Make Christmas This Year A Season To Remember

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

I saw a jewelry store advertise that the way to make Christmas memorable was to give or receive a piece of jewelry purchased from their store and give it to someone special. Just think about it. What are your best memories at Christmas? Was it something under the tree that made it memorable? What would make this Christmas a season to remember?

Last year, after all the Christmas and New Year celebrating was over, I spoke with someone who sadly reflected, “My Christmas celebration was very shallow. Next year, I want it to be different.”

We often feel like we are just swept along by the busyness of the season. We have gifts to buy, parties to plan, performances to attend, meals to prepare, homes to decorate and to-do lists that never stop.

We can do Christmas well this year. I will venture a guess that your best memories at Christmas have more to do with people than things and with giving more than receiving. The spirit of Christmas is giving. Gift exchanges are wonderful traditions. The giving I am talking about makes the greatest long-term impact, giving yourself. Here are some ideas:

  • Instead of writing a letter, be a living Christmas letter. Choose a family or two who you know need encouragement and make a visit…bring a Christmas treat.
  • Are there elderly people in your life? Make some time to visit them. The greatest gift is the investment of your love and time.
  • Are there people who have recently moved into your neighborhood? Make a visit to get to know them. Invite them over for dinner. If they are new, this could be a very lonely time.
  • Does your school or church connect with a homeless shelter or even a prison? Sign up to serve a meal one night and make sure you sit down and actually talk with some of the people who are eating. Let them know you care.
  • Do you think about children who may not receive a gift this year or who may not even have food on their tables? Find a Christmas Angel Tree project. You might find one at your church, the Salvation Army, even your local mall.

The advertisements will try to convince us that the most memorable Christmas is the most costly in dollars. Don’t let them fool you! You will find yourself at the end of the season like my friend realizing, “My Christmas celebration was shallow” and your debts will be deep.

The author of the season is God who gave the greatest gift of all. God came to earth to tell us and to show us how much love God has for us. Jesus is the greatest gift ever. God also knew that the greatest gifts are in person. Let’s do the same and make this Christmas a season to remember, forever. May you place your trust this season in the greatest Christmas gift ever, Jesus.


Photo credit: daisee / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

What Do You Feed Your Mind?

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

If you wanted to be an Olympic athlete, would you go on a donuts and Twinkies diet? If you wanted to create a gourmet meal, would you start with inferior ingredients?  Most of us understand that what we put into our bodies is vital in determining our daily performance as well as our ongoing health. Even though we know this, eating smart is a battle.

Yet the input to the most important part of our lives, our minds, is often ignored. Like our bodies, what we allow into our minds is a constant battle. We settle for what is convenient rather than what will really benefit us.  Let’s think about three truths:

You are what you think.
Your mind will think about what you put in it.
Your actions result from your thoughts.

How do we win the battle for our minds? The Apostle Paul wrote these words, And fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. – Philippians 4:8

Long before the age of computers and smart phones, Paul knew the input-output principle of “garbage in-garbage out.” Where are your thoughts these days? What do your children think about? What food are you feeding your mind? Think with me about some healthy alternatives to “garbage in.”

  1. Respect true heroes. Instead of revering overpaid Hollywood and sports figures, make it a point to notice real heroes who are making a real difference in the world…devoted teachers, principled businessmen and women, diligent people working to feed the hungry, tireless youth directors, self-sacrificing community leaders etc.
  2. Screen television and movies – Television, smart phones, social media, reinforces passivity and seduces us to adopt values which are not ours. Don’t just automatically revert to your smart phone during idle time. How about a good book? How about some time to talk with God?
  3. Substitute face to face conversations for social media – Conversation is becoming a lost art. Yet, we have so much to learn from each other.
  4. Spend time with older people. Schedule time with a few older people whose lives, wisdom, and attitudes are refreshing and inspiring.
  5. Read. The greatest source of positive input is the Bible. God has given us a plan for our lives that is full of joy and purpose. God wants us to know Gods plan and to know its author.

Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. – Romans 12:2

Join me in asking God to transform your family and the world, one mind at a time, starting with you.

Breaking The Back Of Pride In Your Life

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

There is something inside of you and something inside of me that might need to be diminished. It can keep you from celebrating other people’s success. It can keep you from asking for forgiveness when you are wrong or even when you think you are only a little bit wrong. It. keeps you from admitting that you need help even though everyone else knows that you don’t know what you are doing. It causes you to try to have the final word

The answer is, pride.

There is a healthy version of this thing called pride. It is when you are proud of your kids or your students. This healthier version of pride can inspires people to do great things.

Here is the thing about the uglier pride. We are under the impression that it makes us look bigger and more impressive. The opposite is true. It is a strong emotionally driven force that keeps us from thinking clearly because it pushes to win at all costs. People are uncomfortable around us and they walk on eggshells waiting for our prideful eruptions. It inhibits our ability to love because when we are so full of ourselves, that there is no room for anyone else. The ironic thing is that everyone else sees it but us. It is insidious.

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! – Romans 12:16

Jesus taught a radically different way to live. He redefined greatness. He said that greatness was not about puffing ourselves up. It is not about how many people we have serving us. Greatness, according to God’s economy, is serving others. To teach this principle, Jesus served his friends by performing the most menial task one could imagine. He washed their dusty, dirty, smelly feet. He told them, “You have seen me, your teacher, doing it, now go out and break the power of pride by doing the same thing. Live like this.” Then he humbled himself even more by dying on the cross to pay the price for our sinfulness. He was entitled to much better treatment but he made the decision to humble himself. He knew that the most powerful force in the world is love…that is not proud.

Our emotions will tell us to find any reason to not apologize, to now lower our guard, or to ever admit we could be wrong. That is called slavery.

Jesus gives us the opportunity to be free from that kind of slavery, to break its hold on us. He challenges us to break pride’s hold in our lives by apologizing even if you don’t feel like it, by complementing someone on a job well done, or by even asking for help and admitting we need others in our lives. We can say “no” to a force that wants to decimate our connections with others and “yes” to Jesus who wants to take our relationships to a new level of greatness. Hand over the controls of your life to the one who has your best in mind and live in a new sense of greatness and freedom.

Anxious Times – Let Someone Else Carry The Load

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

During our engagement, my wife and I hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and then out with seven other friends. We carried backpacks, which had all our provisions for just three days. It’s amazing, however, how the ounces all add up to pounds. After our stay at Phantom Ranch, I was contemplating our hike out with these rather heavy packs knowing that gravity was not going to be working for us. So like any newly engaged chivalrous man, I offered to carry some of what was in my fiancé’s pack to lighten her load. What a guy! We were all loaded up when I got the most amazing news that we had rented a donkey that was going to be able to carry out almost all of what we had packed. What a difference it made!

Our lightened load reminded me of something Jesus promises us.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:28-9

Our normal tendency is to carry the burden ourselves and to worry. There is an illusion that I worry because I have these certain problems. If they were to go away, then I would not worry. But that is not so. We will always have problems and worry does nothing but work against us. One day all your problems will go away and that is the day you die. Problems and challenges are an opportunity for us to trust God move completely.

The Apostle Paul writes – “Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything…then you will have God’s peace.” – Philippians 4:6

God does bring answers. Sometimes, circumstances do change. More often, Jesus changes our mindset and allows us to gain a whole new perspective. We let Jesus carry the load. Our job is not even to try to make the anxious feelings go away…maybe they will or maybe they won’t. We can beat ourselves up trying. Our part is to pray and trust and listen to God for solutions. Take time to listen. It is amazing how a new Christ-centered perspective, a word of wisdom from the Bible, and the encouragement of some faith-filled friends can bring a new hope-filled attitude.

God Is Always the Same…We Can Set Our Sights On Him

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

I have three brothers. They all visited me on Waste Management Open week to celebrate one of their birthdays, so we decided to go to the Open on Thursday. It was a beautiful day, for sure. There were 118,000 people there – the biggest Thursday ever, exceeding the record by 30,000. It took a long time to park, but we did. We rode the bus to the front gate. Then we had fun following around Tiger and Bubba and several other golfers. When we had enough, we went to back to the front gate, only to discover that the waiting line was about one-and-a-half hours to wait for the bus to take us back to the parking lot. One of the attendants suggested that we just walk back—we could probably be there in 20 minutes. So we did! We knew that we were parked in section “H” and we had marked our spot by siting a building just on the other side of the utility road. We walked and walked and walked some more – and sure enough, in about 15 minutes, we found section H. So now, we needed to look for the building. Section H was very big—and there were lots of cars. So we walked and walked and walked along the utility road, looking for the building that would identify our parking spot. We walked another 15 minutes and then another 15 minutes…and still could not find the building that marked where our car was. We were now very frustrated because we knew we were close. Where was that elusive building? Finally, we saw a parking attendant. We described to him the landmark we had chosen that morning because we thought was too big to lose.

“Oh, that building,” he said. “We tore it down and hauled it away early this afternoon.”

We had done our best. We had a fool-proof strategy to keep us from getting lost, or so we thought.

  • That building will always be there.
  • It will never move.
  • But it did move… and we might be still out there looking today, if we had not consulted that attendant.
  • It was not the permanent, never changing landmark that we thought it was.

Our own understanding can get us hurt in our decisions…if we are not careful. Many of us have set our compass on our growing retirement accounts, on the reliability of friends and family members, on maintaining excellent health or on living to be 95.

The truth can be full of surprises, some of which can be very difficult to believe or to accept. I spoke with a man whose wife had just left him to file for divorce and to go live with another man. He told me that he was holding onto life with a “white knuckle” grip, but the discouragement was becoming more than he could bear. Another person confessed discouragement because his company was going out of business. Still another mom and dad are struggling with a son who is taking drugs.

There are happy times in this life and there are difficult times. None of us will escape difficult times. When the Jesus’ disciples discovered that Jesus had been put to death on a cross, they were deeply discouraged and defeated. They had followed his leading for three years and they were sure that he was the one in whom they could put their trust. He was the one who was immovable. But now he was dead.

You might be discouraged because the people you had once counted on have failed you. You could be pleading with God that he would immediately change your circumstances. But God has his perfect timing and his perfect direction. We cannot and do not want to change it. It is perfect. What we do know is that Jesus promised that the same power that brought back him from the dead is available to us. He is our landmark that will never move. May you trust in his unchanging love, forgiveness and guidance. May you be encouraged that, with Christ, all things are possible.

Living To Bless Others

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

One of the most common principles by which people seek success in life is “look out for number one.” It is very natural and starts from birth when one of the first words each child learns is “mine.” I want to suggest another way to live that will be even more successful. It will work for individuals, couples, families, offices, schools…it applies in every setting. Actually, I cannot take credit for it. This principle comes from Jesus. You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader (great) among you must be your servant. – Mark 10:42-43

This week, my wife came home from a very emotionally taxing day at work and then helping to arrange care for her father who is in his last days of life. In one of the few times when I actually took time to listen rather than offer my sage advice, I could see that more than anything, she needed my ears and my hug. It was a sign of affirmation and value. My hug didn’t change any of the difficult circumstances. It was a simple gesture with a much needed message of how much I valued her attached. From her grateful response, I think she appreciated it. Please know that there have been many other times when I didn’t get it right, when the first words out of my mouth were “here is what you need to do to fix it.”

In his book, The Blessing, author John Trent writes that many of us spend an entire lifetime, perhaps unknowingly, in search of affirmation and love. Imagine going through all of life, waiting for a hug and never getting it, longing for someone to ascribe value to your life and but it never happened.

The source of our strength is knowing that we are loved and accepted by God. The apostle Paul writes, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” You and I matter to God more than we could ever imagine. What’s more, when we are sure of that God loves us, then we can risk reaching out to other people.

Think about it. You and I can be some of the best messengers of love and affirmation to others. That is what it means to bless another person. Being a messenger of love and affirmation will be greatest legacy that we can leave on this earth. Imagine, blessing someone else so that person can bless someone too. How can we be a blessing?

  • With your encouraging words
  • With a meaningful appropriate touch (like a hug)
  • By throwing a party or making a big deal over someone
  • By reminding them of their future filled with potential

Make it your valentine’s present to the people in your life to be an encourage them, to be a bless them. And as you do, the most amazing thing will happen. You will be blessed and encouraged, too.

 

Christmas Means Life Together

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

Our family dynamics have changed radically in the last three years.  Two of our three children are now living in college dormitories.  The youngest, who is still at home, answers all of our many questions with one word answers.  Our house has become much quieter.  We remember fondly the commotion that used to be our home life, the complications of car seats, and even refereeing of daily of the regular “he touched me” battles.  Looking back, we actually miss the chaos because it was life together.  Times together now are fewer and we celebrate them.  Life together is what real life is all about.

As we prepare for this 2014 Christmas season, we remember that the promise of Christmas is God with us.  God, the mighty creator of the universe came to earth on that first Christmas to do life together with us.  Despite all the battles between people in the world, all of our selfishness, and all the rest of the reasons God has to give up on us, God still pursues us.  All throughout the Bible, God comes to people and tells them, “I will be with you.”  In perhaps the best known passage in the Bible, Psalm 23, God promises us that even when we are walking through the darkest valleys, we do not need to fear. Why? Because you are with me.  Jesus’ last promise to us before he left this world was, “I will be with you always.”  Did you hear that…always… through all good and the tough circumstances…not sometimes but always!

God showed us His love by sending His one and only Son to be born in a manger and then to die on a cross so that we can experience life together with God.  Jesus came so that we could be with God, now and forever.

So, celebrate God’s love for you this Christmas by reaching out and caring for others who may be feeling very separated from God and alone.  Here are some ideas:

  • Are there elderly people or people without families in your life?  Take some time to visit them or include them.
  • Are there people who have recently moved into your neighborhood?  Bake or buy a plate of cookies and make a visit to get to know them.
  • Does your school or church or synagogue connect with a homeless shelter?  Sign up to serve a meal one night and make sure you sit down and actually talk with some of the people who are eating. Let them know you care.
  • Do you think about children who may not receive a gift this year?  How about you giving them a gift?

Celebrate Christmas by remembering God’s love for us in Jesus, God with us.

Celebrate Christmas with those closest to you.

Celebrate Christmas by remembering those who need God’s touch.

Christmas is about doing life together.

A Lesson In Priorities From Uganda

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

This summer, my family and I along with several other friends spent two months in rural villages in Uganda. We went with an excellent compassion organization called Hope4Kids. Our goal was to meet new friends in Uganda and discover ways to help. We knew that Uganda is one of the 20 poorest countries in the world. There is significant poverty. Many live in mud huts, drink contaminated water and live each day hungry. Incredible numbers of children have been orphaned by war and disease.

Yet, with all these challenges, we met some of the most humble, respectful, kind, happy, generous and welcoming people. In the villages that we visited and the people we were blessed to meet, we encountered thankful faith-filled people…not people obsessed with asking for handouts. We met new friends who were genuinely interested in us as people and how they could get to know us better. Though they struggle with so many of the basics of life, they have kind of contentment that I found enviable. They have a grasp on what is most important.

How do we determine what is most important in life? Jesus told us a rather sobering and direct story to help us with this question. There is a wealthy man whose business was very successful. He asked himself, “What should I do for I don’t have enough space to store my goods?” In other words, God is blessing him with a business that made him a lot of money – so much he doesn’t know what to do with all of it. Then he says, “Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my storage units and I’ll build larger ones. Then I’ll say to myself, ‘I have so many good things stored up for me. Now rest, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, “You fool. This night your life will be demanded of you and then to whom will all your things belong?” This is the way it will be for anyone who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.

That illustration is a sobering one to hear, especially for so many of us who have so much when compared with most of the world. Jesus is challenging us to order our lives around what matters to God, what God believes is most important. In another passage, Jesus tells us that love is what truly matters to God. We can have lots of possessions, we can be very educated, we can speak well, we can believe great truths, we can even be generous…but we are reminded that unless we have love as our motivation, none of these things matter at all to God.

From the very beginning of the Bible, we discover that we are blessed to be a blessing to others. We are called to be messengers of love, truth and encouragement to others, both in our family and those outside of our family. Our greatest calling will be is to inspire and love others to realize their God-given potential. When we love someone with the love that God has first given us, that person will most likely be inspired to love someone too.

As we enter into the busy holiday season, take time to count your blessings and then to love, encourage and inspire those around you. This is what matters to God. As you do, the most amazing thing will happen – you will be blessed and encouraged, too.

What’s The Score?

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

My children have been involved in sports teams for many years. When they first started to play, the emphasis was on enthusiastic participation, good sportsmanship and energy-burning fun. However, in the middle of the soccer games, one of them would ask, “What’s the score…are we winning? How many points do we need to get even and overtake our opponents?” The coach and parents would all answer in unison, “It doesn’t matter…we are just having fun.” Yet, somehow, the children, the parents and the coaches all knew the score. In our minds, someone had to win and someone had to lose.

The culture we live in is into score-keeping. Some score-keeping is necessary and helpful because it helps us measure our goals. Scores can point out those places where we compare favorably and those areas where we need to do more work. If we score poorly on a math test in school, it is an indicator that we might need to spend some extra time studying math. A high Apgar score indicates a healthy baby at birth. A low score could help doctors focus on body systems needing more attention. We keep score on our investments to make sure we are saving enough for the time when we retire.

Score-keeping can also be harmful. Some people are looking to retaliate and get even for any hurt or wrong that comes their ways. Others will seem like they are generous givers but they are only generous toward those who can benefit them. Jesus had some very countercultural things to say about score-keeping.

Do you think you deserve credit merely for loving those who love you? Even the sinners do that! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, is that so wonderful? Even sinners do that much! – Luke 6:32-33

You might say that Jesus told his followers to keep score no more. It’s a radical way to live…it’ll never work, some might contend. Yet, when Jesus went to the cross for the sin of everyone in the world, he called us to trust him to settle all the old scores and to enter into the rest of our lives keeping score no more.

At the end of every sports season, there is one winner and there are many losers. I am very grateful that God’s love for me and for all who choose to trust in him is not based on score keeping. If it were, certainly I would be one of the losers. God’s love for us is not based on our achievements but on a trust relationship with Jesus.

When we trust Jesus and follow him, he asks us to keep score no more with each other. Life is not about keeping score and getting even. It’s about forgiveness. In Ephesians 4:32 we read, “Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Forgiveness is not possible in our own strength. It goes against our natural instinct to get even. By trusting in him, God gives us this opportunity to be free from the bitterness of holding grudges and doing everything we can do to come out on top at the expense of others. God gives us the strength to love as God loves us. It’s a win-win solution. It’s getting right rather than getting even. It sure beats keeping score.

The Life That Is Better Than The Good Life

Pastor Paul Witkop

Click to read more about Paul Witkop

By Paul Witkop –

When I was a baby, I’m sure my parents fed me strained spinach. That was the good life, because I didn’t know any better. Of course, today I think it tastes like dog-spit. We banned it from our kid’s diet because it made me sick just to look at it. When I grew up, I learned about Chicago style pizza, jerked chicken and Thai cuisine. I will never go back to strained spinach. No way! I have tasted something much better.

If your goal is the good life, that is looking good, feeling good and having lots of goods…then God has something else in mind…it’s a better life. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy and enjoy the fruits of our labors. However, ultimately, God wants to give us his best, a life filled with meaning and freedom.

Where do we find meaning? It comes from a relationship with the God who created us. We didn’t make ourselves, although some of us beg to differ. God made us for a purpose and without God’s purpose life will never make sense. We weren’t made to live by ourselves or for ourselves. In fact, the more selfish and self-centered we are, the more miserable we are. We soon learn that instantaneous gratification of every one of our impulses will lead to disaster. Our meaning comes from God. God created us and knows us best.

Our freedom also comes from God. Everything you have in your life is a gift from God. The next breath you take, the next meal you eat, the next sunset you enjoy, the next hug you treasure – all of them are gifts. God gives us the freedom to choose. Sometimes we choose our own way rather than God’s. We soon learn that choices that leave out God are not wise and can be destructive. But even when we blow it, he still loves us. We don’t earn his love…it is a free gift. God’s love says, “I want the best for you. You cannot earn my love. I forgive you.” Jesus Christ has paid for your sin on the cross. Jesus’ resurrection proves that no power on this earth, not even death itself is greater than God’s power. When we do choose our own way, God is not mad at us. God wants to give us another chance.

The best life is living every day in faith, confident of God’s love and confident to share that love with others. He wants a relationship with each of us and is waiting for each of us to respond to his offer. Say “yes” to his offer. Then find some other followers of Jesus in a church. All of us need a community to grow. This is the best life possible.

 

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