Traditions

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Traditions are meaningful.  They provide a relational continuity from one year to the next.  These moments allow family and friends to look forward to an annual event to affirm and deepen one’s connection with another person or group of persons.  Looking back on them, they create nostalgia over sharing life with a friend or family member.  When a new year comes, traditions instill hopeful anticipation and excitement as we look forward to an event that will give us joy.  Traditions are good.

I enjoy traditions.  At Christmas our family has several meaningful traditions:

  • We decorate the home the weekend after Thanksgiving. Ryan and I enjoy stringing the lights outside while Penny and Ashleigh set up the inside decorations.  This year Ryan hung most of the lights by himself (with my supervision of course).
  • Several years ago we established the tradition of cutting down a live Christmas tree. Yes, we go to a farm not some random person’s home with an evergreen in their front year under the cover of darkness.
  • We celebrate a community’s holiday walk with dear friends. We laugh.  We talk.  We eat the samples offered by various stores.  And we affirm our friendship.
  • We choose an evening to see the holiday lights. We make a hot cup of coca, jump in the car, and see the homes in our neighborhood decorated with lights and music.
  • We go to Barnes & Noble and purchase some nice personal items followed by pizza and a Christmas movie.

It seems that our traditions are growing each year.  Soon we might have 25 traditions in December.  It will become the Gushiken Advent Experience.

Traditions are wonderful because they celebrate relationships, in this case our family.  They remind us of what is important.  These moments allow us to push back on the busyness and affirm what is most important in life.

Oftentimes, we do not purchase gifts, especially for birthdays.  Our practice is to choose an activity.  Usually, we find some experience that is new to us as a family.  The rationale is that tangible gifts are nice but in the end hollow.  They eventually get tossed in the corner, break down, or even returned.  Experiences grow fonder.  We look back at these experiences and smile at the laughter and joy in those moments.  These times have been true gifts, ones that I would never trade in, especially when the kids are older.

God knew that experiences are more meaningful and lasting whereas possessions are temporary and fleeting.  This truth is one reason God sent Christ to us rather than a physical, inanimate blessing.  Christ is the ultimate experience.  He always grows fonder as we reflect on His forgiveness and grace in our lives.  He sustains us in the midst of difficulties and celebrates with us in the highs of life.  And He knows the future, those moments where we will need Him most.   As we celebrate our traditions this Christmas, let us be reminded of the eternal relationship we have with Christ.

Today I am thankful

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I live in a cynical and sarcastic world.  It is easy for me to complain about life.  I can look outside at the beautiful world and complain about the cold temperature.  I turn on the news and grow frustrated at the depressing accounts.  It is a short week thus I wake up irritated at how much I have to do in a few short days.  Without thinking twice I can tear another person down in my mind if not verbally to someone else.  Standing in line at the store I grow impatient because the clerk is taking a little too long helping a person at the register.  Yes, it is easy to complain about life.  So, this week I am going to choose to be thankful.

I am thankful for the beautiful fall that reminds me of God’s beauty.  I am thankful that I have a nice warm house to enjoy a Carmel Macchiato.  I am thankful I have a car to visit family this week.  I am thankful that God is creative in providing some incredible sunrises the past few mornings.  I am thankful at the artistic display of yellow leaves clutching to tree branches as if they are outlined by a painter.

I am thankful for work.  I wake up with numerous possibilities each day.  I have the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life.  I can be productive in life.  I can come home tonight and feel I have accomplished something.  And this job helps me provide for my family.  I am thankful for hands to work and a mind to think.  I am thankful that I have gifts, abilities, and experiences that are useful in life.

I am thankful for family.  I am surrounded by people who genuinely love me.  I have shared experiences that frame beautiful memories for me.  I walk through the door knowing that I am loved and supported.  I can laugh, debate, discuss, and console those close to me.  I always have someone I can embrace in the midst of a painful moment.  Yes, I am thankful for my family.  And, most of all, I am thankful for my wife with whom I have shared life with for the past twenty years!

I am thankful for rest.  It is a short week; however, I have the chance to sit back, enjoy some food, play games with my family, and take a snooze on the couch.  Rest is good.  I am thankful that I have a couple of days to do just that. I am certainly going to be thankful for time to do nothing, and maybe even take in a football game.

I am thankful for Christ.  He promises to always be with me regardless of the pain or difficulty.  I have the peace that transcends all understanding – not a fleeting high but something durable.  God’s abundant grace sustains me, especially when I mess up.  I have the hope of everlasting life.  There is something beyond this world.  I am truly thankful for Jesus.

I have a choice.  And this week I choose to be thankful!

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances;  for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Fake News and Our Christian Responsibility

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Ok, I am not into conspiracy theories.  Nor, do I tend to quickly discredit news organizations.  I do believe however that news programming tends to intentionally create hype.  There is a specific emotional appeal that producers are attempting to create.  If you listen closely to the language, there is a lot of superlatives such as “worst storm ever” or “the country is terrified.”  It annoys me that they are attempting to frame the news story by manipulating my emotions.

Since the election, there has been a new twist to news programming that has surfaced.  Apparently, there are numerous groups that are producing “fake news” with the clear intent to deceive its readers.  These organizations appear to be legitimate; however, the substance is pure fiction (or least primarily fiction with a few factual bits to make it seem credible).  This past week Facebook has come under intense scrutiny for allowing fake news to be shared through its site.  In fact, there are questions being raised how much it impacted the election results.

I have seen numerous fake news postings whenever I log into Facebook.  I had seen these posting in the run up to the election from people I know and respect including believers.  I concluded that the sites originated from fringe groups with specific opinions.  However, it is now evident that these groups intentionally and knowingly strive to manipulate opinions with falsehoods.  Unfortunately, numerous people believed these stories as certifiable facts.

As a believer, I am thinking through some implications…

  • Is not sharing fake news a form of gossip and potential slander? By definition, gossip is “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”  Scripture very clearly states that gossip is a sin.  Therefore, are we not sinning when we share news reports that are knowingly and intentionally deceitful?
  • God calls us to promote things that are true. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”  (Philippians 4:8)  Ok, since this is true, should we not verify whether or not a particular news feed is true before we share it?  Should we not be responsible in our intellect not careless?
  • Wisdom should prevail. Social media is a wonderful place to connect with friends.  It is a great gathering place for conversation.  However, it is also a place where our thoughts and emotions are formed, knowingly or unknowingly, by other people’s posts.  Therefore, we should be wise as believer in what we endorse.  I recently overheard someone apologize for a video they shared on Face book.  The response, “I did not know it contained that offensive comment.”   Lesson learned – we should evaluate the post prior to sharing it.

All life is spiritual thus requires a spiritual perspective including technology.

I awoke today…

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I woke up this morning.  God gave me life.  He sustained my lungs and my heart.  I did not question His care for me as I crawled out of bed.  I have confidence because He has been completely reliable in giving me breathe and strength every day of my life.  God is trustworthy.  He proved it again to me today.

The markets are chaotic today as there is uncertainty due to the elections.  The markets had anticipated a different result.  Therefore, they are reacting to the uncertainty.  Investors are concerned as to the future.  Will interest rates be raised?  How will the global markets respond to the election?  The markets are confused.  They are uncertain.

I looked out the window this morning.  The sun came up.  The earth continued to turn on its axis.  The birds chirped in the background.  The squirrels scurried across the yard.  It is a normal day similar to any other day.  God providentially maintains His created order.  It is orderly.  It is peaceful.  It is good.

Foreign countries are anxious about the future direction of the United States.  Its leadership is important.  It charts the course for many global decisions.  There is worry over the state of trade agreements and treaties.  Will the United States be interventionist or protectionist?  What will the relationship look like with our allies?

I read the bible this morning.  I was reminded again of His grace for me.  I have been redeemed.  I am adopted.  I am a child of God.  I am certain as to my eternal state.  I am not dependent on global anxiety but secure in God’s love for me.  I am part of a greater purpose called to serve God.  This is not questioned; it is affirmed.

Our country is polarized.  Half the population is not happy today.  Many are in shock; others are delighted.  Celebrations erupted in one ballroom while tears flowed in another.  Clearly there is a divide in our nation.  Anger persists.  Frustration is evident.  The future is promising for some; for others it is dire.

Joy continues to reside in my heart.  It comes not from a political result but from my knowledge that God died for me.  I have hope not grounded in campaign promises but in the knowledge that eternal life awaits me.  I am forgiven.  I am cherished.  I am adored just as I was yesterday.  That has not changed.

God is King!

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The election is one week away.  Needless to say the nation is anxious about the results.  Tuesday evening has massive implications for our country.  It determines the philosophy of government for years to come.  Our approach to international crises will be framed based on who is commander in chief.  The make-up of the Supreme Court will be influenced by who sits in the oval office.  Regardless of where you live in the country you will be impacted by the results.

This reality is why most Americans are anxious.  Neither candidate has good favorable ratings.  In fact, they are both viewed with suspicion and disdain.  In conversations, most people would prefer a different option for president.  There is legitimate concern over the future of our country regardless who wins the election.  Anxiety is high.  Concern is palpable.

I too share these concerns.

Yet, I am reminded as a believer that our nation is not dependent upon the voting booth.  The future of our country is not in the hands of a particular candidate.  At the end of the day, our God continues to reign.  He is still in control.  God is sovereign.  He knows the future.  It gives me tremendous comfort knowing that not only does God know who will be elected president when we wake up on Wednesday morning; He also knows how this will impact our nation.

Our hope is not man-centered.  Our jobs, healthcare, and national security are not ultimately determined by the president; they are governed by our Heavenly King, the one who holds the stars in Hand.  He is the one who has stood the test of time, from beginning to end, not someone serving a four-year position.  God has seen every leader in history and specifically the United States, come and go.  He is not fazed by it.  He is not surprised by it.  In fact, God orchestrates them to accomplish His purposes.

The church prospered under Emperor Nero who persecuted the church.  The church will continue to do so on November 9 because it is not a human institution, it is an eternal one.  Yes, our hope lies not in a democratic process but in the One who continues to advance the Kingdom towards the glorious hope of a new heaven and a new earth.  This hope should squelch fear and anxiety.  This hope should inspire a glorious future.  This hope is one worthy of placing our trust.

Cubs Fever

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Chicago is a buzz with World Series fever.  It is exciting as I have not seen the Cubbies so close to a championship in my lifetime.  For others, it is has been much longer.  A senior in the church was describing a conversation with a young person who said, “I am so excited.  I have not seen them do this well in my lifetime” (a mere ten years).  She had been waiting over seventy years.

In our home, we are legitimate Cubs fans.  We went to a game as a family in August.  I took my son to his first game last year.  I pulled him out of school.  He enjoyed the whole experience including the ballpark hot dog and chips.  He even got a ball then had it signed by Kyle Hendricks after the game.  Needless to say, he was thrilled when “the Professor” pitched them into the World Series.  We have enjoyed watching the games together with high fives for every strike and a yell after every big hit.  Last Saturday, we went outside and lit some bottle rockets off after they clinched the NL pennant.  It has been a lot of fun.  I cannot imagine the response in Chicago if they win the whole thing.

For many people, this has been an awesome highlight to their fall.  It has served as a distraction to a lot of woes ranging from the anemic Bears season to life’s troubles.  For a moment in time, people do not have to think about their financial problems, relationship difficulties, or future worries related to their job or health.  On Saturday, there was joy that takes you away from the problems of life.  For a few hours if not days you can experience joy.  Even this week, there is anticipation of what might be – a rocking Wrigleyville and dare we dream a championship parade.  Just the sheer thought of such an ending to a dream season makes the problems of this week more easily tolerated.  You can put up with your difficult coworker.  The bills piling up don’t seem as heavy.  The worries of life can be postponed for another week.  Sports provide this relief.  They serve as a wonderful escape from life’s problems.

Yet, in a couple of weeks, life will return to normal.  Even if there is confetti thrown on Michigan Avenue, we will have to once again face the hardships of life.  We will have to tackle those bills and navigate those hard relationships.  That is for now.  One day we will have lasting joy where the worries and frustrations of life are gone.  In glory, there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the older order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).  In this moment it will not be an escape but a permanent reality.  In this moment, we will not experience it for a week only to face it again after the joy surpassed.  No, for believers, it will be an everlasting joy absent of pain and sorrow.  It will be permanent.  Yes, we wait a lifetime for this joy and one day we will experience it.  And it will be a joy like no other – one free from sin and pain, standing in the presence of our King.

Embrace the Unexpected

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Yosemite National Park is beautiful.  For four days this past summer our family enjoyed traipsing around waterfalls and cliffs.  We witnessed breathtaking scenes, unexpected vistas, and awe-inspiring panoramic views.  Honestly, it is one of the most gorgeous places I have visited in my lifetime.

Yet, it is not as if there is a painting worthy scene at every step.  For most of the views you have to trudge through some pretty difficult terrain.  In fact, the smaller hikes that were accessible on the valley floor were ok in our opinion.  They were nice but not spectacular.  The spots that cause you to scramble quickly and take a photo are the ones that you have to earn.  One such hike was Glacier Point.  It was the first day so we were still getting our bearings.  We had just visited a marvelous scenic cliff called Taft Point (frightening if you do not like heights).  On our way back from the hike, we came to a fork in the trail.  We could go straight which would lead you back to the parking lot.  From there you could take another trail to Glacier Point.  Or, there was a “shortcut” if we took the left trail.  It was not clearly marked on the map but it indicated it was a direct route to Glacier Point.  Due to time constraints we chose the shortcut.  It was a worn trail so it was pretty easy to follow.  However, there were times where we were unsure as to whether we were on the right trail.  At one point, we had to ask for directions.  Eventually, we made it.

But, on the way, we saw the most amazing views.  There were sections where we stopped every few steps to take photograph after photograph as the valley floor spread out below us.  Since it was a “shortcut” the trail was not heavily trafficked.  We would have completely missed out on these priceless scenes if we would not have ventured down a trail we never intended to take.  At times, the most beautiful things in life are a result of the unexpected.  And, it is the unexpected that sweetens those moments because it was not planned (and you had to work for it).

Life throws at us unexpected turns.  We face hardships.  There are financial difficulties.  Relationship problems pop up.  Health diagnoses rattle us.  Job cutbacks scare us.  We find ourselves walking down a path that we never intended to take.  Yet, God is in the midst of each of these turns.  He is present with us around each unexpected turn.  We are never abandoned.  We are never forsaken.  And, it is in these moments that we experience God in the most amazing ways.  We see aspects of His character that otherwise we would have missed.  We find ourselves standing in awe of His presence and grace even though we are facing the unknown.

Yes, these moments are precious.  In fact, more precious because we had to walk through the difficulties in order to see them.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11