Saturday, December 28, 2013

Why the Best is Yet Come

Poetic cliché aside, it truly has been a December to remember. And given we’re now in the wake of Yuletide euphoria, I’d say it’s a fitting time to reminisce on the highlights and milestones of 2013. Truth be told, it’s hard to condense a year into a measly little page, but if the richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten, how much more richness would exist if we commit to retaining it*? Thus, in the spirit of good tiding and immense gratitude, I dedicate this blog to the many I hold dear to heart.

Now when it comes to assessing any period of time, I’m a fairly frugal judge. So for me to say 2013 was the second consecutive “best year ever” is worth noting...and celebrating for that matter. For the second straight year, I felt I wasn’t simply starting a new chapter, but an entirely new saga altogether. So one shouldn’t be surprised when I say I can hardly relate to the man I was two, even three, years ago. It simply comes with the territory of accelerated redemption. And while I could write a lengthy tome on how wonderful the freedom-belief amalgamation is, I’ll have to save it for another time.

When I reflect back on 2013, a number of notabilities stand out.

Of course, I tied the knot. Literally. On April 13, a day that will live in grand repute, I married my best friend, climaxed by a unity chord braiding on a spring day only divine hands could have set up. And as covenantal romance sealed itself in beloved presence, the thrill of holy matrimony reduced me to a rare state of wordless wonder, which, apart from vows, could only convey itself through smitten smiles and the rogue tear seeking savvy seepage. Truly, our wedding day proved to be a tone-setting microcosm for the rest of the year.

But there were other lasting impressions as well…

Leading off, I’d have to start with the incredible sense of relief Lyssah and I felt on the drive to Asheville following the wedding and three months of intense preparation. Our honeymoon was not only the grand finale to the best day of our lives, but also the first week we were able to relax since the big question popped six months earlier. No doubt, wedding planning, even with one of the best part-time wedding coordinators around, is an arduous task, especially when plopped on top of a full-time job, a full-time graduate-level academic load and youth pastoring responsibilities.**

Indeed, the calendar was active in 2013. Yet, more importantly, Lyssah and I begun to sense a change in our capacities, particularly in our abilities to handle more, whether pressure or mission.

On the job front, this manifested in my internal promotion to supervisorial accounting technician, while Lyssah landed an administrative position with the LAMPO Group shortly after. With each transition came greater responsibilities and challenges to embrace; however, both advances would prove to shape not only our paychecks, but our character as well.

Life in ministry also saw its share of fresh fruit, topped by an Acquire the Fire photo contest win, a rousing white-water rafting expedition on the Ocoee, new youth room renovations and the joy of new youth finding community and impactful discipleship. Despite many memorable moments, on a pastoral note, no other year stretched the boundaries of my faith like this one. Yet, whenever the temptation for discouragement drew near, God would repeatedly breathe hope into the cracks of shaken belief and anchor me to a vision that far transcended my interpretation
of it. As a result, I’ve never been so excited to enter into a new year since I became the LEGACYouth pastor in 2011.

But with Christmas letter content, and a little sentimental hogwash, aside, I will begin this blog’s descent on a more uncharted note.

As I bask in hindsight, I understand more so how providence coincides with company. As one blessed beyond description, I know, to greater extent, how the greatness of any year can’t be realized without the gift of friendship. In the past, the countenance of a year would reveal itself through achievement and the occasional epic moment, but this year, the faces of 2013 are…well…the faces of people, faces of loved ones, co-workers, teammates, mentors, family members, etc. For each uplifting recollection starts with a relationship, and each relationship starts with the reason why we’re here.

Call it gooey geniality, call it belated gratitude, call it whatever you like…it’s believing in what really matters that cements my awe to perpetual gratitude and elevates love to a higher degree.

So I suppose in fewer words, 2013 has reminded me how God masterfully carries my world…emphatically and with precise purpose, whether it’s through a timely word by my wife, a breakout 23-point performance in a summer league basketball game or an answered prayer unfolding before my very eyes.

It’s the reason why I can proclaim on the heals of such a year as this…

…the best is yet to come.


* - See Cesare Pavese

** - Note: Lyssah and I are significantly spoiled with the opportunity shepherd one of the best youth groups this side of the Mississippi.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Champion of Hope

Do you ever feel like Charlie Brown bemused to what Christmas is all about, or like Hermey the Elf, wondering where in the world is my place amidst the holiday bedlam? After all, it’s easy to feel lost at Christmas time. We tread through our annual routines, hoping flickering lights, peppermint mochas and the dream of a white Christmas will offer a doubleshot of whatever we’re in desperate need for. Not to mention the marathons of personal enterprise we engage, trading sorrows for stopgaps, all for the sake of getting through the holidays.

Truth is: Some people need decked halls and falling snow for it to feel like Christmas at all. But although white pines, laced tinsel and December flakes are truly timely sights to behold, there’s merit in wondering who or what is driving the heart of Christmas. For instance: are we aiming to medicate ourselves through tradition and productivity or are we allowing the light of Christmas to impact our giving and benevolence? For almost anyone will do anything to feel warm and cozy where it counts, especially at Christmas time. But though it may be cold outside, the good news of Christmas reminds us we don’t have to be. Even though the season, over time, has seemingly been reduced to “melancholy-prevention”, we can find both place and identity in the heart of what the season stands for.

Granted there’s much to contend with during the peak of December pandemonium, whether it’s superficial agendas or the materialized expressions of hollow gaiety. Yet, as we endure the dichotomy of secular endeavors and Spirit-filled stimulation, we can delight in the fact the magnificence of Christmas is infinitely more than the allure of seasonal charisma. And perhaps this why the spirit of Christmas is so unparalleled, as it establishes the hope we can convert whatever we encounter into an excuse to count our blessings. Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to partake in eggnog consumption, endless rounds of gift-wrapping and caroling through the snow; however, one can’t fully know the true meaning of Christmas without acknowledging the fact Christ made hope possible, championing the incarnation with thanksgiving, ultimately setting the tone for humanity’s redemption.

So as the sun prepares its final descent on 2013, what's increasing your joy and how do think another round of Christmas can stir you to shake up something more than a customized pursuit of happiness? Because I’ll be quite honest, festive euphoria doesn’t come close to satisfying, especially since real joy is given, not concocted out of ritual and the proverbial ‘Christmas spirit’ manual. The best way to commemorate Christ’s birth is to remember Christmas is more than the most wonderful day of the year; it's an invitation to give an offering of worship to the one who lights up the fireworks in us. It's an opportunity to tell the world: "Yes, I have seen great light! And I want to share it everywhere I go." And it’s a time to give to the needy, pray for the grieving and make peace with God, even when you don’t think you can.

‘Cause in the end there’s nobody else. 

So in closing, I bid you all a very Merry Christmas. May you relish in the fullness of the season with all it has to offer and encounter divine appointments to inspire others through giving (see video below), all the while remembering the true reason we celebrate: the perfection of humanity through Jesus Christ.

As the wise Kermit the Frog once said, “’Tis the season to be jolly and joyous. With a burst of pleasure, we feel it arrive. ‘Tis the season when the saints can employ us to spread news about peace and keep love alive.”  

For to Us a Child Is Born

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great lightthose who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joythey rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

~ Isaiah 9:1-7 (ESV)

Lyrical inspiration: "Christmas Lights" by Coldplay; "How You Live" by Point of Grace

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