Our Aftermath of Christmas

It was Christmas Day … the aftermath.

Family had come and gone, filling our tummies with food, our hearts with joy and our trash bins with wrapping paper. Now reality was setting in.

We learned the “Give as a Gift” option on Amazon.com required the recipient to pay for his present. We discovered the new coffee pot didn’t work. And by the time evening had set in, my precious wife was running a low-grade fever.

As the late, great Lewis Grizzard put it, “Elvis is dead and I don’t feel so good myself.”trash

Life continues. All the Facebook posts, Twitter lines and Instagram photos show the “happy” in our holidays and the “merry” in our Christmas, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But as Jesus foretold us, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)

Note the verb: Will.

At one point on Christmas Day, a daughter-in-law asked if I had a favorite Bible verse. I’ve always struggled with that question, and I did so again when she asked. There are so many amazing options, and God meets me with them right at the crux of my needs. But it’s hard to beat John 16:33 … not because of the promise that we will have trouble, but because of the full promise that He provides in the midst of life’s chaos.

Here’s the complete text for that verse: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

That’s why Jesus was born: To offer us peace. To overcome the world.

That’s why we celebrate Christmas. And that’s why, regardless of our  “light and momentary troubles,”  we can look forward to the New Year.

Resolving to Surrender

Life is tough. Feeling trapped by our own expectations or the expectations of others makes it even tougher. So how do we set goals and make plans for the New Year without feeling the inevitable tidal wave of pressure that comes when our best laid plans go the way of mice and men?

Personally, I’m a fan of the “one word” approach. Several years ago, authors Jon Gordon, Dan Britton and Jimmy Page wrote a book about this idea — One Word That Will Change Your Life. I confess that I’ve never read the book, but I’m sure it’s fantastic. I know others who have read it and shared the premise with me, which is to zone in on one word that you should commit to living out during the year. It’s a great alternative to New Year’s Resolutions.

I’ve noticed, however, that I always come up with the same word. I think about it. I pray about it. I ask my wife about it. And the one word I always land on that I believe needs to drive my life in the coming year is this: Surrender.surrender-1311215-639x1021

There are lots of other good words out there – purpose, service, forgiveness, peace, humility, love… Somehow, for me at least, they all come back to surrender. Even love. Because when I try to be “loving” on my own, I mess it up.

I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to pick that word, but I believe everyone can have a better 2017 if surrender is included. Make it a part of your New Year’s Resolutions or your goals or your “one word.” Whatever it takes.

Surrender to what, you ask? Or to whom?

When I was a pagan, I believed I was fully in charge of my life. I was the highest authority. Then I realized that I’m a poor substitute for the God of the universe, and I surrendered to the authority of Jesus. That means I submitted to the covering protection of God – to His Word and to His will for my life.

The more I surrender each decision during each minute of each hour of each day, the more my life bends toward His will and His glory. I might not always get what I want when I want it and how I want it. But I don’t live with regret, I find joy in the moment, and I ultimately end up with more than I expected or deserved.

The problem is, surrender is tough. We live in an “I did it my way” world. And I’m selfish, needy and, frankly, a bit of a whiny-baby when I don’t get what I want. I’m OK with the idea of surrender, but I don’t do so well with the reality of it.

I relate to my former Sunday School teacher/dentist down in Fort Smith, Ark., who said it’s always hard for him to sing the great Judson Van DeVenter hymn, I Surrender All. You remember that classic, don’t you?

All to Jesus I surrender,

All to Him I freely give;

I will ever love and trust Him,

In His presence daily live.

I surrender all,

I surrender all;

All to Thee, my blessed Savior,

I surrender all.

“That’s a big challenge,” my teacher/dentist says. “The song doesn’t say, ‘I’ll surrender some.’ Or, ‘I’ll surrender what I want.’ It says, ‘I surrender all.’”

Truth is, most days I surrender some. And that’s probably why it keeps coming back as my “one word.”

The good news is, I’ve surrendered to a God of grace. He doesn’t expect or require perfection from me. He loves me unconditionally for who I am not what I do. He’s a God of judgment, yes. But He’s also a God of love. Because I can surrender to that God, I know I’m in good hands. How about you?

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For a limited time, you can still get 40% off the cover price of Forging Grit or Grow Like Jesus when you order direct from the publisher.
Go here for Grow Like Jesus and use GLJTHANKS as the promotion code when you check out.
Go here for Forging Grit and use FGTHANKS as the promotion code when you check out.

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16 Lessons Learned in 2016

I guess this is further evidence that I’m getting old, but most of the lessons I learned in 2016 were lessons I learned earlier in life. In other words, things haven’t changed that much from my childhood: I need repetition for learning to stand any chance of sinking in. So, with that in mind, here are 16 things I learned (or re-learned) in 2016:

  1. The only time I ever hear from God is when I listen.
  2. You can never have too many grandchildren.
  3. “Trust God and do the next thing” (Oswald Chambers) never goes out of style.
  4. Gratitude drives attitude.
  5. Fake news is a real thing, and not just in The New York Times and Washington Post.
  6. There’s a reason the song says, “I surrender all” not “I surrender some.”
  7. God created squirrels to teach me humility and patience.faith_hebrews-11
  8. Hope is a good thing … as long as my hope is in the right thing.
  9. Jesus had “grit.”
  10. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Not challenging or difficult. Impossible.
  11. Doing little things to help others makes a big difference.
  12. My calling as a “follower” should significantly shape me as a “leader.”
  13. Our nation seems more flawed than ever and yet there’s still no better place on Earth to live.
  14. There’s no word in a cat ‘s vocabulary for “no.”
  15. I often resist giving to/sacrificing for others, but I never regret it.
  16. The worst day with my wife is better than my best day without her.

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For a limited time, you can still get 40% off the cover price of Forging Grit or Grow Like Jesus when you order direct from the publisher.
Go here for Grow Like Jesus and use GLJTHANKS as the promotion code when you check out.
Go here for Forging Grit and use FGTHANKS as the promotion code when you check out.

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Zacchaeus Conversations

Guest Post By Andrew Brill

Who’s your Zacchaeus?

You remember Zacchaeus? The wee little man who climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see?

The scene appears in Luke 19 when Jesus is passing through Jericho and the local tax collector, Zacchaeus—short in stature but long on curiosity—climbs a tree to see this celebrity prophet. Jesus eyes Zacchaeus in the tree, calls him by name, invites himself over for lunch, and before you know it, Zacchaeus has repented. “See!” Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this man!” (my paraphrase)

But there’s apparently no invitation for Zacchaeus to travel with Jesus. No suggestion that the 12 apostles should become 13. Why not?

There are some big reasons—like the 12 is probably meant to represent the 12 tribes of Israel—but the point I want to make is that, for Jesus, discipleship looked different in different relationships.plane-709992_640

When we talk about discipleship, we often picture an old guy meeting with a young guy and imparting wisdom, modeling how to follow Christ, etc. “Look at Jesus,” we say. “Look at how He chose 12 and poured into them. Look at how He invested in Peter, James and John in particular.” We also point to other relationships in Scripture—Moses and Joshua, Paul and Timothy, and so on.

This is good advice. Mature believers should be passionate and intentional about making disciples who make disciples.

But if I commit to discipling one, two, three, or 12 people in this manner, what about the other 99.9999999999999 percent of humanity with whom I’m not in that kind of relationship? What’s my relationship with them supposed to look like?

As I write this blog, it’s 11:25 a.m. I’ve seen 30-35 people so far today and had phone calls with a couple more. Of those, only one is a man I’m “discipling.” So what about the others?

I think Jesus models an answer to this question with Zacchaeus. Luke 19:1 says He was “passing through” Jericho. He wasn’t looking for someone to disciple. He already had guys he was discipling. He was on His way somewhere else. But He saw the chance for a conversation and He paused.

At Lightbearers, where I work, we call these Zacchaeus conversations. It’s not a new idea, but giving it a name has helped us be more intentional in this area. We want to build impactful relationships, but we also want to have impactful conversations.

In other words, don’t compartmentalize your relationships into “people I’m discipling” and “people I don’t have spiritual oversight of.”

If I have the chance for an impactful conversation, I want to take it.  Whether it’s with my son, my friend, my co-worker, or anyone else, I don’t want to endlessly hide behind small talk. Sometimes these conversations will lead to more traditional discipleship relationships; but even if they don’t, the conversation may still be worth it.

Keep in mind, Jesus passed by scores in the crowd that day with whom He didn’t have lunch. But He did pause with one.

So who’s your Zacchaeus today?

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Andrew Brill lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with his wife, Ashley, and their five children. He serves as the director of discipleship at Lightbearers Ministries, International, which uses residential discipleship communities to fund mission projects in Asia and northern Africa. Feel free to email him at abrill@lightbearers.com or to check out lightbearers.com.