God is the source of hope for the New Year

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. Lots of people are gathering food and party supplies to ring in the New Year with snacks and togetherness. Some folks (like my family) are planning a quiet evening of movie watching. And then? Well, the New Year will begin, and we’ll all get back into our routines. And, if previous years are any indication, the momentum we gathered at the beginning of the year will run out about a month into it.

And there are all sorts of explanations. It might be a lack of discipline. It might be general laziness. It might be too much stress or too little sleep or both. Many factors play a role in derailing resolutions. But in my experience, there’s nothing that can derail me worse than a loss of purpose or direction. If I don’t know where I’m going or if I don’t have a goal to reach, I wander. I hesitate. I second guess myself. I give up. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.

 

nature-flowers-plant-springToday’s verse is Romans 15:13.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

People have to have hope. You can’t live without it. Love lasts forever, yes, and your faith can fail. Mine does often. But if I ever lose hope, I’ll stop completely. I’ll lose faith if I lose hope. I’ll stop loving if I lose hope. My hope in the Lord gives me the strength to have faith, to love people who don’t love me in return.

When we get home and receive everything God has promised us, we won’t need our hope anymore. But while we live on earth, hope is a necessity. And fortunately for us, God has given us everything we need to cling to hope in Him. He’s demonstrated His goodness. He’s proven His Word. He’s shown us that He never makes mistakes and He always keeps His promises.

When you know God like that, you trust Him, and when you trust Him, He gives you joy and peace. At that point, your hope becomes something confident, something unbreakable, something unquenchable. And that’s how I want to face 2016, with unquenchable hope.

Don’t mistake hope with naivete, though. I think a lot of people do. Just because you hold on to hope doesn’t mean you’re living in denial. It doesn’t mean you’re ignoring the facts. It just means that you’re placing your trust in Someone who is big enough to make all the negative facts work together into a positive result.

2016 is going to bring a lot of challenges, but you know what? God is bigger than the challenges I’m facing, and I trust Him completely. So the hope I have in Him can be confident, because He is where hope comes from.

Advertisements

You don’t have to wait for Friday to start over

The idea of starting over isn’t always appealing. When I finished my freshman year of college, I changed schools. I went from a super-conservative, unaccredited college in Florida to a public state university in Kansas, and it was looking I was going to have to start over again. I had 33 credits and for all intents and purposes, it didn’t seem like they would be accepted. In that instance, starting over wasn’t going to be fun.

The Lord opened some impossible doors, though, and all 33 of my credits transferred (even my Bible courses) to Wichita State University, and I finished my degree there and had a great experience. I was thankful that I didn’t have to repeat my freshman year. So in that case, beginning again wouldn’t have been my preference. But there are plenty of times in my life that I wish I could have a Do Over moment.

I say something or I do something I shouldn’t say or do. Or I come to my senses later on and wish I could have the moment to do over again. Those are the times when you wish starting over was easy.

explosion-firework-new-year-s-eve-december-31Today’s verses are Lamentations 3:22-26.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
for salvation from the Lord.

This is the time of year that we all start thinking about new beginnings. A new year begins this week, and lots of people will be initiating new ways of living. New diet plans. New budgets. New clothes. New jobs. New everything.

New years mark the time to start over again, and everyone around the world usually embraces the idea whole-heartedly. I mean, after a year like last year, who wouldn’t want a fresh start, right?

But oftentimes, new years are just a rehash of the old year, aren’t they? Not to be a doomsayer. That’s just the truth. Most people who make New Year’s Resolutions end up stuck in the same rut all over again in two or three weeks. That’s a generalization, sure, but it’s not an untrue one.

And that’s okay. You know, we all deal with that. Everyone faces troubles like that.

But what if you need to start over? What if you really do need a new beginning? Well, that’s where God comes in. See, new starts with God really are new beginnings. Every morning, His mercies are new. That means He doesn’t hold sins from yesterday against us. If we’ve confessed them and repented (which means we’ve determined not to live that way anymore), He forgives us and moves on.

God doesn’t hold your sin over your head. He’s forgotten it. There’s no guilt, no shame, no pointing fingers, and no baggage.

Do you need to start over? You don’t have to wait for the New Year to get here. You can start over now, and God will give you fresh start. You just have to turn to Him. Start living your life to please Him. Search for His will in every situation.

The world will remind you of all the wrong you’ve done. The world will condemn you because you aren’t strong enough. The world will give up on you because you don’t have the power to change. That’s not what God does. God makes you into a new person and gives you the power to live a new life for Him.

Don’t wait for Friday. You can start over today. Just ask.

The key to achieving lasting success

It’s hard to believe that 2014 is almost over. That’s hard to swallow because I would swear it just started. I know time is supposed to start passing more quickly the older you get, but good grief!

So as I was thinking this morning about the upcoming year and all the wonderful excitement it will hold, I started getting a little nervous. There’s a lot riding on next year. Everyone wants to be successful, but there seem to be hundreds of different ideas on how to be successful. And, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to read every 12-step book on success in the market. I’d much rather spend my time doing something than thinking about doing something.

So is there an easy answer to success? Well, I guess that depends on your definition of easy.

862369_73766129Today’s verse is 1 Peter 5:6.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

The Bible talks about success and victory frequently, which is nice because that’s a question people have often. But I’m not exactly sure the God’s strategy will jive with anyone else’s. God’s strategy for success seems a little backwards.

But then, that’s normal. Usually God’s way is entirely opposite of what the world says anyway, entirely opposite of how we’re wired to think. And this strategy for success is no different.

You want to be successful? Humble yourself.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Seriously, how does that work? If you want to be successful, don’t you have to make a name for yourself? If you want to win, don’t you have to fight harder, live louder, and play meaner than all your competition? Don’t you have to be the smartest person in the room?

No. None of that will make you successful.

Well, let me rephrase. None of that will bring you God’s success. There’s a big difference here. Because you can fight, shout, cheat your way to the top and win access to all the spoils of American affluence. But once you achieve that kind of success, you’ll find that it’s empty and unsatisfying. That kind of success leaves you hollow.

Success that comes from God fills you up. It stops the longing in your heart for more-more-more and overwhelms you with God’s goodness instead. Until one day you wake up and you can’t believe how much God has given you, and all you want to do is rush out and give-give-give to others because God has blessed you so richly.

See the difference?

The trouble is, success that comes from God isn’t always financial. And sometimes that’s better anyway. Not saying that God can’t bless you with money. Some of the most amazing, generous, awesome people I know are Christ-followers God has blessed with a lot of finances, and that’s incredible! But I know just as many Christ-followers who make it from paycheck to paycheck, and they are no less blessed.

But whether God’s success comes to you in a tangible or intangible form, the key to achieving it is humility before God. It’s the complete opposite of what the world teaches.

What does a humble life before God look like? Very simply, it’s doing what God says is right whether you understand it or not. That means living by the Bible. That means obeying God’s Word.

Yes, it’s an easy answer, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy life. But that’s when we need to remember that this life wasn’t meant to be easy. We’re living in a broken world, after all.

Do you want to be successful in 2015? Not the kind of empty success the world sells–but the success that comes from God? Sure, you do. I don’t know anyone who starts a new year hoping to be a complete and utter failure.

Be humble before God. Don’t live like you know it all. Recognize that God’s in control and do what He says. That’s it. It’s harder than it sounds, but in the time God chooses, God will bring you success. It may not look like what everyone thinks it should, but when you receive it, you won’t want anything else.

A lamp post at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Uncharted territory is rarely predictable

The beginning of a new year is always an interesting time because everyone is thinking about the future. Everyone is making plans for how this year will be different than last year or how they’re going to improve themselves or their lives. And it’s absolutely a good thing for people to look into how to better themselves. Resolutions are great things, especially if you can keep them. But have you ever been in a position where God is leading you to do something you’ve never done before?

We all get caught up in the hustle and bustle of a new year, the making of resolutions, the struggle to keep our resolutions, the disappointment when we drop our resolutions. Everyone has experienced that. But what about God? Not that God makes new year’s resolutions, but if He did, what would they look like?

A lamp post at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

A lamp post at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Today’s verse is Isaiah 43:19.

For I am about to do something new.
    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

One thing I love about God is that He’s always up to something. He’s always got something going on. Life with God is never ever boring, and those of us who truly follow Christ understand what the Bible means when Jesus tells us that He came to bring us life more abundant. Life following Christ is always exciting.

What God is referencing in this verse through the Prophet Isaiah is the coming of Christ to save His people. That was something that had never happened before. That was something people had never seen before. And the way He promised to send Christ was impossible, but He explained how it was going to happen centuries and centuries before Christ was born. He gave people a head’s up so they could get on board with what God had planned before it happened.

I think God does that for us today. I think sometimes He hollers down at us and is just waiting for someone to pay attention long enough to see Him waving. God has plans. He has lots and lots of plans, and He’s just looking for someone to step up and offer to do what needs doing. His plans don’t always make sense to us, and even when He makes “paths in the wilderness” for us to follow, they don’t always seem like they go anywhere. But if you’re one of the people who agreed to do what God asked and you find yourself feeling lost, remember that God may be doing something new in your life.

What does it mean to do something new? It means that it’s nothing anyone has ever seen before. So if it’s nothing anyone has ever seen, if it’s a path that no one has ever traveled before, why do you expect to know where you’re going? How can you think you will know what to expect? It’s uncharted territory. The only person who really knows what’s coming is God. He’s the map maker, after all.

So if you’re one of those people who has decided to chase after God wholeheartedly, to live for Him, to “sacrifice” everything else you could be doing with your life, remember in the dark moments that you’re not going to be able to see the end of your road all the time. Navigating God’s plan isn’t like navigating in Kansas, where you can see 20 miles in front of you. It’s more like trying to get around in London or Edinburgh or one of those ancient cities where you’re fortunate to be able to see your next step because the roads are so narrow and the buildings are so close. And because you can’t always see where you’re going, that just means you have to trust your navigation system.

What’s great about God is that He doesn’t leave us to navigate alone. We have the Bible. We have the Holy Spirit. And if you’ve decided to follow the path God has marked out for you, you have everything you need to find your way. You may not be able to see where you’re going, but sight has never been essential when it comes to following God.

It’s not that far into 2014 yet, and some people may already be ready to give up on their resolutions because change feels impossible or too uncontrollable. Be encouraged this morning. Don’t give up, especially if it’s something you know God has called you to do. You won’t always be able to see your next step, but if it’s something God has called you to do, He won’t let you fall.

Decorative cross ornament from my Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Believing when Christmas is over

Christmas is my favorite time of year, and ringing in the New Year is always bittersweet for me because that means Christmas is over. That means vacation is done and I have to go back to the “real world” again. And we also have to take all our decorations down. That’s the part I dislike the most, mainly because taking decorations down is so much more difficult than putting them up in the first place. That’s what I did on New Year’s Day–took down Christmas decorations, packed up the lights and the ornaments and disassembled the trees. We stuffed everything in boxes and stuffed all the boxes in the basement where they’ll wait until the day after Thanksgiving in 2014 when we’ll put them all up again. I guess it’s a vicious cycle. So why keep doing it?

During the Christmas season, everyone talks about hope and dreams and being thankful for family and friends. Even people who don’t follow Christ do it. It’s just something amazing God does in people’s hearts at Christmastime, and part of that comes from the decorations, I think. Because if people who don’t even believe in Christ can set up a Christmas tree and decorate their homes and sing Christmas carols about the night of His birth, you have to admit that’s something special.

When it comes down to it, I think it’s easier to believe in God at Christmastime because the whole world stops, even if the world doesn’t understand why it’s stopping. It’s easier to remember that Christ brought us hope because we’re face to face with representations of that hope in every manger scene on every street corner. It’s easier for me to believe in general because I get a reminder of God’s goodness every time I see an ornament or a tree or a blinking light on a tree.

So what do we do when all the decorations are gone?

Decorative cross ornament from my Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Decorative cross ornament from my Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 27:11-14.

Teach me how to live, O Lord.
Lead me along the right path,
for my enemies are waiting for me.
Do not let me fall into their hands.
For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
with every breath they threaten me with violence.
Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
while I am here in the land of the living.
Wait patiently for the Lord.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

Christmas should be more than a time of year for Christ-followers; Christmas, or at least what Christmas means, should be a lifestyle. Maybe it’s more difficult to get through the ordinary everyday grind when Christmas isn’t coming, but just because we haven’t got the tree or the ornaments or the lights up doesn’t mean we can’t still celebrate what Christmas is. And since we don’t have the reminders on every street corner and on every radio station, we have to make more of an effort to remind ourselves.

Life has bumps and valleys we have to get through. We face challenges and obstacles that are way bigger than we are, and sometimes it really does feel like life’s circumstances are laughing at us. Sometimes I feel like life is just looking for the next opportunity to screw with me. But whether that’s true or not, my responsibility as a Christ follower doesn’t change.

My attitude and my perspective is my responsibility. Tough times are coming, more than I know about, and I need to accept that so I can move on, so I can face those oncoming difficulties remembering who God is and what He’s done for me, in spite of the fact that it isn’t Christmas. It’s absolutely 100% possible to keep believing when it isn’t Christmas; it just takes an effort.

Experiencing God’s goodness doesn’t mean life is perfect. Life down here will never be perfect. That’s the point. But God is still here. God is present in our lives, and He never stops taking care of us, and if we look for Him, we’ll see Him. If we’re open to what He’s doing, He’ll become obvious.

You don’t need a Christmas tree to keep celebrating Christmas, sort of like you don’t need perfect circumstances to believe that God is still working. Just believe. Make the choice today, that no matter what happens in your life you’ll keep believing. It won’t be easy. Life is hard, but God is good.

Little waterfall at Glen Eyrie

Celebrating what never changes

The beginning of a new year is usually a time to celebrate change. People make their resolutions so that they can lose weight or get healthy or get organized or rearrange their lives. And that’s great. I did that. I’m working on that right now.

I know 2011 wasn’t the worst year ever, but it sure wasn’t the best. So I join the rest of the world in saying goodbye to 2011 and welcoming 2012 with open arms.

Change is good. It stretches us. It helps us learn how to be flexible. It makes us realize that nothing stays the same and we have to grow up some time.

Little waterfall at Glen Eyrie
Little waterfall at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

But no matter how many new years come and go, there is one thing that will never change. And that is explained simply in Hebrews 13:8 in today’s verse of the day.

 
Hebrews 13:8
 
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
 
And I don’t know if that brings you as much comfort as it does me. But to me, that’s huge. Because if Jesus never changes, the rest of the world can turn upside down on its head, and that means my life can still be stable. I can still be stable and confident and sure. Because Jesus isn’t going to change.
 
His plans for me won’t change. His hopes for me won’t change. His love for me won’t change. He won’t change.
 
And that means, if my situation changes, it’s not because He doesn’t love me anymore. Or it means that if my life goes crazy, His dreams for me haven’t changed. Because He never changes.
 
If my life goes crazy or turns upside down or looks like it’s going in a direction I don’t know how to adjust for, it just means that life has happened. Life happens to everyone. Everyone struggles. Everyone hurts. Everyone fails. Everyone falls. That’s life in our broken, imperfect world.
 
I have no illusions about 2012. The way the world is going now, I truly believe that our lives are going to get more difficult before they get better. And I have accepted that. Know why?
 
Because Jesus doesn’t change.
 
He has plans for me that are good, designed to give me a hope and a future. He knows what He’s doing. He has seen His dreams for me come to fruition, and He promised that He wouldn’t ever leave me.
 
So when my life comes crashing down around me (and I’m sure it will happen at some point), I’m not going to give up on Him. I’m not going to despair. Because Jesus has loved me since before time even started. Can we wrap our heads around that? Jesus loved all of us before God even invented the concept of time. Jesus has loved us all since before the beginning. Adam’s sin didn’t change that. Satan’s intentions can’t change that. Our own self-destructive attitudes and ideas can’t change that. Because nothing changes Jesus.
 
He is the same as He was yesterday. He is the same as He will be tomorrow.
 
And that means He knows what He’s doing. So in the hard times I experienced in 2011 and the difficult situations I’m sure are coming in 2012, I’m going to cling to the fact that Jesus isn’t going to waver in His promise and in His love.
 
At a time of year where it’s acceptable to celebrate change, I know I’m glad to be able to celebrate something that won’t.
Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

When a good question becomes a time waster

As 2011 comes to a close, it’s natural to look forward to the new year. People will be making resolutions, mainly revolving around losing weight. Some people will make resolutions to work harder to finish something they started years ago or to start something completely new. And that’s good. We all need goals and dreams, though many folks won’t follow through no matter how good intentioned they are.

But as another year winds down, I think we should take the time to look backward instead of forward.

Looking backward isn’t always productive because it depends on your perspective. And generally speaking, I don’t recommend looking backward at all. Because it’s easy to get caught in the regret trap, where you can see now the things you wish you would have done or how you wish you would have done something differently. But you can’t change the past, and regret is a useless thing to feel for a long period of time.

But there is one reason we need to look back, and David stated it quite well in today’s passage, Psalm 103:1-2.

1 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
      with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
 2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
      may I never forget the good things he does for me.

People are forgetful creatures. We do great when everything is going well, but when something goes wrong and we lose the security we think we had, we blame God. Or we get angry at God. Or we become convinced that God no longer cares about us. Or we give up on God, believing that He must not want the best for us after all. Or that He doesn’t exist.

Okay. Well. Stop.

Because when everything was going fine and all was right in the world, God was good. Only when life takes a turn for the worst do people start feeling abandoned and like God doesn’t care. And once you go down that road — the path of blaming God for the perceived injustices in your life — people don’t seem to be able to drag themselves out of it. And I think it’s less of a God issue and more of a person issue.

Because we think we know better than God.

I know I do. Deep down inside myself, my first inclination when things go wrong is to sink into depression and self-pity and complain about why God lets bad things happen to me. But oftentimes our first inclination isn’t the right inclination. And the moment I start feeling that way, I try to stop. Not because it’s wrong, though.

It’s not wrong to question God. It’s not wrong to wonder why. It’s not wrong to seek an explanation. But those responses waste time. And time is something we don’t have a lot of. And when I look back over my life, I see many examples of times that I knew God was telling me to do something and I waited around demanding a clearer sign. Or I waited to act because I wanted Him to confirm the things I thought He wanted me to do. Or I waited because I wanted to understand why He was testing me. And when I look back on my responses to His calling, I am appalled at the amount of time I wasted.

Not saying that God didn’t eventually use me to accomplish great things. But it took me a long time to get my feet moving. And in the time it took me to get moving, I could have accomplished so much more.

But regretting the things I didn’t do or didn’t finish or didn’t notice is a waste of what time I have now. Because I can’t change it. All I can do is vow not to let those things slip by again. I can promise God that I won’t drag my feet when He tells me to do something, no matter how crazy it sounds. And that when He lets difficult things come into my life, that I won’t question.

I understand that I can question, but I’m going to. Because the sooner I get through the testing, the sooner I can learn what He needs me to learn and move on to the next thing. And then when I look back on my life, I will see that I didn’t waste time trying to understand what God was doing. I just did it. And that way, I won’t forget.

When I encounter a trial, I won’t just sit and ask why; I’ll go through it. I won’t lose time that could have been spent doing something else. I won’t ask why so many times that I forget why I’m experiencing the trial to begin with. And then I will be able to point back to the time when I learned something from the troubles in my life. They won’t just be passing woes that I experience over and over again, pinning me down in a black hole I can’t climb out of. The struggles in my life will have meaning because I know I’m going to learn something — and I know that God is going to keep working even if I can’t see him. 

That’s my hope for 2012. 2011 has been a hard year. I can’t say it’s been the hardest, and I can’t say that I’ve struggled more than other people. Because I have a job and I have a family and I have friends and I have a car and I have a church and I have a house and I have food. So that probably puts me in the top one percentile of the world as far as wealth and provision and comfort.

But I do have a bad memory. And I often forget how faithful He is to me. And I want that to change. May I never get so bogged down in the trials of the present that I forget what He did for me yesterday or what He promised to do for me tomorrow.