It’s almost 2016…almost. Many of you are planning New Year’s Resolutions to accompany your celebration of the turning of another calendar year. It’s a common practice among those in our culture to deem the start of a new year as a time to suddenly start doing what’s important. However, if these resolutions were really something of great importance, would we not have started them the moment that we first realized their worth?
I’m not a big believer in the “New Year’s Resolution” as an effective means of conveyance to change the life of someone who has procrastinated upon the implementation of doing something really important in their life. If you really need a marker-date to start something good, there’s a numeric classification attached to every single day of the year. When you realize you need to start, pick that day and begin the process. Waiting for January 1st is only a sign that you really don’t hold this 'new thing' of any real importance, nor in as high of a regard as you think you do.
As the New Year approaches, we do have a moment to evaluate the activities of the previous year. We can probably classify all of these evaluations under the two categories of “successful” or “unsuccessful.” Our failures may outnumber our victories, but such is life. As some would assume, failing at something doesn’t always mean that we simply did a bad job or that we didn't put forth a good effort. Failure is a marker of effort. If you’ve never failed, then you’ve never tried.
I love to read. Over the years I have read many books that compare the activities of those who are successful versus those who are not. Today, I wanted to share some of that information with you. Do with it as you will…
Successful people read everyday…Unsuccessful people watch TV
This is a fact grounded in almost every study that I have read. People who are successful take the time to read. Reading stimulates the mind. Read books, newspapers, articles online…read everything you can. Read the works of people you agree with and read the thoughts of those you don’t agree with, as well! Reading enlightens us and opens up cognitive processes in our minds that are not touched by video games, television sitcoms, or movies. Many people have told me that they hate to read. If you hate to read, then you probably hate to learn. Successful people understand the importance of reading.
Successful people compliment…Unsuccessful people criticize
To be successful in our world requires a mind that can detect the positive hidden inside a sea of negative. Successful people are positive. They focus their energies on finding the positive and building upon it. Their mindset is one of optimism, and they don’t allow themselves to become entangled in the negative evaluation of others. Criticizing consumes portions of your mind (and ultimately your life) that you could be using to improve your own personal situation. Critics are almost always insecure people who are seeking to prop up their own deficits by exposing the deficits they see in others. When successful people identify a problem in their own organization, they engage their energies in finding solutions. They do not make excuses, and they do not compare their ‘bad’ to the ‘greater bad’ they see elsewhere. Successful people do not burn their energies on criticism.
Successful people embrace change…Unsuccessful people fear change
Change is a fact of life. For anything to grow, change is a requirement. When we fear change, we stifle what could be, settling instead for the comfort of what has always been. The influences of change are certainly not always good, but simply fearing change for the sake of fear is foolishness. Adapt, overcome, and realize that success will most certainly be accompanied by some sort of change. Einstein had it right with his notion that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result." A fearful person who refuses to change will never be successful.
Successful people forgive others…Unsuccessful people hold grudges
You will be “done wrong” in this life. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s coming.
Wait for it… People can simply be mean. They will try to lie, cheat, and steal their way to the head of the line. These individuals are not worthy of your time, so take a moment to be angry and move on. I am aware that it's a lot easier said than done, but forgiveness is a practice that is well worth your time. When you forgive someone who has perpetrated a wrong against you, then you are denying them a place in your mind…a place that should be filled with optimism, creativity, and focus. Holding grudges inhibits you in far too many ways to even discuss. Just let it go. Successful people always seem to be trailed by critics, and there's a reason that the critics are trailing and not leading. Winston Churchill once said: “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” Let them bark, and you move on with your life. Success demands it.
Successful people talk about ideas…Unsuccessful people talk about others
Unsuccessful people love to criticize and gossip. In my opinion, gossip is the tool of the feeble mind. It’s commonplace among those in our culture, but small and feeble minds are commonplace as well. If you want to succeed, then empty your mind of gossip, and focus your energies on the things that are relevant in your own personal pursuit of success. Talking about others only detracts from your own forward progress, and it makes you look as foolish as you are trying to make others look by talking about them. Be better than that. Be smarter than that. Frankly, if you’re going to be successful, then you don’t have time for the activity of gossip.
Successful people continuously learn…Unsuccessful people think that they already know it all
About the time that I think I have a good handle on life, I learn that I really don’t. There is always something to learn, and there will always be something to learn.
If you think that you know it all, let me assure you that your delusional belief is proof, all by itself, that you don’t. We can always glean something new from everyone that we meet, everything that we read, and every experience that we undertake. To think that we have all the answers is a sign of foolishness, and it will stagnate our growth and drop us at the doorstep of failure. Actually, it will throw us over the doorstep, through the front door, and right into the middle of the abode of failure. Don’t ever assume that you can’t learn something new everyday. Regardless of how good you are at something, there will always be someone better. Successful people seek out those who are more skilled than they, for the sole purpose of learning from them. When they find them, they are not intimidated by someone of greater skill or knowledge; instead, they should feel privileged to have the opportunity to learn something new. We don’t succeed by thinking that we know it all; we succeed by understanding that we don’t.
Successful people accept responsibilities for their failures…Unsuccessful people blame others for their failures
Like I said before, failure is definitive proof that you tried. When you try and fail, you should view that as a learning experience. If you truly failed because of someone else, then you have just learned to not include them in the process again under the same circumstances. However, successful people take ownership of their efforts. Always pointing fingers at others is a sign insecurity, and it will not lead you any further down the road to success. Pick up, adjust, reevaluate, implement, and continue the journey. Blaming others for your failures is a sign that you may not be mentally prepared for success, as success will always be preceded by some degree of failure. If you’re constantly trying to assign blame, then you’re never really concentrating on the pursuit of success…you’re only concentrating on the reasons you haven’t achieved it. If you stay there too long, your life will turn out to be 'just one big excuse.' Successful people don't embrace excuses...they embrace solutions.
Successful people have a sense of gratitude…Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement
One of the quickest ways to achieve failure is to claim an illegitimate ownership to success. If you don’t believe me, then try it. Go down the road of trying to piggyback on the work, effort and investment of others who have achieved success, and then try to convince them that you deserve the same success simply because you exist. The cancer of ‘entitlement mentality’ is running rampant throughout our country. It’s a doctrine that everyone ‘deserves’ to be successful regardless of their efforts. It’s like giving someone a participant trophy for coming in last. We seem to celebrate mediocrity, and we try to feel good about it by making the mediocre performers feel that they have been successful too…when, in reality, they may have failed. When I was in school, if you came in last, you didn’t get anything. Not only that, you didn’t feel like you should get anything. Today, that mindset has changed. The truth is, we are all given the same 24 hours that comprise a day. What we do with that time is up to our own determination. If we use it wisely, work hard, and achieve, then we’re probably headed in the direction of success. However, success will never ‘find’ us. Success isn’t pursuing anyone. It’s not a predator. Success can be hard to find even for those who work very hard to attain it. Keep standing at the back of line with your hand up screaming that you're entitled, and I guarantee you that success will always be out of reach. Oddly enough, those who feel entitled to success are ungracious when they do not achieve it, while those who are successful are often filled with gratitude. This is not always the case. There are certainly those people who achieve success and flaunt it; however, I believe most successful individuals possess a heart of gratitude. No one owes you anything. If you want to be successful; work hard and be gracious.
Successful people set goals…Unsuccessful people never set goals
How can we ever hope to evaluate anything if there are no parameters set up to do so? How can we even define what success looks like if we don’t know what we’re trying to accomplish? Successful people set goals and drive their energies and resources in the direction and pursuit of those goals. Unsuccessful people float through life without a plan, and specifically without goals. They may not even know their unsuccessful because they’ve never defined success as a goal. A life devoid of goals is a life devoid of purpose. Goals should drive us forward and focus our energy. Setting goals is healthy and positive. Setting goals causes us to engage in life. Someone with a lack of goals is someone with a lot of extra time on their hands…time to be entertained watching TV or playing video games, time to criticize the efforts of those who are trying to reach their own goals, time to gossip, time to blame others, time to reminisce about everyone they hold a grudge against, time to wonder why the world is changing around them, and time to do everything but learn. Successful people understand that setting goals is something of great importance. So, if you’re trying to be successful in an endeavor, then set up some goals, and start the process of achieving them. Those goals may change along your journey, but not having any goals is proof that you probably embrace mediocrity. Have a plan. Success reveals itself to the mind prepared to find it.
This year is about to become a thing of the past. Tomorrow is only as bright as your work and your efforts are willing to make it. If you think that 2016 will be better than 2015 without any additional effort, then prepare yourself to be disappointed. However, 2016 holds great promise for those who are willing to work hard, learn from failure, and practice some commonsense. Every year is a blessing. Embrace the opportunities placed before you in the dawning of a new year, and plan to succeed in more than words alone.
May God bless your 2016!
It's only a few days until Christmas...are you ready?
Are the decorations all hanging correctly, parties planned, gifts bought and wrapped, dinner menus planned out...? What about your clothes? Are you 'dressing in festivity?' Make sure your office space is appropriately cluttered with Christmas trinketry and plenty of colorfully wrapped candy. After all, your desk is just another version of a Christmas tree that you can actually sit and work at...right? Last minute gifts...do you have them? The malls shouldn't be too crowded. If you arrive by 4:00 AM, you can probably secure a great parking place less than two miles away...so don't worry. In the middle of all of this planning and preparation, don't forget all of the family and friends that will inevitably be a part of your holiday situation. They're coming, and they're probably bringing their kids. Put grandma's breakable Christmas plates from 1960 back in the box...do it now.
I love Christmas, and I even love most of what I've mentioned above. I love to go to the malls and hear Christmas music playing while people search for just the right gifts. I love to see kids sitting on Santa's lap negotiating their wish list and telling boldface lies about their behavior over the past 11 months. I love time with family and buying gifts for those who are important to me. It makes my heart smile to watch them open these gifts. The wonderment of a Christmas gift surpasses age, as a gift generates the same responses in young and old alike. I love the food offerings that are presented over the Christmas season. Basically, I love it all.
Many years ago, a small child was born. His birth was humble, and given the location, His birth was unassuming of any greatness by mankind. His life would reflect the humility of His birth. As an adult, Philippians 2:7 tells us that He would become a man of no reputation...a 'nothing' among men. But on the night of His birth, all of Heaven knew differently. In Luke 2, we see that a multitude of angels could not restrain their song in the celebration of the birth of the One they knew to be Savior, Lord and King. It wasn't such a silent night after all. Over 2,000 years later, we still sing the praises of that little baby boy, Jesus Christ, who would be Servant, Sacrifice, Savior and King.
Over the years, Christmas has taken on a different meaning to me. In my youth, I knew what Christmas really meant. I knew that it was all about Jesus, but I would wrap myself in the traditions of Christmas so tightly that Jesus really didn't have any room for influence. In those days, it was all about gifts and family. It was about trips to Tennessee, snow and the simple fun of the holiday routines that played out year after year. Today, my mindset is much different.
Four decades into my life, I have finally realized what the phrase 'Jesus is the reason for the season' really means, and frankly, it's not as beautiful as we have all been taught to presume. Visions of a newborn in a manger evoke lovely thoughts of Christ's humble entrance into our world. We sing "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger," and we wrap ourselves in gentleness of this precious moment. However, the moments that really reveal the true gift of Jesus are yet to play out, and they are not so pretty...
To enter our world, Christ had to leave the majesty and perfection of Heaven, and He had to leave God the Father. It's important to note that Christ didn't leave Heaven and arrive on earth with majestic fanfare. He was not born into earthly privilege. Christ entered our world as a servant, coming to seek and save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10) He was birthed as a mortal man, and through that human birth, we find a baby that would suffer through the pains of existence just as you or I do today. He would feel pain, He would thirst, He would hunger, and He would grow weary.
Throughout his life, Christ would have nowhere to really call home. Luke 9:58 tells us that He had nowhere to lay His head. He lived the life of a wanderer, traveling on a divine mission to evangelize those He so compassionately left the splendor of Heaven to save. He was ridiculed and scorned. His greatest enemies came from inside the church. As I mentioned before, He was a man of no reputation. He was a man who's life could be bought for thirty pieces of silver. He become nothing, served humbly, loved unconditionally, and flawlessly, and without sin, He would set the example that we should hold in highest regard today.
His journeys were long, tiring and selfless. He healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, made the lame to walk and even raised the dead, yet His message and works were diminished by those who sought to do this man of innocence great harm. So, as a human, He would certainly hurt, hunger and grow weary...and He would also bleed. Mankind saw to that personally. This precious baby, born into our world as a humble servant, would eventually embrace a cross on the behalf of all mankind. His death was long and painful, and it was reflective of His life...a life lived in humble servitude and sacrifice by One who deserved much better.
The Real Story of Christmas...
The real story of Christmas is devoid of trees, decorations and bright colorful strands of lights. It doesn't in any way involve the commerce of Christmas sales or shopping malls. Santa Claus has no place of relevance in the actual story of Christmas. The real story involves the Son of God presenting Himself as a gift to all humanity...a gift that humanity would callously abuse. The real story is one of the ugliness of sinful man perpetuating harm upon the innocent person of Jesus Christ. The real story is ugly, but there is beauty contained within, and that beauty is found only in the real gift of Christmas....
The Real Gift of Christmas...
The real gift of Christmas is Christ. More specifically, the real gift of Christmas is the completed work of Christ, a work which began at His birth and ended as He walked alive and well out of the grave...the living Savior, the Redeemer, and the resurrected King. He came to earth out of compassion and love, He was crucified on Calvary as my sin, and He walked out of the grave as my Righteousness. That's the real gift of Christmas.
Without the birth of Christ, there would have been no discipling of humanity, there would have been no Calvary, no sacrifice to pay the debt of sin that would eternally separate us from God, and without the birth of Christ, there would have been no resurrection of the same. With Christ's entrance into our world, He brought hope and salvation to all men who would make Him Lord. He is the gift, and He is the true reason we celebrate.
Don't let the weight of Christmas tradition crush your ability to understand the relevance of that baby you're singing about in church. He was much more than a baby in a manger...much, much more. Today, He's giving us the gift of intercession before Almighty God. He's still working on our behalf...still loving...still giving. One day soon, He'll return to collect His bride. We'll be ushered into the presence of God in a way and a timeframe that none of us could anticipate. All of the Christmas traditions that we revel in here on earth will fade away as we behold Christ as He really is...in all of His splendor, grace and majesty. Then and only then will we truly understand what an incredible gift He has provided to us. Then and only then will we really understand Christmas.
I look forward to that day. Until then, I will celebrate Christmas and enjoy the season, but I will always know that Christ is the only reason to celebrate. It is only through His completed work that Christmas can really be understood. In light of the gift of Jesus Christ, let me wish you a Merry Christmas, because Jesus truly is the reason for the season!
To say that our world is divided in the present age is a tremendous understatement. Nations are falling and tyrants are rising in their place. Even our very own country, the United States of America, now finds itself completely engulfed in an inner turmoil like we have never before seen, and much of that turmoil revolves around the religion of Islam. A flashpoint of this turmoil is the key debate on how our nation should deal with refugees fleeing from the threat that many see coming from Islam. Is it a matter of national sovereignty, protection of our citizenry, or can it all be addressed through compassion and understanding alone? Is the solution only one of the aforementioned, or can it be all of the above?
To intelligently address this issue regarding Islam, one must first have an understanding of history. Without an understanding of history, any opinion shared is simply one spoken in complete ignorance. Historical fact cannot be allowed to bow to political pressure, ideological hope, or well versed campaign promises. Regardless of the insanity of political correctness, historical fact must be allowed a place on the world stage. Today, I’m not attempting to answer any questions about immigration, refugees, or what I think America should do regarding Middle-Eastern conflict. All I am doing today is examining the origins of that conflict and the birth and mindset behind the religion of Islam. I have given no consideration to the opinions of my congressman, no relevance to the Obama administration or their stance on the issue, and I have no concern for the feelings of those who may become offended when presented with historical accuracy. I’m only concerned with what Scripture has to say about our current situation. Upon removing our heads from the sand, we will find great insight in the reflections of history. So, with that said, let’s take a moment and speak some historical truth, and let’s take that truth from the Bible.
In the book of Genesis, Abraham is promised redemption (Genesis 12:1-3), a son (Genesis 15:3-5), and he is also promised the land of Israel (Genesis 15:18). The nation of Israel came through Isaac, Abraham’s promised son. This was God’s will. Consequently, Abraham fell prey to impatience, persuasion, and doubt concerning the realization of God’s promise of Isaac, and eventually, the promise of the land of Israel. In this haze of doubt, Abraham sinned. At the bidding of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, chapter 16 finds Abraham conceiving a child with Hagar, his wife’s servant (Genesis 16:1-2). And so, we now introduce the child Ishmael into the equation of world events. Conceived in sin, impatience, and distrust of God’s promises, Ishmael still causes tremendous problems for us to this very day. The nation of Israel, the Jewish peoples, and Christ Himself was brought about through Isaac. Ishmael is the father of the Arab peoples and Islam itself. Two children from the same father…forever at odds because of sin.
In Genesis 16, God reveals some promises to Hagar regarding her future, and here, God also defines the characteristics of what kind of man Ishmael will be…
‘The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”’ – Genesis 16:10-12 (ESV)
Even though Sarah encouraged Abraham to father Ishmael with her maidservant, she found immediate displeasure in her choice. Sarah mistreated Hagar. Fourteen year later, following the birth of the promised son Isaac, the mistreatment became so severe that Sarah and Hagar parted ways. It is this dissension and hatred between Sarah and Hagar that defines the troubles between their descendants to this very day. And that trouble is growing…and growing fast.
But where does the religion of Islam fit into this equation? How does Ishmael, Hagar and their departure from Abraham play into what we’re experiencing today?
For a very concise answer to this, let me refer you to the words of author, Joel Richardson, in his book, “The Return Is Near: Strategic Insights Into the Most Important Moment In History”…
“So now we have this story: Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael is a fourteen year old boy. He’s kicked out into the desert but the Lord is faithful. He preserves him. He promises to make him into a great nation. So we read these things and they’re interesting Bible stories but what I’m asking you to do is to put yourself in the position and recognize the fact that in history, in real time, this was a real boy… with real emotions, with a real life. This happened to a little kid named Ishmael. And so what we need to understand is you have this little boy and… he had a dad. He had a mother. He had a family. He had a life. He had an inheritance. And in one day he loses all of these things. He loses his dad. He loses his inheritance. He’s out in the desert. He’s on his own. And that brokenness, that woundedness, that rejection that took place in this little child, today, has been passed on into the religion of Islam.
What do I mean? … Mohammed, the founder of Islam… claims to be a direct descendant of Ishmael and Muslims, today, view themselves as both the physical and the spiritual descendants of Ishmael. And so here you have this story, this incredible event that took place in this child’s life. Two thousand six hundred years after these events took place, a direct descendant of Ishmael named Mohammed birthed forth a new religion into the world. And what does the religion teach? … It teaches God is not a father. God has no Son. And, thirdly, Ishmael, not Isaac, is the heir with regard to the promises of God to the earth. The very things that those issues of rejection and woundedness and brokenness that took place in Ishmael’s life were preserved in that line and two thousand six hundred years later, a man named Mohammed goes into a cave, has an incredibly dark encounter with some sort of spiritual being. It literally chokes the life out of him to where he feels as though he’s going to die, three times this presence comes over him and it demands of him to recite… On the third time, the words of the Qur’an begin to flow forth from his mouth….Mohammed, himself, literally believed that he was demon-possessed. He was suicidal. He was terrified.”
I don’t believe that it could be described any clearer than what is written above. This is the foundation of modern day Islam, a religion built on hurt, rejection and sin.
Islam is a religion demanding a different end result than the one God intends. Islam attempts to rewrite Biblical truth from the perspective of Ishmael, a child who was conceived in sin and cast away from his family. From a spiritual perspective, Islam can be defined as the broken, abandoned and bitter cry of Ishmael. And that cry can be heard quite clearly today.
No consequence of sin, apart from the sin of Adam, which brought about the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, is felt on a greater level than this sin of Abraham. Let’s be clear…Ishmael and Islam is the result of Abraham’s sin. That sounds like a statement made without compassion, but it is a statement of the truth of Scripture, and it cannot be ignored. The consequences of sin hold tremendous weight. History teaches us this lesson very clearly. It’s of particular interest to me how we arrive so easily at a place that clearly embraces the ignorance of history?
Today, it seems that we are taught to ignore history, specifically Biblical history, and we’re indoctrinated in the teaching that government powers can constrain the flow of hatred, violence and war. We think that if we enact enough legislation, we’re sure that this situation will get better. If we show more compassion, send more money, or maybe send more troops, then we can deescalate the tensions between Islam and the world. We’re offered temporary political solutions to eternally sinful problems. As the conflict between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael rages on, we must understand that the only resolution is found in the return of Christ.
Understanding the Biblical context of the story of Ishmael and Isaac should give us a key insight regarding the abysmal depth of the actual problem. This is not a problem and a conflict that we can ever repair, nor can we contain it. Moreover, please understand that it is a problem that will only get worse. It’s biblical, it’s here, and it’s here to stay until Christ returns to put an end to it. Problems of biblical proportions require solutions of Godly sovereignty. That solution is coming, and it’s coming soon.
Islam believes it is promised the the land of Israel. Muslims are convinced that they, the descendants of Ishmael, hold the rights of the promises of God to His land of promise. Muslims are currently waiting to fully occupy the land of Israel. They are waiting on their promised savior. They call him ‘Mahdi,’ or ‘Imam Mahdi.’ They await this savior, a man they believe will lead them in the conquering of Israel. From the eyes of the Muslim, extremist or not, their occupation of Israel will validate Islam as the true religion and Allah as the one true God.
An inscription called the ‘Shahada’ encircles the interior of the Islamic Dome of the Rock.
It simply says this: “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.” The Dome of the Rock is the world symbol of Islam and it’s most holy and sacred place. It sits upon the site once occupied by the Jewish temple. Even more profound, it sits upon the very place where Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God. The depth of Biblical importance here is staggering, and it is again reflective of the true depth of the real problem.
Let me encourage you, as this Biblical drama unfolds before us in the very near future, to be aware that all of this is promised. Don’t live in the shadow of fear, but live in the light of truth. Don’t live in the mindless deception that any president or leader can repair this situation. The situation itself screams of the imminent return of Christ. Our focus should not be one of trying to resolve these unresolvable issues. Our focus should remain on our preparation to be raptured out of this world situation, because Jesus is coming…an quickly.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!