My New Year’s resolution was to spend more time in deep reflection – both personal and scriptural. I wanted to think deeper on things instead of giving everything a quick glance and then either keeping it or dismissing it. I realize that five days into the New Year, many people are abandoning resolutions to pray or read the Bible because things haven’t changed. Life is no better than it was on December 31. The world is still in turmoil and perhaps our own lives are in turmoil and we are looking for a way out.
I was thinking about this as I was running this morning and then I heard Blessings by Laura’s Story. I had one of those moments as I was listening to this song (if only I could do what a song does in 3 minutes during a 15 minute sermon!). This song really made me think and realize that what we see as trials and tough times may not be trials at all. These low times may really be God’s mercies in disguise. We have had low times recently and it is hard to see any shining light or rainbows or chances of times getting better. Then we hear how what we thought would have been a good thing turns out to not be something we need or want to be involved.
‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?
The words to this song made me cry. There are so many times I can remember over the past few years that I was faced with what seemed like a huge trial…The trials I have been through in my life have always caused my eyes to look up. Whenever I would look up, God would reveal himself to me. I have learned so many things about God through the trials I have walked through. If we can learn to pull ourselves above the circumstances, out of the self pity, out of the pain, out of the anger and confusion and simply look up to God, we will find a blessing. The blessing of knowing he is near. The blessing of learning a greater aspect of who he is in the midst of the storm. The blessing in finding out that there is a greater purpose to life and that this place is not our home. Somehow…looking up has eased the pain and sorrow I feel. Looking up has filled me with the blessing of joy. This earth could not satisfy my pain and heartache I was feeling…but God could and he did. He filled my heart with a greater knowledge of his promises. He built me back up and strengthened me with the blessing of HOPE.
We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. Those who God decided in advance would be conformed to his Son, he also called. Those whom he called, he also made righteous. Those whom he made righteous, he also glorified. So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them. Who is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God’s right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us. Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, We are being put to death all day long for your sake. We are treated like sheep for slaughter. But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. -Romans 8:28-29 (CEB)
I have been a christian for years now. I can honestly say that I have learned the most about God through the storms in my life. Many times my healing has come through tears as I have cried out to God. Gods mercies are new every morning…he is always waiting to pour them out over us as we look to him in all situations.
Today I am free! No hardship or trial in this world can hold me down because I know that it is just for a moment, after all..this place is not my home. My God will never leave my side. He is always near.
Sometimes the greatest blessings are found in the greatest trials we go through. Perhaps that should be my new New Year’s resolution – to look differently at trials – not as a trials but blessings and mercies in disguise!
When the time came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles joined him. He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. I tell you, I won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in God’s kingdom.” After taking a cup and giving thanks, he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. I tell you that from now on I won’t drink from the fruit of the vine until God’s kingdom has come.” After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you. “But, look! My betrayer is with me; his hand is on this table. The Human One goes just as it has been determined. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays him.” They began to argue among themselves about which of them it could possibly be who would do this. -Luke 22:14-23 (CEB)
Today is the first day of 2012. I am sure you know that and I am sure you are puzzled why I would pick the Lord’s Supper for a scripture to reflect on the New Year. I am glad you asked. Today is the day when people begin to honor their resolutions for the coming year. We all make them and most of us end up failing to keep them much longer than a few weeks (or even days).
That brings me to this scripture. In my tradition, we have communion on the first Sunday of the month and today was that Sunday (as well as the first Sunday of the year). We come forward to receive communion but do we ever think about what we are doing. Read the words above again and focus on Jesus’ words. He is talking about breaking his body and shedding his blood for you and for me. I can make a statement like that too – I say I would rather die than do something (like break my word) but I have yet to actually die. In Jesus’ case, his body was broken and his blood was shed for you and for me. His actions supported his words. When we go to receive communion, we are not only remembering his words but we are remembering his sacrifice. Again, in my tradition, the communion table is open for anyone who is a Christian – someone who has accepted Jesus. In my mind, each time we receive communion, we are remembering that we have stood up to be Christians which is not an easy thing to do at all.
Which brings me back to my opening words. Today is the day when we make resolutions for the new year. I invite you to remember Jesus’ words today and remember your baptism and your commitment to be a Christian. When the time comes that we break our resolutions this year, may we remember our commitment to be a Christian.
Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. -Luke 9:23 (CEB)
Taking up our cross can take many forms and mean many things. It can be as simple as making a commitment to read the Bible on a daily basis; spending time with a friend or neighbor or family member who is sick; and going to church. It can also mean a bigger sacrifice like being a missionary, joining the Army, or going into ministry. In the end, it means being different than the world around us. It means being a Christian all the time – both publicly and privately.
Remember your baptism today as we celebrate a new year let’s celebrate our Savior as well.
Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed in thy presence, in thy service, to thy glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from thee,
but may rely on thy Spirit,
to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire
to show forth thy praise,
testify thy love,
advance thy kingdom.
I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with thee, O Father, as my harbour,
thee, O Son, at my helm,
thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.
Give me grace to sanctify me,
thy comforts to cheer,
thy wisdom to watch,
thy right hand to guide,
thy counsel to instruct,
thy law to judge,
thy presence to stabilize.
May thy fear be my awe,
thy triumphs my joy.
(from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers, edited by Arthur Bennett)
She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. -Matthew 1:21 (CEB)
Today we jump back a few weeks before Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for His presentation. We look at Jesus’ eighth day when He was circumcised and named. We will speak of the significance of His circumcision in tomorrow’s devotion, but today we speak of the importance of His Name.
Does a name mean much to you? To the people of Israel and to God a name was extremely important. Each name carried its own meaning and became an integral part of that child’s life, often describing the character of that child. An Israelite boy’s name was very significant, and it was usually given on the eighth day when he was circumcised. So on the eighth day when the Christ Child was circumcised, He was given the name Jesus, just as the angel had instructed Joseph and Mary.
What a deep and profound Name! Jesus means “The LORD saves.” It describes the purpose for which He descended from heaven and became human. As the angel told Joseph, Jesus would save His people from their sins. His Name perfectly fits who He was and that which He had come to do for us all.
As we close out the year 2011, it is fitting to look back on the last 365 days and take account of our lives. What great things has God done for you or through you in this year? Give Him praise.
On the other hand, what regrets do you have? What problems in your life are the still strong echoes of sinful and foolish choices you have made?
At the beginning of this coming New Year we all want to wipe the slate clean and start 2011 with a fresh start. But neither regret nor resolution can wipe our slate clean. Only Jesus can do that.
This is why many churches open their doors this night to hold New Year’s Eve services-often with Holy Communion. As we receive the very same body and blood which Jesus took on Himself at His conception, the same body which was laid in the manger at His birth, the same blood which was poured out for us on the cross, our sins are taken away, our slate is washed clean, and we are at peace with God our Father. That peace is not only for day one of 2012, but for every day that remains in this life and for all eternity.
We are quickly approaching the end of this year. People reflect on the past year and look forward to the new year. People often make resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, or something like that. I am making a different kind of resolution this year.
Here it is, something to ask God to do for me every day: fill me with the knowledge of His will. Think about it! The perfect solution to every situation, every setback, every decision, and every sorrow embedded in the knowing of His will. This is my new “catch-all” when I am overwhelmed.
Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. -Colossians 1:9 (CEB)
There is a second fall-back scripture for me in times of trouble, “. . . We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” I allow the Spirit to guide in these circumstances.
In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. -Romans 8:26 (CEB)
But now I have this other way, this simple prayer for knowledge of his will. And I’m pretty sure I won’t have a conscious awareness of the knowing. Instead, I will have the effects of it (Matthew 7:18): the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), the ability to endure and to be patient and to manifest a spirit of thanksgiving in all things [1 Thessalonians 5:18].
This is a prayer God will always answer. It’s not one of those “yes, no, or maybe” prayers. Paul prayed in this fashion for others. I can do the same and I can pray it for myself.
When Paul was “kicking against the goads”, he was going against the will of God in such a dramatic and determined way that he experienced a physical miracle — and not a pleasant one, no matter how “spiritual” we’d like to make it sound. He was thrown from his horse, lost his sight, heard voices, and had to be led to Damascus in disgrace. After that, he didn’t eat or drink for 3 days. He despaired and expected his own death.
I think I have experienced my own version of going against God’s will, I can tell by the fruits of it: impatience, anger, discontent, harshness, and even cruelty. When my mouth and mind engage in all those sorrows and negativity, I am operating in a vacuum and missing God’s will.
Fill me today, Lord. Fill me to overflowing that the knowledge of your will becomes a sweet aroma to others. Amen.
Today is my wife’s 32nd birthday. As we celebrate, I am reminded of the big moments that have happened to me this year. I completed and graduated from seminary in May. I joined the Army and survived Chaplain school. I left one church and briefly served another before we parted ways because of the uncertainty of Army life. These are all significant events and I see God’s presence in each one of them – including my wife’s birthday. God guides us if we take the time to listen and hear.
Which is why I am reminded that the Bible also contains big moments in the life of God’s people. We have Abraham and the first covenant. Noah and the flood. Moses leading God’s people out of Egypt. Joshua choosing God. David and Solomon. Jesus calling the twelve. Paul and Timothy. So many lives that reflect a faith, love, and trust in God. The Bible literally shows us the way to go if we look at how other people handled the big moments in their lives as shared in the Bible.
Your word is a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey. -Psalm 119:105 (CEB)
I have heard Psalm 119 quoted many times as people reflect that the Bible guides us on life’s journey. I agree. Many of the major events in my life have a counterpart in the Bible and I can read and reflect on how someone else handled it. Yes, I am aware that the Bible does not have modern examples in it but that doesn’t mean I can’t find guidance with in the pages of the books as I go through life. It is a lamp, a road map, a compass, a bridge, a path, and so many other things to life.
…because God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. -Hebrews 4:12 (CEB)
Have you ever thought about the Bible being living and active? I have seen Bibles that are not living or active – they are covered with dust and look brand new hardly used. Then I have seen Bibles that have no covers, worn pages, tears, and lots of notes. Those are the living Bibles – the ones that have been on the journey with someone for years and years. It is not enough to just own a Bible – you have to use it as well. You have to spend time reading it, studying it, meditating on it, and praying over it. I believe the more familiar you are with the Bible (I am not talking about memorizing verses but you can; I am terrible at it) then you will know where to turn in the Bible when you need to read something for a situation.
So back to life’s big moments and the Bible. We are going to experience great moments of joy and great moments of sadness. In between, there will be times of peace and silence and times of uncertainty. Through it all, God’s word will be a constant for us because it never changes. Through all of life’s moments, we have God and God’s word to guide us.
The grass dries up; the flower withers, but our God’s word will exist forever. -Isaiah 49:8 (CEB
So my advice this morning as I prepare to celebrate with my wife has several pieces.
- Find a good Bible translation that is easy to read and one that you want to read. I am part of the Common English Bible tour (and I actually like it!) so I will recommend that translation. It is written in modern language and is easy to read and understand. You can also pick up a copy of the NIV which is also easy to read and understand. Whatever you choose, open the Bible and read it every day as you go through life’s moments.
- Once you have a good translation, actually read it. Find a good reading plan or devotional and follow it. Here is a 90 Day Reading Plan that takes you through two chapters of the New Testament each day. Whatever plan you choose, stick with it but if you miss a day, don’t sweat it. Pick up the next day and keep reading. You will be amazed at how relevant the Bible is to your life.
But you must continue with the things you have learned and found convincing. You know who taught you. Since childhood you have known the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good. -2 Timothy 3:14-17
As I was reflecting upon the years of my life this morning, it is obvious that there have been profound years and fairly mundane years. Without exception, the years which were the most profound, amazing, wonderful and spectacular were ones I had absolutely no anticipation of on January 1st.
For many years of my life I was fully indoctrinated in the mistaken belief system that it is up to us to make our life profitable, abundant and great. I used to sit down on January 1st each year and map out MY goals, MY ambitions, MY resolutions and MY desires. Due to what I was taught, I thought I was doing a good thing when I did this. I saw a number of years ago that it is NOT.
All of us have years that we look back upon with either great thankfulness and joy or the general feeling of wanting to forget they ever took place. Personally there are certainly some very profound years that totally shaped my life in a positive way. Without exception, each one of those years held no promise of what was coming as I awoke on January 1st. In fact, I can think of numerous years where what I determined was going to happen that year turned out to be just the opposite.
Who are we, as mere mortals, to think that we can pre-determine on the first day of a new year what that year will bring? It is in many ways the height of arrogance to believe that we hold within ourselves the ability to influence the events the next 365 days hold. None of us know for sure what this day will bring when you get right down to it.
I understand that businesses and politicians need to work off a plan and to some degree I believe all of us need to also. But, when the plan becomes immutable, then the will of God becomes null and void in our lives. Plans and goals are great but they absolutely must be subject to the will of God as it becomes apparent day by day.
I am quite sure that Noah did not make a New Years resolution to build an ark. To the contrary, he was minding his own business when suddenly God told him to do something that completely changed his life. The same thing happened to Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David and countless others mentioned prominently in the Bible.
God seems to have a unique way of surprising us with His will many times. Just when we think we have Him and His plan for our lives all figured out, God will pull up in a huge truck with a whole new life for us to sort through and fulfill. Can you imagine how Peter, James, John and the other disciples felt as everything they had worked for and done in their lives was uprooted and discarded as they took heed to the simple request of Jesus to “Follow Me”? What about me taking heed for Jesus’ call? What about you?
“Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” – Matthew 4:19 (CEB)
After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. -Mark 8:34 (CEB)
Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me. -John 12:26 (CEB)
As this new year dawns, I pray we all take a few moments to re-confirm the desire in our hearts to do whatever God tells us to do, go wherever God tells us to go and accept whatever the will of God is in our lives, knowing it is good, acceptable and perfect. Child like trust and simple obedience are two of the greatest attributes we can strive to attain in our lives. The willingness to lay down OUR WILL and accept the WILL OF GOD in our lives enables us to see happen in our lives what God wants and not what we want.
We are quickly approaching a new year as this winds to a close. It is common for people to take time to look back over the past year and make some resolutions for the year. In order to embrace the new, we must release the old. A trapeze artist cannot swing from one bar to another without letting go. An important part of preparing for the New Year is to review the past year—to release it—and to learn from it.…
The following questions should stimulate your thinking for this process. I hope that you take time out of your busy schedule this holiday season to ponder where you are and where you’ve been. Talk with people you care about. Write out your thoughts and feelings. Do some journaling. Consider writing a letter—an end-of the-year-epistle to yourself. It could be profound to write it and valuable to read it in the years ahead.
Reflect upon what you did, how you felt, what you liked, what you didn’t and what you learned. Try to look at yourself and your experience with as much objectivity as you can—much like a biographer would.
Here are some suggestions to get you started in mulling over the past year—perhaps the last decade. Feel free to add your own.
- What did I learn? (skills, knowledge, awareness, etc.)
- What did I accomplish? A list of my wins and achievements.
- What would I have done differently? Why?
- What did I complete or release? What still feels incomplete to me?
- What were the most significant events of the year past? List the top three.
- What did I do right? What do I feel especially good about? What was my greatest contribution?
- What were the fun things I did? What were the not-so-fun?
- What were my biggest challenges/roadblocks/difficulties?
- How am I different this year than last?
- For what am I particularly grateful?
Consider listing all the things in your life of which you’d like to let go—anything you no longer want. Give thanks for what they’ve brought you in terms of learning and usefulness and then burn the list. It’s a symbolic gesture to help you release the old and be open to the new. The next step is to list what you do want—experiences, knowledge, material things, relationships, healings, whatever.…
I’m confident that anything you can do to make this year-end more dramatic in terms of your own personal and spiritual growth will be valuable.
Of course, in the end, remember that God is control and it is not always good to dwell in the past so much. We need to look forward as well. Reflect on the year and learn but move on and embrace the future.
The LORD says— who makes a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. -Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 (CEB)