Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolved without Resolutions

The resolutions have begun! As the ups and downs of 2010 are remembered, the victories are celebrated while the losses and setbacks are lamented. Many will vow to do better and be better in areas in need of improvement or even outright change. Yet, by the end of the first quarter, many of the promises made will have quietly disappeared from view and patterns of living will proceed unchanged from the year last lived.

It’s not my aim to discourage anyone who takes the time to make New Year’s resolutions – it is always a noble thought to strive to be a better person or to desire to improve some area of life. I do want to encourage those of us who may tend to “go through the motions” of making resolutions we have no real intentions of keeping to take advantage of the changing of the calendar by engaging in a more meaningful and doable exercise.

In the 90th Psalm, titled “A Psalm of Moses, the man of God” the author delivers a prayer that offers a simple guide for reflection that is very appropriate for the beginning of a new year. The prayer asks, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” None of us can guarantee the content of our tomorrows. We make plans that can evaporate into irrelevance when our circumstances unexpectedly change. A well thought-out plan for self-improvement can reasonably be relegated to the “back burner” of our daily priorities when a matter of extreme importance arises that calls for our immediate and undivided attention. However, obtaining the wisdom to navigate the uncertainties and manage the goals and aspirations in the ever-changing landscape of daily living is a priority that is never misplaced and always has the potential to bear fruit. Considering the words of the prayer of Psalm 90:12, remember that each day is precious. Make every day count. Don’t forgo telling friends and loved ones how you feel and allow opportunities to do good for others to pass you by with the thought, “I’ll get to it some other time.” The “other time” may not come. Also, seek to grow in wisdom and understanding each day. Learn from your mistakes and learn from your good decisions too. No experience need be counted as a total loss, when we allow that experience to add to our deposit of lifelong wisdom.

This year, be resolved to make everyday count for something good and seek to gain wisdom from every day you live. These truths may not be as “sexy” as New Year’s Resolutions, but they are much more applicable to the real situations you will encounter day in and day out. Do your best to put them to work this very day. Happy New Year and all God’s blessings on you as you continue on the journey! Until next time…


Monday, December 20, 2010

21 Years of Confidence Amidst Uncertainty

Today marks the 21st year I have been blessed to have Maria-Luz Bautista Jackson by my side as my beloved wife. Each year as the day approaches, we generally find ourselves reflecting on some aspect of our wedding day and how far the Lord has brought us since that time. Last night, as we shared some of our thoughts, we both recounted some of the uncertainty we felt on our momentous day. When we met, though our initial contacts were hit and miss, it wasn’t long before we were both certain that something special was underway. Our love grew rapidly and deeply and before long, we were seriously discussing the possibility of marriage.

There were a number of challenges to consider and initially, there were many questions and concerns on the part of our most trusted friends and family members. After a time, however, it became evident to all that God was the architect of our relationship and “all systems were go for launch”! Nevertheless when our wedding day arrived, we both found ourselves staring in the mirror and wondering “What in the world am I doing?”

As we snuggled and reminisced about our doubts, Luz remembered having the urge to escape through a bathroom window and run for her life! I remembered having a strange inclination to do my own Jesse Owens imitation as the wedding party marched towards me and a strange flash of terror momentarily washed over me! Both were fleeting feelings, but sentiments that belied an acute understanding of the enormity of the step we were about to take!

What was it that overcame those instances of self-doubt and uncertainty? Our fears were mathced by a confidence that was built on what the group Boston referred to as “More than a feeling”. Our relationship began with a common commitment to our faith in Jesus Christ. We both had surrendered all of who were were and what we did to His control and authority. We both were committed to the institution of marriage and an unshakeable conviction that such a commitment is not to be made trivially or on the basis of a whim or hyped-up emotions. We both shared an understanding that left to ourselves, we were vulnerable to wreck our marriage as by definition of being human, we both brought baggage to the relationship – we would need God’s guidance, friends’ support and a commitment to working hard day in and day out if the marriage was going to work. We also believed we would need to love each other without stopping, understanding that love is ultimately based on action not emotion and a commitment to grow together and to give each other our all as long a we both lived.

The Lord has blessed us to work towards our commitments – notice how often that word creeps up – for 21 years today. We have not reached perfection, and in this life we never will. We are still very vulnerable to any and all of the torpedoes that routinely undo any marriage tragedy that has taken place in the totality of human history. Nevertheless, we have confidence in our great God, the presence of loyal friends and count ourselves as blessed for what we have enjoyed thus far in our journey. Why do we celebrate and why do I post an anniversary thought each year? Because “thus far the Lord has met us.” As the Apostle Paul said, if I boast I will boast in the Lord! God has been merciful to us through His goodness and your friendship and I am compelled to take this moment to say “THANKS!” Thanks for loving us, praying for us and standing by us! We feel the love and have been all the better for it. We promise to continue to do our best to make good on your investment in us through a staying the course through a life-long commitment of love within our marriage and a commitment of service and devotion to you our friends as well! Blessings on you and again thank you! Until next time…

Sam J.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wrestling With My Inner Grinch!

The words have been rendered timeless by the well-deep baritone vocals of the late Thurl Ravenscroft (also the voice of Tony the Tiger), who declares without pity the sorry state of one of Christmastime’s most distasteful souls: “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch!” The song’s first play of the season is guaranteed to bring a smile to parent and child alike. It is also a sure-fire conversation starter as listeners share fond memories of the first time they saw “The Grinch” or recall a favorite memory from the show.

One of the factors that make the Grinch such an embraceable story is that it is a tale about someone else. It’s about those “Other guys” who “just don’t get the real meaning of Christmas”. It was written to confront those “Poor Fellows” who, as they get caught up in the season, forget what Christmas is all about and wind up becoming a tragic display of self-centeredness and ill-will. The story of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” could never really be about me…or could it?

A few days ago, in the midst of an unrellenting schedule of back to back ministry events, my phone buzzed. It was my daughter Joana. She was informing me of yet another change in her daily schedule that would encroach on my plans for the day - plans that were already strained painfully near the snapping point. Alone, I groaned and growled out loud. As my growl disappated into thin air my phone chirped again, this time with news from Luz that there were some more changes to our holiday schedule that called for my immediate attention. After hanging up, my growl became a roar. ARRGH!!!! I gnashed my teeth and turned on the radio for some consolation. As the signal kicked in, there was my song right on cue, “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch! You really are a Heel! You’re as cuddly as a cactus, you’re as charming as an eel, Mr. GrinnnINCH!” As I backed out of the parking lot, I snickered at the words as usual, until I glanced in the rear-view mirror and thought for a nanosecond that my expression bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the subject of the song. When I looked in the mirror again, I saw someone more recognizable as myself, but the first image remained in my mind. Was I becoming “The Grinch”? Was I allowing the hustle and bustle of Christmastime not only to distract me, but to transform me into the personification of everything un-Christmas-like imaginable? It appeared to me that there was no denying that I was indeed becoming – The Grinch!

In just a few short moments, I had allowed my self-absorption to dampen the joy I desired to flow through me during this most holy season. My pursuit of “Holiday Madness” was coming dangerously close to causing me to forget the essence of what that first Christmas was all about. In my frantic pursuits, I was forgetting just how the power of that wonderful day should influence each day that I live as a Christian. In the 2nd Chapter of Philippians, not generally approached as a “Christmas Passage”, the Apostle Paul explains how Jesus’ birth and life among us should radically transform our attitudes in everyday life. He writes:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Humilty. Service. Obedience. Self-sacrifice. These are the attitudes that Jesus perfectly displayed in His Incarnation. His example reminds us that we must not be “Grinched” by our circumstances, our problems, or our inconveniences. Instead, we must focus on serving others, so that true joy can be manifested in us. This joy springs from the satisfaction of knowing we have conformed to the will of God by serving as His ambassadors in a hurting world. This Christmastime, I have already seen many examples of this joy as brothers and sisters in the faith reach out to the families of inmates, sing songs to shut-ins, and deliver holiday food packets provided for families who are “down on their luck”. I’ve also seen Christmas ambassadors at work in acts of kindness as simple as giving hearty holiday greeting or opening a door for someone who just needed a little help. As you navigate the maze of holiday activities, “Grinch-proof” your Yuletide by remembering the Reason for the joy of the season. Allow Him to adjust your attitude to one that is characterized by service to others and a mighty love that shines though at Christmas and all throughout the year. If the Grinch can be changed, you can too! Merry Christmas and God Bless us – Everyone! Until Next time…

Sam J.