Four Encouragements for the New Year

December 31, 2012 § 3 Comments

SunriseIn a few hours the New Year will be reality. The Mayans have been proven wrong, and the world has survived. Though this is in no way an exhaustive list, take the encouragements offered as musings from the heart of a simple pastor and fellow sinner who remains unfinished to the core, but redeemed none the less.

An Encouragement to Remember Who You Are (ala Mufasa in James Earl Jones voice in The Lion King) – The fact is that life is a struggle between competing forces that constantly vie for our identity. Each offers plausible shortcuts to all kinds of good things such as respectability, success, fulfillment and peace. But they require energies and compromises that we weren’t created to bend our hearts around, and in the end they compromise us, and others. So find your identity in Jesus – Christ alone offers unconditional love without diminishing our dignity.

Be who you are! God likes you that way. And deep down, so do you. Sure, you will meet with some rejection – that is an unavoidable consequence of the fall, but the alternative is to live in a pretend world that fools everyone except God – Oh… and the person you see in the mirror each morning.

An Encouragement to Live for Something Greater than Yourself – Katherine and I saw Lincoln this past week. It is worth more than the price of admission – an amazingly well acted, scripted and directed movie. What struck me was that Abraham Lincoln lived only 56 years, just one year longer than I have been alive. They were hard years, particularly towards the end of his life. But what he was used for in those years! The fact is that God put you here for a good purpose. It may be as simple as being a good parent, as public as holding an elected office, or as undetected as providing some faithful service in a broken world. Just determine to not come to the end of your life and conclude that you set the bar too low. Every instinct will tell you that you can’t do this, and you’re right, but as our Director of College & High School Ministries said yesterday, (Patrick Allen), Because God is faithful we have the hope of what will one day be. – Rest in that faithfulness.

So Live! Look past your short lifetime believing that what you do and who you are count for something larger than yourself.

An Encouragement to Pursue Jesus – Let me challenge you to make this a year to deepen your roots with God. Enter the adventure that is redemption, only don’t rely primarily on secondary sources – With the Christian life Relationship is everything, and our relationship with God deepens in His Word. Facebook is great for social interaction, but quaint spiritual sayings on pink or light green backgrounds are no replacement for journeying into God’s story, and ours. A simple admission may help here: I do ‘personal devotions’ only three times a week (sermon prep doesn’t count). It’s true – My life is crazy, and spending time in God’s Word is not as simple as a New Year’s resolution. Sure, I reflect on what I read throughout the entire week, and I enjoy a constant life of prayer, but when it comes to the discipline of bible reading, I give more energy and passion to those three days than I would under some formulaic system borne of guilt. And don’t deny yourself thoughtful authors who stretch your faith and challenge you to grow. God has revealed Himself, and Jesus tells us that He can be found beyond our natural layers of self-protection, not only in His Word, but also His World, the broken and weak, the lovely and beautiful. Expect Him to make Himself known to you.

So discover Jesus freshly! And hey, sometimes all we can do is remain near until He shows up. I am confident that He will in some way you never expected, and when He does, you’ll realize that He was not only waiting, but also pursuing you all along – even in your doubts.

An Encouragement to Love – God has put people in your life – people you know and people you don’t know. Love them well. Don’t let those you know just assume that you care. Care. There is nothing sweeter than being loved beyond obligation. Whether your immediate family or your church community, in the end, you will be thankful that actively caring for loved ones is not among your regrets. Give strangers the gift of kindness, signaling to them that no one is invisible to God. Jesus even calls our enemies our neighbors, so love the ‘neighborhood’ God has placed you in, whether faces are recognizable or not, and discover that the world changes in small, kindness-shaped bytes. And you may never know what unexpected charity brings to the recipients.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Trust me, you’ll be disappointed time and again by putting yourself out there, even by those you most love, but an unloved and unloving, calloused heart is no match for one that is tender to the risks of love. And somewhere along the journey, you’ll remember that God didn’t wait for you to clean up before making you His.

For the New Year, this is good news…

peace.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you… Philippians 1:3

Inside

§ 3 Responses to Four Encouragements for the New Year

  • Jen Hamilton says:

    Good thoughts as always, but I have a question…my faith has taken a beating in the last year or 2, and I confess to have been suffering from what Madeleine L’Engle artfully calls an “attack of atheism” for probably the past 6 months or more. As a result my Bible reading has been, well, non-existent. I would like that to change, but in spite of being a Christ-follower for nigh on 20+ years, I honestly don’t know where to start. I almost feel like I’ve “read it all”, like it’s not fresh anymore. Just opening the Bible and hoping for some revelation doesn’t seem to be working. And more often than not I find myself looking at particular verses or stories with a cynics eye, questioning everything I read. Any advice on where to start to reverse this? To just read it anyway, even if its a slog?? Any suggestions would be appreciated!!

    • unfinished1 says:

      Great comment, Jen – Thank you – I’ve already edited because of your words – good words that remind me to think twice & thrice before hitting that ‘post’ button. I guess I would say that doubt is a necessity for real faith. Hey, the reality is that sometimes we actually do go through the motions – but even that is real for true relationship. Maybe what you’ve offered here is the first step – a simple admission that you ‘don’t know where to start,’ and that it isn’t ‘fresh anymore.’ It’s God’s job to show up and I trust He will. He loves when we throw convention aside for reality. In the mean time, I’ll be in prayer for you. peace. mike

  • Pat Both says:

    Mike, what a great encouragement to know that God loves us and accepts us the way we are, before we “clean up our act”! This is your message every week in your sermons and is greatly appreciated. But as you say, we can’t just stop growing because we know He loves us. Even when life is discouraging and hard, we are blessed when we doggedly struggle on, assured of His love and presence in our lives…
    I love the picture of your family, and wish all of you a blessed and wonderful New Year!
    Pat Both

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