Read: Psalm 33:1-5
Most of us realize that there is little cosmic significance to January 1. True, the man-made calendar is partially-based on the God-created orbits of the earth and the other planets in our solar system. But it’s still man-made calendar.
That said, it’s part of our human nature to look for “new starts,” so why not use a New Year celebration as a new opportunity to serve and praise our wonderful Lord!
Ready to “shout for joy”?
As we prepare for Sunday worship that happens to fall on December 31, we could do worse than take inventory of the past year’s blessings and rededicate ourselves to being a blessing in the new year.
We previously discussed the challenges of living the “new life” in Christ. Our Lord, however, is very consistent: “For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.”
There’s a good place to start in the worship of our hearts (which can and should start before we get to the church building).
Do we have a “new song”?
“Sing to him a new song” does not mean we never sing a song twice (side note: Scripture only condemns “vain repetition”). It does mean we should be singing with a new attitude, or an attitude different from the worldly system that is so filled with negativity and strife.
Regardless of the calendar, it’s always a good time to renew our spirit of praise and thanksgiving. But, since we are celebrating the beginning of a new year, let’s start it out with a fresh dedication to worship Him in spirit and in truth!
1. Have you “counted your blessings” lately? Make at least a short list now.
2. If you don’t mind another list, how many attributes of God can you praise Him for?
3. Without getting into discussion of “resolutions,” in what (specific) areas will you ask for God’s help in the new year?
Read: II Corinthians 5:16-18
This one is especially for people who have been Jesus followers for some time (but if you’re new to the faith, hang on; there’s something for you, too).
We’re used to “new” things wearing out. Clothing, cars, computers. . .nothing seems to last. The Christian life is supposed to be different. But, to be honest, some of us may feel like that, too, is feeling “old.” How can that be? Stress, complacency, or more outright rebellious actions can be the problem. Or it may be simply forgetting the basic blessings of being “a new creation.”
“Renew” the new…
No “secrets to a vibrant Christian life” here; but we might well use the upcoming new year as an opportunity to “renew” our knowledge of – and commitment to – new life in Christ.
How are we doing in spending daily time alone with God? How are we doing in personal study of God’s Word (which can provide a lot of the answers we may be asking)? How are we doing in spending regular time in worship and fellowship with other believers (Sunday worship, Life Group)? How are we doing in living out the love of Jesus in a way that other people see it?
“The rest of the story”
As is too often the case, we quote individual verses without looking at the context; such may be the case with the “new creation” passage in II Corinthians 5. The reason that “the old has passed away” and “the new has come” (verse 17) is Christ’s work of reconciliation in our lives (verse 18). Rejoice in this!
Further, part of the “new life” is the “ministry of reconciliation” (also verse 18). In short, what Christ did in us should motivate us to share it with others.
Whether you accepted Christ as Savior 50 years ago or 50 minutes ago, you are included in this ministry. Perhaps all of us can have some new experiences as we do this in the days ahead!
1. What does it mean to be “reconciled to Christ”?
2. What is your part in the “ministry of reconciliation” to and with others?
3. How will you increase your understanding of and participation in this ministry? (NOTE: Some of these supernatural principles are not easy to grasp – there’s nothing wrong with asking for help in understanding and applying these principles!)
Read: Matthew 20:29-34
Some of us know what it’s like to need help with our physical sight. Oh, what a great experience to put on a new pair of glasses and see clearly again! Almost like seeing everything new for the first time!
What about our spiritual sight? Have things been getting “blurry”? Do we need help with our spiritual “vision”?
Jesus healed the blind
The Bible records several instances in which Jesus healed blind people. But never was the restoration of physical sight the end of the story. In the case of the two men outside of Jericho, for example, their new sight also led to following Jesus.
This devotional isn’t meant to be a medical analysis, but there are a number of reasons for people having physical blindness. The same is true for spiritual blindness – or nearsightedness. People who wear glasses know the importance of regular cleaning; what good is the prescription if the glasses have fingerprints and dust all the time?
New vision for the new year?
Maybe it’s time for a visit to the Great Optometrist. We can ask God to remove the blinders that hinder us from seeing Him as Lord of our lives. We can ask him for a renewed vision for the possibilities for service and for showing Christ’s love to others. We’re tempted to mention seeing new blessings ahead, but we should also pray for the ability to see the blessings He has already provided.
May we have 20/20 spiritual vision in the coming new year.
1. What have we allowed to “cloud” our spiritual vision? (Pray that God will remove them.)
2. What might God be asking us to “see” in the weeks and months ahead?
3. What can we do (with God’s help) to clear up the “fog” that prevents us from seeing His blessings and His leading?
Read: Luke 2:40, 52; II Peter 3:18
Just as we marvel at God coming to earth as a baby, so we sometimes wonder about what it was like for Jesus – as God in the flesh – to grow up as a boy. (This came up during a recent discussion in one of our Life Groups.)
Jesus “grew up”
The Bible doesn’t give us a lot of information about Jesus as a boy (it could be argued that His formal ministry as an adult was more significant). But what we do know can be helpful.
Twice in Luke chapter 2, we are told that the young Jesus grew both in physical “strength/stature” and in “wisdom.” From a human standpoint, Jesus learned many new things: how to walk, how to read and write, and eventually how to work with wood. He also learned the Jewish Law, and baffled some of the teachers in the process!
Are we “growing”?
For all we do not know about Jesus’ childhood, we know that He was prepared to accomplish His heavenly Father’s will some 30 years later. And, because of what Jesus accomplished, we can enjoy new life in Him.
But it’s important to note that, just as there is progress in growing physically and mentally, there should be spiritual growth. That’s the encouragement (actually it’s a command) in II Peter 3. It doesn’t happen instantly, but with God’s help, we can and should make that a priority.
How are we growing?
1. How has God helped you “grow” this past year?
2. In what areas does God want you to “grow” in the coming year?
3. What steps will you take to help make that happen?
Read: Psalm 46:10-11
If you’re reading this on Christmas Day, congratulations! It’s not always easy to take time out on a busy holiday to be alone with God, even if that holiday is allegedly devoted to celebrate His coming to earth in bodily form.
When was the last time you had a “silent night”?
We hope this doesn’t come as a shock, but many people find the Christmas holiday to be stressful. The hustle and bustle of activities, the joys (and challenges) of visiting relatives, stress over what presents to buy (and the stress over what the budget will allow). Then there’s the busyness of the day itself, whether it involves cooking, travel, or both, and the fact that (at least in families with small children) the day probably started earlier than desired!
Then, some of us face a sort of “letdown” at the end of Christmas Day. Some may feel they fell short of expectations (their own or others’). Others may wonder, “Is that it?” All that buildup, all that anticipation, and suddenly it’s over!
“Be still, and I know that I am God”
Today’s Scripture is not a classic “Christmas” passage. But it is appropriate for a busy culture like ours. Even if your celebration was Christ-centered, maybe it was a bit too busy to really allow for reflection.
Meditate on what it meant for God to come to earth as a baby. Marvel in the divine plan that still baffles “conventional wisdom.” Rejoice in the salvation made available by the sacrifice that started in the crib, continued on the cross, and culminated in the empty tomb!
1. How difficult is it for you to “be still” and silently reflect on God’s gift of His Son?
2. How does it encourage you to know that the baby Jesus is “God with us”?
3. How will this make a difference in how you show God’s love to others?
One of the curious things is how much teaching on the kingdom Jesus did and then replied that now was not the time to restore the kingdom of Israel. As we read Acts chapter 1 in light of the other Gospels, that really pops out. Big part of that is the Gospel is for the whole world, every nation, every ethnicity.
Ends of the Earth
Jesus tells the disciples to be witnesses to the ends of the Earth. What is remarkable about the church is how evenly spread it is throughout the world. Most religions have a specific geographical area that they are prevalent. The church is nearly even distributed on the continents. We have some work to do in Antarctica.
As Jesus showed up on Christmas day, he did so with saving mankind in view. God truly does love the whole world. But as Jesus saving us is prevalent in the Gospels, in Acts the push is Jesus sending people out to share that good news. Once saved we have a new and restored identity in Christ. Jesus went out to serve and save. We are called to do the same.
Where you are is your mission field. We need to be intentional in reaching and serving people. A huge part about that is how we pray specifically for those who need help and to be reached. God's desire is for a large family and he sends us out to make that happen. Jesus tarries because there is more people whom he wants saved.
People often get scared in the night. Especially kids. One of the most fun times to scare someone is in the dark. Strolling along in normal life and then you yell BOO! Ok, that may not be the Christmas spirit. Let’s talk about flashmobs. Many of us have seen the videos where everyday normality is broken up by musical interlude of epic proportions. (And we get jealous that it never happens to us.)
As we read John 1:9-13 Jesus shows up in a spectacular way. (According to other Gospels the Angels even pulled off a flashmob!) Jesus showed up to care for his own people. The result was less than desired. Why? Because the wold and his people did not receive him. “Well, if God…” He did. That is a big point John makes, Jesus did.
I don’t get it
This is the most perplexing issue ever. How could Jesus show up, demonstrate who he is, even raise from the dead, and the wold did not receive him? It is almost if, like a Christmas time, we are more focused on what we want rather than others. Christianity will cost us something in the short run, but it is fantastically better in the long run. Too often we are willing to work through temporary pain to reach a place where true happiness is found. In a real way, the wold said “turn off the light, its hurting my eyes!”
Those who do choose Jesus are considered family. We receive a new identity called “a child of God.” This is more than just saving someone from punishment or no longer being an enemy. Because of Jesus, we can be family. Believing in the name of Jesus has fantastic benefits to our soul. Immeasurable grace.
God did not give up on the world after the word rejected him. How do we know this? We have the book of John. People today and throughout the world are turning to Jesus, believing in who is and what he did. As we love the decor and lighting of the season, remember that the lights on the Christmas tree remind us Jesus is the light of the world. At Christmas don’t become cynical, but be bold and bless those around you. Share the most wonderful story and flashmob experience in history. Share that God does show up.
As we read the first paragraph of the book of John, one thing is explicitly clear: God showed up. This core idea rattles many things and demonstrates two incredible concepts. First, God does not give up on us. He stayed involved despite the brokenness we see. Second, God is involved in creation. He did not start everything up and let if go. This matters because…
You matter to God
This is more than people are created in God’s image. God could easily create again. Instead God chose to make all things new. Understanding the trials of human history, God went ahead anyway so he could have a relationship with you. The maker of heaven and Earth wants to know you. That is massive.
Creation matters to God
The usage of the word world makes another profound statement. God didn’t merely act on our benefit, but also the benefit of all creation. We read in Romans 8 how all creation is groaning and waiting for the day of redemption. What God did not only impacts our eternal destiny, it also impacts the destiny of creation.
More than a spirit thing
A life following Jesus is not about rushing to heaven. It is very much about living life. Death is an unnatural state as a consequence to sin. When Jesus rose from the dead, death was given an expiration notice. God does not view spirit as higher than creation. He made us and designed us to be physical beings. God very much wants us to be able to live a quite and peaceable life here on Earth.
The Bible describes us as ambassadors of heaven, and it talks about a heavenly city. True. At the end we see it is called the New Jerusalem. It’s location is on Earth. Seeing the trend of God being the God who fills thing, the be fruitful and multiply, fill the Earth will come again. Life will be every much like now, minus all the sin, stress and disease.
As we read the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19, we Jesus was a person broken people wanted to be around. Being a tax collector, he was one of the most vile people on the planet in that culture. Still, they felt a desire to connect with the most perfect human being on Earth. People, broken ones, enjoyed being around Jesus. People who had it all together didn’t. Still, Jesus pursues us.
Seek and save
Jesus didn’t merely come to offer salvation, he actively sought to save. This goes beyond mere fulfillment of Scripture and freedom from eternal consequences. Jesus fought have a relationship with broken people. It is the only thing too good to be true that is actually true. This massively freeing movement is not without consequence.
Meet the meanies
Those who “had it all together” prefer people in their pre-judged buckets, rather than trying to redeem and change. People are often stuck in their brokenness because there is no where safe to go. And they like that. They accused Jesus of being a friend of sinners. People don’t have to be stuck. They can change and get better. This is a huge point the Gospel makes.
Which are you
The story boils down to a few things. First, which category are you. Second, what are you going to do about it. Third, who is Jesus to you. The Gospel is an amazing thing and clears up many messes. If you have it all together, realize you don’t and need Jesus. If you’re broken and think God can’t use you, realize Jesus loves and pursues you. If you’ve done that, realize there are others Jesus wants to be friends with. Help make that happen.
I never understood the purpose of wrapping paper. It’s a pain to carefully wrap presents. The word on the street is the look on a loved one’s face when they open the present is why. Still not buying it. So, what is the deal? Discovery. That is something that can come in many forms.
As we read Luke 15 we see three parables that Jesus shares about. They all have something in common. Something was lost. Something was found. Something was celebrated. In these instances there was not faux discovery through paper, but an intentional pursuit. There was a desire to discover and a focus to see the returned objected. This paints a picture of a loving God seeking us and wanting us to be with him.
Wee, bigger wee, freaking huge!
An old SNL skit in the 1900’s had a skit called the Scottish Therapist. In it there were three different sizes of things, hence the title heading above. The three discovered things that were lost were of increasing value. A simple coin, a valuable sheep, and the most important thing, a child, in that particular case a son. Here God paints a picture of intentional pursuit of more and more important things, and what is truly most important, people.
Figuratively speaking, we wrap ourselves. We think God doesn’t love, care for, and pursue us, but he does. We think, given the mistakes that we have made, that God cannot truly use or want to use us, but he does. What we do then is carefully wrap our heart like a present, but not to be discovered. Jesus shares these stories so we would know he truly does love and care.
In an episode of Star Trek TNG, Data carefully removes the wrapping paper so that it can be used again. They teach the android how you’re supposed to rip the paper off. It’s a fun occasion. Trust is ultimately a choice. Don’t carefully remove, but rip the wrapping paper and experience the joy of being not lost but found. Often people don’t change because they think they can’t be loved. The parables of the lost coin, sheep, and son prove otherwise. You’re not only loved, you’re pursued.
Teasing is fun because it builds anticipation. This is the true joy of wrapping paper. The agony on loved ones faces for that moment of discovery. We often have aspects of our heart that we want to wrap up and conceal thinking God won’t forgive or love. Truthfully, he desires to bring all things into the open so we can be at peace and healed.