A Look Back on 2014

Note: For many years now, I’ve gotten up early on January 1st and posted a recap of the previous year and a look forward to the new year on my various blogs (I write two others as well if you want to check them out, LautzOfDotNet, my technology blog and LautzOfIF, my Interactive Fiction blog).  This year I thought I’d change it up a bit and do a reflection post today on New Year’s Eve and then do my normal looking forward post tomorrow.

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What did 2014 bring!

As far as this blog is concerned, 2014 may be remembered for the year I dove in and spent a lot more time studying the Bible (and writing about it).  Many of my posts focused on and explored a verse or two.  I really enjoyed seeing how God would send me a verse, right when I needed it and when He did, writing down my thoughts came naturally.  I struggled at times writing when I thought more of  “I need to write a post today”….I deleted a lot of posts those days, so I tried to focus more on following God’s promptings and writing when He has something for me to share.  I focused less on the politics and social aspects of my blog, which were highlighted more in years past and more on how God is moving in my life.

This year I wrote a total of 48 posts (including this one) with a high of 10 in February and a low of 0 in June.  The posts seem to ebb and flow with my moods and the weather (and of course family activities).

While not the main purpose of this blog, I gained quite a few readers and followers this year also.  I always enjoy when people comment or write me that they enjoy my blog, or they got some special meaning out of something I posted.  So please, feel free to let me know if you like something or not, I always enjoy talking to people.

Favorite posts of 2014

Well, every post like this needs to have a list of favorite posts.  So here are my top 10 favorite posts of the year (chronological order).

  1. Things to Do During Challenging Times – As we all will face difficult times throughout each year, this post I listed a few things to do during those time periods.  This is a post I’ve gone back to a few times throughout the year to remind myself
  2. God, the Ultimate Software Developer – This post was one of my favorites (and not just because of the cool photo I used).  It also appeared to be one of everyone’s favorites as it had the most traffic of any other post on my blog this year.  I’ve reflected on this post a few times to remind myself that God works in all aspects of my life and I should be thankful for my skills that He gives me to do his work in this world.
  3. Be a fearless Christian – Another of my favorites.  Focus around 2 Timothy 1:7.  Great reminder, that we should be fearless as Christians because God has given us the power and strength that we need.
  4. A Plan for Success – A simple plan for success in whatever you are doing, invite God to join you.
  5. Thanking God for One of the Greatest Gifts – A tribute and thanksgiving to my wife on our anniversary.  Love ya babe!
  6. A Significant Marriage – God calls us to not just have a good marriage, but to have a significant one, one that will get people to ask, ‘How do they have a such a great marriage?’
  7. You Can’t Take Prayer Out of School – A realization by me that no one can ever take prayer out of the schools.
  8. Live with Abandon – I made quite a few posts in November that made this hard to pick just a few out of that month, but this one epitomizes what I’m trying to do with my life in 2015.  I called it a Year of Thanksgiving and I am living my life with abandon.  (Yep 2 links for the price of 1)
  9. While we were sinners, Christ STILL died for us – This post was a great reminder for me that Christ didn’t wait until we all were believers to save us…no while we were still all sinners, he died for us.  Great reminder to us of how we can be more like Christ in our actions to those on the margins of society.
  10. Roaring like a lion – What a way to end the year, finishing the year helping those in need without worrying about their history.

I hope you can take the time to explore my blog posts from this year and before.  I’d love to hear what your favorite couple posts have been.   Tomorrow, we’ll look forward on 2015, but for now I hope you had a blessed 2014 and please, everyone be safe tonight.

 

 

Old Habits Die Hard

523305_463804830325771_458313221_nMany of you know my history.  In 2001 I left a job I had been at for a number of years to take work with a small computer consultant (and whom still is a dear friend of mine).  Well as the fall of 2001 progressed, we had the terror attacks of 9/11 and then the economy began to do a free fall and businesses took a huge hit.  Needless to say, in the beginning of 2012, I was without a job.  Long story short, that was when I stepped out on my own and began my own consulting practice and worked at that for almost 10 years.  In 2011, I took a job with another small consulting firm in northeast Ohio and I’ve been happily employed there since.

During my time working for myself, I found it hard to separate work from home life.  I worked out of my home primarily, so when I woke up in the morning, I was at work.  When I went to bed at night, I was at work.  When the weekend’s rolled around, I was still at work.  I used to play a lot of video games, but I don’t much anymore because during those years, I felt guilty if I was on the computer and was not working.

I loved the time I spent working for myself.  There are many things I miss about that time period.  I grew a ton as a person and loved life.  But I also learned how NOT to relax.  I wrote a few Christmas’s ago, about how practice makes permanent and how I had trained myself for many, many years to not relax.  At the time, I had only been in the new lifestyle for less than a year, so it was understandable that I may have not rewired my brain quite yet.

Well I sit here 3 years later and tell you, I may be have gotten a little better, but I still need a ton of work.  I’m using up the last of my vacation during the holidays here and I should be using this time to relax and recharge my batteries.  But I have fallen into my old habits of worrying about work, or the work I’m not doing because I’m on vacation.

Yesterday was a Sunday.  I woke up wanting to go, go, go, but I really had nothing in mind.  I just did not want to sit around.  My wife on the other hand, knows how to relax.  She was perfectly comfortable unwinding from the busy holiday and recharging…..me I was going batty.

Today, a Monday morning, I wake up as early as usual and feel the need to get to work, even though the rest of the house is still asleep.  But the anxiousness of lost time and the need to get moving keeps me from just resting.

As I said in that post years ago, I need to continue to retrain my brain to learn to relax, but my version of relaxing may not be the same as others.  My form of relaxing may not be sitting around on the weekend watching old movies.  Since I already like to be active, perhaps I need to relax in an active and productive way.  That doesn’t mean to keep working at my job never taking a vacation, but perhaps work at something else in my spare time.

Fitting in with my theme of a year of thanksgiving, perhaps it’s time to get moving in making that happen.  Sitting back waiting for things to happen, doesn’t make them happen.  I fully believe that we need to wait on God’s timing, but I don’t think that means to just sit doing nothing.  God will move us to where he needs us, when he needs us, but I think he wants us moving.  My “trying” to relax how I think relaxing means, is going against my nature, so by relaxing in that way, I’m actually stressing myself out even more.

So what’s my takeaway from all this?  Honestly, I think it was revealed to me as I wrote this post, for when I started it, I was thinking in a completely different direction.  But having reached this point in my post, I think I spend too much time thinking about what I need to be doing and not enough doing what I know needs done.

As I’ve discovered over this Christmas holiday, there are people out there living on the edge of society that need our help.  Sure they may have made wrong decisions in their 10407257_897267393625805_2613389422715980229_nlives, perhaps they may have lied and cheated, perhaps they’ve done far worse.  Perhaps they’ve turned away help in the past for one reason or another, but if now is the time that God is moving, shouldn’t we be moving also?  If we see God moving, should we say to ourselves, “Well, perhaps God is moving there, but those people are unsavory and I don’t want to be around them.”  Or when God moves through another person, should we say, ‘Well that’s great and all, but that person you’re using to do your work, I just don’t like much.’  Doesn’t that seem silly?   But that is what happens often when God moves, he often uses insignificant people to do his work.  When God moves, I want to be there right along side of Him and whomever else he may use.  I don’t want to be caught sitting on the sidelines.

Old habits die hard they say, but what God has given us can be used for His glory.  If my habit of not being able to to relax is this difficult to break, perhaps God is prompting me to get up and start working for him.  Perhaps God isn’t ready for my old habits to die quite yet!

God is with us!

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She will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel — ‘God is with us.’ – Isaiah 7:14

This is the time of year we mark with celebrations of the birth of Jesus.   When the angel came to Joseph, he was told that Mary would give birth to a son and they were to name him Jesus, which means “The Lord saves” and then proceeds to tell Joseph that this fulfills the prophecy from Isaiah 7.  So here we have two names for Jesus, his given name meaning “the Lord saves” and one of the titles that he will be known as, Immanuel, “God is with us”

When God is with us, who can come against us.  Many will try, but the Lord saves us.

The Lord saves us from our sins, because God is with us.

The Lord blesses us, so we can be a blessing to others.  Why?  Because God is with us!

The Lord comforts those in need.  How?  Well God is with them.

The Lord uses circumstances to teach us, to help us grow.  When?   Always, since God is with us.

The Lord gives us freedom when we walk with him.   How?  Well, because God is with us!

Remember this time of year that God is with us, always, that’s the promise that Jesus gives us.

Roaring like a lion

10407257_897267393625805_2613389422715980229_nThis past week has been a lesson in the meaning of this Christmas season and a show of the love of Christ.  Near a small town 30 minutes from my home, there is a small village instead another.  One made of tents and inhabited by those that are living on the margins of society.  God led my brother-in-law to visit them a week ago and opened his heart and many others of us, his family and friends, to open their hearts to the needs of these people.  Within a week, they went from wondering how to survive a winter, to having firewood, propane, clothes, blankets and fresh water….enough to last the winter and beyond.  My wife and I were able to give something of ourselves, some of the blessings that God bestowed on us, we were able to share with these kind people.

This week culminated in a Christmas party thrown in honor of the people of tent-city and in celebration of the birth of our savior.  While not everyone from tent-city attended a few did and were a blessing to all of us in attendance.

Let me quote one of the tent-city residents who expressed thanks to my brother-in-law and his family:

that day before you appeared into my life i contemplated and kept asking myself what am i good for. i do not have my babies and i am slowly dying. but dam i am in tears when i type this . dean you made me feel like a person and not some worthless piece of trash that will neve be anything.     ……   i just hope one day i can be back with my children and happy but dam i do not know how you done it but you saved my life the day you came down and for that thank you. so again . . i am happy and confident once again like i was prior to this situation.

The lives of my sister, my brother-in-law and all of us involved have been changed for all time with a prompting from God answered by a single person.

While thinking about the lives changed, I was listening to the song God’s Not Dead by the Newsboys and these lyrics jumped out at me.

Let love explode and bring the dead to life
A love so bold to see a revolution somehow.

God let his love explode and miracles happened.  His love flowed out and the blind could see, the crippled could walk again, and the dead rose from the grave.  With a simple act of love Jesus did all these things.   And by using us sinners, Jesus let his love flow and help these kind people living in tents in the cold.  None of these things would be possible without the love of Christ.

I feel emboldened now by the meaning of this time of year.  These events have helped me understand where God was leading me when I decided to live my life with abandon.

Now I’m lost in your freedom
In this world I’ll overcome.

Now the love of Christ has freed me to become who he has wanted me to be.  Based on the events of this past week, it’s been proven we can all loudly proclaim the chorus to that song.

My God’s not dead
He’s surely alive
He’s living on the inside
Roaring like a lion

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While we were sinners, Christ STILL died for us.

jesus-with-sinnersA favorite verse of mine is:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  – Romans 5:8

Notice what isn’t said in that verse.  It doesn’t mention that Christ died only for the clean or the healthy, it doesn’t mention that he died only for the good looking people.  It doesn’t mention that he died for just those that have a job and live in a nice house.  He DID die for those people AS WELL as all the others on the margin of society.  He died for everyone.  Why?  Because we are all sinners.  I am, you are, the person living in a mansion is, the person living under a bridge is.  We are all sinners.

Given that….why do we not translate that to our own lives?  Do we want to only associate with those that are well off?  Do we only want to be seen around those that are clean and come from a good home?  Are we only to be seen around those that are considered “wholesome”?

Let’s look at these verses from Mark 2.

That night Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to be his dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners. – Mark 2:15

Levi, a tax collector (tax collectors were not held in high esteem back then, maybe much like today) invites Jesus to a party that is also being attended by many others, including some pretty awful sinners.  There were probably thieves, murderers, prostitutes and other unsavory people there as well as just normal hardworking, honest people.  But then look at what the religious leaders say;

But when some of the teachers of religious law who were the Pharisees saw him eating with people like that , they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum?’  – Mark 2:16

See back then, the Pharisees and others who thought themselves “clean” didn’t want to be associated or seen with such people.  I think we often have much the same problem as today, not so much with the religious leaders, but with people in general.  I’ve seen a situation recently where some people invited some homeless people to a Christmas gathering, some of those people may even have had an unsavory past, but now they are just homeless, struggling to survive in freezing temperatures.  These people were invited, and then some friends and neighbors expressed concerns and stressed that those types weren’t welcome.  I have to think that sounds like something the Pharisees may have been thinking here in Mark 2.  “Why are those type of people hanging around Jesus?” or more likely, “Why did Jesus invite those type of people?”

But let’s see how Jesus responds,

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do.  I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” – Mark 2:17

Well there ya go, Jesus for those that needed him.  Can we be more like Jesus and help those that need help?    Are we blessed so we can be a blessing to others?  God often uses those on the margins, the insignificant to do great things.  Do we walk by them without offering even a smile?

Christ died for us, even though we were sinners and didn’t deserve his love for us.  But he loved us anyway.  It’s the least we can do, love someone that no one else will.

 

Jesus: A Name of Power

Great thoughts here…..power in the name!

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Jesus Name

I love reading through the Christmas stories in the gospels each December, asking God to speak to me. God seems to reveal new subtle truths to me each year that amaze me in light of His plan of salvation through Jesus.

Recently, I was struck by what the name “Jesus” means. In Matthew 1, after contemplating divorcing Mary quietly, an angel visits Joseph telling him to take Mary as his wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Then the angel says, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Upon further research I learned that “Jesus” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name for “Joshua” and it means “the Lord is salvation.” Thus, the angel’s description of why the Messiah should be named “Jesus” is right on –…

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Is there room for Jesus in your life?

Jesus_in_manger_postcard_1910What a busy time of year this is.  From Thanksgiving to Christmas, our lives our filled with activities.  Christmas parties, school activities and programs, shopping, football playoffs and the beginning of bowl season.  So much to do, it’s amazing that we can cram it all in before the end of the month and still come out with our sanity.  We often cram so much in that we forget what the season is all about.  We forget that we are celebrating the birth of Christ.

No room at the inn

…and she gave birth to her first born, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  -Luke 2:7

Luke says there was no room at the inn.  We are really given no indication of why the inn was so crowded other than perhaps people traveling back to Bethlehem to register as decreed by Caesar, but I can imagine an inn full of people.  And when people get together, they tend to eat and drink.  Essentially, I can imagine a party going on.  Old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time, family members who only came together at times like this.   Food and drink in abundance and people partaking of it until the wee hours of the morning; singing, dancing and making a ruckus….all supposition, but it sounds a lot like some of our Christmas parties we attend.

I can imagine (I have a good imagination sometimes) the scene playing out something like this.

A man and his very pregnant young wife who is very obviously in labor, walk through the front door of the inn while a huge celebration is going on.  Imagine everyone stopping and staring for a moment;  and then returning to whatever they were doing at the moment.  

The young man walks up to the guy that appears to be in charge and asks; “Please sir, my wife is about to give birth.  Do you have a room?”

The innkeeper, looking cautiously at Joseph asks, “What is your name?  Where are you from?”

Joseph replies, “I’m Joseph a carpenter from Nazareth, and this is my wife Mary.”

The innkeeper looking at them with a slight bit of disgust, “Nazareth, I’ve never heard of anything good coming from there.  We have no room for you here, but you can go to the stables and stay with the animals if you’d like.”

So that’s what they do.  Now of course, I’m not sure if this is exactly how it all went down, we’re never really told.  But, we know that Jesus was born in a manger, a lowly place, a place fit for animals.  But that’s where Jesus came into this world.

Do we send Jesus to the stables in our lives?

Are we rejecting Christ because our lives our too busy?  Are we telling Jesus to take a back seat in this season, because we have too many parties and get togethers to attend?  It’s all pretty ironic really considering, we wouldn’t even have a holiday like this if it wasn’t for the birth of Jesus, yet we tell him, “There’s no room here for you, you can go out back and stay there and I’ll check in on you when I get a chance.”

I think this is a time to celebrate.  It is a great time to get together with family and friends.  I just hope that I can remember who we are celebrating this time of year and invite him with me to the parties.  In fact, I hope He is the reason we are getting together and we can all remember that this season.  I for one can use this reminder this season as I can definitely get caught up in the lights, the color and the activities.  I will use this as a reminder, to invite Jesus in with me instead of sending him out to the manger of my life.