Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!

Not the Final Chapter

In February 2013 NFL wide receiver Cris Carter was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — an honor well deserved. He had a great career.

However, it didn’t look like he was headed in that direction after his first few seasons in Philadelphia.

Carter was a gifted athlete, but his early career suffered because of off-the-field issues, mainly related to drug abuse.

After being cut by the Eagles, he was picked up by the Vikings. It was around this time that Cris got serious about following Christ.

In Minnesota, he made the most of his second chance. He began the process of turning things around personally and professionally.

And what a turn-around it was: He went on to play in eight consecutive Pro-Bowls, and broke several receiving records, becoming one of only a handful of receivers with more than one thousand career receptions.

In an interview a few days before his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Cris had this to say:

“I wish I had done everything right. I have regrets. And when you’ve got a dark chapter in your life, people will try to make that the final chapter in your life. But it doesn’t have to be.

“For me, when it got the darkest, I said ‘this is not going to be the end of my book.’ I was able to start making decisions and start doing the right things, and one thing happened after another…”

YOUR SECOND CHANCE

Some days it may appear that you’re at the end of your book, as if the way things are today is the way things will always be.

Don’t believe it. There are chapters in your life yet to be written.

Even today you can begin making decisions to change the outcome of your story.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)


Taken from Steve’s book It’s All in the Dailies.
Cris Carter HOF photograph by Eric Daniel Drost.

The Never Again List

Every one I know has had to celebrate Christmas this year in a modified manner. People didn’t travel. Families didn’t get together. Fewer presents were passed around. (One young man told me, “This year my family decided we could only afford to draw each other pictures and write each other poems.”)

That’s how it was in 2020.

I’m sure we’ve all taken a ‘count your blessings‘ approach to the season, making the best of it, being thankful for what we have, rather than focusing on what’s been left out.

This is a good idea, of course, but I would also suggest that we resolve in the coming year to adopt a new attitude: Never Again.

As in:

Never Again will I take for granted the things that were missed or the things that were lost this year.

This year I know people who are unemployed. Others have lost their business. They will never again take a job for granted, and will likely never again complain about having to work for a paycheck, even when the conditions are less than perfect.

This year I know some who are without a home. Never again will they take for granted having four walls to call their own.

This year I know some who are spending this Christmas by themselves, without their kids and grandkids, for the first time in decades. They will never again take for granted a family get together.

We have all survived — maybe even taken in stride — the many required adjustments this season. That’s what most people do, especially those whose lives are built on a foundation of faith.

But it’s OK to feel the absence of that which has been lost this year.

And now is a good time to decide: Never again will I overlook even the smallest of God’s many blessings in my life. When God restores what was lacking this year, as he most certainly will, I will take notice, I will give him thanks, and I will treasure the gift of his goodness.

Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.” (1 Chronicles 16:35)

Merry Christmas!

The Picture Perfect Promise of Christmas

I love Christmas cards. Especially the traditional kind.

Like a snow covered landscape, with a cozy cottage nestled in the woods. In the window you see the decorated tree. The smoke rising from the chimney tells you there’s a fire inside. You can almost feel the warmth; you can almost smell the gingerbread and pumpkin pie.

Or the scene with the rosy-cheeked carolers gathered on the front steps of a neighbor’s home. You can imagine how their angelic voices would fill the crisp winter air as they sing…

Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright…

When I see pictures such as these, I think: What a beautiful world to live in.

But that’s not the world where many find themselves today. Instead of peace and tranquility, they’re surrounded by heartache and pain, even darkness and despair. For many, the dream drawn on canvas seems forever out of reach.

While we hope for a world that we cannot create, we continue to live in a world we cannot escape.

This is why we need Jesus.

He came to change that which we cannot change for ourselves. He came to turn something ugly into something beautiful. He came to…

…comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:2-3)

Oh, how I love to read these words.

Maybe today you see only ashes — but there is a crown of beauty waiting for you. The oil of gladness. A garment of praise.

The most idyllic scene you can imagine, he came to make real. Not just for a moment, captured in time, but for all eternity.

Merry Christmas!

Friends & Health & Happiness

In The Pursuit of Happiness, David Myers cites research demonstrating that once creature comforts are in place, there is a very weak link between income and happiness.

Neither do citizens of the wealthiest nations experience more happiness than those in developing countries.

In fact, rates of depression and alcoholism have increased in the United States since World War II, in spite of our having experienced unprecedented economic growth.

Money just can’t guarantee happiness.

However, a good circle of friends pretty much does guarantee happiness.

According to a survey from the National Opinion Research Center, the more friends you have, the happier you are.

Other studies show that close relationships promote health.

Author Robert Putnam says, “Social isolation is as big a risk factor for death as smoking. Your chances of dying in the next 12 months are halved by joining a group. By far, the biggest component of happiness is how connected you are.”

It’s been said, “Money is like a glove. Friendship is like your hand. One is useful, the other essential.”

The lesson here is: Make Friends. As the cliché goes, it will add years to your life and life to your years.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

The Top of the Fence Post

Alex Haley, author of Roots, had a picture on his office wall of a turtle sitting on a fence post.

He said the picture was there to remind him of an important lesson: If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help getting there.

Haley said, “Every time I’m tempted to think, ‘Aren’t I marvelous? Look at all I’ve accomplished!’ I look at that picture and remember how this turtle — me — got up on that post.”

(By the way, the turtle-on-the-post illustration has been spun countless ways; I like Haley’s the best.)

This is a good time of the year to take the time to say thank you to the ones — and, specifically, the One — who helped you make it to the top of the post.

Obviously, we begin by giving thanks to the Father for all that he has done.

But let’s not forget also to say thanks to those who play a part in bringing his goodness our way.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now… (Philippians 1:3-5)

Is there someone to whom you can say ‘thank you’ today?

The Science of Happiness

Good morning, friends. In the past few weeks I have posted a few memos about happiness, for a good reason: There are many who think that their happiness in life — especially now — is determined by elements beyond their control.

This isn’t the case. An individual’s level of happiness is almost entirely up to them.

True, some factors can make happiness a bit of a challenge at times, but it’s never beyond our reach.

According to a recent CNET article, the idea that happiness is built in and can’t be changed is a misconception. It really is up to you, and your willingness to tend to five key areas:

• Build meaningful relationships with friends and family.
• Demonstrate kindness toward others.
• Show compassion for yourself and others.
• Express gratitude.
• Focus on the present moment, rather than obsessing about the past or fretting over the future.

Emiliana Simon-Thomas, who teaches a course called The Science of Happiness at UC Berkeley, says that happiness doesn’t mean you feel pure joy and cheerfulness every hour of every day.

She says, “People who pursue happiness in that sort of belief system end up being less happy than people who define happiness in a more overarching, quality-of-life way.”

Happiness means accepting negative experiences and having the skills to deal with them as you continue moving forward.

What some might call happiness, the Bible calls joy. It’s more than a good feeling caused by a good moment. It’s deep enough to endure difficult days.

It’s a choice that we make, again and again.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

The Secret to Happiness

What is the secret to happiness? 

The list of nominees is the same for almost everyone: income, health, family, success.

Results of a Harvard study, however, indicate that the answer is none of the above.

What is it, then?

Volunteering to help others. Another way to say it: Serving.

Research conducted by Dr. Eric Kim concludes that people over the age of 50 who volunteer to help others for at least 2 hours a week have a higher sense of well-being than those who don’t.

And it goes beyond a sense of well-being. Helping others is a catalyst toward other lifestyle benefits, such as lower risk of death, a lesser chance of health-related complications, and increased physical activity.

Dr. Kim says that serving others doesn’t just strengthen communities, it also “enriches our own lives by strengthening our bonds to others, helping us feel a sense of purpose and well-being, and protecting us from feelings of loneliness, depression, and hopelessness.”

Maybe this is one reason why Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than receive: Your gift of service to others come back your way, in full measure, even running over. [Acts 20:35, Luke 6:38]

In the words of King Solomon…

Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25)

Ideas Waiting to be Recognized

In last week’s memo I talked about the “gratitude ball” that Duke University used for motivation during their NCAA championship run in 2015.

The idea was implemented by head coach, Mike Krzyzewski.

It’s important to note, however, that the idea didn’t start with him. It came from the associate head coach, Jeff Capel.

Krzyzewski realized right away it would be an effective motivational strategy, so he grabbed hold of the suggestion and made the most of it.

I like everything about the way Krzyzewski handled this.

First, he fostered a leadership environment where assistants and associates felt free to share their ideas.

Second, he recognized a good idea when he heard it, and he was willing to put it to work — even though it wasn’t his idea.

Third, he made it a point to give Capel the credit he deserved.

This is how effective leaders do it.

The simple truth is, if every workable idea has to come from you and you alone, your leadership efforts will always want for workable ideas.

But if you’re willing to listen, and willing to take a risk on someone else’s suggestion, and wiling to give credit when it credit is due, the team you lead will reap the rewards.

There are brilliant ideas all around you, ready to be recognized, waiting to be acted upon. Could there be one nearby that you have overlooked?

When Second Place Wins the Race

On December 2, 2012, in a cross country competition held in Burlada Spain, Ivan Fernandez was about to finish a distant second behind Oympic Bronze medalist Abel Mutai, from Kenya.

In the final moments, however, Ivan saw something that didn’t make sense.

Just a few steps short of the finish line, Mutai stopped running. He had misread a sign and thought the race was over, but there were still 10 meters to go.

Ivan called out to Abel, encouraging him to continue forward, but since the two athletes don’t speak a common language, Abel couldn’t understand what Ivan was saying.

What should Ivan have done next, given the circumstances?

He could have passed his competitor by, easily taking first place for himself.

Instead, when he caught up with Mutai, he remained a step behind as he motioned him toward the proper finish line. The race ended as it should have: Abel Mutai was awarded first place; Ivan Fernandez came in second.

What an inspiring, heartwarming example of sportsmanship. No wonder this story is still making the rounds, eight years later.

Running to win…

Recently I mentioned this story to a friend, who said with a laugh, “Clearly, Ivan’s life verse is not ‘run in such a way as to win the prize.’” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

But, then again, maybe it is.

Maybe Ivan Fernandez understands, better than most, where the race is really taking place.

Maybe he understands, better than most, what winning really looks like.

When asked why he would make such a choice to surrender an easy prize, Ivan was quoted as saying…

“My dream is that someday we can have a kind of community life where we push and help each other to win.”

In this race we’ve been called to run, winning the prize means that we make it our objective never to cross the finish line alone.

There may be someone running the race near you — to the left or to the right; slightly ahead or slightly behind — and today you’ll have the chance to nudge them onward.

Winning the prize, in this part of the race, means that we win it together.

A Quiet Soul

William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, said, “True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.”

Practicing silence effectively requires … well… practice. It takes effort on your part.

In his book Noise Reduction Leonard Koren writes, “Like an unbroken horse or a spoiled child, your mind will resist any attempts to discipline it.”

We are addicted to noise. All day we are besieged with sound, from the time we wake up to the sound of the alarm until we drop off to sleep at night, often with the TV in the background to “keep us company.”

I encourage you to try a few moments of silence each day.

Beginning today.

Just a few minutes with no music, no radio, no TV, no conversation.

Just a few moments of absolute quiet in the presence of God.

These moments will be like nourishment to your soul.

But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Psalm 131:2)

Paganini and One String

Paganini and One String

Niccolo PaganiniHere’s a great story that has certainly made the rounds. (I first heard it from Chuck Swindoll.)

The violinist virtuoso Niccolò Paganini was performing one evening before a packed concert hall, surrounded by a full orchestra.

As he began the final piece, one of the strings on his violin snapped. A minor inconvenience; with seemingly effortless improvisation, Paganini continued to play on the remaining three strings.

A moment later, a second string snapped. Undeterred, Paganini continued the concerto on the remaining two strings.

Then a third string snapped. Still Paganini continued to play. He finished the piece with one string on his violin.

When the performance was over, the crowd rose in thunderous applause.

Paganini, ever the humble musician, raised his violin and boldly proclaimed, “Paganini and one string!”

He cued the conductor, the orchestra began to play, and he performed his encore, note for note, with one string on his violin.

WHEN SO LITTLE REMAINS.

The time may come when you feel like you’re down to one string — when there’s next to nothing left of your marriage, your finances, your future, your health, or your hope … and you know that you’re no Paganini.

Here’s the good news.

One string is enough. God’s grace is that amazing. His power is that invincible. His love, that unstoppable.

If you feel like one string is all you have left — and maybe it, too, is about to snap — you can stop trying to make everything happen on your own. Let God do in your life what only he can do.

As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. (Psalm 55:16)

A Blank Page

Doug MarletteDoug Marlette was an editorial artist / cartoonist (creator of Kudzu) whose job, for decades, was to draw a new cartoon every day. He didn’t consider it pressure; he enjoyed it.

He said, “I have learned to love a blank sheet of paper. It braces me with its endless potential.”

Every morning you are given a blank sheet of paper: the new day that lies before you. You can fill the page with whatever you want: holiness, love, praise, service — or criticism, hostility, and bitterness. It’s your choice.

You’re not limited today by what you put on the page yesterday. It’s a new morning — a blank page — filled with new opportunity.

Even if you blew it yesterday, and ten thousand yesterdays before, you still have today. You can fill this day’s page with God’s presence.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:23)