Last week during a particular time of the week that I can't recall I woke up before most of the house, I say most of the house because I'm almost certain a one little Reese Olivia was probably awake as I strolled downstairs at 5:15am. After I started brewing my hot tea I turned on the TV and found myself watching the 1981 silver screen treasure, On Golden Pond.
Movies are a great love of mine and though most movies of today aren't worth watching there are many movies of the past, like a great book, that can be taken up at the beginning, in the middle or at the very end. The Godfather I & II, Forrest Gump and The Shawshank Redemption are the types of movies and The Color of Water is such a book that can be viewed or read with the starting point being anywhere, somewhere between the beginning and the end.
On Golden Pond has that same pull.
I once held the belief that the movie was too boring and slow to really enjoy, but as I've grown older I now see, and appreciate, the message more than ever.
The movie has many different themes, but reflecting on the past seems to be the narrative that catches my eye the most.
I found it ironic that I stumbled upon this 1981 gem because over the last month I've spent a considerable amount of time reflecting. I've purposely took some time away from writing because I wanted to reflect upon why I write and who I write for. Over the past year I've felt high levels of anxiety and unrest when I didn't write. I had made myself believe that I had to write something every day. This is not what I set out to do when I began writing in March of 2010. I somewhat felt that I had no control over the writing process, in some negative way it was in control of me.
Also, As my site started to grow with an increased readership I found myself being as excited about the "positive reviews", the emails full of praise, the thought of writing a book and the facebook messages sent by friends sharing with me their approval that I easily fell prey to pride and the trap of writing pieces with part of the reason, excitement and anticipation being about me and the praise I would gain from my typed words. At some point along the journey I was sharing my thoughts with the anxious anticipation of some praise worthy comment afterwards.
I had lost my compass.
It's easy to lose our way if we have no direction or particular destination in mind.
After much reflection I realized that this is not why I started writing in the first place.
At the end of the day the reason I write should not be for my praise but for God's glory. God is the one that has provided me with the thoughts, words and writing style.
I realized once again that it's extremely too easy to say YES to pride, praise and pleasure in one or all of its worldly forms. The flesh is so easily influenced by pride, so easily impressed with praise, and tragically, so easily distracted by pleasure.
Pride, praise and pleasure come in many forms, but when one's name is attached to any or all of the three it can have an affect on the mind and spirit in the same way three shots of whiskey drank back to back... to back can have.
Sometimes it's easy to become drunk with praise when we start to drink it glass after glass.
Speaking of drinking, I Corinthians 10:31 states; "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."
So with this renewed view and refocused purpose my desire each time I write is to become more intentional with the goal being twofold: to encourage others and to do it for God's glory, not mine.
Earlier this month I was reminded of this principle of intentionality as our pastor at Cypress Wesleyan began a sermon series entitled "iChristmas". Once again I was amazed at the timing of the message as to how it related to my life at that very moment.
Senior Pastor, Ken Murphy
And as we learned how little we really knew about the Magi what we did discover through God's scripture and Ken's words concerning these men that had traveled thousands of miles to see Jesus was the power of intentionality and the positive effect it can have on our lives. Ultimately, what we gleaned from these men's lives was that they said Yes to God before they said Yes to themselves; they were intentional in their commitment to God to the point of following a star to their final destination.
As you read in Matthew 2 the story of the three Wise Man from the Far East you soon realize that they were instructed to follow a star in search of the newborn King, the King of the Jews. Eventually the Magi ended up in the capital city of Jerusalem and had an audience with King Herod, the appointed king of the Jews by the Roman Senate.
As you can imagine King Herod was none too happy, or impressed, with the announcement that the three men were there in search of the one that had been born King of the Jews. Herod, a shrewd, ruthless ruler who killed his own wife and three sons for fear of being overthrown, says, "Go make a careful search and I will come worship as well."
Even as you read that statement now some 2000 years later you can hear and feel the disingenuous nature of his words.
King Herod worshiped no one but himself.
We find out later in the Matthew 2 that the men traveled another five miles to finally arrive in Bethlehem where they bowed in worship and then presented their gifts. Finally, in a dream the men were instructed not to return home the same route they came in an attempt to avoid King Herod.
As I mentioned earlier these Wise Men display the power of intentionality.
Specifically, I want to note three aspects of intentionality that the Magi embodied that can shape our future efforts and aid us in living more purposeful lives.
The Intentionality of Pursuit
To fully pursue something you have to be fully invested. Every fiber of your being has to be on-board when pursuing anything that is meaningful and life transforming. Anything that is grand and meaningful comes with a price tag, that price is commitment. It is said that if you aim at nothing that you're sure to hit something; aim at something and life immediately has direction, meaning and purpose. Many of us are aiming at something. We aim at material items, experiences and elevated finances, some of us pursue people that can help us, events that will provide a high and stimulate us and items that will provide an escape. In the end we are all chasing something, and while we run after empty vessels we realize that nothing under the sun can satisfy us or fill our empty void. The chase can be after peace and perfection, status and style or dreams and destruction. In the end we are all defined by what we say Yes to; what we pursue. The Magi said Yes to the pursuit of Christ. What are you pursing? The Magi's intentional pursuit led to their focused investment of time, money, effort and resources. As a result they experienced the Christ child. What would our life look like if we went all in for Christ and pursued Him with our complete heart?
Reflection #1: Is there an area of life where you sense God is asking you to increase your investment in your pursuit of Him? Possibly an area in which you used to be strong, but over the course of time you have slowed down. What better time than Christmas to get back on track?
The Intentionality of Desire
The Magi modeled an intentionality that was not easily discouraged by detours. Many of us have read account after account of people who are highly successful never gave up or stopped pursuing their dream when obstacles appeared. It is said that Thomas Edison failed a 1000 times before he successfully invented the light bulb. One of my favorite quotes from Edison reads; "I make more mistakes than anyone else I know, and sooner or later, I patent most of them."
Thomas Edison was born in 1847 in Milan, Ohio.
The key principle here is to never allow anything stand between you and your dreams. Think for a moment how the Magi must have felt after their first meeting with Herod. Imagine how history would've drastically been altered if one, just one, of the men would've went home after meeting Herod. Many reasons and excuses would've been readily available to them; "I don't have any more money... I don't have the will to travel anymore... I'm tired of the unfamiliar territory and terrain." All of us have chosen to give up on certain things, we have all decided to quit when things got tough. We have left marriages, children and jobs because the detours, obstacles and challenges were too large in our mind to overcome. The one thought we must always remember and principle we all must entertain is that detours don't have to derail us from the destination; they just require more time, more patience.
Reflection #2: Peace, Joy, Hope. There will be a lot of detours to rob us of these things this month. What can we intentionally do, to stay on track? Daily devotions? Reading God's word? Intentionally plan out time to create memories? Embrace quiet time?
Intentionality Free of Fear
Another quality the Magi modeled was an intentionality that was not defeated by fear or danger. Their strength and confidence solely rested in listening and obeying God's revelation. And it was because they listened and obeyed they avoided the danger that King Herod presented. One can't help to think how differently life would be for many of us if we would be more intentional in our daily lives when it comes to listening and obeying God's voice and word. How many challenges could've been avoided? In the midst of a challenge I wonder how differently life would have played out for me if I had intentionally listened and obeyed? Isaiah 41:10 states; "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Always remember God upheld the three Wise Men and countless others with His righteous and mighty right hand, He will do the same for you and I.
Reflection #3: Is there anything that you falsely fear? Is there anything you are aware of you should avoid, or be avoiding? If so ask for help and remember in the midst of challenge listen and obey. God has a plan for all of us, a plan that is specific to you and I that is free of worry, anxiety and ultimately fear.
Vincent Van Gogh's reflections in Starry Night Over the Rhone.
In conclusion, as I reflect I think many of us would agree that we have said Yes too many things that have hindered our growth and our ultimate joy and peace. More than a few people have said Yes to excessive pleasure only to find the joy that is derived from that act is short lived, leaving us feeling empty. The funny thing about unbridled pleasure is that it often has a greater chance to kill us than pain does. C.S Lewis stated in his book "The Problem of Pain" that, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Success has never got mans attention like pain, but it is success that has a way of walking in the shadows unnoticed until at the last moment it presents itself to us as it trips us up with a grin on its face.
So many times we invest our spirit, emotions and thoughts into pride, promotion and pleasure without counting the cost of such behavior. There are times that our behaviors are so deeply rooted in a faulty human mechanism that wrongly desires things that have no value and lusts after items we do not need. We often discount, deny and are void of any consideration concerning the outcome of our intentional poor behavior, and though many of these acts will not always destroy us they at the very least will always stain us for a lifetime. We will never be able to rid ourselves of negative acts and poor behaviors that we intentionally, without abandon, become committed to. Think of the wrongly spoken words to co worker, child or spouse, remember the emptiness and pain of a one night stand and remind yourself of the wasteful money that was spent chasing material gods while at the same time distressing our finances and damaging our credit. All of those things most likely will not kill us, but they will leave footprint, a stain that will be present for a lifetime. It's funny, and sad, what we decide to be intentional about.
Why not change what we become intentional about today?
The time is now to become intentional about things that will have lasting value in our lives and provides a peace that is indescribable, and a joy that can't be fully verbalized.
Decide today to become authentically and sincerely intentional for the rest of your life.
More often than not a many of folk have been intentional about living with one foot in the kingdom and one in the world. During this time many will intentionally decide to follow their heart and not follow God. The irony is that the freedom that is being pursued often leaves us to our own vices and leads us to becoming a prisoner of pain and unhappiness.
It is only when we decide to eliminate the proverbial fence in our lives that we become free. When we make the decision to be firmly planted on God's side of the fence will be able to grow into what God has planned for us to become.
The choice is ours.
Intentionally seek God's face and watch how your life will be changed forever and how the inner workings of your heart and mind will become transformed in a way that all will sit up and take notice.
Reflect and say Yes to Him today.