Month: December 2013

7 Practices for 2014

The word “resolutions” carries a negative connotation for me. Typically, the phrase following the reference to this word goes along the lines, “That will last two months…” It might be semantics for me, but I have found the need to refocus my view for 2014.1371065_68211101Because of my aversion to resolutions, I have turned towards “practices.” Practicing implies a daily routine, rhythm, or ritual. A person can come back to practicing  even with time away.

Over the last few weeks, I have compiled a list of practices for 2014. This list represents a lens through which I want to reflect on my growth throughout the year. Perhaps, as you think of 2014 you may want to adopt your own practices:

1. Disconnect Digitally for 4 Hours a Week

My friend Jeff coined a disorder- Text Message Anxiety (TMA or short). This last year, I defaulted towards checking updates, emails, and text messages. Think of this, how many times did you find yourself with a group of people and everyone was checking their their phones? The times I have put my devices away, I have been able to focus more on the conversation present.

2. Take More Walks

Winter in Rochester does not always facilitate the best conditions for walking. Yet, there’s something about clearing our heads by being outside. Also, my wife loves to walk and I’m looking for ways for us to connect together.

3. Schedule the Year

I tend to think through schedules within a week frame. Often, I over scheduled a weekend or day, because of a lack of foresight. If we can understand the flow of the year with the chaos and lulls, then we can better plan for rest or miscellaneous activities.

4. Invest into People

Dr. Bob Rhoden says, “I want to add value to people.” Those words have stuck to me. God has placed people in our lives not only to help us grow, but for us to invest into their growth. Most of the time this means creating space and time for others.

5. Experience Solitude

Extroverts struggle with taking time alone. Even when we have alone time, we add noise. Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, the Desert Fathers and other theological voices invite us to step away from our normal routines listen to our lives and God. Far more than just disconnecting digitally, it takes solitude for extroverts and introverts to perceive their spiritual formation.

6. Write More Notes

Nostalgia, the quintessential feeling of receiving a hand written letter or card. Writing a note communicates to people the time you have thought about them. More than merely saying we care, we can give a tangible expression that we believe in other people.

7. Less Sarcasm

A few friends have shared how they want to tighten up their jesting words. I have been challenged by this. “Busting chops” might not always build friendship. Our words significantly affect the people around us, so this might be a good time to evaluate our speech.

So what about you? As you plan for 2014, what are the practices you are hoping to start this year?

“Christmas is a mystery of love! The love of the Father, who has sent into the world his only-begotten Son, to bestow on us the gift of his own life (I John 4:8-9). The love of “God-with-us,” Emmanuel, who came to earth in order to die on a the Cross. In the cold stable, wrapped in silence, the Virgin Mother, with prophetic intuition, already tastes the violent drama of Calvary, the traumatic struggle between darkness and light, between death and life, between hatred and love. The Prince of peace, born today in Bethlehem, will give his life on Golgotha, so that love may reign on earth.”

Pope John Paul II, Urbi Et Orbi, Christmas 2002 via Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Pope John Paul II

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The Word for 2013

“By this time next year, you could be a whole new person.” Allison Vesterfelt said this in her post Everything Can Change in Just One Year.150666_584447915761_649307428_n

Facebook has rolled out the annual feature, “Year in Review.” Users can share their 20 biggest moments from 2013. This season causes us to pause to remember the year that was.

My wife Robyn has introduced me to the practice of picking a word for the year. This word encapsulates an area of growth in your life. I adopted the word “patience.” Little did I realize the impact of this practice. 2013 has taught me so much, but I have seen it through the lens of patience.

It takes patience to begin in a location and community.

It takes patience to get engaged, prepare for a wedding, and then get married.

It takes patience to complete a degree.

It takes patience to experience God’s work in your life.

Through all of the failures and successes, I am learning to not short circuit the process. We a majority of our lives in the in between. Patience emphatically helps us recognizes the difference in our time table and God’s. Over and over, I can see that God forms us in His likeness by both small incremental steps and monumental pivotal moments.

2014 will be here before we know it, which means a new word. Before leaving this year, what word would describe your 2013? 

Have you ever heard a parent introduce a child? Something often changes in their voice when they say the name of the child. Maybe you notice this in the way your parents introduce you.1123144_71064416

The incarnation reveals how God chose to speak to us. He spoke through his Son. Advent reminds us that God introduced Himself through the coming of Christ. Ravi Zacharias in Recapture the Wonder describes the incarnation through the eyes of God recognizing Jesus Christ:

We often do not think of it, but here is God of the universe speaking in familial terms about Himself: “This is my Son.” Anyone who has ever had the privilege of introducing his or her child to another understands the joy when with great satisfaction you say to someone “This is my son” or “This is my daughter.” Something of the human heart is wrapped around that declaration. The very nature of God is declared in his introduction of Jesus. His is not merely a prophetic voice. He is not merely an emissary. He is God’s beloved Son. (pg. 113)

The Long Journey Home

Interstate 90 runs from the eastern to the western coast of the United States. Over the last few weeks, I have gotten to know the little section running from Buffalo to Albany, NY. The adventurous part of me still relishes the trek to the destination. Open roads invite us to follow after new opportunities.

unnamedThe picture above depicts the decorative creativity of my wife, Robyn. As much as I enjoy the open road, I have growing love of walking through the front door after a journey. Most of us long for the place where we can put our feet up, grab a snack from the fridge without asking and sleep in our very own bed.

Maya Angelo in All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes said, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Our deepest desire for home correlates to our need to belong. The real longing for home perhaps means the hope to be who we really are. To find out that the people who know our best and worst still want to spend time with us. Even further, to know the Creator of all things has accepted us by His grace.

Christmas speaks of a long journey home. Jesus begins his life exiled from both his earthly and heavenly home. The Savior of the universe became homeless, so that we could have a home. He invites to belong as we are and to become what He always intended us to become. Our long journey home starts by recognizing the infinite love and acceptance by God incarnate.

5 Favorite Traditions of Christmas

G.K. Chesterton said, “Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”

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Christmas for me is like reading a book for the thousandth time, but even this time noticing something new. The week after Thanksgiving includes the appropriate start for the playing of carols. If you live in an area where you have snow, then most likely you at least pardon the flurries for December.

Tis the season where Scrooges’ gain a heart. A time when adults attempt to recapture their childhood. Each coming year, I look forward to this holiday a little bit more. Over the years we have accumulated traditions for celebrating Christ’s birth. Here are five of my favorite traditions:

1. Advent Readings

This year, I am reading through Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Pope John Paul IIThe liturgical calendar offers people an opportunity to pause during the season. Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and various other denominations have kept the tradition of Advent. For my own walk with Christ, I find it helpful to refocus my heart and attention on His birth through the perspective of another. So far, listening to Pope John Paul II has invited me to see the Christ who is present and cares for the down trodden.

2. Learning the Meaning Behind Christmas Carols

Knowing the meaning behind the carols can change how we listen and sing them. This is especially true for the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote the poem in response to his personal tragedy and losing his son in the Civil War. Knowing the story changes the view of the song.

3. Buckeyes or Golf Balls

If you have no idea what I am talking about, then you are missing out on a culinary experience. My Mom and Grandma make a delightful chocolate covered peanut butter desserts.

4. Starbucks Christmas Blend

The perfect compliment with #3 and also a phenomenal roast. Works great with a French press.

5. Reconnecting with Friends and Family

My life has radically changed in the last year. Moving from Phoenixville, PA to Rochester, NY, starting a new job and getting married. There is something special about connecting with old and friends. Sitting face to face as opposed to simply checking their Facebook posts or twitter feeds. Christmas gives us the time to meet with each other.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions?

Your Words – Refreshing Others

The phone buzzed just as my americano came to the table. You know the feeling, the immediate preconditioned response to any possible email or text message. I took a moment to look down and the message caused me to pause. 972191_16739182

When I looked down, I saw a wonderfully encouraging text from my wife Robyn. She has sent me thousands of texts and emails like this. Yet, this morning sitting in Mocha Blend Cafe in Troy, NY I felt refreshed.

Our words matter to the people around us. Even as you read this, you can identify a time when someone provided you encouraging words right when you needed it the most. Proverbs 14:24 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”

For many of us, we focus our attention on constructive criticism. The problem-solving part of us seeks to see people change. Perhaps, your words that make the most difference come in the form of grace and encouragement. How do you know – What words refresh you the most?

As you go throughout your day, I hope you have the opportunity to bring refreshment to others. Your simple notes, text messages and emails make a difference in people’s lives.

What words have refreshed you the most this week?

Calendars can fill up faster in December. Within the last twenty-four hours, I have had conversations with people facing anxiety. Whether you are trying to get the details straightened up for the holidays or facing the unknown, all of us to a certain extent carry a level of anxiety.

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I find myself going back to the words of Dallas Willard in the Divine Conspiracy. This is his reflection on Jesus’ teaching about worry in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:25-32:

Soberly, when our trust is in things that are absolutely beyond any risk or threat, and we have learned from good sources, including our own experience, that those things are there, anxiety is just groundless and pointless. It occurs only as a hangover of bad habits established when we were trusting things – like human approval and wealth – that were certain to let us down. Now our strategy should be one of resolute rejection of worry, while we concentrate on the future in hope and with prayer and on the past with thanksgiving (pg. 212)

Advent: Evergreen

My childhood was filled with trips to Roberson Museum, a true Binghamton tourist attraction. Every Christmas they would display trees decorated from around the world. This exhibit had the ability to take us to distant lands such as Sweden, Russia, and Ethiopia.

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Advent is like a book you have read thousands of times before, but each new reading sparks something new.

This weekend, my wife started decorating our home. The Christmas tree stands prominently in our living room. Living rooms and public squares all over the world will display their Christmas trees, evergreens.

Leaves never fall from the evergreens. Thistles remain green throughout all the seasons even winter. I have probably seen evergreens thousands of times. Yet this symbol represents so much for the Advent season:

Evergreens represent life.

Evergreens with year round fur represent eternity.

Evergreens represent the Gospel by seeing the cross and the resurrection.

As the words of the Switchfoot song “Evergreen” say, “I want to be evergreen, I want live all year round.” The evergreen provides us with a picture of our lives in Jesus Christ. The celebration of the Incarnation points us to our eternity with Christ.

Hopefully, Advent becomes a season where we can stop to see the pictures of Gospel right in front of us.

What are your traditions for celebrating Advent?

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