was that it was better to be Herod’s pig (in Greek: hus)than his son (huios). 

This was a guy who rounded up hundreds of people close to the day of his death and had them put in prison.  The order was to kill them as soon as he died so at least there would be tears on the day of his death.

See what I mean?  Nasty.

Do you think there was someone who could reach him?  Apart from Jesus, do you think there was somebody who was able to cut through all the nastiness and make him a better person?  Do you really think that his heart was ‘thawable?’

You might be right but you might also be delusional and at this time of year it is important to know the difference.  There are some people that are reachable and can change with a little effort.  Then there are others who will suck every good effort out of you and make you miserable as they cease to change their ways.

In short, there are some people that you are not going to change – maybe someone will – but you won’t.

“Hold up,” you might say.  “Isn’t that the whole purpose of Christmas?  Isn’t that the entire narrative of the season – a heart can change?  We have stories like A Christmas Carol featuring someone like Scrooge that can change.”

Of course – this is a great season for people to realize their ways and change.  Scrooges can turn it around and become good people – but look at the story.  Scrooge is an absolute monster to everyone that is mortal.  It took the appearance of a dead friend and three angelic visitors to convince him that he needed to repent.  Most people had given up on him and those that still held out hope kept their distance.  Even Scrooge’s nephew laughed when his invitation to dinner was turned down.

Keeping distance is the key. 

There are some people in your life that are just so toxic that every time you approach them they look for ways to make your life more miserable.  So you try each time to do something nice or help them see that you mean well and you wind up hurt – again and again.

The Bible is clear that no one is beyond redemption, but that doesn’t always mean you are the person through which redemption comes.  We are told to respect and honor each other but there are some people who you can honor from a distance.

Christmas seems to be one of the toughest times of the year because we once again put ourselves in the pathway of people that are just plain miserable and mean.  It is almost like they feed off of hurting people.  If you have someone like that in your life you need to assert yourself and not allow yourself to be taken advantage of . . . again.

Respect from a distance means that you make sure that you are praying for this person.  It means that you continue to do all the nice things that you would do for anyone else but it also means that you don’t have to put yourself within striking distance. 

I remember as a kid there was an attack dog owned by neighbors three houses down.  This dog was conditioned to be a guard dog and was ready to rip something limb from limb at all times.  My friend Josh and I thought it would be a good idea to make friends with it one morning.  So we ignored the warnings of our parents and walked over to the dog gingerly and started petting Jason.

Yes, the dogs name was Jason.  Freaky.

Josh and I were excited because it seemed like Jason was being receptive to our overture of gentleness. We really thought we were helping this attack dog to change.  Laughing I leaned over to count his paws and I felt the entire side of my head go in Jason’s mouth.  Jason held my head in his jaws and gave a very soft growl that indicated he’d had enough of our counseling session and it was time to leave.  Removing from head from certain death, we backed off and Jason was appreciative of us leaving.

There are some dogs you just can’t change.
Maybe God can and maybe someday He will – but you don’t have to assume that responsibility.


As much as you might really want for people to change, you have to let that be God’s thing – not yours.

Breathe in: 
“God, I really want to see (insert name here) change.”

Breathe out:
“I leave them in your hands and your will – help me let go of them.”


Who is that one person who consistently puts you down or makes you feel small?  Identify who it is and identify the situations you fine yourself in that you are repeatedly hurt.  Remove yourself from that situation today in a way that does everything you can to save the relationship but doesn’t allow you to be within striking distance. 

“I’m sending gifts, but I can’t make it to dinner.” 

“This year I won’t be able to make it to the party – thank you for the invitation.”

“I’m inviting everyone to my house this year – come join us!”

God changes people – we don’t.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A very short summary on what is going on in Aleppo

Aleppo is all over the news today . . . and like you I feel helpless.

Instant news has blessed us with knowing things now but it is horrible to know that right now there are kids under bomb rubble that just need someone to get to them.  And here I am in my warm home.

No doubt you feel the same way.

So what in the world is going on?  And why can't it stop?

It all started about five years ago.  There was a lot of excitement and optimism for change in the Middle East as both Tunisia and Egypt toppled decades-long dictators through public opposition.  It was one of a handful of events that made up what we call the Arab Spring.

It looked like the era of Arab dictators was thawing out.

This feeling caught on in Syria.  For years there was a growing discontent at the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.  He and his family had been in power since 1971 and conditions in Syria continued to decline.  In 2011, some school kids were detained for Arab Spring graffiti and when parents and community members protested their detention it escalated.  Five people were shot by the military.  This served to galvanize an opposition which Assad savagely put down.  There is ample evidence that Assad had gassed his own people.  The viciousness of the government attacks only snowballed the efforts of the resistance and the country fell into civil war.  For more on this - click here.

As a result, eleven million Syrian refugees have left the country because of the civil war.

In 2014 the UN stopped counting the deaths - which then totaled over 250,000.

The whole thing is a mess, though.  We can't just point the finger at Assad - as brutal as he is.  The rebel group is made up of of a whole spectrum of people - Some Moderates, but mostly Jihadist groups like Al Nusra, Al Qaeda, Islamic Front and even ISIS members - and many of these troops and their commanders have committed war crimes.  Some real bad hombres.

It makes you scratch your head - who are the real bad guys?

For their part, Russia has decided to back Assad and his government.  This has enabled Assad and his government to almost take back Aleppo - the most recent attacks have given Assad control of over 90% of the city.  

The coast and the other large cities in Syria all belong to Assad, so it is no question that without outside help, the rebels will certainly fail to do anything in Syria.  As of 2016, the estimate is that we are up over 470,000 dead.

So there really is no bow to put on this.  The entire thing is ugly and the only casualties are the kids caught in the cross-fire.  Pray for the Syrians and do what you can to give them a place to flee to.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

12 Days of Christmas: Day One: Right Where You Are.

This is an example of what you can receive in your inbox daily for the next 11 days if you sign up above for the 12 days of Christmas.

12 Days of Christmas (Day 1)                       

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month.  For the word of God will never fail.”
Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. (Luke 1:35-38)

Starting Point.
Mary was fully available to God right where she was.

Looking Deeper.
Okay – so there are a couple different ways that we can read this . . .

Too often we go to the fairy-tale drama.  You can just see Mary sitting there on the corner of her bed talking to an angel in the middle of the night – windblown hair – awestruck wonder.   Stoic in how she accepts her fate, she realizes that this will forever change her life and the fate of every person on the planet.  She closes her eyes and clutches a candle to her chest absorbing the new role of Mary, the Mother of God.


Luke is more earthy than that.  Read it again - her concern is about here and now, not there and then.  She wasn’t thinking about how human history would change – she was thinking about how her life would change.

So after a few minutes of thinking, she says, “Well, I’m your servant - may everything you have said come true.”

Remember – this is not, “cool, I get to be the main character in Christmas plays all over the planet for the next two thousand years.”  She is wrestling with the idea of being pregnant.  She has no idea about the grand plan – the cross, the resurrection, the history of God and man.  All she knows what is happening now.

Which, for the record, is all she is really told.

She gets no extra in-depth revelation about God or the bigger picture or anything.  In fact she gets a handful of messages that sketch out redemption and then Jesus is born.  Then (as far as we know) for the next 30 years she is pretty much on her own.  I wonder if she struggled with her role.  Her inadequacies.  Her confusion.  What are the next steps for a teenage mother of the world’s Savior?  It’s weird how quickly God returns her to the mundane life of a young mom.

Kind of like us . . .

We too struggle with not seeing the bigger plan in it all.

Like the dead-end job you are in – where is this all going?

Like the diagnosis you got – why is God letting this happen?

Like the feeling you get twenty times a day when your kids can’t just get along.  Will God ever change their hearts?

Like the secrets that you keep because your life would blow up if anyone knew – how much longer can all of this go on?

Like is there a purpose for me being single this long?

Within a year Mary winds up married and has a small child in Nazareth.  Nazareth was a nowhere in Israel.  It was officially po-dunk.  People from Nazareth had accents like we might think of someone from the woods of West Virginia (sorry WV natives).

You know what that means?

It means that the only thing separating you from being used wherever you are is your attitude.  You can go on questioning and complaining about how lost you are or how forgotten you are or how you don’t see God at work in your life.

Or you can have the attitude of Mary – use me as you see fit and where you see fit.


So your problem is not that God has forgotten you.  Your problem is that you have forgotten God.  The place you are right now is the best place for God to use you and it’s your attitude, not your latitude that has you lost.  Take a moment to practice this breathing.

Breathe in:  “God I know you are in control of my life.”
Breathe out: “I’m your servant, God – use me as you see fit.”


God has a purpose for your life right where you are.  Sometimes we are so focused on the big picture that we forget the small challenges that come our way.  Ask God to push you in one small area where you can be used today.  Write down one thing right now that you feel like God is nudging you to do.

  • Say hello to that mean co-worker
  • Make some time with a nephew or cousin.
  • Send a note to your parents.
  • Tell someone today how much you appreciate them.
  • Tell an old teacher how much they impacted your life.

We follow God by being a light in the small things of life.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Twelve Days are better than one.

Stressed a little?

Got too many things going on?

Maybe you just need a little time to think about the big things in life.  Some soul time each day can help you focus on the things that really matter.

Give me your email address above and from the 13th to the 25th you will get a daily reminder of what is important - all from the perspective of the first Christmas.  

Each day will have:

A focus:  Starting out with a scripture for the day that starts out our time.

A nugget:  Something from the scriptures that we never thought of before.

Something for today:  How all of this stuff from so long ago gives us direction and guidance for how to get through the challenges of this time of year.

A time to breathe:  A moment for you to get your wind back.

And a challenge:  Something for you to take into your day that will change the way you move through life.

If you, or someone you know really needs this right now let them know that this year Christmas is not about the lights and the presents and the stress - and it certainly isn't on only one day.  There are twelve days to enjoy this Christmas - from the heart.

Looking forward to it!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Can you take a moment to just breathe?

Three weeks until Christmas . . .

The chances are you will find yourself again on December 26th saying, "where did all the time go?"

You will shop

Make cookies.

Study for finals.

Send cards.

Go to Christmas concerts. 

But you will probably not grab the time you desperately need for your soul.  Especially this year when we have been wound so tightly by the negative culture we find ourselves in.  It is time to check-in with God. 

The truth is that won't happen unless you plan for it.  

So I want to help.  

Starting next week, you can receive in your inbox a short reflection about Christmas that will help you slow down and focus on the Son of God.  It can be your little corner of sanity in a crazy world.  You need a few minutes each day where you breathe in a little of God's Spirit - enough to take on the day ahead.

All you have to do is enter your email address above in the "Subscribe to Our Mailing List."  Each day will have a short nugget about how the birth of Jesus completely re-writes the script of your day.  This devotional is focused on helping you see how Christmas changes everything in our world here and now.  Each day will give you a 'Breathe' section that helps you get perspective and a challenge for the day to help you live in a much healthier rhythm.

Let's face it - you need something like this.

So God bless you this Christmas and hopefully we can go through the 12 Days of Christmas together!