Success In the Second Mile

Have you ever wanted to succeed at a high level?  To set yourself apart from others and achieve things most people don’t?  Would you like to be the one at your office that everyone else thinks of as the go-to person?  The path to becoming a high achiever is quite simple.  Easy never, but very simple.

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The Way to Live

In Matthew 5, Jesus is teaching the crowd how to live.  He cites a law of Israel, that when someone wrongs you and you lose sight in one eye, retribution was the law—the one who harmed you would lose that eye too.  Some for a tooth, or any other similar situation.  The point was, what harm comes to you from another individual, you may justly give the same harm back to them in retribution.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

Fair is Fair

Jesus does not deny that you are justly able to take an eye for an eye.  That is the law and that is fair.  But Jesus teaches that you should forgo this right.  Instead, Jesus instructs us to respond to evil with love.  When we are wronged, instead of seeking to hurt our enemy, we are to seek after his good.

One Mile and Drop It

Now for the famous line in verse 41, go the extra mile.  If someone you didn’t like forced you to carry his stuff for him for one mile, what would you want to do at mile 1.1?  Drop it on the ground, right?  Well Jesus teaches us something profound: carry it another mile of your own accord.

Think now of the people in your life who you’re around in a typical week:  your family, your friends, your boss and coworkers.  Hopefully you don’t think of all these people as your enemies, hopefully you like them better than an enemy.  But how often do you go the extra mile for them?

What Did We Do Last Week?

When your wife asks you to help her with something, do you growl and complain, get it done quick and plop down on the couch?  Or do you go the extra mile?  When your boss gives you an assignment that you think is stupid, do you slowly trudge through it with a bad attitude?  Or do you go the extra mile? When your kids ask you to play with them, do you hurry up and get it over with so you can get to what you want to do?  Or do you dive in with enthusiasm and go the extra mile?

Set Yourself Apart

This behavior of willingly exceeding the expectations of those around you, regardless of whether you like them or find them awful people, will set you so far apart from the norm that you can’t believe it.  So few people live this way, and it is a guaranteed way to set yourself apart from and ahead of others.  People who live lives of mediocrity most likely won’t like to see you doing this because of the way it makes them look in comparison.  Don’t let them drag you down; the people who you want to surround yourself with are already extra-mile people, and it won’t take them long to notice you.  The rewards are great, the path is simple; do the hard work and we’ll see you at the top!

A Life Well Lived

Mildred Timmerman, a beloved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother said goodbye to this mortal world earlier this week, and is now in the presence of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We who knew her were blessed for the time we shared with her here, and she left an indelible impression on so many who had the privilege of spending time with this wonderful lady.  What did she have that caused her to live the way she did?  From what source did she draw for her seemingly infinite patience, love, and wisdom?

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She Lit Up the Room

Grandma Millie was a person who instantly lit up a room simply by walking into it.  Her face was ever-smiling and her disposition ever-encouraging.  At the same time, she was a woman who stood for something.  I can remember times when grandma would catch word that I my grades were falling in one class or another, and she would react in such a way as to indicate she knew I was capable of better.  She knew it was wrong of me to misuse my gifts, but she didn’t seek to motivate me through guilt or nagging.  She simply exuded wordlessly:  “Chris, you were created by God for a purpose.  He has given you a great many blessings, and you ought to be developing and using them in serving Him.”

When I did well, grandma was lavish with praise.  She appreciated the important things in life—time with family, the love we show to each other and importance of nurturing unity.  She would always brush away the peripheral and unimportant matters that brought conflict, and without being forceful, her words carried weight.

A Living Demonstration of Real Love

The more I think of the person grandma Millie was, the more I appreciate her and the more I realize how incredible a model of godliness she really was.  I can think of no better way to express it than by quoting her Lord, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16).  Millie truly lived this way—she loved people, really loved them well, and brightened their lives when she was around them.  At the same time, she stood for truth and devoted her life to her Lord and Savior.  She would build relationships, deep and meaningful relationships with people around her, and in those moments when our ears were open to her advice, she would speak the truth into our lives.

Millie’s Source

Oh that we each would learn from this godly woman’s example and follow her path.  She was loving and good because she followed One who is the source of all love and goodness.  She wasn’t perfect, and she is righteous not because of her own morality but because her sin has been washed clean.  Christ died for sinners, among whom Millie was one; when He died on the cross He willingly took the punishment she deserved.  Jesus was without sin, and his suffering atoned for all those who place their faith in Him.  His resurrection on the third day demonstrates his dominion over death, and it is in His power that we rest and know that death has not overcome Mildred Timmerman.  Through her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Grandma Millie is righteous and without spot or blemish.  Her mortal hindrances are now no more, and she stands in the presence of the Lord Jesus right now, in this very moment!  We await with joy the day that we too will leave this mortal body of death and join Millie in the throne room of Jesus, to worship Him forever beside her!  Will you be there too?

Turn and Follow

Jesus calls any who will come to draw near to Him in faith and find cleansing.  Give up on living your own way and for yourself—do as Millie has done and turn from your own path, turn to His path.  He will take you as you are and give you a new nature, a nature like His, and you, like Millie, will begin to grow more like Him each day.  The Savior is calling, come to Him today!

Being an Iron Sharpener

Are you a blessing to those around you?  Should you be?  If so, what does it take to effectively speak into their lives, encouraging them and helping them to live a thriving life?

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Those Who Have Helped You

God has designed us for community—we grow through our interactions with others, as iron sharpens iron.  Who are some of the people who have been most positively influential in your life?  Are you glad they took time to sharpen you and help you grow?

You Are a Valuable Resource

Perhaps we know that we should be building up others and helping them to grow in wisdom and truth, but we find it challenging to speak into their life effectively.  Or sometimes, we may think, “who am I to think I can help them?”  It is only when we recognize that we don’t have all the answers that we can be used by God to work His purposes in the lives of those around us.

Two Keys Make Up the Bridge

Think of a bridge over a wide river.  One bank represents the thriving life we are all called to live.  The other bank represents a person God has placed in our life.  We desire that our friend has the thriving life that he wants, the life that’s effective for the Lord’s Kingdom and our community.  In order to bridge the space between, we will need two keys.

Knowing the What

The first key is knowledge and wisdom of what a thriving life looks like.  Those wise men who have mentored us are a good resource for this knowledge, and of course the principle source of all wisdom is the Holy Scriptures.  As we read and study God’s Word, we learn what He is like and over time we see a clearer and clearer picture of what a Christ-life really looks like.

Knowing the Who

The other key is personal.  We must know the person we’re speaking to.  It’s fine to share general knowledge—in fact, what you’re reading now is this very thing: generalized knowledge shared publically.  But to really build up others around us and be effective in being the iron sharpening iron, we must have relationships.  And not just realationships on the surface, but real and deep relationships.  How easy it is to let our interactions with others remain shallow and casual, but this is not the thriving life we’re called to.  Instead, we must choose to take an interest in people, really value them for who they are, and listen to them.

Start Now

Tomorrow, ask God whom he would have you reach out to.  Go to that person and ask them about their favorite topic:  themselves!  Start with something like, “so how long have you worked here?”  “Oh, really?  Well how did you come to work here?”  Listen to what they share, and ask them follow-up questions.  You will be surprised how quickly they will go into detail about who they are and what drives them.  Don’t fake interest, really be interested and keep asking them to explain more.  In so doing, you will have discovered the second key—cultivating authentic relationships.

Be a Blessing

With these two keys, we can all become more effective iron-sharpeners, ready to be used by our Heavenly Father to affect His purposes. We will be more of a blessing to those around us, and as we all grow in this path, we help each other to live more of a thriving life!

Could Four Minutes Really Matter?

Have you ever had a day get off to a rough start, and you felt behind all day?  Maybe your coworker rushed into your office before you’d had a chance to check your email, upset and needing your immediate assistance.  Your plans for the day get all thrown off, and you may feel like control of your time and activity perpetually eludes you.  Anything here sounding familiar?  How did you respond?  Are there things you and I can do in these circumstances to not only get through the day, but actually thrive?  How can we take such a day and still use the time to make progress towards the growth we want and the goals we’re pursuing?

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What Truly Must Be Done?

If you’re anything like most of us, you have some daily habits and routines that feel like they’re essential. For example, I usually check my email messages in the mid-morning then head up to the coffee machine for a tasty brew.  Although these are my typical habits, they aren’t absolutely necessary, and on days where large unexpected demands fall on me, they can be jettisoned.  The key when stuff is flying at you is to stay clearheaded and in control.  Even if people around you are getting frantic, take five minutes to get away.  Use this time to identify the three most important priorities that must happen before the end of the day, and write them down in order.

Forgo the Unnecessary First

Once you’ve put out the preverbal fire, get going on your first priority right away.  Taking back control of our day is going to involve forgoing some of our usual routine, but often this is what it takes.  Unfortunately, some days there is simply more to be done than can possibly fit.  Rather than running frantically from one task to the next, and spending our whole day out of control, we can be intentional and spend our time first on the most important things, and since something will fall through the cracks, let’s choose the lowest priority task to be the one.

Resist the Couch

Finally, on days like these, when you finally finish your work, get home and eat, clean up and do whatever chores need doing, we face the last challenge of the day:  the temptation to neglect our personal growth and pursuit of our goals.  On a day that was particularly hectic, I probably didn’t get a workout in, and I’d really like to lounge on the couch and watch a show for twenty minutes before bed.  I probably don’t feel like reading, connecting with my spouse, or spending time in the Word and in prayer with my Heavenly Father.  Now is where I have a choice:  do I throw in the towel for the day, or do I commit to doing these vital activities that will cause me to grow and move closer to my goals?

Don’t Forgo the Important

Never underestimate the difference a small amount of focused activity can make in your life when practiced daily.  I can absolutely and personally attest to the huge difference that even a four-minute workout can make to one’s fitness and health.  Many times in my life, I’d succumbed to the easy solution after a hard day at work, and plopped down on the couch.  When a one- or two-day break from my exercise regimen turned into a four- or five-day break, I found I paid a heavy price on the day I finally did make it back into the gym.  But I have since learned that even a very quick workout—perhaps nothing more than a few minutes of pushups (pushing myself as fast and hard as possible) can get my blood moving, my muscles and lungs working, and can sustain me until the next day when I can get a full workout in.  It seems like such a small thing that it couldn’t possibly matter, but it truly does.  And the same goes for my other habits in contributing to my growth.  Maybe I only read 8 pages of a good book when I’ve had a super busy night.  But I can focus on learning to the best of my ability during the short period of time, and the benefits are undeniable.

As the following article suggests, remember to be grateful: https://www.positivehealthwellness.com/beauty-aging/9-self-care-tips-will-help-become-confident/ Sometimes when we get busy, we are apt to forget to be grateful for the many incredible blessings we enjoy. Take the time to thank God for the many wonderful things He has given you–and you might step back into your day with an entirely different perspective.

Building Blocks

Chose to avoid statements like, “I just don’t have time to work out,” or, “I’d love to read good books, if only I had the time.”  Let’s all make a  commitment to each other never to waste our time speaking such nonsense—just use the time you’re saving by not spewing such ignorance to be that four-minute workout, 8-pages of reading, or time of prayer.  These are the building blocks we use to build our thriving life, and I thank you for coming with me on this journey of growth together!

How We Spend It

“Why would you want to read when you got the television set sitting right in front of you? There’s nothing you can get from a book that you can’t get from a television faster.”  If you’re wondering where that sage advice comes from, hearken back to a little movie called Matilda.  That’s right, this little dandy comes from Matilda’s scumbag father, played by Danny DeVito.  We all get a good laugh hearing such a ridiculous claim—but hold on a minute, how many of us are spending our time each day living this philosophy out?

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How About Us?

Did you watch TV this week?  How much time did you spend watching in the last 7 days?  Ten hours?  Fifteen?  More???  Watching TV’s not wrong, but it’s not particularly beneficial either.  It’s nice, when you’re tired, to plop down on the couch and unwind a bit.  But two hours later, are you really rested?  Wouldn’t you actually be more energized an alert the following day if you had simply gone to sleep instead?

Important but Not Urgent

TV isn’t bad, but it can keep us from using our time for things that are important.  Spending time with our families, improving our minds, studying and spending time with God—these are all vitally important activities that aren’t urgent.  The problem comes when we put them off because they’re not urgent.  We accidently fall into the result of having gone all day without really talking to our spouse, without spending time reading the Word, but how much TV time did we fit in?  Oh yeah, two and a half hours.

If Only I Had the Time

Have you ever heard a friend say, “I wish I had more time to—“  What’s crazy about this statement is that anyone who has ever done that thing my friend’s wishing to do has exactly the same about of time all the rest of us have:  168 hours per week!  You’re never going to have more time than that!  So if you want time to do something, then allocate your time and do it!  The reality isn’t that you are short on time and can’t do the thing you want; the reality is that you simply don’t want the thing you claim to want as badly as you want to watch TV (or fill in whatever other random activity or habit).

Stop Starving Your Mind

We know that reading good books is like feeding our brain.  If you’ll make the decision to read a book for your personal growth every day, you will absolutely reap a beneficial harvest.  It takes dedication; it takes commitment to build the habit.  But you can do it, and you will begin to notice the fruit of this great habit almost immediately.  Try this—just reduce your TV time by 15 minutes this week.  That’s likely less than a 10% decrease.  So you’re still getting 90% of your TV time in.  That’s not so hard, right?  Just be ready and agreeable to letting a good book shape your attitude and feed your mind, and enjoy the thriving life that will begin to unfold before you!

Does Intelligence Always Win?

Intelligence is highly valued in our culture—call someone intelligent and he will be delighted!  Are there more important things though?  Is a man well loved who is intelligent yet rude?  Or, does someone who is very intelligent necessarily have right understanding?  Could it be that a man of lower intelligence may actually beat out one of higher intelligence when it comes to living a thriving life?  How could this happen?

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Two men at work

Consider the following story.  I hired John, a very intelligent man I know, to take care of a few things at my home. One day I instruct him to work on a retaining wall in my yard and pick up an important package arriving by train from Chicago.  Our agreement states that he will be paid based upon how much of the wall he finishes and he will receive a fixed amount for retrieving the package.

On another day, I hire Bruce, a man of low intelligence yet a man of practical experience and common sense.  I offer the same terms to him that I agreed to with John.

The two men, given their differing intelligence, come at the task very differently.  John has a mind like a steel trap, and has the train schedules memorized.  He knows the Chicago train arrives at the station every day at 4:30.  He also knows that the route to the train station becomes congested during that time, and accounts for this, calculating that he must leave the house by 3:50 to make it on time.  This gives him the maximum time to work on the wall.  He has also studied engineering and foundation design, so he knows the latest methods for efficient and sturdy retaining wall construction.

Bruce, on the other hand, does not possess all this intelligence and knowledge.  He knows the basics to build a retaining wall, as his father had taught him years ago.  He doesn’t know the train schedules or the route to get to the station.  So, his first action is to call the station and ask the representative when the train arrives.  The representative informs him that a derailment yesterday has thrown off the usual schedule, and the Chicago train will be arriving an hour later than usual.  In addition, the main freeway into the station is currently under construction, so the rep informs Bruce of an alternate route.

You can guess how this story ends:  our intelligent man John spends a little over an hour sitting in traffic, arriving just too late to get the package, which is instead sent via courier.  When it’s all said and done, John spent more time in the car than Bruce, so despite his more efficient process, he didn’t accomplish more of the wall than Bruce did.  On top of that, he missed picking up the package, so when his invoice is totaled, he actually made less than Bruce.

What’s the Cause?

Now how did this happen?  John was smarter than Bruce, had more knowledge, and had worked out an ideal plan to maximize his efficiency.  How did he come in behind Bruce?

John simply did something that a great many people—people of high intelligence and people of low intelligence—do every day.  He did not test his assumptions.  It’s not that his plan was bad, in fact, his plan was probably better than Bruce’s.  But it was based on something false.  It was based on the train arriving at a time other than the true time, and it was based on the route to the station being open as usual.  Both of these falsehoods are rooted in John’s own mind.  He thought he knew, and so he didn’t take the time to check whether or not his beliefs were true.  Ample evidence and resources existed for him to test his beliefs and assumptions, yet he failed to use them because he wrongly believed he didn’t need them.

Could This Really Happen?

Perhaps it seems unrealistic that such a smart man as John would so foolishly neglect to check such an important component before making his plan.  Surely a smart person would know better, right?

Sadly, there are a great many people, people we meet and talk with every day, who are neglecting something far more important than a train schedule.  There are a great many important topics to be studied in this world, and many intelligent people study them each day, but none are more important than questions like these: How did I come to exist?  Who made me, and for what purpose?  And this one who made me, what is He like?

It Happens Every Day

As with the train schedule in our story, much evidence exists, and many reliable resources are available to answer life’s most important questions.  The Holy Bible reveals many things to us about what God is like and what He has done.  The historical accuracy and reliability of the Bible are facts clearly demonstrable through the archaeological records and the science of textual criticism.  The evidence is available for any and all who will take the time to investigate it.  But what do most people do?  Do they take an honest look at the Bible and the evidence that it is a document of divine origin?

Most people choose to reject the Bible as their foundation, not because they have looked at the evidence and do not find it compelling, but rather because they have never examined it at all.  Like the intelligent man in our story, many people think they know the train schedule, so they just assume the ideas in their mind are right.

The Right Foundation

The sad reality is that if we build our lives on the assumptions in our minds, we will have a grand structure sitting on a foundation of sand.  When time reveals the truth of God’s Word and Christ’s promises, many will regret their failure to seek and find the truth.  What about you?  Are your beliefs about God rooted in reliable foundations or untested assumptions?  How much time have you spent investigating the claims that the Bible is God’s Word, reliable and written for you?

The answers and the evidence are out there, and great resources like www.equip.org will help you sort out the truth.  The question is, will you seek the truth or will you live tomorrow as you lived today—confident in your belief that the train arrives at 4:30?  John’s consequence for being too late was simply losing a little money; realizing Christ is Lord too late will cost you your soul.

Two Archers

“What is truth?”  These words, uttered to Christ by Pontius Pilate during the trial of Jesus are an old-world example of a “new” and popular view in our culture today.  It goes like this:  “what’s good for me is good for me; what’s good for you if good for you.  There’s no real standard, we just make it up ourselves.”  Sounds nice, doesn’t it?  What could be wrong with such a friendly and tolerant worldview??

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A Story of Two Men

Two men entered an archery contest. In the first year of competition, both men missed the bull’s-eye with every shot. A few shots missed the target entirely. In the year that followed, one man learned of a master archer, one who’s arrows had never missed the bull’s-eye. The man then heard that the master’s score and the purse associated with winning the contest were available to him for free, should he submit himself to the master’s instruction. He immediately discarded his former ideas on archery and went to live with the master and learn from him.

The other man spurned the master, caring nothing for his instruction. Instead, he told himself that the target in the contest was incorrectly placed, and much too small. He sought to convince others to ignore the standards of the archery contest, and introduced different targets of his own making.

The first man spent his year training from the master. Though he did not hit the bull’s-eye very often, He never denied that the target was real. His shots improved week to week to week, and he came to resemble the master more and more. The second man continued his delusion for the entire year, and led many who followed him astray.

The Day Comes

When the contest came, the folly of the second man was evident. For all his smooth arguments and denial of the standards, the target was indeed real. The second man was incapable of hitting the bulls-eye, and went away dejected. The first man was also incapable of hitting the bull’s-eye. The master stepped up and hit the bulls-eye with every arrow, and when he received the prize, he gave it to the first man, as he had originally promised to do. The first man’s arrows had not hit the bulls-eye, yet he received the prize based upon the work of the master. He did not earn the prize; he simply submitted himself to the master and devoted himself his teaching and received the prize as a gift.

Our Holy and Awesome Maker

God is perfect, He his love.  He is truthful and compassionate, caring and just.  His very person is the root of all goodness and truth.  He shows us in His Word what He is like, and sin is defined as anything that is against God, or runs contrary to his character.

Our Need

We are all sinners. By our nature, we desire to live in rebellion against God and do what we want. We don’t love His commands or His Word, we want nothing to do with them. In this state, we will never seek God, and we certainly do not desire to spend eternity worshiping Him.

God’s Solution

And yet, while we were sinners, God acted. God humbled Himself to become a human, even taking the humility of being born in a stable, as we just finished celebrating. Jesus lived the life we were incapable of living, perfectly keeping the Law. He was then tortured and killed, taking on our punishment and taking our place. If anyone will place his faith in Christ, his sin is washed away. Our debt of sin is paid, and we are free!

Your Choice

Faced with this truth, the gospel, we have two choices. Embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, love Him, and live His way, or reject Him. He will either be our Lord and Savior or not. When we die, God allows us to keep our choice for eternity. I choose to follow Christ, to have faith in Him, and do all I can to share this truth with my neighbors and my family. Will you this day turn from living your own way and trust Him? He is gentle and humble of heart, and in Him you will find rest for your soul.  The Master invites you, will you follow Him?

Success in Reaching Your Goals

Can you believe 2014 is here already?!  I hope you had a great year, and I further hope that you’re looking to make the coming year even better!  One good thing that many people do is to use the new year as a time to set goals to improve themselves—this IS a good thing, IF we take these resolutions seriously and succeed.  Unfortunately, in many cases, our lofty goals are left unfinished and our resolutions are abandoned before a full month has even passed.  How can you separate yourself from the masses and actually achieve your plans for growth in 2014?

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If you have the desire to live healthier, improve your finances, grow in your spiritual walk, or any other goal for living a more rewarding and successful life, take advantage of your desire by applying the most significant key to success in fitness or any other area of life:  adopting new habits.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

Take a simple example of a short-lived new year’s goal of losing weight.  One’s natural inclination after a whole December (or whole 2013) of overeating and inactivity is to overcorrect.  We think that to even out big meals over the last several weeks, we should break our year-long fast of jogging by running 5 miles.  We take the high enthusiasm to get fit and convert it into a short burst of high activity.  But we tend to neglect a few important steps.

The Big Challenge:  Change

First, we fail to recognize that adopting a new routine involves one of the most difficult things there is:  changing one’s habits.  One big mistake at this point is that we try to accomplish this feat alone.  Accountability is absolutely essential to get into and stay with the routine of working out regularly, week after week.  Find a friend who has success in the area you’re pursuing growth in.  Decide how often and for what duration you will connect for accountability and encouragement, and specifically what goals you will pursue.

Write it Down

This leads right into the second necessary step for getting and staying fit:  setting goals and writing them down.   Make sure your goals are  specific, measurable, that they have a due date.  For example, if your goal is to get in better shape, the following goal serves as a good example.

I will improve my one-mile run time to below 7:00 minutes and lose 10 pounds by February 15.

To accomplish this, I will exercise for 20 minutes, three times per week using the ThriveFit program.  I will write down my workout results every day, and email a weekly report every Sunday evening to my fitness mentor to seek his feedback.

Instant Feedback

Notice how this is a specific plan with set dates and times and clear markers to shoot at.  The reason this is such an important step is that it gives you a standard to measure yourself against for immediate feedback should you start to falter.  Without this plan, you’ll tend to let your habits slip little by little as the days go by, until you are left back where you started, and with a vague sense of dissatisfaction with yourself.  With clear goals and a specific schedule to reach them, you’ll know immediately when you’re getting off course.  In addition to that, the goal or dream that you’ve identified will help motivate you on the days when you don’t feel like doing the work.

Let Us Help!

Remember, changing habits is hard, and our aim is to create good long-term habits for a better life.  Don’t kill yourself on the first day such that you can’t move tomorrow.  Keep your focus on identifying and executing effective and sustainable habits.

Our ThriveMart store has a wide array of great products to support you in a healthy and successful life.  Just comment on our facebook page or send us a message and we’ll help you identify the right products for you.  And as always, be sure to check back with us each week for motivation and encouragement along the way—we’re here to help you thrive!

What is Christmas?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—Christmas!!  We all have our favorite things about the season: caroling, amazing food, candy everywhere, time with family, parties, and lots of other delightful traditions.  With so much going on, we can sometimes get so busy and overwhelmed that we can miss some important things, perhaps even the most important things!  So what is Christmas really about?  What is it that holds all these activities and traditions together?

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Time with Family

If you’ve seen any of the famous Christmas movies, you’ve probably caught on to a recurring theme.  Christmas isn’t about amassing stuff for yourself.  It’s no time to be a recluse or a Scrooge or just treat Christmas like just any other day.  So often in these stories, the mixed-up main character finds through a series of events that all the money and selfish living are empty and hollow, and he finds the value of friends and family, coming back to those who once loved him and adopting a loving and giving attitude.

This is part of what Christmas is all about, but as an ultimate meaning, even good things like friendliness and loving family fall short.  Indeed, we should love others and value and appreciate our families all year long, and especially so at Christmas.  This is a key part of what Christmas is all about.  But why should we live this way?

Selflessness

Christmas is a time of giving.  A time when we seek out others who are in need and bless them generously and graciously.  Maybe we volunteer or buy gifts for the local homeless shelter.  Or perhaps we team up with a program at church to deliver a turkey and loads of groceries to a needy family. These activities come even closer to the true meaning of Christmas, but as an ultimate meaning, even these will not do.  Again, why are we to graciously love and give to the undeserving?

The Root

The root of all the good things we do at Christmas can be found in the very name of the holiday:  Christ!  The word means Messiah, the one sent by God to save His people.  And that is exactly who Jesus is.  The first one to be gracious, to love those who didn’t deserve it was God.  You see, we were enemies of God, estranged from Him because of our sin.  We are naturally in rebellion against our Maker due to the sin of our father and patriarch Adam, and our first desires are to please ourselves and live our own way.

He Loved the Unlovable

It was when we were in this sinful state, far from God and wanting nothing to do with Him or His Word that God sent the Christ.  Jesus, eternal God from before the beginning of time, humbled himself and became a man.  No time in history has such a momentous and glorious event occurred—the Creator of all things came to earth to be born as a baby.  He did this not because it would be pleasant or easy, in fact it would be painful and difficult.  Ultimately, he would be tortured and nailed to a cross to die a slow and agonizing death.  This was God’s gracious plan to bring mankind back to Himself.  You see, God is holy and perfect.  He is Just.  He cannot and will not ignore sin and sweep it under the rug.  In order for you or me to be brought back into relationship with Him, punishment must be rendered.  Jesus came to take that punishment—anyone who trusts in Him and accepts His substitutionary payment of our debt can be forgiven.  It’s as if you were found guilty in court, but Jesus comes in and pays your fine for you.  Your case is legally dismissed and you may walk out a free person!

We Love Because He Loved

We should be loving during Christmas and all times for the principal reason that God was loving to us.  He didn’t wait for us to clean up and earn good things; He sent His Son to save us even while we were dirty and rotten, full of sin.  We should love our families and be kind to each other because love and kindness are who God is.  When we accept Jesus as Savior, we also accept Him as Lord.  He is our shepherd, Father, and example.  We read His Word to learn what He is like and how He desires us to live, and we make choices each day to live His Way.

This Christmas, let’s let the true meaning of Christmas undergird everything we do.  Yes, let’s love others, value time with our family, and graciously give to those in need.  But let’s do it with the understanding that it was God’s gift of His only Son that causes these actions for His Glory.  Merry Christmas!!

Insisting on Balance

Guess what’s coming soon?  Christmas!!  Even though it’s the same date every year, it sure can sneak up on us!  Christmas is a wonderful time, full of joy and celebration.  We give gifts to each other in honor of God’s gift to mankind:  the baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem, that we might be reconciled to God.  It’s good to get carried away in the spirit of the season, but one area we must work hard not to get carried away in is our FINANCES.

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Say Yes to Great Gifts

Before you call me Scrooge, let me say that I do want you to have a wonderful Christmas, to make a special time for those you love, and to elevate the day through special activities and make great memories.  I just don’t want you to experience the January hangover that so many of our friends will have once the presents are all opened.

When You Are Blessed, Bless

If you are experiencing financial success this year, don’t be afraid to spend a little more money on people this year.  In particular, do you know anyone who may be struggling to make ends meet this Christmas?  Why not bless them with a big gift or a big check?  You could even give it to them anonymously for an extra bit of fun!

Borrowing Is Not For the Wise

If, on the other hand, you didn’t experience an overflow of income this year, you may be like many across our country—facing the temptation to go big on Christmas with money you’ve borrowed on a credit card.  Like many short-sighted solutions, this decision would be easy on the front end, and hard on you in the months to come.

Think of it this way:  if you can’t afford to pay cash for presents now, how will you afford the full amount, plus the interest?  Or, put another way, what choice will lead you to have the best gifts for your family for Christmas 2014?  Racking up debt now?  Debt that will deplete your resources from January through July?

Solutions Are Out There

Something funny happens when you insist your budget must balance.  Your brain goes to work.  Once you’ve made the decision that you won’t go negative in December, your eyes suddenly see opportunities all around you.  You notice that stack of DVDs that you haven’t watched lately and you decide to put them up for sale.  You see the snow fall outside and take a few hours to shovel driveways in the neighborhood.  You eat peanut butter and jelly instead of fast food on your lunch break.  All these things may seem small, but when you add them together, you’ll be amazed:  you really can make things balance.

Supernatural Gifts

Another funny thing happens when you make a commitment to keep your budget in balance, particularly when you commit to prayer for the Lord’s help.  God loves to reward those who trust in Him, who rely on Him, and who live His way.  Call on the Lord, and keep your eyes open—you will find Him when you earnestly seek Him, and He is more loving and gracious than you can possibly imagine.