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This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)
The beginning of a new year comes to all of us with a clean slate. That's one of the reasons we like a new year, for its possibility of new beginnings. The good news is that God is the God of second chances whether it's a new year or not.
For some, New Year's Day doesn't have the feel of a new beginning. It's more of the same. A continuing battle with cancer, or more praying for a prodigal child, or more of wondering where God is in the middle of my pain. So how do we turn it into a new beginning when it feels anything but? I think we have to be purposeful about our focus. We have to take on the attitude of gratitude and remember that we are new creatures in Christ, that the old life is gone and the new life has come.
Take a look at Moses, David, Abraham and Sarah, and Zechariah and Elizabeth. The list of biblical characters that received new beginnings goes on and on. Why would we think we aren't eligible? Need a new beginning? Open up the channels of conversation with the God of the universe. He's there waiting to listen and waiting to speak. You can begin again!
Take some time today to journal about what you'd like to see happen this year. How you'd like to see God move. Reflect over the past year and write down what you're grateful to God for.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Philippians 3:12 (NIV)
A recent survey polled more than three hundred thousand people to find the Top Ten Most Common New Year's Resolutions. Among them were: exercise; stick to a budget; pay off debt; and enjoy more time with loved ones.
While these are admirable goals, the reality is that 70 percent of the population never achieves their resolutions and one in five fail within the first six months.
I wonder if part of the reason we fail in attaining our resolutions is the focus of the resolution itself. We are led to believe that if we just set the right goals and are really determined we will achieve the lives we always wanted. I wonder if our resolutions are just another feeble attempt to secure our own happiness and to get control of what seems to be out of control lives.
The apostle Paul indicated one of his resolutions when he wrote, "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14 NIV). Paul had already experienced what the outcome of a life spent in self-serving goals would get him. He encountered Christ on the Damascus road and knew from then on that everything he had ever strove for was nothing in comparison to intimacy with the Son of God.
Maybe we need to simplify our resolutions. While getting in shape and eating right are good things, they pale in comparison to what we really can have. As we are frantically trying to live "successful" lives we are missing the One that has guaranteed without fail; He can make our lives into something that exceeds our wildest dreams.
François Fenelon, a sixteenth century saint, went to the heart of the matter when he wrote, "To love God is only one way ... to take not a step without Him and to follow with a brave heart wherever He may lead." May this be our one New Year's resolution.
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:16–17(NIV)
My first (and last) step aerobics class started out fine. Then the teacher had us do a fancy, fast step. With our hands on our hips, we jumped and pointed our feet faster and faster.
For the briefest of moments, I felt like a graceful Irish step dancer on Riverdance. My feet were flying. Then I made a tactical error—I looked down. When I did, my arms flailed in circles as I tumbled to the ground, embarrassed.
I should have kept my eyes on the instructor. That would have helped me keep in step with her. And as a beginner, I really wasn't ready to step that fast. But I wanted to keep up with all the other women in the room.
What an accurate correlation to how our lives get out of balance. To keep my feet underneath me, I need to keep my eyes on Jesus, the center of my existence. As I pattern my step to His, my life takes on balance. As I align my priorities to His, I find a graceful flow to my life. Once my eyes are firmly on Jesus, I won't try to keep up with those around me. My pace will be set according to my abilities and what God is calling me to do.
I learned my lesson about trying to move faster than my feet would take me, and I know I'll never be an Irish step dancer. Now, I'm happy slowing down when necessary—at least I'm still standing.
Identify an area of your life that seems out of control or out of balance. Decide if you need to reduce your commitment in that area or other area. Chose to do only what you are able to do, and still maintain balance in your life.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:7 (NIV)
As a young mom, I was addicted to soap operas. I asked the Lord to set me free. He told me to start choosing the light—which meant dying to the darkness. At first, turning them off was painful, but in time, I found the soap operas boring. I was caught up, instead, in Christian radio. One day I realized, "Dee—you are free."
Do you want to be set free of the chains of sin? The secret is in the little letter of 1 John.
But the first time I read through John's first letter, it scared me. He says a true child of God will obey Him (1 John 2:3), will not hate his brother (1 John 2:9), and will not "shut up his heart" when he sees his brother in need (1 John 3:17 NKJV). I thought, I know I don't always obey, love, show mercy. Am I not a true child of God?
But reading it again, I knew that couldn't be what John was saying—for he makes it clear that none of us is without sin (1 John 1:8). So—what is he saying?
I'd challenge you to do a study of the word "complete" in 1 John. John is writing to believers, telling them the secret of overcoming sin. Every time you respond to the Spirit to love, to obey, to choose the light—then His love and His light becomes more complete in you. John Stott put it like this: "Our love and our hatred not only reveal if we are in the light or in the darkness, but actually contribute to the light or darkness in which we already are."
It is also true, John says, that each time we choose the darkness, Satan gains a foothold. But greater is He within us, John reminds us, than he that is in the world.
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. Proverbs 27:1 (NIV)
Widow, the title I never wanted. The group no one wants to join. A mere five years ago, Bob and I had a different plan for this day. But here I am, part of the fast growing demographic in the United States. Eight hundred thousand join our ranks annually. We are noticed by new home builders and are a lucrative niche for health and beauty products. We are invited to dinners by financial planners and surveyed by designers for home features that will convince us to sign on the dotted line.
Paradoxically, we lose 75 percent of our friendship network at the same time even in our Christian network. Sixty percent of us experience serious health issues in that first year. One-third of us meet the criteria for clinical depression in the first month after our spouse's death, and half of these remain clinically depressed a year later. Most experience financial decline.
If someone had described this scenario to me five years ago, I would have stated emphatically, "It can't be so! In the community of believers we support each other. We walk together on the journey." I now live much of the reality of those statistics.
Can anything good come out of this adventure? Absolutely. Just as I did not know this day was coming, I did not know how incredibly God would meet me where I am. I know now that when He says He cares for the widow, that we are close to His heart, He means it. His comfort on a lonely night cannot be matched. His peace when looking into the unknown is unexplainable.
Bob and I did not plan for this. But God knew, and He can be trusted. That's enough for me to say that this is a good day.
Before the day is over, call a widow and tell her you thought of her today.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven ... Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV)
When my friend Annette moved away from Grand Rapids, back to California, Ecclesiastes reminded me that there are seasons for each thing, and that life is a series of beginnings and endings, and most of all that it's okay—good, even—to mourn.
Annette and I mourned together as the day of her move came closer and closer. That last month, I think, we saw each other every day, and cried together many of those days. We remembered the births of our sons, five months apart, and all the dinners and all the baby clothes and maternity clothes we passed back and forth, and all the walks and weekend trips and last-minute lunches and breakfasts at Gaia and the Real Food Café, all the honest conversations, all the times we laughed till we cried.
On the afternoon that we actually had to say good-bye, we hugged in her driveway, icy wind whipping past us, crying, laughing, and we made it a quick good-bye, a good-bye for now, but when I got back into the car, I sobbed, both thankful and heartbroken.
Now that she's gone, I'm trying to love that season, and let this new season be different. I feel thankful every day for the years that Annette and I lived two blocks apart, and I hold them in my heart as one of God's best gifts to me.
These days she and I are working hard to create new rhythms for this new season of our friendship—emails instead of morning coffees while the boys nap, flights instead of walks, long distance phone calls instead of stopover visits.
There is, certainly, a time for every season, and especially when my heart is aching with loneliness, those words are a balm.
Have you ever mourned the end of a season? Have you been tempted to avoid the pain of mourning? Is there anything in your life right now that is ending that might need to be mourned?
It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot's wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. Luke 17:28–33 (NIV)
"In light of my coming again" said Jesus, don't worry about "the stuff in the house." Paul puts it another way: "The time is short.... From now on ... [let] those who buy something [be] as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world as if not engrossed in them For this world in its present form is passing away" (1 Corinthians 7:29–31 NIV).
So often it's the "stuff in the house" that distracts us from the command to "hasten the coming of the Lord," isn't it? How easy it is, especially for us women to hold our possessions tightly rather than lightly!
Think about all that Lot's wife had seen of the hand of God at work in blessing and protection. Despite God's goodness to her, she had pitched her tent toward Sodom, a child of compromise. She wanted a "tent with a view" and the "stuff in her house" mattered more to her than the promises of God.
Chloroforming her conscience and forgetting all that she had learned in Abraham's family, she was continually looking back over her shoulder to the good life. Such a worldview leads inevitably to immobility and leaves our lives a monument to compromise.
Ask the Lord to focus your eyes on Him and not look back. May we be waiting and working for Him when He returns.
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1–4 (NASB)
I tend to be serious and easily feel the weight of the sad, heavy stuff of life. There are a lot of legitimately serious things in life—AIDS, orphans, war, poverty, tension in relationships, as well as the daily concerns in our lives ... it can be very heavy.
I met with my church small group one night when I was feeling weighed down from a load of concerns. One woman surprised the group with an impromptu celebration for our newly engaged friend. As we laughed and celebrated the wonderful occasion, I was struck by the beauty of the moment. How easy it would have been to let that moment pass us by! We could just as easily been preoccupied with the difficulties in each of our lives. My party-throwing friend told me that she has decided to find something to celebrate every day. She has chosen to celebrate—even during difficult seasons of loss, sadness, illness, and pain. With so much desperate suffering around us, we cannot survive with just a steady diet of heaviness. We need to laugh and celebrate the small (or large) gifts God gives to us every day. Will you join me in the pursuit of celebrating every day?
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
By nature, I'm a pessimist. I always see the glass half-empty. I've been told to think more positively, but sometimes that can be dangerous.
For example, several years ago my husband and I visited Las Vegas on business. Being curious, one evening we went to a casino and I parked myself near a high stakes black jack table. In a short time I saw one gentleman lose twenty thousand dollars thinking positively.
As this example illustrates, positive thinking can be just as deceitful and deluded as negative thinking can be. God warned the prophet, Jeremiah, not to deceive the people with positive words like the false prophets were doing. He said, "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace'" (Jeremiah 8:11 NIV).
God never tells us to think positively. But he does tell us to think truthfully. He tells us to focus our mind on things that are good, beautiful, pure, and lovely even in the midst of difficult life circumstances. God knows how we think and what we think about affects our emotions and our body. Medical research is discovering this important truth. Our thought life can make us physically and emotionally ill.
If you lean toward seeing the cup half-empty like I do, you may find it difficult to notice the positive things. Begin today to look for what's good in your day instead of what's bad. Focus on what's lovely in your spouse or child instead of what you don't like. Daily write these things down in a praise and thanksgiving journal. Before long, if you practice this discipline, you will find yourself feeling happier with yourself, others, and life.
Excerpted from Daily Seeds by Anita Lustrea Melinda Schmidt, Lori Neff. Copyright © 2008 Moody Bible Institute. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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Posted January 19, 2013
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