Cheers To The Simple Things

Are you starting to get a little excited for a new year? I know, we are knee deep in Christmas right now, but December goes by faster than any other month whether we want it to or not. Maybe I’m not supposed to admit this, but I always look forward to the post-Christmas cleaning of house, the blank slate feeling a new year brings, the plans on the horizon, and maybe some goals to challenge me.

Every New Year’s Eve, each member of our family receives a Bible verse for their year ahead. It’s not a magic verse, or the only verse to focus on by any means, just an encouraging word to nudge us forward into a new year with the reminder that Gods word is alive and working in us and to keep our eyes fixed on Him.

This morning I’m thinking on all the things that either pushed me forward into Jesus or kept me back this past year. Difficult things, trivial things, praiseworthy things… it can go either way. It’s good to look back with clear eyes at the seasons you’ve just come through.

Our culture puts a lot of phony pressure on the beginning of a new year, pressure to take that blank slate and make something of it. We go about things in our own power and feel like miserable failures by February. The thought occurred to me that Jesus doesn’t care about what our day planner says; every day we wake up is a new blank slate with Him.

We pray “give us this day our DAILY bread…” for a reason. Daily manna is the only way to be continually anchored and fed. We don’t ever skip a meal on Tuesday because we had a fantastic dinner Sunday night. It doesn’t sustain.

So if by week two of the new year we blow all our self-imposed goals, it doesn’t matter. Jesus wakes us up every morning and says “ok, how about today? Come and eat. Let’s do this.”

If I had to pick a word for the upcoming year, it might be “consistency”. I know that’s rather dull, but I’ve learned something this past year: we don’t need the latest edgy or flashy Christian-ish philosophies to keep us moving forward, we need to humbly present ourselves to God every morning for our daily bread.

Consistently.

Whether we are basking in the warm sunlight or tangled knee deep in the weeds, because both will come.

I want to soak in His words daily so that when the winds blow, I don’t blow over. The enemy wants to keep us stewing and fretting over the latest (fill in the blank) situation. He counts on us burying our noses in our work, our kids, our worthy causes, because he needs us to be inconsistent.

So I return again and again to 2 Corinthians 1:12 as a reminder that I at least desire to conduct my life in simplicity and godly sincerity. May I enjoy the good things of the world but not idolize any of them. May I value and love people, but never place my worth in their opinions.

A branch produces fruit because it stays consistently connected to its source. Disconnect it and you have a dried out stick.

We are commanded to bear fruit. Jesus came to give it to us in abundance. It requires not a great effort on our part or even much talent. Good fruit comes naturally as a result of staying connected. Daily. Consistently. When it’s boring and when it’s exciting, when it’s sunny and when it’s pouring rain.

It’s not a sprint. We don’t need little bursts of energy followed by a long absence. Jesus just wants us. He wants us every day in simplicity and sincerity.

Let’s ask for encouragement and clarity going into a new year, the Jesus kind, not the worlds kind. The kind that doesn’t rely on our own willpower but His power.

Happy early new year friends!

By Invitation Only

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“Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by… For they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Mark 6:48,50

He would have passed them by?! We all know this story about Jesus calming the wind and the waves, but I had never before noticed that little phrase. It cross-references to another instance of Jesus doing the same thing:

“Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. But they constrained Him, saying “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And He went to stay with them. Luke 28:29

He would have gone farther?! Reading these verses, it looks like Jesus was being was being kind of insensitive to His disciples. We know that can’t be the case. I think He was trying to show His disciples (and us) how to really recognize and honor Him.

In the first instance, the disciples were fighting for their lives in a little boat – battling with the oars against the wind. They had just witnessed the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, but were completely freaked out to see Jesus walking over to them on the water. “For they had not understood about the loaves because their heart was hardened.” (Mark 6:52) Jesus’ intention was never to pass them by on the water. When they cried out, He heard and stopped. He understood their cries of terror as a plea for help, and He came on board with them.

In the second example, the resurrected Jesus was walking with His disciples to their village. He would have continued on had they not asked Him to remain with them there. They did not yet recognize Him. He sat with them and broke bread and their eyes were opened to the truth. But what if they never had invited Him in? The Word is clear that He would have gone on.

He responds to our invitation. He answers our cries.

When we have the wind against us and we’re rowing and getting nowhere – do we call on Him? Specifically call on Him to enter our situation and calm the storm? Or do we just keep rowing and allow Him to pass by?

When we’re walking our walk through life, do we stop and invite Him into our house to break bread and show us more? Or do we say goodbye at the door and let Him be on His way?

In both cases, the disciples failed to recognize Jesus. They thought He was a ghost or a stranger. Their hearts had been hardened, even after seeing great miracles. Jesus is always with us, ready to step into our lives in every way, but He never forces His way in. We have to cry out, call on Him and cooperate. I don’t ever want Him to pass by just because I didn’t recognize Him. He longs to be with us more than we know!

As the disciples said, “Abide with us” Jesus. May we recognize Him and invite Him to stay!

When Jesus Marveled

“Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to tho one, “Go,” and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” Matthew 8: 5-10

Jesus marveled. A Roman centurion had faith that astounded even Jesus. He believed that his servant could be healed with just a word from the Lord. Apparently this kind of faith was pretty rare. We read this and think “well, good for him, he figured it out, whatever it is!”  But what is “it”? I think faith (the effective, Biblical kind) has been made complicated. God made it quite simple. He gives us examples in His word to show us that faith isn’t difficult or beyond us, we just need to have His perspective on things.

Simple examples from everyday life:

Roman centurions weren’t known for their love of Jesus, much less having great faith. What this man understood though, was authority. He was in charge of people. They would act at his command. He figured that if his servants obeyed him, how much more would demons have to obey God at His command? He recognized that all he needed was a word from Jesus for his servant to be healed.

No limiting Jesus:

The centurion recognized Jesus didn’t need to physically come all the way out to the house to heal his servant. Jesus knew it too, of course. The Roman spoke what he understood to Jesus, essentially saying “this is how I understand it to work… so if this is correct, save yourself the trip and just speak the word!” Jesus is gracious to meet us where we are – He’s always willing to “make the trip” for us. How beautiful though, when we understand His ways more fully and step into line with them the way this man did!

He was spiritually-minded

The Roman understood one thing that is easy to forget: the Truth of the unseen world is stronger than the ‘truth’ of our physical world. The world we see was created as a result of there first being a spiritual realm. It was called into existence because God spoke it. The Bible tells us that this physical world is changeable but the spiritual realm is fixed (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Being spiritually-minded doesn’t mean we discount or ignore problems. We read “be spiritually-minded” and wonder if we’re just supposed to think positive thoughts and hope for the best. But anyone can tell you that doesn’t work.  When we see physical problems, we zone in on them and then ask God for help. His Truth goes out of focus. When our minds are fixed on just the physical, we can’t operate in God’s Truth. The Bible tells us that to be spirit-minded is life and peace, while being carnally minded is death (Romans 8:6). He is telling us to get our minds off of what we see and feel and onto His Truth. In a world that tells us to focus on our feelings and how every little thing affects us, it’s no wonder we don’t see faith operating the way it should. God doesn’t want us to deny a  problem – He is asking us to deal with it from the spiritual side.

Faith makes the unseen visible

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  This is a very popular verse. I always skimmed over it thinking faith is just a kind of hope that we have for something that hasn’t happened yet. But it says evidence of things not seen. It doesn’t say “evidence of things that don’t exist. There is a huge difference! We aren’t hoping for pie in the sky things that don’t exist, calling them into being like some magician. That’s not God and it’s not Biblical. Our faith is for things that exist, but aren’t seen or manifest yet because they are in the spiritual realm. Our job is to plug in and come into agreement with God and get those things into the physical! 

This goes totally against the world we live in. It’s not natural to put more stock in the invisible than we do the visible. But by abiding in God’s Truth, soaking in the word and letting it take root, it can happen. The Roman soldier knew something I wish I had known a long time ago: all it takes is a word from God and belief on our part to believe that He can do it. That’s it.

It’s important to open the Word and see it with fresh eyes. It can be hard. Things don’t always jump off the page and excite us. We are trained to move on to the next thing if we aren’t entertained. But we have to keep at it. Sometimes we need Jesus to come all the way out to our house and meet us there. It’s ok. He’s happy to do it. How powerful, though, to have a simple faith that takes Him at His spoken word.

This Roman was about the least qualified person in Israel to understand what he did. Part of his very job was to keep the Jesus people at bay. His simple acceptance of who Christ was opened the door for him. Jesus marveled at his faith, not because he had figured out a complex, hidden mystery of the ages, but because he really believed in the person of Jesus and in His power. The invisible became visible.

It just takes one word.