After I ordered something online, I clicked Submit and waited for what I felt to be an unusually long time.
A dialogue box then announced that my time opted out and asked me to press a Reset icon. I complied and went through the ordering process again, which succeeded the second time.
In my calendar, January 1 is my Reset button. I had my share of things I wanted to do last year but didn’t get around to it. Meantime, new opportunities are looming for my career and personal development.
Got any emotional baggage? If you were miserable last year, don’t you think it is foolish to remain miserable for one more year? Now is the time to make peace with God, with others and (I dare say) with yourself.
Got any unfulfilled longings? Instead of moping, envying and griping, let us find ways to realize them as much as possible. For example, you yearn to be promoted at work or get a pay raise. Instead of blaming office politics or the economy, ask yourself, “What are the small steps I must do to merit an increase in responsibilities?”
Got any cherished aspirations? This period can be a breathing space: to breathe new vitality and vividness to our ambitions. Now is the time to dream big dreams and be bold and unfettered in our pursuits this year.
Are you poised to make this year your best ever? Get rid of the glitches, reset and launch forth!
The first Christmas night was not as serene as we think. History says differently, but what was happening then had some similarities with our situation today.
Keep in mind that Jesus was born under the domain of the Roman Empire. Now put yourself in the sandals of a Jew in first-century Palestine. From youth, you were taught that you are part of God’s chosen people. Yet you look around with chafing despair: how can this be, when we are under the heel of brutal pagans?
It wasn’t as if the Romans just showed up and took over. About 60 years before, Jewish rebels resisted the Roman general Pompey and barricaded themselves inside their Temple in Jerusalem. Pompey besieged the well-fortified Temple for three months and when he finally breached its wall, his soldiers stormed in and massacred the rebels. A historian said that 12,000 Jews fell in that day.
Then Pompey and his men marched into the Holy of Holies, the most sacred room of the Temple, and ransacked its furnishings. This was appallingly blasphemous to the Jews, because their religion allowed only their high priest to enter that room once a year. Jewish resentment had been festering and there were still pockets of rebellion since then, which grew so bad that the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D.
What’s more, the Roman government exacted taxes. Imagining yourself again as a Jew, parting with some of your hard-earned wages. Perhaps you have barely left to feed your family. To add insult to injury, some of your fellow Jews connived with the enemy, served as their tax collectors, and almost certainly lined their own pockets with corruption.
Understandably, the Jews were longing for a Messiah, who would vanquish the hated Romans so that they can be what they were supposed to be: God’s favored people.
This was the climate when Jesus was born.
Do these sound familiar to you?
· Loss of freedom?
· Drained finances?
· Emotional unrest?
How about covid?
Yet the Christmas story takes us to a bright spot. As we know, a Child is born. He did not grow up inside some safe bubble. Rather, He lived under the same arduous situation as His people did. He shared their stresses, challenges and griefs. He healed, comforted, taught, loved.
You may have gone through tough times the past months: lockdown, business closures, health problems, alienation. Yet we must remember that just as Jesus identified with the plight of His people, He can empathize with yours, too. And just as He came to help and save them, He came to you, too.
I do hope this pandemic will end sooner than later. Yes, we will have the vaccine, but this is not the bright spot. The bright spot is the Christ, to Whom we can turn for compassion and succor.
And one day, He will make everything right.
He didn’t need to come. But He did.
O come let us adore Him!
Nestled in the Christmas story is what an angel told Joseph: “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Don’t skip the last phrase. The implications are profound.
First, it says that people have sins. Does this include you and me? You bet. Do we have sins? I have done things I wish I haven’t. I think you can relate.
Second, it says that people cannot save themselves. This is startling. Many people suppose that when they sin, they just make it up with some good deed somewhere. Doing good is nice, but the sin is still there.
Third, it says that Someone else had to come to save us. When you think about it, if we can save ourselves, then Jesus didn’t have to be born, right?
Our sins have eternal consequences. Someday we will stand in judgment before a loving but holy God. Now imagine His dilemma. Because He is holy and we are not, He has to banish us to a wretched eternity without Him. But He also loves us and wants to forgive.
So how can He satisfy both justice and love? If He just winks at our sins and waives the punishment away. He won’t be holy or righteous. But if He consigns us to everlasting torment, then He won’t be compassionate or forgiving.
Tim Keller described the solution well: “The Gospel is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died.”
Call it whatever you will: lateral thinking, outside the box, the middle way. In Jesus Christ, God has made the perfect balance between His holiness and His love. It wasn’t either-or. It was both-and.
The genius of the Christian faith is that salvation is not something we earn (we cannot save ourselves, remember?). Rather, it is given. But like any gift, what was freely offered has to be received. Our response is to accept that gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
It cost Jesus dearly to save us, which we will expound in Holy Week. But meantime, is it any wonder that we celebrate His birth?
May you and your loved ones have a blessed Yuletide season.
Photo credit: Biblia.com
In a touching insight, Andy Andrews wrote, “I scour my heart clean in preparation for the New Year by forgiving those I need to forgive. And I always include that person who often seems to disappoint me the most… myself.”
Have you done something that you are still castigating yourself for? Maybe other people have long forgotten that incident. But not you. That deed still stings as if you have done it five minutes ago.
Regret is basically the refusal to forgive oneself. It stems from having a perfectionistic vision for oneself, a life where we make no dumb mistakes, lousy choices or wrong turns. When cold reality reveals how flawed and foolish we really are, we refuse to grant ourselves emotional amnesty. Rather, we flog ourselves with castigating self-talk such as “How could I have been so stupid?” “I should have done or known better!” “What will people think of me now?”
I must admit I am the type who loves beating myself up. As I make a quick mental survey of the past year, what pops up are more of what I did wrong rather than what I did right. That speaks of how bonded I have become with regrets, as if existence cannot be imagined in any other way.
If regret is the refusal to forgive oneself, Christmas heralds the basis for forgiveness. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
Even the sins which we burden ourselves with – the clutter in our hearts, the buyer’s remorse, the high road not taken – Jesus came to forgive.
The Son of God has made His long-awaited debut as a helpless babe. A God so indescribably kind has reached down to a humanity so desperately conflicted. We deem ourselves undeserving of emotional pardon.
We fear that self-exoneration violates some cosmic justice. We assume that we must somehow atone for those acts that we regret. But Jesus’ birth overrules our myopic concepts of self-worth. The infant will increase in stature and wisdom, live the regret-free life we long to live and satisfy that justice on the Cross.
Bethlehem foreshadows Calvary. We are immensely grateful that God forgives us so that we can forgive ourselves. It takes courage. It takes love. It takes Christmas.
We have all the right to exchange our regrets with rejoicing. I gaze beyond December 25 with fresh hope, renewed commitment and yes, a lighter spirit. Let us adore Him Who was born Christ the King!
May you and your loved ones have a blessed Yuletide season.
Photo credit: www.govloop.com
I remember hitching a ride with a friend and he accidentally bumped his car against a post. As he drove on, this time with a pronounced bump on his fender, he muttered “I’m so ashamed of myself.”
I kid thee not. I heard it as clear as day.
Don’t get me wrong. When something goes wrong, it’s normal to feel bad.
But why do some people take it so personally that they feel like dirt? Strangely, there are people who are quick to forgive others but they just can’t forgive themselves. They love beating themselves up. In so doing, they are letting a joyless past rob them of a joyful present.
The root cause seems to be that we are clinging to an idealized image of ourselves. In the case of my friend, he wanted to be a flawless driver, with nary a scratch on the paint job. When his car “kissed” that post, it wasn’t just the fender which suffered a dent that day.
Are you still wincing over a bum decision you made ages ago?
Perhaps the perfectionist image you are harboring (and you may not even know it) is one where you are so smart that you will always make the right choices. Then when the opposite happened, that image taunts you “How can you be so stupid? You should have known better!” And you, poor you, moan “Yeah, yeah! Guilty!”
So what’s the solution? Loosen up on that perfectionism. Instead, pursue excellence.
Let us admit that we will inevitably do something that we will later wish we didn’t. Until someone invents a time machine, it’s part of life. It comes with being human. That way, we cut ourselves some slack. Sure, we may still feel regret, but the sting will not be as paralyzing.
Then, armed with lessons from the past, we will make wiser decisions and do more of the right deeds.
It is impossible to lead a perfect life. But it is never too late to lead an excellent one.
In fact, it is never too late for a friend to become a careful yet happy driver.
“God is preparing His heroes and, when they appear, the world will wonder where they came from.” - Attributed to A. B. Simpson
The person who wants to “make an impact on the world” is not the one who just charges headlong into the fray. Rather, God must first impact that person before he can make an impact on anything.
Consider Moses. Raised in Pharaoh’s palace, he was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. He was powerful in speech and action. Despite this privileged life, he apparently sympathized with his fellowmen, the Hebrews, who were being oppressed in Egypt.
The book of Exodus gives the story. After Moses had grown up, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. Checking that there were no witnesses, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. But somehow his murder was discovered anyway. Pharaoh wanted him dead, so Moses fled into the desert and stayed there for forty years. He toiled as a shepherd of his father-in-law’s flocks.
What a let-down it must have been for Moses! Before, he was leading men; now he was leading dumb, bleating sheep. Shepherding was hard work: sleepless nights, constant danger of predators, scrounging for water and grass.
When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, gone was all of his bravado. God called him to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, and Moses stammered excuse after excuse. He even told God to appoint someone else. The Lord’s anger burned against Moses, which I suspect finally persuaded him to sign up for the job.
The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Moses’ name is revered all over the world.
The wilderness is God’s crucible where He purges all our self-sufficiencies and sin-tainted ambition. Those of us who dream of doing great things must first pass through this arduous phase.
Do you feel like you’re in a wilderness right now? Perhaps it is covid-related. Several months of being locked up at home? Lost your job and now desperately finding new income? Worried sick about the health of family members?
I know it's bad. But take heart. God chooses His heroes. He then takes great care in preparing them. There are no short cuts. It may take a long time, perhaps so long that the one being prepared may wonder when – or even if – his training will ever end.
Such are the men and women whom God is pleased to use. But let us submit to Him as sturdy and sharpened arrows so that in the proper time, He brings us out of His quiver, directs us to His targets and unleashes us in power.
Now… back to the tasks that await us today.
Photo from Ganapathy Kumar, Unsplash
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