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I love new starts. I used to think I was so fond of them because detours to the pit made them a life necessity I believed new beginnings were primarily for those drawn to cycles of self-destruction like me. Those who had been humiliated by sin again. After all, why would people living in any semblance of victory need a new start?
To the glory of God alone and His relentless grace, I haven't cycled back to that pit in years. But you could have knocked me over with a feather when I came to the startling realization that not all hardship is caused by sin. Sometimes difficulty comes to us smack-dab in the center of God's will. Anyone who lives life plugged into the human race, still bothering to give a rip, nearly loses heart for need of a new start. I've never gotten over the necessity of a fresh beginning. I'm guessing you haven't, either.
God knew we wouldn't. In fact, He created us that way. He fashioned the soul of man in its every intricacy and complexity before He ever breathed it into the ashen new body of Adam. We don't have a single soul-need God didn't deliberately initiate for His own purposes. Our souls crave new beginnings. Fresh starts. Calculate with me just how willing our compassionate God was to accommodate.
God Himself came up with the concept of an annual New Year's Day when He ordered creation and gave the sun and moon their instructions (Gen. 1:14). Though some cultures operate on a lunar schedule and others on a solar schedule, we share the original concept of a calendar year that begins with a specified day. Think how much you and I view segments of time in years. Just the other day, a friend and I discussed what kind of year we'd had. As you open this book and prepare for your January 1 devotional, I wonder what kind of year you've had. Are you glad to see it go? Do you bid it good riddance? Or was it a year of dreams come true and intangible prosperity? Do you conclude it defeated? Or simply exhausted? One way or the other, aren't you glad you have a new start? Brilliant, isn't He?
God didn't think an annual new start was nearly enough. He who created the human psyche also compartmentalized those hundreds of days into 12 months. Every month we get another first. But 12 new starts were not enough, either. The very first verses of Scripture unfold a seven-day period of time we call a week. Think how we look forward to a "weekend" and a subsequent new beginning on Sunday Fifty-two new beginnings a year sounds like plenty, doesn't it? Ah, but not to God. He who configured our needy souls ordained the sun to rise every single morning and set every single evening. A curtain of darkness falls systematically on the scene of every single day, calling it history
Ever had such a bad day that it seemed beyond redeeming? I had a really rough day last week. The problem wasn't just one thing. It was everything. Every phone call. Every e-mail. Every demand. Yes, even the elevator got huffy with me. I dragged my usually buoyant mood behind me to the parking garage like a deflated balloon on a tattered string. And then I accidentally shut the car door on it. My husband, Keith, asked me early that evening if the day had gotten any better. I laughed and responded, "Nope. I think this one's just going to have to end, and let me start a new one tomorrow morning."
Sure enough, night fell and so did I ... right in the middle of my Sealy Posturepedic. I pulled the covers over my head and slept off the exhaustion of the day. The next morning, the sun rose just as God promised it would, and I felt renewed and ready to go at life once again. I don't think I could have waited seven days for another new start. I needed one that would come in only hours. I bet you know what I mean.
The Bible says that God gives us new mercies every morning (Lam. 3:23). The first of those mercies is the new morning itself Here we are, you and I, making a new start together. A new year. Twelve new months. Fifty-two new weeks. And 365 glorious new days. What might make this one a little different from the others? I'm hoping a deliberately Christ-centered worldview. This new start is designed to take us all over the globe in prayer and partnership, freeing us from the misery of self-absorption. A world exists far beyond our front yard. Ours are not the only problems or the only praises. Let's see what happens when we share them.
Once again ... and not a moment too soon, the old has passed away. Behold, new things have come. - Beth Moore
Devotional time = spirit repair
"I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit-not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength-that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in." Ephesians 3:16-17a (MSG)
Most workers for our organization must learn a foreign language. For me, it's Mandarin Chinese. While studying, I was intrigued by the phrase ling xiu (leeng SHE-oo), which refers to a Christian's daily devotional time.
Although this was new vocabulary, I already had learned both of the characters in different contexts. Ling means "spirit" or "soul." Xiu means "to repair." I had learned xiu with the washing-machine repairman who was coming weekly to keep our ancient model running!
In my notes, I wrote "devotional = spirit repair." What a fitting way to describe our devotional time: repairing the soul by reading God's Word and communing with Him. Like that dilapidated washing machine, my spirit needs the ultimate Repairman. Although I complained about the washer, it was stronger than my own inner man. It needed weekly repair, while I need it daily!
At one point, the repairman explained that the washer was used too often. I laughed inwardly at his solution-if I could just stop dirty laundry from accumulating, all would be well! What a parallel to how the stresses of life wear away our spiritual vitality just like the never-ending laundry wears out the washer's parts.
We can't stop the stresses of life any more than my family can stop producing dirty clothes. So I keep calling the Repairman to patch up my soul. Our daily "spirit repair" time is what keeps me sharing the gospel even with slow results and using my poor Mandarin when I look foolish. It provides compassion for my city so I can fulfill God's call in my life.
-A worker in China
Heavenly Father, I pray that You will use this devotional time to repair my soul, purify me and draw me closer to You. Amen.
King of the jungle
"But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." John 12:32 (NIV)
Our family went to Lake Nakuru (nab-KOO-roo) National Park, where wildlife was bountiful. We marveled over the massive rhinos and Cape buffaloes. The impressive waterbuck, graceful giraffe and the tiny steenbok antelope all gave evidence to our Father's creativity. Awestruck, we watched the sea of pink flamingoes, thousands upon thousands in flocks flowing together, moving like currents. What gifts of beauty the Father provides to delight His children!
As we drove, we scrutinized the savanna for a rare creature. The barking call of a baboon was heard as we spotted a group of animals, alert and intent upon whatever the baboon was announcing. They weren't the least bit distracted by us. Their attention was fixed on something more important. With curiosity, we inched toward the hailing sentinel who directed all creatures in one direction. What could command such esteem?
Suddenly, in a bushy tree nearby, I noticed a huge, male lion in his secret hideaway. That explained it all! The focus was on the "king of the jungle"!
The humans in a white truck didn't distract the animals. Their focus was on the king, and nothing would change that. Their focus even drew us to him.
The Lion of Judah commands and deserves the same kind of focus from us. We must stay so intently focused on the King of kings that when distractions come, we are not moved! For when our eyes are fixed on Him, we exalt Him, and others will be drawn to Him ... just as the animals of Nakuru drew us to the king of the jungle.
-Judi, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa
King of kings and Lord of lords, I focus my eyes upon You today. Keep distractions far from me. May I follow You wholeheartedly. Amen.
An amazing discovery "Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare." Psalm 40:5 (NIV)
Rain is depended upon in the jungle. Without it, wells will dry up, crops will die and the temperature will continue to rise.
I have become good at predicting the weather in the jungle. If it looks like rain, it won't rain. If it doesn't look like rain, it will rain. When it does rain, if it lasts more than five minutes, it will rain for the rest of the day. If it stops before five minutes are over, it won't rain again until tomorrow.
One Sunday as I sat under the tree where we had church, my thoughts turned to the rain, or more correctly, to the absence of rain. I then realized that in the 14 months that I had lived in the jungle, no church service had ever been canceled for rain. I felt God saying to me, Of course not. You meet under a tree. You can't have church if it's raining, I've got that detail under control.
What an amazing realization! It had never occurred to me that we had good weather for church, but God had been taking care of it. I never bothered to pray about having good weather for church. Yet God already had it under control.
When I think about what that means in the rest of my life, I am almost overwhelmed. God proves daily that He is ordering my steps and planning my days. If He takes the time to plan good weather for believers in the jungle who meet under a tree, won't He be planning my life and your life as well?
-Kristee, South America
Heavenly Father, Sovereign Ruler of the universe, You have everything under control. Thank You that I do not need to feel overwhelmed with what is going on around me. Amen.
"But King David said to Ornan, 'No, but I will surely buy it for the full price; for I will not take what is yours for the Lord, or offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing.'" 1 Chronicles 21:24 (NASB)
Our weekly Bible study meets in a paillote (PIE-yote), which is an open, round, thatched hut in the center of the village. After the study, we sing and give an offering, placing it on an open Bible. In Africa, we give our offerings. In America, the expression is to "take" the offering, and it is often a quiet event.
Common practice in Africa is to make change from the offering plate. At the close of one meeting, some asked me if I could make change for them for market the next day. As I counted out coins, one lady said, "I don't want this one. It is too worn; they won't accept it in the market." Silence fell as the realization hit. Someone had offered this useless money to God. We saw more coins worn smooth until the markings were no longer visible. I said, "Someone gave these worthless coins to God. What does the Bible say about that?"
In 1 Chronicles 21:24, David said he could not offer to a holy God a sacrifice that cost him nothing. We cannot fool God by going through the motions of giving. What value do we place on the gifts we lay before the Lord? What did our gift cost us? I have to admit I was beginning to feel a little "preachy" until the Lord convicted me that I, too, was guilty. I hadn't given worn coins, but I had given less than my best. I am sometimes content to give the leftovers of my time or energy. May I never again offer to God any worthless sacrifice.
-Gaye, West Africa
Father, may I, too, never again offer to You any worthless sacrifice. Forgive me when I didn't give to You the best. Amen.
Prescription for hope
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1 (RSV)
A girl around 7 years old came to a medical clinic we sponsored with the help of a volunteer team from Spartanburg, South Carolina. We found out that her father was an alcoholic who mistreated her mother and her siblings. Most of the time, this little girl was left alone in the house to do all the chores and take care of her brothers and sisters. After she had shared these things, she asked, "Do you have any pills that would give me hope?"
So many people run short of hope and wonder how they can continue. It would be marvelous if there were a quick fix for hopeless lives. We were able to tell the little girl that Someone could give her hope. Jesus Christ could share the heavy burdens that she carried. Cheeks were wet with tears as we lovingly put her in touch with the One who truly does offer hope when our way is too hard and our load is too great.
We as Christians should be a people of hope. We often encounter desperate people, and sometimes we despair. In the dark times, we need to embrace faith in our Lord in order to restore hope in our road-weary souls. Faith really is "the assurance of things hoped for." And what do we hope for? Love, forgiveness, relationship and God's sustaining grace can see us through, no matter how hard the road is before us.
Running a little short of hope today? Celebrate your faith and embrace hope? Not only that-give some away to others.
-Lily, Middle America and the Caribbean
Gracious Father, You are the God of hope. Thank You that no matter what my circumstances are, You give hope in hopeless situations. Help me to share hope with others. Give missionaries opportunities today to share hope with the lost. Amen.
God, the forgiver
"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there." Psalm 139:7-8 (NIV)
"Beth" became a believer when she was a teenager. Her strict Wahhabite Muslim family was distressed, but they thought she would eventually return to Islam. But Beth had no intention of forsaking Christianity.
She met a young man at church and became engaged. Beth's mother was unhappy that the groom was a Christian, but her desire for Beth to be married was greater than her fear of the family's disapproval. Tragically, one of Beth's uncles committed suicide the day before the wedding, causing the marriage to be postponed. As the family gathered for the funeral, they discussed the reason for the man's suicide. They decided that Allah was angry about Beth's conversion; thus, a curse was on the family. Beth was told to recant her faith so that no one else would die for her disobedience. Beth refused. She was forced to the floor but still refused to deny Jesus. Finally, her uncles threatened to kill her if she didn't. Terrified, Beth recanted.
Shaken and ashamed, Beth ran from the house and for hours wandered the streets. She wanted to go to her fiancé and church for comfort. But it wasn't their forgiveness she needed; it was Jesus'. But how could He forgive her for denying Him? Tearfully, she cried out to Jesus.
That night, Beth had a dream that she was in a bathtub filled with snow. Then Jesus Himself came and washed her clean. Suddenly, she had a covering of snowy white. When she woke, Beth was filled with peace and God's forgiveness.
Beth's story reminds us that even if we go down to "the depths," Jesus is there.
-S.H., Central Asia
Father, forgive me when I deny You by disobedience. Just as You forgave Peter, someone I can identify with, forgive me for ____________. Give courage to believers who are persecuted for their faith today. Help them to stand fast. Amen.
He calls me by name
"But you are a chosen people ... that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)
God is not just interested in the world as a whole, but He knows and loves each individual. One of the Aukaners (au-CAN-ers) God loves is "Don." Don is a soft-spoken, middle-aged man of much influence in his Aukan village. As we developed a relationship with him, God began revealing Himself to Don.
Excerpted from Voices of the Faithful by Beth Moore Copyright © 2005 by International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and Elizabeth Moore. Excerpted by permission.
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