It is incredible to think that the year 2018 is upon us. At least from where I sit, the 1970’s seem like yesterday. Countless people across the globe will celebrate the New Year in every conceivable way, some wonderful, others perhaps not so swift.
I enjoy gathering with friends and family to welcome in a New Year. There is something special about parades and bowl games. And I along with many feel that with the arrival of a New Year, there is cause for hope. That said, in general, New Years Day and the events that surround it have not been my favorite compared to other holidays. For a long time I didn’t understand why, but recently I think I have begun to gain some insight.
Over the years lots of us have had the experience of making resolutions for the New Year. Resolutions are not the problem. Often in fact they can be life altering for the good.
The challenge is that we at times seemingly make our resolutions calendar dependent. It is as if a simple change on the calendar gives us the opportunity for a new start that was not present before time moves from the 31st of December to the 1st of January.
If however, we look at change as being calendar driven, we can lose sight of the fact that each and every day we are given by God is a fresh moment we can begin anew, set a new course, change directions, make different decisions, or confront ways of living that diminish us.
Said another way, we need not wait for a new year to arrive to make transformative commitments or to resolve to do this or that. God gives us that opportunity every moment of every day.
Scripture is replete with examples of people making changes, starting anew, or engaging in a new beginning. None of the stories I can think of were calendar driven, but God led. Whether it was Moses beginning his role as a leader or Esther taking on the new responsibility of saving her people, new starts, beginnings and choices didn’t depend upon a ball dropping at midnight.
While it is important to mark the passage of time, celebrate meaningful events and passages, the good news of the Gospel is that we can start fresh at any time. This is why in Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians he writes, “What we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.” (The Message).
When our lives are grounded in Christ, God’s spirit enables us to get such a fresh start every single moment. The Spirit of God does not depend on a calendar, time, or the day of the week.
It is my prayer for each of us this New Year that we will resolve to awaken each day expectant that our Lord is working through us to bring about not only what is new, but what brings us joy, hope, an opportunity to serve, healing, and purpose.
Happy New Year!
Each year, Christmas arrives in the midst of whatever is happening in life. For most of us, our lives are a mixture of the good and bad, the joyful and hard, the successes and failures, along with what is going right and what is terribly wrong. But wherever we are this Christmas, I have a prayer that something will happen to each of us over the days ahead.
I pray that each of us will receive something from God. Not something that comes in a wrapped package. Not something that is found underneath a colorfully lit tree. Not something we only encounter on Christmas. Something only our Savior can give us. And what our Savior has to give each of us is not only quite special, but very unique, life changing and transforming.
Some of us need strength. We are depleted. Maybe we are in that place where we have learned that relying on our own strength sometimes is not enough and ultimately is not going to cut it. We know we need a power far greater than ourselves to help us and we are in that place ready to finally receive that power, that strength.
For those of us who need strength and know it, “Unto us a Savior is born” and our Savior wants to give us the strength we need for whatever it is. His strength. Our Savior says to us, “Come to me, all of you who are worn out and burdened and I will give you rest. Come to me and I will give you the strength you need.”
Some of us, however, may need something else. Maybe we are in that place where our hearts are heavy and our spirits are troubled because issues of forgiveness are consuming us in one way or another
We know we need to forgive ourselves, but perhaps just can’t. We know we need to forgive another, but it seems impossible. We know we have to let go and that bitterness is doing us no good. And for those of us in such a place, “Unto us a Savior is born.” A Savior who wants to deal with whatever it is when it comes to forgiveness. Our Savior says to us, “Turn the struggle over to me. All is forgiven. All will be well. Let go of guilt. Be free from the weight of it all.”
But perhaps there are others of us whom are filled with fear, worry or trepidation. Maybe we are consumed with angst. Despite our best efforts, living in the moment is a foreign concept and our minds are consumed with all the “what if” questions imaginable. For those of us in a place of dis-ease, “Unto us a Savior is born.” Our Savior wants to free us from fear and invites us to turn it all over to God, to let go, to let God deal with whatever it is, and to receive a strong trust in God that replaces our fear.
Some of us, however, in the midst of all the delight, may be dealing with loss or are really missing someone who is gone. For those of us in such a place, “Unto us a Savior is born.” A Savior who shattered the tomb of death and rose again reminding us all, that through our Savior, eternity awaits us.
An eternity beyond description. A space beyond our five senses in which all is well, all is beautiful, all is the way it is supposed to be. “Unto us a Savior is born” to remind us to live with hope and count on the fact there is so much more going on than meets the eye, so we can go ahead and live right now without concern about the future or those we miss and see no longer.
And finally, may be in need of something that transcends everything and that is love. For those of us who need love, the right kind of love that changes everything, “Unto us a Savior is born.” A Savior whose essence is love.
A Savior who was born to show us that God is love, that all that matters in the end is love, and that the purpose of life is love. That love has been the point, remains the point, and will forever be the point. Loving God with all our hearts, minds, soul and strength and loving other people by what we do moment to moment. And for those of us who need the love only God can offer, a love which is permanent, healing, lavish, deep, profound, and unconditional, “Unto us a Savior is born.”
I know first hand the complex challenges, heartaches, pains and pitfalls of life. I know that there is a heck of a lot of bad in the midst of all that is great and wonderful and good. But through it all, we have a Savior, whose birth we celebrate. We have Jesus who has been given to you and to me to free us to live with joy and confidence.
And we can live with joy because we have a Savior who gives us the strength we need, a Savior who has dealt with and responds to any and all issues of forgiveness, a Savior who empowers us to let go of fear, a Savior who had taken care of death so we can live with hope, and a Savior who shows us the path, the purpose, and the reason for it all, which is love.
John the Baptist is one of the most colorful characters in the New Testament. The story of John is about a man who prepared people for the coming of Jesus. It is important to point out that long before John showed up, the Old Testament prophets of Malachi and Isaiah told of a time when a person would arrive on the scene proclaiming that the Messiah was on his way.
In Malachi we find, “A messenger of God will go ahead of you.” And from Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John the Baptist was the fulfillment of these prophecies. John had a clear purpose in life. To tell people about Jesus, to prepare folks for his arrival, and to encourage them to repent or to turn their lives back to God. He passionately encouraged people to open up their hearts and their lives to God and for what God was about to do through Jesus.
John profoundly affected people around him. He shook people up by what he said, by how he acted, and in fact by how he looked. When people were around John they paid attention.
As a result of John, folks thought about their lives and what was important. They thought about God and what it means to have a God that is fully present. They thought about how they had fallen short and what they needed to do to set things right in their lives and relationships. They spent time thinking about their passions, affections, and attachments as well as their purpose in life.
As I think about John and who he was and the impact he had, I am compelled to offer some questions for each one of us to think about this Advent season.
John’s life proclaimed Jesus. Who or what do our lives proclaim? Who or what do our lives point to? What principles and values do our lives represent? What do people take away from us after an encounter with us? What rubs off of you and of me onto others?
Whether or not we know it or intend it, people are affected by being around us. And what rubs off of us can run the gamut from things that are debilitating to destructive to life changing to healing to leading people to Jesus. So the question is, what do you want to rub off on others as a result of people being around you? What do you want people to take away from being with you?
I know I have fallen short in many ways throughout my life. I have done and said things I regret. Not all of whom I have been has reflected my true values. And sadly, some of what has rubbed off of me onto to others is not what I really would have wanted. Perhaps you have had some of these feelings too.
But I also know that you and I are on a journey. That we can ask God to help us. We can repent and turn back to God. We can take the time to stop and think about the questions I’ve posed and what rubs off of us.
While you and I are not like John the Baptist, there is no doubt that we can have a massive impact on those we encounter. I invite you over the Advent days ahead to take some time to pray, think about, and dig deep within your heart, about what it is that rubs off of you onto others. And my prayer for each of us is that what we exude most of all to everyone we encounter is the love of God, a love so desperately needed at this time in our land.
We now are moving into our second week of Advent. It is a season in which, we as Christians, continue to ready ourselves to celebrate Jesus’ birth and prepare and ponder His Second Coming. These themes of the Advent Season cause me to ask another question. Am I prepared for Jesus to come into my life right now?
Perhaps God wants us not just to think about what He did and what He will do, but what He is doing this moment. Frankly, if we spend too much time thinking about what was or what will be, we might not be paying enough attention to what the possibilities are right now.
Long ago, the prophet Isaiah wrote, in effect, “Lord God, we are the clay and you are the potter.”
While Isaiah’s words were to a people who lived and suffered a long time ago, in many ways, his words have a lot to do with us who live in a vastly different place and time. Isaiah said, in essence, “Through it all, the good and the bad, live like a piece of clay and let God be the one who shapes you.”
I think this is great counsel for us this Advent season. We don’t need to wait for His second coming for transformation, healing, or peace within our lives to begin. Jesus wants to come into our lives, come into the changes we are going through, come into the center of our identities and ways of doing things, and have His way with us right this moment.
Are we ready for Christ to come into our lives right now in ways that may change us at our core? Are we ready for that kind of change? Are we truly willing to expand what it is that we are building our lives upon?
Are we willing to finally build our lives around Christ? Not kind of. Not partially. Not sort of. But completely.
So this Advent, over the next days and weeks, I invite you to do a few things.
Have some straight talk with God. Talk to God about your life and especially those places you resist changing the most. Talk to God about those spots you are afraid to let go of. Tell God how you feel.
Ask God to help you build your life around Him. And it you already feel you have done that, ask Him again. Ask God to help you build your life around Him, not stuff, places, relationships, ways of living or a whole litany of other possibilities. Ask God to help you develop a relationship with God in which you are the clay and God is the potter.