Having a happy New Year depends on your attitude, not your resolution...

A lot of people out there are very unhappy with themselves. They are glad to be alive, but generally speaking, they find life sorta sucks. They don't like their job, they are stuck in a bad relationship, they aren't happy with the amount of money they have in their bank account, they have a few 20 lbs too many around their mid-section, they are are experiencing crushing levels of debt, and they don't feel they read the Bible enough. So seeing that a New Year brings with it new opportunities and the chance to start anew, people make a lot of resolutions to change their behaviors and imagine they'll be happy when they do such. But 15 days into it, they lose their resolve and spend yet another year rather unhappy with their life.

But therein lies the problem. What most people don't realize is that the level of happiness you experience this coming year will primarily depend on your attitude and perspective, and not on your circumstances and situations. The ironic thing about New Years resolutions is that people are attempting to become happy by changing their circumstances and situations instead of their attitude and perspective. And while I'm a big believer that people should have definite short and long-term goals and aspirations, one's that they've even taken the time to write down on paper, the quest for happiness should not depend primarily on these things.

The following are 5 attitudes and perspectives that will help you have a happy New Year:

1. Cultivate your relationship with God:

By this I don't mean simply increasing the amount of time you spend praying, reading your Bible, and regularly attending church. These things are important sure enough, but they don't make you have a relationship with God. Cultivating your relationship with God is about living your life with Him and for Him. It's about walking through life hand in hand with Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and was raised from the dead, so that we might experience every day anew as we experience it with Him. It's about learning to think as Jesus thinks, and about having your heart beat with the things that cause His heart to beat. Apart from such a relationship with God, I have no idea how to have a happy life. Indeed, being that we were created by Him and for Him, I fail to see how any person could ever have a truly happy life. Some people might report having such without God, but please forgive me if I fail to imagine how such is possible.

2. Learn to love other people:

This second point is related to the first. As Jesus said, the greatest two commandments is to love God, and to love your neighbor as yourself. In learning to love God, you cannot help but come to the place where you love people. For your relationship with God and loving Him is directly correlated to your ability to love other people. And by loving other people, I don't simply mean loving your immediate family and close friends, and people who love you. Any idiot does that. I mean you come to the place where you love co-workers you don't get along with, strangers, your creditors, Muslims, bankers, homosexuals, pastors in denominations you dislike, MSNBC news anchors, Barack Obama, and people you might otherwise consider your enemy. And you not only "tolerate" and love such people, but you love them like you do you and your own life. You do crazy things like forgive them. Such takes a special type of grace. But such grace is available from God.

3. Make this year your best year:

For the past decade or so, I've made it my point to make every year I live the best year I've ever lived. I live with the attitude that the best is always yet to come. I don't sit there and long for the "good ol' days" of when I was in high school and college, and could live in a rather care-free way. Today is my good ol' day, and so will tomorrow be. And that will remain the case even should unfortunate circumstances arise that crush me. And that will remain even if my life begins to resemble the lyrics of a sad country song. For though I'm crushed I will not be destroyed. For I've grounded my life in my relationship with God, and God doesn't change. Jesus Christ was alive yesterday, is alive today, and will be alive tomorrow. I will always find joy even should my circumstances not make me very happy, for joy can always be found even in the darkest of moments when you realize that Jesus Christ always remains.

4. Give thanks:

At Elevation Church for this Christmas season, pastor Steven Furtick has had a series called "52 Days of Praise." At every service he has given every attendee 7 colorful index sized cards with a little "praise prompt." These "prompts" were to be read on a daily basis. I will admit, I never really used these cards. But I know some people that have, and some friends of mine on Facebook have taken pictures of these cards to share with others. Many people have found them a useful tool to foster a spirit of thankfulness in their lives. And such, frankly, is a spirit that a lot of people lack. A lot of people feel entitled to something because they think they "deserve" or have "earned" something. They are people who seldom ever show appreciation for anything they have. They almost never give thanks to God or thanks to others for anything they have, except perhaps as a way to be polite. But in reality, such a mindset keeps us from experiencing true happiness. For until you come to the place in your heart and mind where you realize you've earned and deserve nothing, and realize that everything you have is a gift from above, and was somehow delivered by God to you through somebody else, you'll never be truly happy in your life. For thankfulness fosters a content heart, and a content heart is one that is full and satisfied, and never feels it is somehow being robbed or missing out.

5. The grass is never greener than where you are at:

When you are full of thanksgiving and have a content heart, you will realize that the grass is always greener where you are at. However, most people suffer from thinking the grass is always greener on the other side of the proverbial fence. But I am always reminded in Psalm 23 how the Lord is my Shepherd, and how he leads me beside the still waters, and how he makes me to lay down in green pastures. Therefore, wherever I am in life, even when my circumstances seem less than ideal, when I realize that God is actively involved in my life and that every hair on my head is numbered, I realize that wherever I am is the place God has brought me to. And the place He has brought me is the place in which my soul can be nurtured. It is the place where my thirst can be quenched, and my stomach can be satisfied. It is the place where though my table is set before me in the presence of my enemies, my cup runneth over, and grace and mercy follow me all the days of my life. Wherever that place is, wherever I am at, God is there with me, and that is a great place to be.

Happy New Year!


The Art of Returning Christmas Gifts

Christmas has come and gone, and people have received a lot of gifts. Some gifts were great, and others... not so great. Of the "not so great" gift pile, some of those gifts will be shelved somewhere mostly out of sight, just in case the gift giver pays you a visit (family politics!) Other gifts will be "re-gifted." And yet many more brave souls will boldly stand in a customer service line, and attempt to return or exchange the undesired gifts.

If you are one of the millions who will attempt to return or exchange a gift sometime in the next few weeks, I would like to offer some friendly wisdom. Take this from a guy who spent about 10 years of his life in some form of retail:

1. Remember, you aren't the only person on planet Earth doing this.

Duh. But really, remember this as you stand in a long line of people, you aren't the only person there. While you may blissfully attempt to tune out everything around you, don't become one of "those people" who act like they are the only person standing in line. For heavens sake, don't do silly things like bring your screaming soggy-bottomed baby to stand in line with you. And make sure you have as many of your receipts as possible ready to give to the customer service rep. And when it is your turn, don't tell a long story about why you are returning your items. 99 percent of the time, the reason you are returning your item simply won't matter.

2. Shop before you get in line:

Unless you want to stand in the world's longest line twice, and really have nothing better to do with your time, whenever you are exchanging an item, shop for the items you want ahead of time and bring them with you to the counter. Such will make everything go much more smoothly for you, the people in line next to you, and it will actually help make the world go round. Think about it... you don't want to stand in line twice!

3. Your customer service reps are people too:

Even though you are the customer, and the customer is always right... when dealing with your friendly customer service rep, NEVER get mad at them, yell at them, or otherwise act like an idiot. I don't care how entitled, white, or middle-class you are. I don't care how smart you are, or how great your job is. I don't care how dumb or irrating the person behind the desk seems to be as they mindlessly invoke x, y, and z policy over you, and why you can't exchange your gift. Customer service people are your fellow sinners, created in the image of God. They may or may not treat you well (after all, you are the millionth person they've seen, they are 2 hours past due for a break, they've been standing on their feet all day, and the store manager isn't helping them out any). Speak kindly and gently to them. Remember, you get more bees with honey, and a gentle answer turns away wrath. Don't threaten to take your business elsewhere. Don't demand to speak to a manager (they are usually just going to side with the customer service rep anyway.) Simply look to treat others the way you would want to be treated, like Jesus said. You wouldn't want somebody acting like an idiot yelling at you, would you?

4. Don't attempt to return an item without a receipt:

Unless you are returning clothes made by the Gap to the Gap, if you don't have a receipt for something, or a copy of the credit card the item was purchased with, save everybody and yourself the trouble of attempting to return the gift. It's almost never going to happen and defies common sense. Think about it... if you owned a retail store and somebody claimed to have purchased an item at your store, but didn't have any means whatsoever of proving it, would you take the financial risk of returning or exchanging that item without a receipt? Then don't be so shocked if you can't do it.

5. Be thankful:

We can't always get what we want, even when we attempt to exchange our gifts. Therefore, learn to be thankful for what you received, even if what you received is the wrong size, shape, or color. Be thankful for whatever you have received, because there are a lot of people out there this Christmas who didn't receive anything. Find joy and learn to delight in whatever you get, because it'll change your heart in the process. And a changed heart is the greatest of gifts.


The Culture Wars: Why Duck Dynasty Matters

Duck Dynasty

Love 'em or hate'em, Duck Dynasty matters. And here's why:

Phil Robertson's recent comments in GQ magazine regarding homosexuality are nothing novel.  His perspective is far from shocking, and is something that somebody who has never watched the show probably could have surmised.  The backlash against Robertson from GLADD was obviously feigned outrage designed to draw attention to the organization and its causes, and with it-- donations. A&E's initial response, to suspend Robertson from the show, while alarming to many, is something straight out of the recent media playbook. 

Robertson is one of many TV personalities whose off-the-cuff remarks has cost them a job.  Bill Maher, Juan Williams, Paula Deen, and Martin Bashir all know very well that in America, while we might have the freedom of speech, we are also free to suffer the repercussions of that speech.  None of us have the right to a TV show.  If we say something that our TV network (or employer) doesn't like, and it brings negative publicity to them so as to somehow harm the reputation and image of that network, which may ultimately harm the company financially, then it should be expected that the company will take actions needed to safeguard itself from such harm, including terminating their own superstars.

So is Phil Robertson just another person in a long line of TV personalities whose job gets eliminated as a matter of standard protocol due to politically incorrect speech, and companies looking to protect their own self-interest?  On the surface, it might appear that way.  But that's where you would be wrong.

According to the Christian perspective, we live in a fallen spiritual world dominated by wicked and dark spiritual forces that rule over the hearts and minds of men.  In contrast, most people regularly live their daily lives oblivious to such forces.  As once said, the Devil's greatest trick is convincing the world he doesn't exist.  As a result, people are blinded to these forces as they make their media playbooks on mitigating the fallout from receiving bad press.  This is no different than 2,000 years ago, when a certain Jewish carpenter named Jesus was nailed to a cross for his speech and actions.  Crucifixion was something Rome had become horrifyingly efficient at.  They had it down to a science, and did it as a matter of protocol. Jesus wasn't the first person to be crucified, and he certainly wasn't the last.  He hung in a long line of political enemies Rome crucified.  His death, in many ways to the natural observer, was simply "business as usual."  Yet, Biblically speaking, there was much more going on behind the scenes that meets the eye.

In the same manner, Phil Robertson's suspension appears on the surface to be simply business as usual. But I believe it is is only such to those who don't step back and see a bigger picture.  Behind the scenes there is a spiritual battle going on.  Phil Robertson's comments struck a certain spiritual chord, which triggered a response that caused the fallen spiritual powers that be to flex their muscles, and to lash out accordingly.  While the fallout against Robertson and his family is minimal in its ultimate impact, as they are all millionaires many times over, and stand to lose very little as a result of this mild persecution, I believe the response of many against Robertson is merely a foretaste of the greater wave of intolerance and hostility against Christianity that is growing in this country. And such hostility against Christians is spiritually motivated.

What we are really seeing in this controversy is a small glimpse into a not very distant future.  In a not too distant future, it will be very difficult thing to be a Christian in America.