Begin Again, Week 2

The first week of the New Year is gone. You’re now on day two of the second week of 2020. I don’t know about you, but there are moments where the brevity of time and the speed at which it moves catches me by surprise. Like today, when it seems that only a few days ago we were together with family for Thanksgiving. Truly, time does fly sometimes.

If you are a person who makes those resolution things every year, how’s it going? Too often we start something new or set out to make a change only to slip up in the first few days. Statistics show that close to 80% of people who break their resolutions do so within the first two months. When that happens, it’s rather easy to just give up. I don’t want you to do that. You don’t really want to do that either.

So here’s some encouragement for you. Start again. Don’t let discouragement take hold of your spirit and mind and convince yourself that once again you didn’t make it. Any change worth making will take you considerable time. Another statistic about making real change in your life says that it takes 60 days of consistency to see those changes become part of your lifestyle. See the connection? Two months to make real change, and most people who give up do so within the first two months.

Why not see this second week of 2020 as New Year’s 2.0? If you slipped up with all the excitement, food, relatives, parties, etc of the holidays, reboot today and get back at it.

Here are two verses I like when endeavoring to do something new or make a change.

“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”    – Proverb 13:4

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”   – Philippians 4:13

No matter what you’re facing, what you’re trying to learn or what you’re trying to accomplish, don’t give up! If you’re a follower of Jesus, remember that you are not alone. He has promised never to leave and never to forsake you. In your weakness, his strength is there for you.

Not only that, in the church (your community of fellow followers of Jesus) you have support. Get a friend or two and make them part of your process. Ask them to walk with you and keep you accountable along your path. They will encourage you when you have a tough day, when you don’t feel like continuing on. They will also celebrate with you when you hit a milestone and see real progress.

Lastly, if you do slip up (you have that coke that you have decided to cut out of your diet), don’t let it totally derail your journey. Acknowledge it, share it with your accountability partners, then get right back at it. Remember, nothing worth doing will come easy. It will take a considerable amount of effort and time. KEEP. AT. IT!

Merry Christmas To All

Nothing. Really, I mean it. There is not one thing I enjoy more than the arrival of the Christmas season and all it ushers in. There are lots of get togethers and parties with family and friends, as well as Christmas lists from our kiddos. Then, there are the cold nights and sitting by the fireplace as the fire crackles. It usually takes until around the first week of December for it to get chilly enough for fires in the fireplace. Although, my wife and I have been known to open all the windows and turn all the fans on (including a/c blower fan) to pull in the cooler air and make it cold enough to light a fire. If you like fires in the fireplace and you live in Texas, sometimes it calls for desperate measures.

Our family Christmas Tree is the highlight of the house during this time of year. It is usually in the stand right after Thanksgiving, lights up the living room, and takes us into the New Year. Flipping the switch is the first thing Kym and I do when we get up in the morning or walk in the house at the end of the day.

Our first year to cut down our fresh Christmas tree was 1992. We were still in college n Missouri and celebrating our very first Christmas as a young married couple. Twenty-six years later, we went to the tree farm for our 27th fresh Christmas tree. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and we walked most of the farm until we found the perfect tree.

It’s a family tradition for us. Kym and I started together in 1992, added kids & some friends during years 1995-2017, then went it alone again this year. It was different, of course, but also just as fun and special as always. So, yeah, it’s my favorite time of the year. Even down here in Texas where we might be wearing shorts and flip-flops while cutting down our tree, it’s so much fun.

2018 Mike & Kym
This is us this year. If you want, scroll to the bottom to get a look at some of the other pics from years gone by.

BUT…the real wonderment of Christmas Time is about WAY more than traditions, more than parties, and also so much more than Christmas trees and houses decorated with lights. It is, at its very core, all about Jesus. We have a holiday set aside to celebrate because Jesus was born. So, when our Christmas tree is in the stand and we hit the switch to turn on the pretty lights, we are reminded that Jesus is the Light of the World! Our tree points like an arrow toward heaven to also remind us that it is Jesus who left heaven to be born as a baby in a manger, so that we might be reconciled to God.

It occurred to me this year that the Christmas Season comes to our society each year in a similar fashion that Jesus came to the earth some 2000 years ago. We were a sin-sick, broken people and we needed a Savior. Our sinfulness kept us separated from God, our Creator. It was Jesus who came and ushered in the good news: He was our Savior!

Likewise, Christmas seems to come each year to a people who need a little brightness. Life on this planet, with all its ups and downs, can get quite dreary for so many. There are hurts that run deep, and there are pains that seem to never yield. Yet, at Christmas time, there seems to be a little more joy spread around. There is Christmas music (no matter if you are particularly fond of it or not) playing all over the place, and it just feels like more faces are wearing smiles.

Hmmm…could there be a connection? Even as we acknowledge that our world is still so very sin-sick, and even as evil appears to be ever on the increase, could it be that Jesus still infuses our spirits (yes, the very spirits He created in His image) with His joy at Christmas time? I think, YES!

May these verses remind you and give you something to consider as you get ready to celebrate Christmas.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.    Matthew 1:21

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!    2 Corinthians 9:15

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Time for a Different Christmas?

We are bent toward enjoying the fun of Christmas while forgetting the Son of Christmas.

WANT A DIFFERENT CHRISTMAS?

Many look at Christmas with very fond, almost magical thoughts, and simply can not wait to celebrate every year. Putting up the tree and decorating the house are activities that truly fill their hearts with joy and excitement. Then there are others who have memories and thoughts of Christmas that are not so fondly held. Knowing that, let me share just a bit of what I think might help you have a different Christmas this year.

 

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Harper Family Christmas Tree 2017

Here’s how a Harper Family Christmas begins. Our family, once again, cut down our own Christmas tree and have it proudly displayed in the living room. Since 1992, my wife and I (joined by our kiddos in ’95 & ’99) have visited a tree farm to choose and cut down our tree of choice. We have visited many different tree farms, including a stretch of 10+ years to the same tree farm until it closed. The day normally involves some drive time, lots of walking, looking at tons of trees, cutting down the perfect tree, hauling it to the truck, and grabbing some lunch before heading home. I can’t imagine not doing this.

Above is our 26th hand-cut Christmas tree, and I couldn’t be any happier with it. When we sit in the house at night, and the lights from that tree are sparkling through the night air, I am in one of my most joyous places of all. The Christmas season really does bring and strengthen my joy!

However, over the last several years, our church has chosen and shared an Advent series for us to read. It’s a short, daily reading to help us focus on the true meaning of the season. The sermons during December go along with the reading and tie the whole season together well. Yet, I have never completed an entire Advent reading. I do look through it as we are deciding which one to use. I also pay special attention to the sections from which I will be preaching the particular sermon.

The problem is, I’ve missed the whole point. The purpose of reading through an Advent series is to help us slow down and focus on Jesus. The design of a small daily reading is to force us to sit down, get in the quiet, and be reminded of the beauty of Jesus…who is Christmas! It is definitely not busy work just to add another thing to our Christmas season. We’re prone to be so busy with shopping, cooking, entertaining, traveling, wrapping, etc. In all the busyness, our flesh is bent toward enjoying the fun of Christmas while forgetting the Son of Christmas.

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy is the Advent series our church is following this year. It is by John Piper, and I hope it will be a blessing to you and your family. Maybe, just maybe, it will be a whole different kind of Christmas in your life, your family and your home. May the peace, joy, and hope of Jesus brighten your Christmas!

“ADRIAN!”

 

In between watching more than my fair share of Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (simply because I love my wife), I happened upon a classic movie, and it brought tears to my eyes. What movie you ask? Rocky. Yes. Rocky. The first Rocky movie is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I don’t mind admitting that it brought me to tears as I watched roughly the last 40 minutes.

Assuredly, you are probably struggling to understand how this movie could induce a teary effect. I mean, it is a man’s man type of movie with lots of action, physical aggression, blood, sweat, etc. So, what’s the deal with the tears?

Well, for me, it all has to do with the deep connection of two souls. Critics will tell you that the movie is overly dramatic, and even cheesy as it tries to pull the viewer into the story, but I find it eerily believable. Rocky Balboa begins to doubt himself on the eve of the biggest fight of his life with the world champion, Apollo Creed. After walking the streets and visiting the arena where the fight will take place, he tells his girlfriend, Adrian, that he can’t do it. He knows he can’t beat Apollo, and he’s bearing his soul at this moment with Adrian. She reminds Rocky of how hard he has worked to get ready for this fight. She has had a front row seat, and she is reminding him that she is in this with him.

Rocky goes on to fight, and he fights valiantly. He is grossly outmatched by the much better boxer, and his body pays the price…but he fights until the last bell. He gives as much punishment as he takes, proves to himself that he can stand toe-to-toe with the champion, and holds his own. As a matter of fact, he nearly wins the fight.

The camera cuts back and forth between this epic battle in the ring and Adrian’s face as she watches. The connection between this man and woman who care about each other so deeply is unmistakably evident in her eyes. It’s as if she feels every blow that lands on Rocky’s head. His pain is her pain, and after the fight is over, his exuberance is hers as well.

With microphones shoved in his face, and reporters trying to get a comment, Rocky simply yells, “ADRIAN” over and over. Then we see Adrian yelling Rocky’s name as she pushes her way through the crowd and sneaks into the ring. Rocky’s face is mangled, and he probably can’t see Adrian out of his eyes that are swollen shut…but they find each other and embrace as if nobody else is around. It’s a magical scene.

Picturing that scene in my mind right now brings the same swell of emotion. These two shared their dreams, fears, failures, struggles, and accomplishments with each other. Rocky had a desire to compete for the championship, and Adrian walked each step of the way with him. They had a connection on a very deep level, and that is what shows through what some call a cheesy, over-acted classic movie.

What do I take from this as a Christian, a husband, a father, and a pastor? Honestly, there are many lessons I think could be shared. But for me, what stands out is the challenge to live deeply and passionately. I am challenged to find something worth going after, share it with my wife, and strive together to achieve it with everything I have. It’s a challenge to live life with purpose, making all decisions based on how it will affect the ultimate goal, and moving forward with confidence.

Too often, people find themselves relegated to and settling for the only life they think is attainable, and there they just exist. Going to work, coming home to dinner, and some sort of entertainment before falling into bed…just to do it all over again the next day. Most times there is little passion, few dreams, and no thought of achieving something greater.

Husbands and wives don’t talk about the deep things of their hearts. Parents and children go to separate rooms for the night, with little to no communication. Homes all over the world are filled with people who have settled into “the way things are” and they are happy to live out their days catching up on their latest favorite show.

I believe that living is much more than existing, and it is a conviction on my soul to think that I have taken the great blessings God has bestowed upon my life and neglected them as I simply exist. He has a greater plan for his children than that. God tells us that we can do all things through him according to his strength in our lives (Philippians 4:13). What a waste to have that kind of power and strength on our lives…and then not really live. May we all strive to live big for his honor and glory.

Yes. I was moved in my spirit thusly, and all from catching the end of Rocky. If you haven’t seen it, give it a try. You might end up inspired.

My Mom is Perfect…for me

 

Mom & Dad dressed upIt pains me to have to admit, although I think many of us might have experienced the exact same emotions and thoughts, but I wasn’t the easiest boy to raise. To say that I came by my childhood nickname honestly would be a gross understatement. My grandfather gave me the clever moniker of “iron head”, and somewhere inside my 3 or 4 year old brain, I think I began to do everything within my power to live up to it, and wear it like a badge of honor. Truth be told, I might have started that process straight out of the womb. As to whether or not I ever stopped, you’ll have to ask my mother.

So, Mom, Dad, & Methe childbirth pains that accompanied my arrival were most likely outdone by the pain that came from trying to raise a little iron head. For that, I am sorry, and I have told my sweet mother that on numerous occasions in my adult years. While some might think this a bit tongue-in-cheeky, it isn’t at all. I really am sorry, and occasionally l feel some real pain and sadness that comes from the realization that I simply did not grasp the beauty of my mother while I was a child.

That’s where I think many of us might find some common ground. That area of realization that we truly didn’t have the foggiest of ideas what exactly it took for our mothers to mother us. If you were like me, you ran through your childhood thinking life was mostly (if not all) about you. You expected your mom to be there for you no matter how she felt, or no matter what was going on in her own life. Her life, in essence, was to be what you needed, when you needed it, and for however long you needed. Doesn’t that seem like such a thankless, unglamorous, tedious job? Yet, she did it day in and day out…all because my mom loves me. I know I will never be able to repay all that my mother did for me, but I hope to love and honor her well the rest of my days. She is definitely worth it, and believe me, she earned it. Not only was I a mess, but my little sister came along when I was three and added to the fun.

Doing life with my own lovely wife, and being right by her side through all the details of kyleeandmichael2004raisiKym2ng our own children has helped me gain a greater understanding and deep appreciation of motherhood. Honestly, I do not know how moms do it! It is totally beyond me! God’s plan for raising children clearly is genius. The sweet bond that is clear to see between mom and baby could only happen because God put something special in the heart of mothers. Funny thing is, that bond only grows stronger and stronger over time. Ask a loving mother about her kids today, no matter the age of her children, she will brighten up and talk about her kiddos like they are the greatest. There will be a sparkle in her eye and a smile on her face as she discusses how her awesome her children are.

Early 70's Harper Family

It doesn’t escape me that some families have much different stories. Not everyone has a great relationship with their mom, and tons of fond childhood memories. If we’re all being honest, I can dig back and remember some of the things that weren’t the greatest as I was testing my mom’s patience and sanity. With that being the reality, let me leave you with some encouragement.

Learn from the past, live in the present, and look to the future. Choose to dwell on the good things you can remember, and do everything you can to make a better future. My relationship with my mother is better today than ever. God has a way of healing the hurts of the past, and giving all necessary grace for the now. No matter the pains of your past, and no matter how close you are to that past, God can do a work in your heart. Forgive the past, rest in the goodness of God, and treat your mom the way you hope your children will treat you as you age. The truth is, God gave you the mother you had for a purpose. Your mom was the perfect mom for you, for what he wanted you to learn. Let God continue to do the work in you that he began through your mom.

As children, we have one simple command that God puts on our lives, regarding our parents.

“Honor your father and mother”

This command is recorded in four different books of the Bible. God’s plan for children is to honor mom for as long as you have breath. There is no time in your life that you are allowed to stop honoring your mom. She is to be loved, cherished, treasured, and honored all the days of your life.

Remember this: Motherhood is a tough gig. It takes a fortitude that I’m quite sure I do not possess. Take time out to let your mom know how special she is in your life. Take the time to show her, the time to love her well. If your mom has gone on before you, live in the way she modeled for you. Honor her with your life.

For my mom: put me on the schedule. Lunch is on me whenever you want.