Expectancy is defined as the hope that something better will happen in the future.

2021 is full of expectancy. Like almost everyone else, I am filled with excitement to see us throw the old calendar in the trash and start a new year. Yet, I know that God was at work last year, and he will continue to build his kingdom in ways that startle and surprise.

The only thing different in the coming year will be how humans behave. That part is always unexpected.

My expectancy is a hope that people will do something better in the future. May His kingdom come through you and me.

Long List of Possibilities

Over the course of a year, I read and listen to hundreds of ways to improve my life. I have heard how to be a better human, son, husband, brother, father, preacher, employee, neighbor, leader, visionary, boss, and Christian. There is a long list of possible ways to improve over this next year. Honestly, most of them are good advice. I have kept articles, saved notes, and tried to keep track of all the superb instructions I have received.

But here is my encouragement for you: Focus on only 2-4 things to work on this coming year. That is it. You may not be able to improve every area of your life this year, but you can work on a couple of things that will make you a better Christian and a better person.

Last year I focused on two things: People and Positive. I needed to spend more time with people and develop a more positive attitude. That was all I tried to do, and COVID made it a challenge in every area of my life. So, for 2021, I am putting my attention on the same two areas. I am merely adding one more thing to my list: Soul care. This year was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining to me, and I need to take some time to recharge my battery. These are all the things I hope to accomplish in the coming year. Everything else is just an added blessing.

The person who attempts to do 12 things usually does none of them. The longer the list, the more likely you are to quit and usually quit quickly. The more focused your plan, the greater your chance of success. What if this year you tried to do less so that you could accomplish more and one year from now be a better follower of Jesus?

A Time for Review

Before you make all your resolutions and plans for the next year, be sure to spend some time reflecting on the past year. Socrates is credited with saying, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” This means we need to think critically about ourselves while analyzing our behaviors and their results.

What successes and failures did you experience in the past year? Have your relationships improved or become distant over the months? Have you tried any new ventures or challenges that have been rewarding? How have you grown spiritually in the twelve months?

This type of personal scrutiny will help you see areas you need to improve and places you are doing well. They will help you know what to keep doing and what to stop doing in the coming months.

Be sure and take 15 minutes this week and think carefully about the past year. These few moments of reflection can be the fuel you need to make the coming year a time of growth in every arena of your life. Don’t waste the experiences of the past year or the opportunities of the coming year. Please make the most of every year because we get so precious few of them.

A Year to Reconnect with People

The words for 2020 were quarantine, isolation, and distance. These words mean alone, separate, and unconnected. I understand that these were thought to be needed to control the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, but they came with a mental, emotional, and psychological toll. Loneliness, depression, anxiety, and possibly addiction could be the words for 2021.

One of my goals for 2021 is to make positive connections with people in every way possible. There is a variety of ways this could happen, from social events to private conversations over coffee. Decide now, make a plan, find a way, and open up your heart to people this coming year.

God created Adam, and he said it was not good for man to be alone. Humans are social creatures, and being isolated is not good in the eyes of the one who made us. This virus might hurt people’s bodies, but being alone can hurt people’s souls. Sure, take any and all precautions to stay healthy but don’t limit your health to only your physical body.

You need people. I need people. We need each other.

The Christmas Story

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

-Luke 2:1-19 (New International Version 2011 Edition)

At Just the Right Time

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

The great Church leader Paul writes a letter to the believers in the city of Galatia.  He makes a statement in what is now our fourth chapter about the incarnation of Jesus.  He says, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” This is a description of Jesus coming to earth that we celebrate this holiday season. 

The preceding words to this statement I find fascinating.  He says, “When the set time had fully come.” This passage is translated in other versions of the English Bible as, “In the fullness of time.” Jesus came to earth as a baby at a set time, or when the right time occurred or in the fullness of time.  That means that God had a particular point in history where it was the absolute best time for Jesus to be born. 

While we may think our time is better because of our technology, Jesus was born at the right time.  There are several possible reasons for this, including the Roman peace, the road system built by the empire, the standard and precise Greek language, and the Jewish religion’s dominance.  For whatever reason, God saw that the time had come for his son’s advent and to begin his mighty work of redemption. 

For me, the simple lesson is not just about the timing of Jesus’ birth but also about God’s precise timing to bring the maximum impact.  If he knows that about the coming of Jesus, then he most certainly knows it about his work in your life.  Whatever he is doing in your life, this is the perfect time for it.  He knows that this is the moment that could change your life forever.  All you have to do is respond in faith. 

If Christmas teaches us anything about God, it is that he acts at the right time, in the perfect way for the best possible outcome.  He did it in the history of the world, and he can do it in your life too.  May that one thought make you merry this Christmas. 

The Artificial Tree of Christmas

In the first few years of our marriage, my wife and I went to a Christmas tree farm and picked up our Christmas tree.  When I say, “picked up,” I mean we walked over the farm looking at dozens of trees until we decided on the one we liked.  I then cut it down and dragged it to the front of the farm, where I paid the attendant before loading it into the truck we borrowed to get it home.  At home, I shook the tree outside, trying to remove dead needles, and then pulled it through a doorway in our kitchen.  This process alone resulted in a huge mess that we discovered our vacuum could not handle without plugging the hose.  Once inside, we attached the stand and then tried to set it in place and make it straight.  The first tree was the result of a six-hour adventure before we ever hung the first ornament.  Then came the daily checking of the water and the growing concern of a fire hazard in the corner of our home. 

The whole project was a hassle, and after the first year, we discovered we could not put it up until a week before Christmas, or the removal became piles of needles and hours of clean up.  The second year went better, but the approaching baby was going to cause more issues.  Finally, by year three, we bought an artificial tree and used it each year after that.  We could put it up early and had no problem with water or needles while the whole thing is flame resistant. 

Over time the artificial tree has given way to other store-bought greenery and flowers made of silk.  Yesterday we even installed batteries into fake candles to use this Christmas.  No longer do we have anything real that we use to decorate our house for the holiday season.  To me, this is all just fine as it is safer, easier, and cleaner for our family. 

My fear this time of year is that we have not only traded in our real trees for fake ones, but we have also exchanged our real joy for temporary smiles.  The more Christmas becomes about the gifts, the food, and parties, the more artificial it becomes.  This week is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, first and foremost.  The message of the incarnation is that the long-awaited messiah came to earth to accomplish God’s work.  We celebrate this because we live on the other side of his coming, death, and resurrection, and we know the blessings Jesus brings in his birth.  The angel declared to the shepherds that night, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

If your Christmas feels artificial this year and full of fake smiles, it might be because you have missed the point.  It is possible that you have exchanged the real Jesus for a plastic manger that has no meaning to you.  If you want this to be the best Christmas of your life, then you need to rediscover Jesus and the work he came to do for us.  Some things are better when they are fake, and joy is not one of them. 

Endings, Beginnings, and Opportunities for Good

There are eleven full days left in 2020 before the new year begins.  I have seen dozens of memes making fun of the past year and are showing our excitement for the calendar’s turning.  With a new year comes new experiences, adventures, and opportunities. 

Before we rush into 2021, don’t let these days slip by you without using them. Paul told the believers in the city of Ephesus, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity …” (Ephesians 5:15-16).  Believers are people who make the most of EVERY opportunity.  We pour our hearts and souls into each day. 

These coming eleven days are full of opportunities to use your life for God’s kingdom and to love your neighbors as God desires.  I might even argue that there will be even more chances for us to make an impact for God on this world with the Christmas and New Years’ season. 

So, before you share that funny meme about the end of the year or your excitement for the new year, stop and think about all the good you can still do this year.  People are hoping for a better 2021, but maybe you could surprise them with a wonderful ending to 2020.

Preparing for Christmas

There are only a few days left till Christmas.

I suppose there are two things you can do in these final hours before the big day.

One is to open your wallet. Rush to the store, search Amazon, buy gift cards galore. Spend every hour frantically trying to get more, wrap more, and have something for everyone.

The other option is to open your heart. Take time to sit and have conversations, share your life, and spend time connecting with people. You could make the call, send the card, write the email, or drop a text to show you care. You could give yourself to others without being rushed or hurriedly moving on to the next thing.

You have two choices, but only one of these will make people genuinely happy.

They Did Not Understand

Every time I read the gospels, I find a new appreciation for the twelve disciples. They seem to have a strong desire to please Jesus but are often misguided in their thoughts and actions. Recently I was reading, and a line hit me about the disciples like never in my life.

Jesus predicts his upcoming death on the cross, along with his resurrection. It is a significant statement about his ministry, and yet the next verse contains this description.

“But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.” (Mark 9:32)

Here they had been listening to some key words about Jesus, and they had no clue what it meant. This might seem surprising until you do a little searching, and you find that at least four other times, the disciples had no clue what Jesus was telling them. I imagine them smiling and saying, “Nice sermon,” while they glance at one another, confirming that each was as confused as the other.

Have you ever not understood but were afraid to ask? I know I have, and all of us may have felt it at some point when reading our Bibles. If so, let me offer you a couple of suggestions.

  1. Be willing to admit to someone you do not understand. This is so hard for most people. We are adults, and we should know things.
  2. Know that you are not alone in your lack of understanding. The disciples felt it, and Jesus was right there with them. You will feel it. We all do.
  3. Ask questions. One of the greatest joys of my ministry is explaining the way of Jesus to people. I don’t have all the answers, but I will do my best. I am sure this is true for most believers. We love to explain stuff to people who want to know.
  4. Give yourself time. It will take the disciples a while before they understand what Jesus said. It will take you some time too. If the answers don’t come clear after a period, be sure to ask and ask.
  5. Ask God for wisdom. James writes to the Church and says, “If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask God (James 1:5). Sometimes my prayers have been very specific. I do not just ask God for wisdom, but for him to connect me with a teacher, a book, a lecture, or anything helpful.

I am not sure what held the disciples back or what holds back anyone of us who doesn’t understand. Maybe our pride, possibly our fear, or perhaps we have never learned to admit we have ignorance. Set aside whatever keeps you from learning, and I am sure your knowledge will grow along with your faith.