“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19
Over the past 12 months so much has happened, it’s difficult not to take a minute to reminisce. I’m not one for grandiose new year’s resolutions however I am a strong believer in new beginnings. Each new day, each moment can be a new beginning. Christ’s birth was the beginning of human redemption, a new beginning for everyone.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” 1 Peter 1:3
This year has brought growth, and restoration, it has brought blessings and challenges (also blessings but messier); through it all God has remained Sovereign! I am constantly reminded that through it all (and I mean ALL) God is, and will always be sovereign, His hand is on everything and in everything.
“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.” 1 Chronicles 29:11-12
It seems natural on January 1st that we look ahead; what will this next year hold for us, what will we do differently, what will define who we are, who we want to be, how will we grow? I have been thinking over the past several weeks what this year will mean for me and my family. The one word that continues to come to my heart is simplicity.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-15
This year I start back to school to complete my Theological studies after an almost 15 year hiatus. I continue in my role on staff at Tucson Central Church working alongside God’s people in obedience and expectation of the amazing things He will accomplish, humbled that I get to be part of it.
If I have any words of encouragement to offer it is this, you are not alone. The sovereign God of the universe is deeply in love with you. He cares about the large and small things in your life, in fact there is nothing too large or to small to escape His notice or his attention. There is nothing you are going through now or that you may go through in the future that He can not handle, if you let Him.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Challenges come in many forms, none of which are unique, all of which have been experienced before. I don’t say that to in any way minimize your struggles, but to give you hope in the knowledge that you are not alone, that you can find comfort in knowing that whatever challenge you are facing, they have been faced and overcome through God’s faithfulness.
My challenge to you, to all of us, is to lean on God’s promises more than ever before. If we did that one thing, simply put God first, then all else will fall into place, His place, which is far better than anything we could do on our own.
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“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:24-25
I have often struggled with the thought that Jesus made something of a blanket statement about the wealthy, almost as if being blessed with wealth precludes you from going to heaven. One simple statement sums it up, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Growing up I did not ‘have’ a lot. We had a home and food and clothes and love and support, which to me made us rich. I never thought of us being a ‘have not’ until high school when I was exposed to those who had a whole lot more. They had more toys, ‘better’ clothes, nicer homes, fancier cars and money to pretty much do what they wanted, and they did…exactly what they wanted.
I was part of a graduating class of 162 students. From that class came the largest amount of college scholarships the school had ever seen. Want to know how many graduated from college? No you really don’t, it would make you sad. My graduating class was fraught with drugs, alcohol, divorce, divorce and more divorce, abuse, jail and suicide. The ‘haves’ did what they wanted to do. They had so much; potential, resources, optimism and support, but they weren’t happy. So they turned to what they thought would make them happy, which only made matters worse.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:10
I love telling my children about how I grew up. About our wood burning stove and how my dad got up at 4am to get it going so the house was warm when we got up. About the garden where we grew our own veggies (No a spaghetti squash does NOT taste like spaghetti and yes I could tell the difference!) and swimming in the creek behind our house. I love telling the stories of the Christmas where we each, me and my two brothers got a hand made afghan that my mom had made her self, working on them at night after we went to sleep.
One day my oldest son, Nik commented, “it seems like even though you didn’t have a lot growing up that you had a great childhood.” He was right, I did. We didn’t focus on what we didn’t have, we enjoyed and cherished what we did, which made me so much more appreciative of what I have now.
The book of Matthew is full of so many wonderful truths, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21
In Matthew Jesus isn’t making a statement about those who have money but those who cherish it above all else.
“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Matthew 19:16-22
“…he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” His possessions (money) meant more to him than the poor, the widow and orphans. His money was more important to him than Jesus.
Being blessed with a good job, and resources is not a sin. Holding those above Christ and those Christ brings to you, is. He blesses us to bless others. As long as we keep money in it’s proper place (it ALL belongs to Him) and are obedient to His calling on our lives, whatever that may be, there is an eternity waiting for us by His side.
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I feel the need to take a break from my normal rants to share a burden I feel. Recently I read about a young pastor in California who committed suicide. He was in his 30’s I believe, a husband and father; a beautiful family photo accompanied the article. I was dumbfounded. How is this possible? How can a man, that man in the photo, a man who dedicated his life to serving God, chose to end his life?
I am well acquainted with the hardships and trials of this world; having lost both a husband in a tragic car accident and a daughter after a long and painful battle with cancer. You can’t go through life without experiencing some form of pain and loss; however I don’t believe it’s the pain and loss that is causing so many people in our world to choose to end their suffering…it’s the loneliness.
I get to work with a group of wonderful youth, and they have had more than their fair share of struggles. I watch in amazement as they pull themselves up and continue to move forward each day, it’s truly incredible the resilience they have. However, as they get older what I see is an increased sense of isolation. The more ‘connected’ they are, the less connected they feel. They have 438 friends on Facebook, 397 followers on Twitter and Instagram, but no one to pick up the phone and talk to when they need a listening ear. They post, text, snapchcat and tweet and dozens if not hundreds of people will give a thumbs up or a smiley face, but none are a familiar voice, hug, smile or shoulder.
As we continue to age and move into the ‘real world’ the isolation increases in corresponding measure to the pressures of life; succeed, make an impact, increase profits, and look like we walked off the cover of a fashion magazine. We need to have the right college degree, the right job, make enough money to drive the right car, live in the right neighborhood, etc., etc., etc. Now this is not a middle class issue, at all socioeconomic levels of our country there’s an isolation factor. We don’t want our neighbors to know we can’t afford groceries or that our child struggles with an eating disorder. We don’t want the school to put us on the list for donated clothes or to know that we don’t have a cell phone.
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1Thessalonians 5:11
This concept that no matter who we are, or what we do, we’ll never be enough is driving our nation crazy, quite literally. I read recently that children of this generation (Millennial) experience the same level of mental stress as adults did in the 1950’s who were being institutionalized! WHAT!!!
The pressure we put ourselves and our children under is much higher than it’s ever been before. However, I still believe that it’s the isolation that causes us to break. Humans are social beings we crave interaction, intimacy and human contact. We seem to be missing these in our culture right now; in a world where we can instantaneously contact someone, send a message get an immediate response back; communication has become transactional not relational.
This vibrant young man reminded me of recent conversations I’ve had with several friends; some at church and some at work. Each of them have struggles that they don’t feel comfortable sharing. Some of them because of their position at work, some of them because they fear the reaction of those around them, and some because of the stigma attached. I myself struggle with several of these, all of which isolate me from most of the people in my life.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1Corinthians 12:26
I can’t tell you how many times I longed for a breakfast table with a cup of coffee and a friend just to share my thoughts with, and I know it’s not just me. I know there are literally millions of people in the world whose lives would be exponentially better because of a phone call, a drop by, or a surprise pumpkin spice latte (had to put that in there).
If each of us took just a few extra minutes during the day, let’s say 10, (everyone can find 10 minutes) to reach out to someone in our circle and let them know how important they are, that you are there for them, that they are loved and valued…you may be surprised at the result. You may be surprised to find one of your friends thanking you, because that was exactly what they needed to hear…you may be surprised to find you saved someone’s life.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, …” Philippians 2:1-7
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