New

“The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass.” ~ Philip Yancey

It’s a new year. We have celebrated its coming and have lived a few of its days. How’s it going so far? For me, it feels an awful lot like the old year!

God’s idea of new is different from ours. Read Revelation 21 and you’ll see what I mean. He says, “Behold I am am making all things new.” Not just a new page on the calendar. All things new. And the chapter tells us what he means: a new heaven, a new earth, an entirely new way of living. Amazing, right?

As wonderful as that will be, we don’t have to wait until the end of time to experience God’s idea of new. Those who choose to accept Jesus’ invitation to forgiveness of sins and relationship with him experience a newness that begins right then. Immediate goodbye to the frustration of trying to handle everything alone – including not only life’s challenges but also our guilt, regrets, and fears. Instead we greet a new life where we are guided, accepted, forgiven, and secure forever.

Once we begin to follow Jesus, we live a new and renewed life every day – one filled with anticipation, adventure, God’s presence, and, sometimes, his surprises.

Let’s not settle for a new year when we can have a new life!

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:4

For the joy . . .

“You need not cry very loud; he is nearer to us than we think.” – Brother Lawrence

My mind was racing going through all I had to do and all I was worried about. The task in front of me felt heavy, and I was anxious.

“Fix your eyes on Jesus” came into my mind. I mentally saw him carrying his cross, bent in exhaustion and pain. Then I remembered another phrase of the verse he was reminding me of: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross“. It was as if he was saying: “Do what I did. See the joy at the other end. It’s hard and tiring, but keep your eyes on me and on the joy.” The same verse describes Jesus as “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” He was telling me that he would complete what he had started (from Hebrews 12:2).

But the very next verse (which I looked up later that morning) was the capstone as I thought about my discouragement: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”(Hebrews 12:3). The reason to look at Jesus in his suffering? So I will not get tired and discouraged. He is our perfect example.

Don’t you love how the Holy Spirit works? He gave me one small phrase from his word and, when I followed that to the whole text, I had a complete message: Keep your eyes on Jesus. He will show you how it’s done. He will finish his work in you. And you will not be anxious.

Maybe you need to hear that, too, so I am sharing it today.

” . . . learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”. – Matthew 11:29b

Need help?

 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . . For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:12a and 13b

Author Dane Ortland describes a hypothetical scenario whereby a doctor moves to an area of the world among impoverished villages. He sets up a medical clinic, inviting people to come. Do you know what pleases him most? When sick people show up! Especially the very ill, desperate for his care. If only the healthy came to visit, his efforts would be wasted. He’s doing what he came to do only when the sick come.

Ortland goes on to compare this to Jesus’ ministry. He didn’t come for those who felt spiritually healthy. He came for those who were spiritually sick and knew it. He was accused of hanging out with sinners. Of course that’s what he did! They were why he came. Sometimes he didn’t wait for them to come to him. He went out to find them.

Jesus is back in heaven, but his purpose remains: To seek out those of us who know we’re sinful and to welcome us with open arms. When we come, he cleans us up, sets us on our feet, and loves us into the kingdom of God.

We’ve got it wrong if we think we have to get our act together to be able to approach Jesus. Or if we think what we have done is so bad he could never forgive us. He came for people like us – people who know how much they need a new life, a spiritual bath. Only real sinners can experience his real forgiveness.

. . . for the penitent, his heart of gentle embrace is never outmatched by our sins and foibles and insecurities and doubts and anxieties and failures.” – Dane Ortland

The book cited is Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortland

The Backward Look

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done.” – Psalm 105:5

Many of us try to live in the present moment. After all, the present is the only time we have, right? The only chance we have to make a difference, to experience God’s presence, to interact with those around us.

That is a good mindset, but once in awhile we are wise if we stop to realize that where and who we are in this present moment is the result of many things that have happened along the way.

As I paused today to think back on my own life, I realized how God took me into and out of situations that molded me; how he brought me spiritual friends who encouraged my faith, how he gave me ways to serve him, how he drew me closer to himself. Even in circumstances I didn’t like, he was always faithful, always loving, and always looking out for me.

What about you? Whether you’ve lived a few years or many, take some time and let God show you where he’s been involved even when you didn’t realize it. You may be surprised at what he brings to mind. You have never been alone!

Why look back? So we can thank God for his active participation in our lives. So we can share with others who may be struggling in the day-to-day that there is a long view, a plan that God is working out one day at a time. So our faith can be renewed and our hearts encouraged. It’s worth a backward look.

“If you believe in a God who controls the big things, you have to believe in a God who controls the little things. It is we, of course, to whom things look ‘little’ or ‘big’.” – Elisabeth Elliot

Paradise Lost?

 “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:43

I walked along a familiar road when I came upon this new sign telling me Paradise Drive was off limits. I had taken that shortcut many times before, but was no longer welcome.

Then I read the small print: HOA Residents, Guests, and Deliveries Only. Apparently there is a way in. Because I have nothing to deliver, my only hope is to be invited by a resident. I guess I’ll have to make some new friends!

You probably know where I’m going with this. We all want to get to Paradise someday, don’t we? Or Heaven as we more often call it. We shouldn’t be surprised to find that Heaven has restrictions for entry, too. But there’s hope! We already have Someone in residence there who wants us to come in. In fact, here’s what Jesus said to his disciples on the night he was arrested: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2b-3).

Then, just a few hours later, from the cross, Jesus tells the repentant thief that they would be together in Paradise that very day. It seems that the way in is to accept an invitation from Jesus to join him there. So, this sign notwithstanding, I know my way to Paradise. I am the guest of the one who is preparing a place for me.

He issues that invitation to you, too. Say “yes” to Jesus and follow him home!

God is going to be as pleased to have you with Him in heaven as you will be to be there with Him.”
– A. W. Tozer

The Family Name

“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters”, says the Lord Almighty. – 2 Corinthians 6:18

Parents who adopt look for a child they think will fit into their family – someone they can love, nurture, and provide for. Once they find the child, they can’t wait to welcome him into their home.

God is building a family, too! His first adoption was the Jewish people. Here’s what he said to them, “. . . the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 14:2). Scripture often refers to Israel as God’s son.

God wasn’t done yet. Now, he we hear about other peoples of the world – those who are not Jews: “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4b-5).

We are not born into God’s family with our physical birth. We have to be adopted in. The good news, though, is that anyone who wants to be in God’s family can be. He’s still in the adoption business.

Being adopted means our name changes. As we read above, we are brought into God’s family through Jesus Christ and, thus, we take the name Christian. It’s up to us now to carry that name with dignity, to bring honor to the family of God, to look to God as Father, and to follow Jesus as an older brother.

In all that, we never, never forget that God saw us, loved us, and chose to adopt us as his own. With that, we should wake up every morning smiling!

By God’s mercy, wretched paupers are made royal heirs together with Christ. By God’s mercy, wayward sinners are embraced as righteous sons.” – Jan Verbruggen

Lost?

“He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.” – Psalm 145:19

We all wander away sometime. We don’t intentionally turn our backs on God, we just stop paying attention to him. We get distracted and, eventually we stop following where he leads.

When a sheep does that, he gets lost. And a lost sheep has no way to find his way back home. So he usually finds a bush or a rock to lie against and he waits to be found. In the meantime, the shepherd has returned from the fields to the sheepfold for the night and, in his counting, realizes that one of his sheep is missing. By now, though, it’s dark and that little sheep will be hard to find. But, the shepherd lights a lamp, ventures out, and begins the search, calling as he goes.

At this point in the dark of night, the sheep will never be found unless he participates in his own rescue. His job is to hear the shepherd’s voice and then respond with a bleat – as loud as he can and consistently over time until the shepherd can follow the cry and bring back the wanderer who, by now, is cold, hungry, and afraid.

Are you feeling lost today? Far away from God? Having no way of knowing how to find your way back to him? He’s reaching out for you already, but he waits for you to participate in your own rescue. How do you do that? You call out to him. You pray. You wait for him to hear your cry for help. He will come. He will rescue you and carry you home.

“Human beings do not readily admit desperation. When they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near.” – Phillip Yancey

Note: Lost sheep concept taken from the book The Good Shepherd by Kenneth E. Bailey

Shh. He’s working.

“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” – Habakkuk 2:20

Our twenty-something grandson had come to visit us in Colorado, planning to take hikes and summit mountains. But an unseasonable snowfall kept him indoors for a few days instead. He broke out his canvas and paints and began to create a landscape while glancing out our front window.

I looked over his shoulder, wanting to tell him that the open field he just put in was really over a bit further, wondering about the colors he chose, and really getting concerned about all the wild brushstrokes that were not taking any shape at all. But I said nothing. Over the next couple of days a beautiful landscape emerged. It was related to the view out our window, but it also incorporated other scenes from his memory. It had its own artful color scheme, and all those wild brushstrokes emerged amazingly as mountains. It wasn’t what I envisioned. It was so much better! And I was really glad I had resisted the urge to try to get him to do it my way.

Then I remembered the verse that asks us to be silent before God. Wait! I thought we were supposed to talk to him always, tell him our needs, plead for others, ask him to intervene in our lives. Yes, that’s true. But sometimes we don’t understand the picture he’s painting. When that happens, we watch and wait without interference. The picture that emerges may not be anything like we expected, but it will be God’s own idea, and it will be beautiful. Sometimes we just have to be still and let him work.

I hear a voice in the silences, and become increasingly aware that it is the voice of God”. – David Brainerd

Note: I thought you might want to see the results of our artist’s efforts. The painting is titled “Magnificent Vista” and is shown above.

Why do I pray?

And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” – Isaiah 6:3

Though I can’t see you, Lord, I know you are with me.

I pray because I believe you listen to me.

You love me.

You want what’s best for me.

You’re always working behind the scenes of my life.

You’re powerful enough to do whatever pleases you.

You will someday make all things right.

I pray because talking to you helps me order my tangled thoughts.

I pray not just hoping you will answer, but because I know I will be heard.

I pray because there is more to this life than what I can see. My prayers help me access the unseen life where everything is ordered, justice prevails, no one dies, and you rule. Prayer is my connection to that world and that connection makes everything in this world more bearable, more hopeful, less frightening.

I thank you when my prayers break out into worship. When it finally dawns on me that I’m talking to the one who created me and the entire universe around me. I am talking to the one who is holy, powerful, present everywhere, knowing everything, and living in unapproachable light. Yet I dare to enter your light because you have invited me to come. I stand amazed that I can be in your presence at all. Amazed at you.

You respond always in love, grace, and mercy. You bring me peace and fill me with hope. You create in me a clean heart, a renewed mind, and a desire to leave this place of prayer to serve you and my fellow travelers with joy. I am so thankful. Amen.

That’s why I pray.

“Prayer is keeping company with God.” – Philip Yancey

My way? His way?

As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. – 2 Samuel 22:31

If you’ve ever wondered about the way God does things, you’re not alone!

Some disciples were walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, depressed and discouraged (Luke 24). Jesus was the one they had counted on to rescue them from oppression. Now he was dead. There were rumors of resurrection, but who knows? Then, by the end of the chapter, they realize Jesus is alive (good news) and he’s not going to deliver Israel from the Romans (bad news). In fact, he’s leaving them (really bad news).

Even so, we find them a few weeks later praising God in the temple (v. 53). They went from sadness to joy, from confusion to worship. Jesus didn’t do things their way, but maybe they were beginning to see his way was better.

What are you praying desperately for? What do you wish God would fix for you? We pray with such limited vision! We see things only from our perspective and time.

His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. They are bigger, better, bolder. They take us to a place we could never envision for ourselves. We simply don’t know what’s best for us or for someone else. We cannot know while we are in this world, living this life.

So, what do we do when, like the disciples with Jesus, we find that God’s not going to answer our prayers as we want him to? We accept and believe his way is better. We entrust him with our bodies. We rely on him for resources. We let him feed our souls and give us hope.

“Let God have your life. He can do more with it than you can.” – D. L. Moody