Simple is as simple does

As 2015 rapidly approaches, there are many who are furiously planning how they want their lives to be improved in the coming year. There will be commitments for exercise and weight loss; striving for more discipline at work or in the classroom; setting goals for productivity; or just wanting less stress and more free time.

Whatever your aim for 2015 is, I am on your side! I just wish that January 1 came with a magic tonic to help all of us achieve these lofty goals that we set for ourselves. But alas, there is nothing mystical or special about the first day of the year when it comes to the changes you believe that you need to make in your life, other it being a marker for you to begin with.

Truth be told, I stopped making New Years' resolutions a long time ago for a couple of reasons. First, I was terrible at keeping them, but second and more important, if I knew that I needed to make life changes in the first place, then it would be pretty pitiful for me to wait until the first day of the year to do what needs to be done now.

So whether you are one who is really into hammering his stake in the ground at the beginning of each new year or you make the necessary adjustments as they present themselves, I do have one challenge that I want to share that I hope to achieve more of in my own life in the coming years:
I want simplicity.
That may not seem like a very detailed goal. After all, there are many ways to define what is simple and some of those definitions are not too endearing. Yet for me, simplicity encompasses not just a way of viewing life, but it also embodies a way of living my life as well. Here are a few things that I want to encourage myself and all others with in the coming years: 
  • Simplify your stuff - Most of us have a lot of stuff. Too much stuff. And now that the Christmas season has just passed, you have more stuff than you know what to do with. Sadly, many don't know how to part with their stuff and so they hoard it, hidden away in some closet or attic for a time that they might actually need it. But we all know that those times rarely come, so why not get rid of some of your stuff and either donate it to those who truly need it or sell it online or at a yard sale and make a profit off of it?
  • Simplify your time - Within this challenge I reserve the right to tell you to put your cell phones/iPods/tablets/TV remotes, etc., down and make time for things that are more important. Things like books and conversations and sitting outside to watch the sunset. For many of us, much of our time is wasted scrolling on the pages of social media or flipping the channels through endless crappy TV shows. Take your time back by putting the distractions away!  
  • Simplify your relationships - There are people in your life right now that are there only because you allow them to be there. You may be stuck in a cubicle next to some guy at work who hums annoying Disney tunes all day, but more often than not the people that influence you the most are the people that you allow to influence you the most. Think about the "friends" that are on your news feed on Facebook or other social media sites. They are constantly negative and they post ridiculous if not offensive things about politics and religion and other people. You are control here. Block them. Unfriend or unfollow them. It's really simple. But beyond what you might see on a computer screen, take a close look at those people you associate with in your everyday life. Are there "friends" who drag you down or influence you in a negative direction? Then stop hanging out with them! Simplify your friendships and relationships by choosing to surround yourself only with those whose lives point your own life in a positive direction.
Now if you are still reading this and you are thinking, "This advice isn't bad, but it sounds an awful lot like that personal power junk I've heard about that will help you make a better you," I will admit, it does kinda sound that way. But I'm not quite done yet. You see, I've left the most important challenge for last because embedded in this challenge is the key to true simplicity. Here it is:
  •  Keep your relationship with Jesus simple - Walking with Christ can be incredibly demanding and challenging, but it doesn't have to be difficult. Model the example that Christ gave to us:
    • Jesus often made time to be alone so that He could pray to God (Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12). Make prayer a priority, not an after thought.
    • Jesus made time for people. You should too.
    • Jesus showed compassion for those who needed it most. Do you seek to meet the needs of those around you?
    • Jesus modeled grace and forgiveness well before He died to eternally offer it. You can do the same.
    • Jesus sought intimacy with God and He knew God's word. Spend time each day in God's word and you will find that same intimacy.
Some of you just read that and are saying to yourself, "That's a lot of stuff! That's not simple - that's hard!" Indeed it would appear that way. But consider what I am suggesting: Free yourself from the bondage of believing that you have to do a certain number of acts of kindness or never miss a church service or have to appear a certain way in order to win God's blessing. Instead, cast aside your personal agendas and preconceived notions and pursue Jesus. Get to know Him. Talk with Him. Strive to live the simple and obedient life that He lived. Yes, it will be challenging and it will require that you give up some things, yet in doing so you will be simplifying even more so that you can know Him even deeper.

Don't be afraid to say the "S" word

As a kid, I never had my mouth washed out with soap due to foul language. Now this isn't because I never said a bad word, but rather because my parents probably never heard me. In truth, the real reason I was cautious to never utter a profane word in front of my parents is because of some wisely crafted medicine that my mom administered to me early on. During a stirring conversation about the consequences of bad language, she introduced me to the flavor of baking soda delivered in a tea spoon that would be punishment for verbal indiscretions. After tasting that awful powder, I vowed never to allow that stuff to pass my lips again.

There are many words that are taboo in our culture and just simply should not be spoken. Or if we do say them, they are delivered in hushed tones so that no one else can hear. Some words are so foul to the ears that, when uttered, cause us to recoil in disgust and leave the conversation if not the room altogether. We reference these abominable sayings with abbreviations or code words so that our hearers will know what we are talking about without us actually having to say the dreaded word itself (i.e., "Johnny got in trouble at school for saying the "D" word").

Today, many words and phrases that were considered scandalous to utter just a few decades ago are now commonplace in our media and entertainment fronts. There do not seem to be many limits placed on what is now acceptable for the human ear to hear. But there is one word that is still banned in many circles and has been declared irrelevant if not ridiculous by a plethora of social, political, and even religious groups. The word in question is the dreaded "S" word:

Sin

Sin is no longer discussed - it's not even allowed to be mentioned in some settings - because it is considered an archaic concept that our world has rejected because of its lack of relevance to the overall human experience. After all, with relativism reigning supreme in our world, sin only serves to deconstruct many of the ivory palaces that we have built for ourselves. Therefore sin is no longer considered a valid option for everyday vernacular. Sure, you can mention that word in your closed religious meetings, just don't try to force your dogma on the rest of the populace. 

A casual perusing of the news will reveal that there is much in our world that is seemingly out of balance. Just recently, there has been much civil unrest in America over what many believe to be police brutality caused by racial profiling. Just the other day a young woman was doused with lighter fluid and set ablaze inside of her car, left to suffer a horrific death. We can't forget the multitude of school and work place shootings that we have witnessed over the past decade and that occur with shocking regularity. The list of terrible and brutal crimes and tragedies seems to be never ending, as do our explanations for why such events continue to plague our society: Intolerance is the problem, racism is the problem, drugs are the problem, guns are the problem, elitism is the problem, etc.

But those explanations are only the symptoms of what lies deeper beneath the surface of the ills that our world suffers. You see, the root problem of the evil and carnage and suffering that is experienced worldwide is found in that dirty little "S" word, sin. That word that no one wants to acknowledge because certainly we can discover a more acceptable way to define the errors rampant in the human condition. We will work ourselves into oblivion trying to explain society's behavior - everything from blaming politics, poverty, racism, classism, and even culture itself - but in doing so we miss the very reason why all of these issues have come into being. Sin. 
For the wages of sin is death... (Romans 6:23)
Many, while reading this, will choose to cast another label at me to explain away the reality of sin - superstitious Bible thumper. But here is the truth that so many want to ignore: The reason that racism, hate, violence, rape, murder, and injustice exists is not because of a system suddenly gone wrong, but rather because of the inherent sin that resides within man. Sinful men make sinful decisions that affect everyone.

Sin is nothing short of acting contrary to the character and holiness of God. Sin gives birth to the selfishness, hate, and greed that fuels all of our world's problems. We need to look no further than inside the heart of man to diagnose the problems that, when left untreated, grow to epidemic proportions. And if all that we know is the root of the problem without a solution for it, then we can expect that our world will never be anything more than a cesspool for the wicked.

But there is good news out there. Instead of trying to politicize or protest or loot our social ills away - which will never, ever succeed on any level - let us go to the solution that has already been laid out before us, the one found in the second portion of Romans 6:23:
...but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Many won't find that a suitable solution and will continue to pursue change and growth through a flawed human system that has proven itself time and again woefully inadequate to bring hope, peace, and reconciliation. But the truth is, we cannot simply legislate or debate away the reality of sin. It must be tackled head on and the good news is that the war has already been waged - and won - on our behalf by Jesus. His death on the cross conquered sin and there will come a day when sin is vanquished forever. This means that, if you are in Christ, sin no longer has control over you. Though you still feel its ravaging effects, sin no longer owns you. And when Jesus is your center, then sin no longer is the determining factor in your life and decisions. 

Sin is the ultimate problem. Jesus is the only answer. Anything less results in hopeless rhetoric, divisiveness, and endless frustration. It's time to take the censors off of the "S" word. 

Broken bones, but not broken dreams

This is what a broken and dislocated forearm on a 9-year-old girls looks like. Unfortunately this belongs to my youngest daughter, Emme...