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!

Forward and Free in the New Year!

“How the Lord takes by its corners
This old world and shakes us forward and shakes us free…” Rich Mullins

New Years is almost here! That lovely time when we can all do a “mental reset” and reorient ourselves a bit to wherever it is we think we are going. I saw no less that three articles today alone that laid out numerated steps for keeping New Years goals intact. We Americans really do love when things are given to us in bullet points. So convenient!

Goals keep us going. Big or small, we need them. Mine include training for a 120 mile race through the Colorado mountains next July. I’d also like to stop buying so many Lunchables and make my kids an actual lunch when they go to school. Baby steps.

So come January, we’re ready to move the proverbial football down the field. Maybe we get a new journal. I like doing that. We get out the new workout clothes. Those are fun too.
But by February, the journal is empty and the workout shirt still has its tags on. Because, life.

So here’s my New Years thing: I’m going to remember that while the year is new for a little while, I am living in a New Covenant every single day. A covenant of grace that never gets old, whether it’s January first or July fourth. We are redeemed from the law (Galatians 3:13) and we are a new creation.

After years of living the Christian life, Paul stated that his main goal was to know Christ and the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10).

That should be our goal! To know Him. To know His power. Let the rest fall into place, because it will. We all have our own little roadmap of goals and things we want to see come to pass. When we set ourselves to knowing Him, we can relax and let it be. We’ll accomplish more than we ever thought possible. And even if we don’t, He can get us back on track.

So here are my two bullet points I shall preach to myself:
– Be flexible
– Be sensitive

Flexible to let Him lead, able to change course if He asks me to.
Sensitive to His voice, not that of the world or of others.

That’s it! Be in the Word, get to know Him more and more because His love is without end. His plans for us are more than any goal we could ever set. Go into the new year with hope set high that He is ready to shake us forward and free!

Profoundly Simple

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“Keep it simple, keep it pure. Keep it sincere.” The more I dive into the Word this year, expecting some complex revelation to wash over me, the more I hear this. Back to the basics in the New Year. My 9 year old woke up yesterday morning and told me about a dream he had. Just before he woke up, there before him was a  bright sign declaring “God Helps At Hard Times.” He remembered it and was struck by it. I asked him to write it down for me. He did, in bubble letters, because he said thats how it was written. God used bubble letters. Awesome.

Childlike. Bordering on cliche. Of course God helps in hard times. Sunday school 101. Check. Got it.

As we talked about it though, I started to wonder…

Do we turn to Him in our “hard times” for real? Or do we retreat into ourselves and our own futile efforts?

Have I been an example to my children that God really is the strength in our weakness? Or have I taught them to try and ‘perform’ their way out failures or difficulties?

I came across this beautiful bit of truth this morning and the question hit me again:

“PILLAGE AND LOOT THE WORLD FOR ALL IT’S WORTH, BUT ONLY IN JESUS IS THERE 100% ACCEPTANCE BEFORE EVEN 1% PERFORMANCE.” Ann Voskamp

Whoa.  I stop for a moment, knowing how much I need this and how much I barely grasp it. We can’t perform our way out of trouble or failure or disappointment. Hard times come in all degrees. Some are annoying. Some are downright tragic. What is our first instinct when we are challenged? When the enemy pushes every button, tempts us in every way to give up and give in… where do we turn?

“God Helps At Hard Times.”  If we let Him.

The simple things are often the most profound. Oh how we long for the new, the fashionable, the ever-changing. The world we live in demands it. We can check e-mail, twitter, facebook, instagram and Pinterest all while sitting at a stoplight. Sadly, modern day Christianity also demands it. People aren’t comfortable with the pure, straightforward truth of the Word anymore. There must be something new to discover or believe. The old truths need a new spin. New books must be bought. New catch phrases are created. And we lose Jesus in the mix.

God’s truths to each one of us are new every day. They aren’t stale leftovers of what someone else received. They’re personal. They aren’t complicated, but they are very profound.

This new year, I don’t need to go buy a new Bible study based on how promising it’s cover looks. I need to open my own Bible. I need to listen to my kids. I need to look for God in the simple things and let Him reveal Himself through them.

Two weeks into the new year, I am asking God what HE wants for me this year.

Keep it simple. Keep it sincere. Keep it real.

God IS with us.

 

The Messages of January

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Happy New Year! As much as I love the fun of the holidays, I always feel kind of refreshed when January rolls around. A new (mostly blank) calendar and a house free of Christmas nutcrackers does me good. A symbolic “do over” time for everyone, January holds a lot of possibility. We hit the ground running for sure – the gym is packed with well-intentioned go-getters. Weight loss commercials play nonstop on TV. The Target Christmas section is now a home-organization paradise, with bins and totes and hooks galore to help us find a place for our newly acquired stuff – and if we need more stuff, we can always hit the Valentines Day aisle, because it’s been up since before New Years.
So, the messages of January assail us:
Get in shape! Organize your life! Get it together! Check off that list!”
It’s all well and good – but what happens when we try and apply those New Years intentions to our spiritual lives?
We start off with a bang, but it rarely lasts. The Bible reading plan we began tapers off once we reach Leviticus. That calendar begins to fill up. Duty replaces passion. The excitement for what could have been fades away. We are disappointed with ourselves for not sticking it out. We go to church, read some books, get some pointers… but the spirit in us is not engaged. By March or April, we return to the same old routine. We aren’t created for resignation, however. Why do I say that? Because the next January 1st we will do it all over again. So, the desire to grow and know God more is a part of who we are. Why then, do we lose it so quickly?

“The Religious Man or Woman is a popular story option in which we try to reduce the wildness of life by constructing a system of promises and rewards, a contract that will obligate God to grant us exemption from the Arrows. It really doesn’t matter what the particular group bargain is-doctrinal adherence, moral living, or some sort of spiritual experience-the desire is the same: taming God in order to tame life. Never mind those deep yearnings of the soul; never mind the nagging awareness that God is not cooperating. If the system isn’t working, it’s because we’re not doing it right. There’s always something to work on, with the promise of abundant life just around the corner. Plenty of churches and leaders are ready to show you how to cut a deal.” John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance

Try as we may to organize our spirit life, there is a wildness about God and life that we can not get a hold of. His desire is to make us holy, to be in relationship with us. You can’t compartmentalize holiness. You cannot make a system out of it. Systems last until February.

Here’s a thought: What if we embraced the desire in us, that wonderful drive we feel at New Years to do great things, and just handed it over to the God who gave us the desires in the first place? The goal isn’t to be comfortable and organized – the goal is to get out there with those desires and let God lead us through the wilds and the unexpected into our victory. What if the excitement of January could be turned into a year long adventure of actual achievements? It’s not foolproof, and we aren’t perfect, but how about going in His strength instead of our own? How about asking Him what His desires are for us this coming year? We aren’t meant to set and attain goals alone. We aren’t meant to rely on human strength or wisdom to get us to the finish line. Our “deep yearnings of the soul” can be fulfilled by one thing alone, and that is a holy God making us holy.

Don’t let the messages of January turn to disappointment in a few weeks – embrace the desires God has placed in your heart and ask Him to walk it out with you. His ways may be a bit wilder than we expect or a bit messier than we want – but they are the only way in which we will ever have true success.

Long live the January goals!