Healthy Holidays & Beyond

For many people, the holidays mean overwhelm and overload. From shopping and family pressures to expectations of joy from self and others to eating too much and staying up too late, the holidays certainly can wear on a person.

Will this year be any different?

Or, will an underlying melancholy Blue JOY Ornamentonce again leave many people just getting through rather than celebrating and enjoying the season?

I’ve been to the place of feigning enjoyment while tension and depression cloud every interaction. I’ve felt sick and constantly tired during the holiday season. And I’ve struggled with the disappointing interactions and failed connections with friends and family alike.

I now live on the other side of simply surviving the holidays. Yet, I remain all too aware of how a lack of diligence will result in a return to a force-fed festivity during my end-of-year celebrations.

Focus Determines Reality

The holidays have aGreen JOY ornament way of reminding us of strained and failed relationships. We must face these while at the same time battle the temptation to self-medicate with food and drink. 

Within this struggle lies the sense that a focus on the glitter and glitz of material connections will fade in the coming weeks. When it does, we’re once again left feeling lonely and disappointed.

Then comes the hope brought by the new year and the attempt to convince yourself this year will be different. At the same time, you know deep down it likely won’t.

Admitting these yearly struggles is the first step in obtaining victory over them. So, let’s acknowledge them and point-blank stare them in the face and declare, “No! Not again this year! This year, I’m going to change my focus.”

An Unexpected Journey

Red JOY Christmas OrnamentLet’s journey toward moving beyond survival and into living true joy that will extend well into the next year. Perhaps it will even butt up with these same confessions  and quite possibly a declaration of victory over them this time next year.

This journey requires addressing physical struggles. It involves setting goals.  The journey also traverses through relationships and takes a look at spiritual health.

The following posts are meant to help make that journey successful:

This year can be different than past years. Change begins with a single step and becomes increasingly secure with each additional step. These small steps add up over time to make a huge difference. Choose to take that first step today.

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Pursuing Truth

Solving the Problems of Flight

The Wright Brothers hit a standstill at Kitty Hawk in 1901 and almost gave up because they could not solve the issue of predictable control. They eventually realized they were relying on false data from others, so they built a wind tunnel and collected their own data. This led them to one of the greatest achievements in human history in 1903 — flight.

Had the Wright Brothers given up instead of pursuing accurate data, flight would likely have been delayed many years since no one came close to their achievements until four years later. And they only did that using data from the Wright Brothers. Perhaps man would not have went from the first airplane to a trip to the moon in one lifetime had the Wright Brothers not decided to obtain their own data.

If we approach our spiritual lives as the Wright Brothers did achieving flight, we’ll also see progress without borders. If we choose to pursue truth rather than take in information without question, we’ll discover how to live with unshakeable integrity. For an example of this, look no further than the Bereans.

Noble, Receptive & Eager

truthThe Bereans resided in Berea in Macedonia, and Paul and Silas preached to them during their second missionary journey there. This account is recorded in Acts 17:10-15, but we only need a couple of these verses to learn a great deal from the Bereans.

“Now these people [the Bereans] were more noble and open-minded than those in Thessalonica, so they received the message [of salvation through faith in Christ] with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. As a result many of them became believers, together with a number of prominent Greek women and men.” (Acts 17:11-12)

There are three aspects of the Bereans’ character we can cultivate in ourselves to help us grow spiritually by discovering truth. They Bereans were…

  1. Noble.

    In this context, noble means “exalted moral or mental character or excellence.” In other words, they focused on high-minded pursuits and did not let pettiness distract them from pursuing truth. They weren’t gullible but were willing to learn. They discerned truth amidst false data because they used God’s word to confirm or disprove what they heard.

  2. Receptive.

    The Bereans approached knowledge with an open mind. This doesn’t mean they accepted everything they heard as truth; instead, it means they listened first before passing judgment. They then sought truth based on God’s word and allowed it to shape their beliefs. Their moral character combined with their open-mindedness led them to see and understand the truth of the Gospel.

  3. Eager.

    In addition to being noble and receptive, the Bereans were also eager. These three qualities combined led them to not only protect Paul, but to one of them eventually accompanying him in his missionary work (Acts 20:3-4). Their eager pursuit also led to many others becoming believers. Godly morals and open-mindedness, when combined with eagerness, creates an unstoppable force.

There are many examples of individuals who followed the Bereans’ example, who let these same three qualities live and work in them and as a result advanced the Gospel. Check out the stories and writings of J. Warner Wallace, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel for modern-day Berean examples.

What If…

what-ifWhat if more skeptics and doubters, both within and outside of the Christian church, pursued truth like the Bereans?

What if, instead of dismissing the Bible’s claims because they are difficult to understand, more people stayed open-minded and examined them thoroughly?

Dismissing the Gospel message because it’s difficult to understand is nothing new, though. Consider this…

“When many of His disciples heard this [Jesus teaching about himself as the bread of life], they said, ‘This is a difficult and harsh and offensive statement. Who can [be expected to] listen to it?’… As a result of this many of His disciples abandoned Him, and no longer walked with Him.” (John 6:60, 66)

What if, instead of avoiding something because it’s difficult or because it offends us, we instead pursue noble character and decide to listen to our pastors and other mature Christians with an open mind?

What if we use Scripture to regularly examine what we hear, regardless of who we hear it from?

What if we decide to eagerly pursue truth of our own accord instead of simply relying on what others — parents, teachers, pastors — tell us?

The Flight of Faith

Whatever your maturity, let me encourage you to pursue a life of noble character (righteousness). Approach Scripture with an open mind. Examine it regularly, collecting your own data. Let your faith take flight as you get to know Jesus and learn how much he loves you. Refuse to let other people decide the depth — or maybe even the existence of — your relationship with Christ.

Stop the Spread of What is Wrong!

liquid-hand-soap-1504007-1280x960During flu season, the best way to stop its spread is to stay home if you’re sick and to wash your hands often. This way, you’re less likely to make anyone else sick and to contribute to an epidemic. If every person did this, flu season would probably be significantly shorter and less devastating.

In much the same way, you can help stop the spread of gossip, prejudice and offense. When they come your way, symbolically wash your hands of them and refuse to participate in their growth. If necessary, take time to rest and heal, but refuse to let these sicknesses multiply.

“God grants us the right and power to put an end to what is wrong if we are willing to pay the cost of absorbing it with and for Him.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead Joy)

Confront or Forgive & Forget?

Following Brogden’s advice requires we learn “when to confront and when to quietly forgive and forget.”

Whenever possible, let an offense go and refuse to become offended. Realize a hurt usually comes from a place within the other person, that it involves their own struggles and probably has little to nothing to do with you. If necessary though, confront the offender with gentleness, kindness and patience.

Letting go and confronting both require forgiveness. Both involve humility. Both need saturated with love.

“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

When we refuse to spread gossip, prejudice and offence, we choose to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies.” Instead, we make sure we’re not hindering anyone from seeing truth.

What are you doing to stop the spread of that which causes broken relationships?

5 Habits for Getting and Staying in Shape

athletic-2

The New Testament uses a variety of athletic metaphors to describe the life of a Christian. These references were certainly understood by those to whom the letter was written since the Olympic games, along with the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games and the Pythian Games, had been held for hundreds of years prior to any New Testament events taking place. And these metaphors are understood well still today in a culture where exercise and healthy lifestyles exist on a continuum from obsessiveness to belligerent avoidance.

These athletic metaphors were used in Scripture because many of the same habits for getting and staying in physical shape hold true for getting and staying in spiritual shape as well, not the least of which are similarities regarding the necessary mindset needed for both. Better understanding of these connections can lead us to effectively,

“run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Perseverance. Discipline. Self-control. All essential elements, along with many others, in both physical and spiritual vitality. These elements, all laced within the athletic metaphors used in Scripture, work with other related habits to create a solid training program applicable both spiritually and physically.

athletic-1For me, the following 5 habits for getting and staying in shape are crucial for my continued physical and spiritual health, both continual struggles even within consistent victories.

  1. Accountability. Physically, a gym membership and/or an exercise partner provide accountability, a key component to staying physically active. Likewise, membership in a Bible-believing fellowship along with connection to individuals through deepening relationships establish the essential element of accountability needed for spiritual fitness. Surrounding yourself with others for support and encouragement goes a long way in remaining consistently strong, both physically or spiritually.
  2. Variety. Exercise can become boring very quickly without variety. For this reason, my workouts vary from running and elliptical to biking and boxing to weights and video workouts. Relating this idea to spiritual fitness, avoid limiting yourself to one way of serving or studying God’s Word. Yes, serve in your area of strength (play on the worship team if you have musical ability) and have systematic approaches to reading God’s Word daily, but be willing to go outside of your comfort zone too (work in the nursery even though you normally teach adults or do a key-word study once in a while). Healthy variety not only helps prevent boredom, but it allows space for God to work in weaknesses, which ultimately makes us stronger overall (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  3. Rest. Neglect adequate recovery time between workouts, and injury will eventually occur. Spiritually, this equates to regular quiet time with God as well as getting physical rest since lack of proper rest inhibits the ability to confidently say “Yes!” when asked, “Are You Giving Your Best?” Being tired physically as well as spiritually significantly impacts effectiveness in every area of life.
  4. Stretching. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Are you will to try new activities? Stretching physically means trying new activities as well as regularly stretching muscles to make them better able to handle activity without injury. Spiritual stretching might involve getting to know new people, especially if you’re an introvert like me, doing an in-depth Bible study if you always just do a short devotional, or joining the choir even though you’ve never performed in front of an audience. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading for opportunities to stretch physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Refueling. Our minds and spirits are like cars with regard to fuel; they need it in order to function. Physically, a healthy diet gives us the energy we need. Mentally, proper fuel (what we eat as well as drink) allows us to think and reason clearly and effectively. Spiritually, our spirits need filled up regularly on the truth of God’s Word. They need constant filling by the Holy Spirit through prayer, praise and submission. Life constantly asks more of us, which continually drains our energy. Refueling properly allows us to give without being drained and to do so on a consistent basis.

Adding to the connection between spiritual and physical fitness is the realization that both involve also ridding our lives of negative influences. Physically, this means avoiding unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, smoking and drugs. Spiritually, this means avoiding those things like that Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5-9 to “put to death.”

Developing positive habits and eliminating negative ones helps strengthen our perseverance, discipline and self-control, all essential elements of getting and staying in shape physically, mentally and spiritually. Development in this way increases our effectiveness and productivity in amazing ways.

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

What habits can you adjust to become physically and spiritually stronger?

Consider studying this topic further by meditating on the following Scripture:

  • Philippians 2:16
  • Galatians 2:2
  • Galatians 5:7
  • 2 Timothy 2:5

Anticipation

vacation-planning-1524450-1600x1200Pleasurable Anticipation

Anticipation can be pleasurable expectation or filled with apprehension. It involves contemplation and hope, and it serves to create a foresight or foretaste of future events. While anticipation can be positive or negative, let’s focus on the pleasurable side of anticipation today.

Just like memories allow reliving of events and the joy they brought, anticipation presents the opportunity for enjoying events even before they take place. Yet, too often, we get so caught up in the details of planning that we forget to enjoy the process. For anticipate to hold pleasure, we need to learn to enjoy the process.

When planning events gets in the way of the pleasurable anticipation, it’s time to step back. Maybe feeling uptight and anxious about an upcoming event means over-planning and considering every contingency have added unnecessary complexity and simplifying your approach is needed.

I’m certainly not suggesting a lack of planning. Anyone who knows me much at all knows I would never say such a thing. What I am saying is that I do know that failure to enjoy the process not only results in missing out on a lot of joy but also creates a lot of tension and stress.

For me, truly anticipating means not doing everything myself. When my family prepares for a vacation together — or any other event, really — the joy of the event multiplies. We get to enjoy planning the event, connecting during it, and reliving the memories for years afterward.

Involving others has truly allowed me to enjoy planning and thus enjoy anticipating many of life’s events. If only I’d have had this mindset before planning my wedding many years ago, before so many of my kids’ birthday parties and even during times spent planning for something as simple as a cookout with a few friends.

As I considered how my over-planning and worrying about “what ifs” use to constantly impede pleasurable anticipation, the Holy Spirit led me to also ask how anticipation exists in my relationship with the Lord. My discoveries revealed yet another area needing some pruning.

A Christian’s Anticipation

The Bible says Christians should anticipate the day of the Lord’s coming by choosing to live for him now.

“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage, I say and prefer to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed (compensated) for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

It also tells us to praise God in our anticipation of what He will do because of what He has already done.

“It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation…” (1 Peter 1:3)

Unfortunately, my walk with the Lord has not always been one of pleasurable anticipation. Rather, it has been one of “hold me up, Lord,” “please fix this,” and “I can’t take it anymore.” While those are not bad pleas in and of themselves and the Lord wants us to cry out to Him in our need, they only just skim the surface of what having a relationship with Christ means.

That relationship doesn’t just mean leaning on Him for help in troubled and stressful times, but it also means soaring with Him in victory and anticipation of His fulfilled promises yet to come because of what He has already done through Christ.

No matter what happens this side of Heaven, we can expect greater things to come when we enter eternity. No matter how low the valley or high the mountaintop, a Christian’s future exists as one of pleasurable anticipation for greater things to come both in this life and in the next.

Living with this anticipation of the Lord should alter our daily lives because we know what God has done, can see what He’s doing, and have promises to hold on to that tell us what to anticipate from Him in the future.

DISCUSSION: Do you eagerly anticipate events such as vacations? Or, do you dread them because of all the work and planning involved? How can you learn to enjoy the process? Do you anticipate the Lord’s activity in your life? If not, how can you better enjoy the process He’s leading you through?

Struggling with Expectations

Note: This post was originally published on July 11, 2012 under the title “Could This Be Your Biggest Source of Irritation, Frustration and Even Anger?” It has been revised and updated significantly.

Expectations Are a Part of Life

Though my boys left elementary school years ago, I still remember the grading system used for their report cards.

  • BE = below expectations
  • ME = meets expectations
  • AE = approaching expectations
  • EE = exceeds expectations

In a college communication class I took years ago, the professor asked for our expectations on a particular assignment. Most students said, “I don’t have any.” Upon completion of the assignment, the teacher asked if expectations were met, and students answered either “yes” or “no.” The teacher then asked, “How can your expectations be met or not met if you didn’t have any to begin with?”

Anyone in sales knows that business revolves around meeting customer expectations. As Curtis Fletcher says in Creating Customer Expecta…, every aspect of a business creates expectations, from the tag line, to the company name, to the web site.

From business to education to personal relationships, expectations direct every area of life.

Analyzing Expectations

“Expectations are beliefs that spring from a person’s thought process when examining evidence.” (“What does the Bible say about expectations?” at GotQuestions.org)

With that definition in mind, consider that…

  • Expectations are often formed automatically and without effort.
  • Expectations are often unknown until they’re unmet.
  • Expectations are not always requirements, but we often treat them as such.
  • Expectations set standards that are often not agreed upon by those involved.
  • Expectations can be reasonable and still go unmet.

If you analyze your irritation, frustration and anger at any given time, in most instances you’d likely discover the root cause to be unmet expectations. And if you fail to adjust how you operate within these expectations, they’ll eventually wreak havoc in your life.

To avoid the chaos expectations often create, start by realizing that expectations become irritations, frustrations and anger when they are…

  • Unmet
  • Unrealistic
  • Unfair
  • Unset
  • Unclear

When we simply let the resulting emotions (irritation, frustration and anger) bubble up without assessing from whence they came, we’ll constantly find ourselves caught in the struggle that expectations create when left to their own devices. In other words, we need to deliberately make a point to understand and clarify expectations.

Expectations As Fuel for Healthy Relationships

We can’t escape the fact that expectations exist and that they are often the nemesis to healthy relationships. But they don’t have to be. Instead, the existence of expectations can fuel our communication, which can strengthen and deepen relationships. Expectations, especially when clarified and agreed upon, can actually help direct action toward progress.

Consider the following points to help clarify expectations in a way that can strengthen relationships, whether with your spouse, kids, coworkers or customers.

  • Understanding other people’s expectations takes work.
  • Telling someone your expectations takes courage.
  • Discussing expectations is often appropriate and necessary.
  • Writing down expectations can help clarify them.
  • Flexibility must accompany expectations.

Expectations must be acknowledged and communicated if they are to be a positive force in relationships. Yet, even with all our efforts toward communication of expectations, we still will regularly deal with the unexpected.

Expect the Unexpected

To ward off the negative impact of unmet expectations, we need to learn to expect the unexpected in the form of disappointments as well as surprises, unmet as well as exceeded expectations. They are a part of life because expectations are a part of life.

As we expect the unexpected, we can expect expectations to sometimes be unmet, unrealistic, unfair, unset and unclear because that is their nature. We can also learn to decrease the gap between expectations and reality as we learn to communicate better with those around us.

DISCUSSION: What is the most helpful piece of advice you have for managing expectations?

This post was inspired by the comments of Mark Allman in the post Happy Anniversary.

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5 Ways to Upgrade Your Attitude

The word “upgrade” leaped to a whole new level in the world of marketing over the past several of years. When you go on a cruise to the Caribbean, you’re encouraged to “upgrade your diamonds.” At pretty much any time after you’ve purchased a cell phone, you have the opportunity to “upgrade your device.” Fashion magazines also constantly encourage you to “upgrade your look” in one way or another.

Everywhere we look, we have the opportunity to go to the next level, to upgrade in some way. The question that I find myself asking is, “Am I spending my efforts going to the next level in the areas that truly matter?”

At some point, we all feel the need for a new direction or even a new beginning. Whether we’ve become overwhelmed by overload, saturated with stress or defeated by disaster, we sometimes simply feel like a whole new start or even a remodel of some area of our lives will give us the renewal we need to finally make progress instead of constantly spinning our wheels.

Yet most of the upgrades offered serve only to give us that “fresh” feeling temporarily. In time, the new becomes old, and we find ourselves once again in need of another upgrade. Fortunately, one area exists where an upgrade comes guaranteed to positively impact all of life.

An attitude upgrade brings a fresh start to those who feel stale and defeated. An attitude upgrade, if developed and maintained in a deliberate an intentional way, brings renewal to anyone’s outlook.

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Attitude

Developing and maintaining a godly attitude could be the upgrade that changes your life permanently.

  1. Let yourself be renewed. (Ephesians 4:22) Be teachable, flexible and willing to change. Allow yourself to be renewed by staying open to others speaking into your life and to new ideas and approaches for growth.
  2. Acknowledge and repent of bad attitudes. (Acts 8:22; Genesis 4:6-7; Numbers 14:1-4) Let go of pride and admit areas of struggle. Confess the areas your attitude slides, and open yourself to renewal.
  3. Discipline your thought life. (2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:8; Philippians 1:20-25) Choose positive input and allow it to push out the negative. Remember that a key in any discipline involves constant, deliberate and intentional effort.
  4. Understand the relationship between attitude and emotions. (Habakkuk 3:17-19) Nothing derails a positive attitude more easily and more often than emotions. The Bible tells us we are to choose to rejoice no matter our circumstances. That choice may need made place every minute at times, but we allow our emotions to only exist as gauges and not pilots.
  5. Consider how your attitude affects others. This area of attitude adjustment provides tremendous motivation when we realize that our kids, co-workers, family, friends, spouse, and other Christians as well as non-Christians pay attention to our attitudes. We are setting examples and sending messages through our attitude, action and words.

When you’re tired, hungry or sick, what happens to your attitude? When your day (or week or month or year) is particularly stressful with little (if any) relief, is it okay to let your attitude slip?

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)

We all need attitude upgrades. We all must choose to get to the root cause, which generally originates in the heart where our intentions lie. We must intentionally take steps, such as the ones listed above, to improve the aroma of our hearts (our attitudes). Doing serves to upgrade our attitudes, which in turn upgrades our lives in increasingly significant and probably unpredictable and uncountable ways.

For a scripture study on attitude, check out Everyday Attitude.

DISCUSSION: What is the aroma of your heart? What changes can you make to create a better scent?

The Reality of Your Focus

focus-1464320-1597x470

Notice the Theme

In Star Wars I: Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn directs young Anakin toward a way of thinking that really drives the entire movie series:

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.”

This theme actually runs throughout many books and movies. In most cases, it stands out with little effort put toward seeing it. As a Christian, I also see this theme throughout Scripture.

The truth that “focus determines reality” stands out the most in the Old Testament as God’s people continually struggle with focus, casting it from God Almighty to foreign god’s multiple times.

“This disaster happened because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt and because they had worshiped other gods. They had lived according to the customs of the nations that the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites and the customs the kings of Israel had introduced.” (2 Kings 17:7-8)

The theme also comes alive in Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” (Proverbs 4:24)

“Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then your will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:2-5)

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

The theme shows up in the New Testament too.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5)

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)

Applying the Theme

FocusThis theme of “focus determines reality” has become one of continual application for me. And even though I regularly visit its status in my life, I still intentionally hone in on it a bit more at the start of every new year. This year, that deliberate focus came out in the form of three separate posts.

Pursuing a Quiet Life — A peaceful inner life permeates the outer, physical state of a person. It’s a deliberate effort that benefits not just our own lives but the lives of the people around us too by witnessing to the impact of the presence of God in a person’s life.

Balanced Goal Setting — We certainly should pursue our ideas and make plans as best we can. We also need to keep in mind that He ultimately accomplishes His will regardless of what we plan. With that, we need to leave room for the unexpected and be willing to love and pursue His will over our own.

Diligent, Peaceable and Occupied — These words give a deeper understanding toward what it means to focus on developing and living a quiet life. This focus also helps us accomplish the work God gives each individual in a productive and effective way.

My prayer is that this theme permeates your life too as you realize the importance of deciding your focus in the determination of your reality and how doing so falls within God’s design and plan for your life.

DISCUSSION: How have you seen the theme “your focus determines your reality” played out in your own life?

Note: For more Scripture examples, see “What the Bible says about staying focused.”

A Wise Men History Lesson

Note: This post coincides with the idea of Epiphany, though it wasn’t my focus when I wrote the post. If you’d like to know more about Epiphany, check out this article: What is Epiphany / Three Kings’ Day and should Christians celebrate it?

wisemen

Who were the wise men?

To understand the significance of the wise men’s role in the Christmas story, let’s go back to the time of Daniel. The Medes and the Persians conquered Babylon in 539BC. The Persians were the dominant power, and the Medes were eventually integrated.

The Magi (wise men) were the hereditary priesthood of the Medes (knows as the Kurds today) and known for profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. They proved to be experts in interpreting dreams, which is why Darius made them the supreme priestly caste over the Persian Empire.

How did the wise men know about the Messiah?

Daniel eventually received the title of Rab-mag, or Chief of the Magi, because of his superior ability to interpret dreams other Magi could not. This led to his stay in the lion’s den (Daniel 1:18-20, Daniel 9:24-27, & Daniel 12).

As a result of this interaction, the Magi knew Daniel’s prophecy about the Messiah. Daniel’s survival in the lion’s den as well as his part in saving the Magi’s lives significantly impacted them too. They probably also knew about the Messiah through Balaam, one of their ancestors (Numbers 24:17).

The Jews and the Persians (including the Magi) eventually fell under Seleucid control. The Seleucids eventually fell to the Parthians. The Magi continued as the dominating ruling party through the Seleucid and Parthian Empire and also through Sasanian rule (224-651BC).

Why was Herod afraid of the wise men?

The Magi traveled 800-900 miles & originated from what is modern-day Iran. They arrived in Jerusalem probably with a large entourage. They were the wealthy, ruling class of the Parthians, after all. As a result, they would have traveled protected and in relative ease.

Their arrival frightened the whole city, not just Herod the Great. The people of Jerusalem likely thought the Parthians came to besiege them again. Herod’s and the people’s fears were justified since there many people (including Herod) were in Jerusalem when the Parthians invaded Roman Judea a few decades before. They basically kicked out the Romans for several years.

Though they took back Judea, the Roman Empire never completely defeated the Parthians. The two groups went back and forth between war and diplomacy from 53AD-217BC. In addition, the Parthians had a sophisticated culture of commerce, significant wealth, and some of their cities stood as the largest in the world.

The Romans and Herod feared the arrival of the Magi for more than just their bringing emphasis to this child called “king of the Jews”

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east cam to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:1-3)

Why should we care about the wise men?

The Magi grew in knowledge about the Messiah. Their interest began just before the silent years between the testaments and endured from one generation to the next. And they weren’t even Jewish.

We also can’t overlook the fact that the Magi looked for Jesus’ arrival for hundreds of years. They expected it and knew the signs when they saw them.

The Magi set an example of what seeking Christ truly means still for us today.

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”(Matthew 2:1-12)

How does the Magi’s drive to discover the Christ child change your perspective on what it means to seek Him?

Gifts to Give Someone Struggling With Depression

Artistic Christmas Tree with GiftsWith Thanksgiving over and Christmas rapidly approaching, many people start to feel the opposite of what they’re supposed to feel this time of year. Instead of feeling joy and happiness, too many instead find themselves depressed.

Depression touches everyone. Most people either know someone who struggles with depression, or they have their own struggle. This comes as no surprise considering the that…

About 9.5% of the U.S. adult population suffers from a depressive disorder in a given year. (That’s about 18.8 million people.)

Depression has been a lifelong battle of mine, and those closest to me have struggled with what to do during my depressed times. For the past five years, though, depression has no longer held a choking grip on me. While still a struggle from time to time, I no longer feel as though I’m barely holding my head above water.

There are 5 gifts others gave that helped me reach victory over depression. At best, these gifts give a depressed person a much-needed lift out of the deep end, and at worst, they don’t do any harm.

  1. Acknowledge feelings. This does not mean to necessarily agree, but it does mean to acknowledge the feelings are real. To say someone who is depressed should not feel a certain way and then proceed to present a case as to why that is true only makes a depressed person feel worse. Simply acknowledge the feelings exist whether or not they are accurate.
  2. Keep advice to yourself. The worse advice I received was anything close to “Just be positive” or “Just cheer up.” My response was always the same: “Don’t you think I would if I could?!” When a person is seriously depressed, no amount of advice is going to bring them out.
  3. Value them and their ideas. To know my ideas and thoughts have value gives amazing encouragement. As with acknowledging feelings, this doesn’t necessarily  mean agreement. It does mean, however, acknowledging a person’s value and ideas even if their reasoning makes little sense.
  4. Listen. Sometimes a depressed person just wants to vent. Being able to vent to someone who listens without judgment takes off some of the heaviness depression creates in a person’s mind.
  5. Confirm loyalty. The person closest to me for most of my life stated more than once, “I will not leave you.” Knowing that no matter how low I got I would not be alone made a tremendous difference in my outlook. At times I didn’t believe it, and I tried to convince him staying was a bad idea. But he held true to his word, and I believe this is one of the main reasons depression no longer controls my life.

There are so many reasons for depression, and those reasons do need addressed in order to be victorious over depression. Along the way, giving the above gifts tells a depressed person he is not alone, that someone will listen and not dismiss his feelings and that someone believes he has value. These gifts can truly make a key difference in helping someone struggle through and find victory over depression… my life is a testimony to this fact.

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you have for helping someone who is depressed?

See “Making the Church a Safe Place for Mental Illness” by Stephen Altrogge  for another perspective on this topic.