Out with the Old, In with the New?

How are you, friend? By now you have more than likely wrapped up the holiday celebrations and have stepped into the new year with fresh goals, new determinations, and dreams of the possibilities a new year brings. Me too. 
 
I love the implication that every New Year’s Day brings, “Out with the old, in with the new.” But I have to say, this year I feel as though I am in overtime from last year.  It seems 2019 just isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel. The same struggles that I wrestled down on December 31 got back up and faced me head on January 1st.
 
My initial reaction is, “Come on, really? Will I ever catch a break?” But once the dust settles, and my toddler tantrum is over, God speaks. I lean in and listen carefully. As I listen, I hear an echo whispering from my past. A lesson taught in our early years of marriage and ministry. 
 
Steve and I had just joined a pastor friend of ours to start a new church work. We were zealous, full of fresh ideas, ready to take on the community for Jesus. We would shake things up a bit by tossing out the “old churchy” ways of doing things and usher in relevant, innovative and trendy ways of doing church. 
 
The church grew, faster than we could keep up with. We soon discovered that in order for us to build something that was solid in the hearts of the people, we needed to add something into the mix. What we were missing in all the new, was the foundation that came with some of the old. 
 
As much as I want to enter the new year, with a slate wiped clean, I do not want to forsake the valuable lessons learned in 2019. These lessons will be the foundation under the lessons I will gather in 2020.
 
If you were to pause a few moments and reflect on what God taught you about Himself or His ways in 2019, what would you discover? 
 
There were many turbulent storms Steve and I faced in 2019. The ushering in of a New Year did not change the fact that these storms are still brewing. However, God has used these hardships to mark my heart with some eternal lessons that I carry with me into 2020. Here are my top three:
 

  • He is God, I am not. All my striving changes nothing, it is only through the power of His Spirit at work in us and through us, that true transformation happens. He offers me an invitation to be a co-laborer with Him, that I may have a front-row seat to His wondrous grace at work.  

For it is God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Philippians 2:13, NIV
  • Choose seeking over striving. When I relinquish the control of always trying to figure out how to fix someone or a situation and earnestly seek His heart in the matter, I walk in more peace and joy. I don’t know how He does it but He surpasses my circumstance with His very presence. I guess that is the beauty of faith.  

Surrender your anxiety
Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God.
I am the God above all the nations,
and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.”

Psalm 46:10, TPT
  • Live fully in the moment you are in. God faithfully supplies the grace for that moment. If I rush ahead of the moment I am in, I am borrowing sorrow from tomorrow and not trusting that God’s grace is big enough to meet me when I step into that next moment and what it holds. Rushing through life blurs my vision, preventing me from seeing the glory of God in my “right now moment.”

Refuse to worry about tomorrow 
but deal with each challenge that comes your way, 
one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself.”

Matthew 6:34, TPT

 What about you, my friend? Take some time and ponder, “What are some lessons from the past year that need to follow me into this New Year?” May God faithfully reveal them to you.  May 2020 prove to be a year where we pause in His presence more, look intentionally for the evidence of His glorious grace, and delight in His extravagant love. 
 
Let’s keep finding Hope in the journey,
Evelyn
 
P.S. I am thrilled to share with you that I will be finishing up my book proposal in the next two months. 

What a journey! God has taught me so much about myself and waiting on Him, as well as stepping out in faith and trusting His voice. What a blessing it would be if you would keep me in your prayers concerning two things. First, I will be away doing some writing this week. I want to be a conduit that flows with life-giving words. So pray I will hear God’s voice clearly. Second, my next step will be to find an agent. There are so many out there, but I know God has one for me. Thanks my friends. I will be praying for you as I write.

What’s He Doing Here?

“Therefore … the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and call him Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: [Isaiah 7:14]
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). – Matthew 1:22-23

It takes more of a Bible geek than me to know, just off the top of one’s head, who King Ahaz was and what he did. Want to take a shot? Do you know?  We’ll wait.

Time’s up.  King Ahaz of Jerusalem appears in the book of Isaiah and is key to the explanation of the “Therefore” that precedes the prophetic Isaiah 7:14 passage foretelling God’s sign of Immanuel (Emmanuel, if you prefer) noted above. 

The word “Therefore” always makes us ask, “What’s it there for?”

Without replaying the whole passage, Ahaz feared an attack on Jerusalem – in part by other Jews in the tribe of Ephraim – and God told Ahaz not to worry: “It will not take place” (Isaiah 7:7), and “Stand firm in your faith” (Isaiah 7:9).  Ahaz was unconvinced Jerusalem could be saved.  In verse 10, God commands Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”  Ahaz refused, saying, “I will not put the Lord to the test” (Isaiah 7:12). 

Oy.  God graciously invited / commanded Ahaz to ask for proof.  Ahaz – evidently figuring he already knew everything he needed to know about God – said, “No.”

In verse 13, Isaiah notes that it was a terrible idea to refuse God’s grace and sign, disobedience which also cost Ahaz the peace God was offering.  Then comes verse 14 and the prophecy of the sign above all Godly signs to come: Immanuel – God with us – being conceived of a virgin.  God Himself would appear among man.

Now let’s fast forward 700 years or so to the quiet Bethlehem manager where Joseph and Mary would bring into the world the baby Jesus.  Jerusalem again was being wildly disobedient to God.  Israel’s attention was entirely taken up with legalistic reconfiguration of God’s commands and fear of the conquering Romans.  God’s sign, Jesus, is revealed in the humble environment of a baby in a manger while Israel would ignore all prophecy of His coming, hoping instead for a power to conquer the world.

Jesus came to conquer our sin, to reveal the true God, to restore humanity to its original relationship with God and His Kingdom, to share the truth of God’s love, to prove the worth of our faith in God, to offer hope of God’s ever-abiding presence and power, to invite humanity into eternal life, and to allow us in this life to know God is real. His truth, the real truth, would come to life.  Talk about tidings of comfort and joy …

Isaiah is a complex book, but Ahaz’s disobedience is a message that survives simplification. Notice that Joseph did not argue with God, he obeyed.  Mary obeyed.  Jesus obeyed.  And in obedience they, like us, found and find the gift of God’s glory.

Christmas is about God Almighty come to save us – in love, not in punishment.Isaiah and Jesus – the names – both mean, “The Lord saves.” Isaiah foretold God’s coming sign of salvation, Jesus, who saves God’s own glory and saves our lives.

That’s what He’s doing here; Jesus is the proof, the sign, of God’s saving grace.

All I can say to that is Merry Christmas!

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) asserts that “Peace on Earth” is an affirmation of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts. Graciously, let’s keep it there always.  For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

“Grace Guy”

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Jesus, Matthew 11:30

My friend Glen approached me before church last Sunday–as always with a smile–and mentioned he’d been reading my weekly columns for “a while now.”

Glen is a trained chaplain (hospitals, etc.), is an astute Bible guy, helps out in seemingly every ministry in our church, and it’s encouraging to know he takes the time to read my weekly heartfelt but un-trained offerings.

Still smiling, he added, “…I think I’ve figured out that you’re a grace guy.”

A “grace guy.” I liked that. But then looking at the expression on his face more closely, I felt compelled to inquire, lightheartedly, “Is that OK?” 

“Um, yeah!” he responded, still smiling but with a moment’s hesitation.

Noticing the pause and myself not being one to miss a sardonic opportunity, I asked, “Do you prefer punishment?” He laughed and said, “No!… Well… maybe.” 

I responded, with a wink. “Well, it does help to control the flock.” Then it was time to go into the service and that conversation was over. But it got me to thinking…

The Apostle Paul wrote 13 books of the New Testament and in every one he offers the greeting, “Grace and Peace.” Jesus, in the Gospels, is constantly telling us He is the truth, the way to God, the life of God, and in so many words, the face of God. Jesus came to help, not to harm; yes, to set us free from our sin but mysteriously to “enslave” us in His own goodness, protection, and love. Punishment?  No.

It is beyond weird that a “slave” in this life who finds Jesus is set free (think of worldly sinners), and a free person who finds Jesus becomes a slave (think of Paul). And I’m not talking about the slave trade; I’m talking about humanity’s spiritual tendency to bind itself to evil because of fear, guilt, greed, pride, and self-righteousness, with a perpetual sense of inadequacy or debt when it comes to an encounter with goodness.

Jesus, you see, is goodness. Jesus knows what is best for us. Jesus, Son of God who is also God–another mystery–models God’s plan of self-sacrificial love that defeats evil. Jesus is our only “way” out. He is the “truth” we can trust. He is the “life” we can live in freedom now and in God’s eternity forever. Jesus didn’t “trade” His life for ours; He showed us perfect love and obedience. His lesson isn’t what we “owe” for our sins; His lesson is what we must do, how we must love, and how we must obey.

My life goes sour when debts overwhelm me. I know what it is to be bankrupt. The parables of Jesus not only teach us about the Kingdom of Heaven but they also instruct us in the impossibility of repaying divine gifts. Think of the overwhelming amounts in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35). The lesson is not the enormous amount; the lesson is the enormous mercy–and justice–of the master.

Praise God for the enormous mercy of our master, Jesus. Praise God that what Jesus desires is not repayment or guilt, but that He blesses our faith in Him and our love, mercy, and compassion for others. Guilt never builds a loving relationship.

In Matthew 11, quoted above, Jesus invites the weary to rest in Him. His well-fitting yoke helps us work together easily and productively. His demands are worthy and uncomplicated: “Follow me.” The greater we trust, the greater we love. Grace abounds.

I would not trade that love–or grace–for anything.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) is thankful, not burdened, by Jesus.  It is the world that is a burden, and the world that demands repayment. Grace is divine. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.

Who Are My Neighbors and How Do I Love Them?

He asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

This past Sunday, Steve preached a message about what it means to start each day by “putting on Jesus.” What does it mean to get up each day and lay down self to be clothed with Christ? In the sermon, he shared the story of the good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37. One I grew up hearing.

In short, a Jewish man gets beat up, robbed and left for dead. A priest walks by, sees the man and crosses over to the other side of the street. Then an assistant at the temple walks over, takes a look at the man lying in a crumpled heap, and turns away from the desperate scene. Finally, a Samaritan, despised by the Jews, sees the wounded man and has compassion. He cares for the man’s wounds then goes even further by ensuring that his medical needs were cared for. Jesus asked which of the three was a neighbor to the man. 

This morning as I climbed into the car for my morning commute, the question Jesus asked so many years ago, haunts my heart. I will most likely not come upon a physically wounded stranger.  But I may find myself surrounded by those whose wounds and scars are hidden to the natural eye. But I want to put on Jesus. I want to walk in compassion. How will I know if I don’t have His eyes to see? This line of thinking prompts a prayer on my lips, “Lord, who is my neighbor today?” 

That was the prayer, plain and simple, nothing more. But that simple prayer set my heart on a journey. It was an invitation to journey with eyes wide open to the wounded. An invitation to embrace my neighbor and wrap their wounds with grace. I arrived at work ready to meet my neighbor.

What a surprise God had in store for me. Instead of God sprinkling my path with neighbors to love He brought neighbors to love on me. I was the wounded one, lying in a heap and I didn’t even know it. But God let unassuming strangers see me. They saw past the facade of “I’m fine, really I am.”

It started with the lady at the flower shop who heard me as I shared why I needed pink flowers. “My friend is still in the hospital battling cancer. She loves pink.” With that, a few extra flowers and greenery were added to the mix at no additional cost. With an encouraging word and a bit of wisdom, “Don’t forget to take care of yourself,” she sent me on my way. 

It was in the smile of the barista who looked me in the deep in the eyes and asked, “So, how is your day going?” Her gaze at me reflected a heart that genuinely cared. 

It was the bubbly teller at the bank, the one who threw her arms up in excitement as I entered the building. She had mistaken me for a dear friend. Though I was a temporary embarrassment, the kindness, smile, and conversation that proceeded, brought a ray of sunshine to both of us. 

While I had hoped to be a neighbor to others, God taught me a lesson today.

When we love the Lord with our whole being and demonstrate that love by serving our neighbors with compassion, He, in turn, wraps our wounded places with His grace and mercy. 

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, 
all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ 
And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Luke 10:27

I can’t wait to see who my neighbors will be tomorrow!

Who are your neighbors?

Until next time, let’s find hope in the journey,
Evelyn

P.S. If you know someone who is weary, struggling to hold tight to hope, please invite them into the journey with us. Let’s encourage one another on to love and good deeds. 

Hi There! My name is Evelyn. I am a lover of all things family, faith and Fall. So grateful that you found your way here. The chaos of life can leave us feeling a bit worn around the edges. Sometimes a little ray of hope is all we need to provide courage for the next step in our journey. So come on in, take a deep breath. My prayer is that in this space, you will be able to grab hold of hope. For more of Evelyn’s columns, see her blog Hope for the Journey.

How Do You Live for God?

There are two ways to live your life: God’s way or the world’s way. In the book Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian had to make the important decision of starting his pilgrimage to the Celestial City. Just as he did, we will also have to make the life-changing decision of either living for God or living for the world. Can you live in the world and not be of the world? Let’s search the evidence and see which path you should choose.

The path of living for the world will try to draw people, young and old, to vanity in how they should look: what size they should be or what they should wear. The world tries to make people believe that the world has everything they should desire, so they should live without limits while they are here. Young people are brainwashed from TV, radio, magazines, and books. Young people compare themselves to popular people who are what the world considers “perfect,” and if they compare themselves to them and they are different, they think that something is wrong. All that the people of this world care about is their outward appearance. Living for the world will not get you anywhere in life, but will get you stuck in a constant search for superficial perfection.

Living for the world will not get you anywhere in life, but will get you stuck in a constant search for superficial perfection.

The path of living for God is totally different. God wants His followers to spend their time on earth wisely because we do not know the hour that Jesus will return. In the Bible we learn that God focuses on our heart, so we should not try to draw the wrong kind of attention to ourselves. We should want to be noticed for our works for others and not for ourselves. Here is a list of things we can do to learn what God wants of us:

  1. Reading, memorizing, and meditating on God’s Word
  2. Praying, asking God to guide your path each day
  3. Seeking God’s will daily

Attending church and surrounding ourselves with godly people who will encourage us to walk with God will be beneficial for us when we have to make difficult decisions about our faith.

I believe that we can live in this world and not be of this world. Every day we make decisions that will affect our future. Many things we choose are temporary and will pass away, such as a big house, money, cars, etc. We need to put our faith in Jesus Christ because He is the one and only thing that will last forever.

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