Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are starting a new year as well as a new decade. The start of the new year has long been a time when people make "New Year's Resolutions", or list those things that they want to do differently in the new year.
Some may well resolve to lose weight, or quit smoking, or exercise more often, or stop using vulgar language, or any number of things. Some resolutions may well be kept, and become new habits leading to a better way of living. Other resolutions, however well intentioned they may have been, may well drop by the wayside of life as other concerns or issues distract us from our good intentions to do better. We may feel guilty at first, as we realize that we have stopped doing what we had resolved to do, but then, one day stretches into the next, and we leave those good intentions behind, and, the improvements we sought to bring into being are likewise left behind.
As you contemplate any changes that you wish to make in your lives this year, I remind you that habits are slow to make and slow to break. It takes determination and effort to shift out of unhealthy old habits and build new healthier habits. I know this to be true from personal experience. It took me several tries over the years before I was able to finally kick the cigarette habit for good. In recent months I have been working diligently to create a new habit of healthier eating and more regular exercise. Creating that new habit has not been easy, jjbut I have found that it is possible, and I know that my quality of life has improved because of it.
Thnk about areas in your life that could use some improvement. While you are pondering those things, do not limit yourself to physical things such as weight or diet, but also think about your spiritual health. What are you doing to keep yourself healthy in spirit? I know from personal experience that it is so easy to get so consumed by work and other activities, that spiritual health can get overlookded. Seek ways to stay in touch with God.
In this new year, as you contemplate changes that you want to make, look at what you can do to improve your quality of life in body and spirit. Be intentional about creating a plan for bringing those changes into effect. Set achievable goals, and find ways to monitor your progress.
And then, stay with your plan. Don't allow an occasional lapse or setback to cause you to stop your efforts to improve your quality of life in body and spirit. Remember that our God is always with us, even in difficut times. Do not hesitate to bring God into your daily life through prayer. God is faithful, and God does hear us when we pray. In 1 John 5:14-15 we read: "This is the confidence that we have in our relationship with God: If we ask for anything in agreement with his will, he listens to us. If we know that he listens to whatever we ask, we know that we have received what we asked from him."
In Mathew's Gospel, the last words from Jesus to his disciples are: "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Those words are as true, and as relevant to us today as they were to their original audience almost 2,000 years ago. Our Lord is with us. Seek his guidance, and his strength, to help you become a better you. Stay the course of improvement you have charted. Don't give up. Better days are coming, and, best of all, God is with us every step of the way.
The month of Decembe r has arrived with its cold temperatures, short days, Christmas lights, and all sorts of Christmas shopping hoopla! If we are to believe the Madison Avenue advertising types, December is the time to be buying as many things as we possibly can. Christmas has long been associated with gift giving, and that is OK. On Christmas day we will celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, God's great gift to us.
As we contemplate gift giving this year, I invite you to consider just what kind of gift you can give to the One who has given so much to you, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The concept of giving to our Lord can be daunting as we contemplate Scripture's reminder that "He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him." (Colossians 1:17) Talk about shopping for somebody who has everything!
But there is one thing that our Lord desires, and Scripture gives us a good idea of what that is when we read of God speaking through the prophet Hosea (6:6) saying: "I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."
What our Lord wants most form us, is that we love. When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment is, he replied: "... You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands." (Matthew 22:37-40) God's greatest desires are that we love him, and, that we love each other. God values loving behavior so much that he tells us that all of the other instructions from God must be viewed in the light of these two over arching commandments.
So every single time that you willingly choose to reach out in love to any of your neighbors, you are showing your love for your neighbor and for our God. You give God the gift that God most wants every single time that you reach out in love to the world around you. How cool is that? As you love those around you in the same unconditional fashion that Jesus loves you, you are giving gifts to everyone involved, to your neighbors, to God, as well as to yourself. Everybody wins when we love one another. And, this is the really cool part, you can love others just as much as you want, and you'll never run out of love. God will always give you more.
In this season of hectic activity, crowded stores and parking lots, gift buying, gift wrapping, and gift giving, remember to take time to reach out in love to those with whom you share this planet. Give the gift of love as often as you can, so that this world in which we live can be a better place, and you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you are giving to God what God wants most of all from you.