Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Beginnings and Fresh Starts, Part IV

As the theme of new beginnings and fresh starts is easily seen throughout the Bible, it is also seen at the end of His Word.  I can't help but get the feeling that really, this is the overarching theme of the Bible.  

In Genesis, God created the world and everything in it, and it was good.

God created man in His own image, and it was very good.

Then sin entered the world, bringing with it only destruction and death.  

But God had a plan to fix things...to make things right...to make things new.  And He has promised to do just that.  

But, as Peter reminds us, "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

In His Revelation to John, we can see His promise...His declaration that He will indeed make all things new.  

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'  He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'  Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'"

Because God keeps His promises, we can be sure that He will make all things new.  We can, indeed, have hope, that the future will, indeed, be much better than the present!!!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Beginnings and Fresh Starts, Part III

After recognizing the theme of new beginnings and fresh starts throughout the Old Testament, it is when we get to the New Testament that we see God begin to put this plan into action, a plan which will usher out the old and welcome in the new.

All throughout Jesus' ministry, He seems to be turning the Old Law on it's ear with His teachings. "You have heard it said...but I say to you..." is the theme of His message, as He teaches not just the letter of the Old Law, but He teaches the intent of the Law. Of the Temple which was considered to be God's dwelling place, where the Jews came to worship, Jesus said, he would tear it down and rebuild it in three days. This angered the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, who did not understand that Jesus was not actually talking about the physical Temple, but rather, He was talking about Himself. He would give His life, be buried, and be raised to life again in three days.

It was on the night before His death that He actually proclaimed the ushering in of a new covenant that His death would bring. "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you."

The Hebrew writer speaks of this new covenant which Jesus established, this new covenant of which He is the mediator. "For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant."
That message is for us. With this new covenant, we have been set free! Once again, we see that with this fresh start He has given us, He has also given us hope! "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."

So what does that mean for us? How is this new birth into a living hope supposed to affect the way that we live our lives?

We are a brand new creation! "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"

We are to be transformed! "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--His good, pleasing, and perfect will."

In that transformation, we are to become like Him! "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."

Friday, January 7, 2011

New Beginnings and Fresh Starts, Part II

As 2010 has been a year of new beginnings and fresh starts, and once again we are at a New Year, I am once again filled with much of the same hope and excitement that I experienced most of last year.

That's it, really...hope!  Fresh starts give us hope.  Hope that the future will be even better than the present.

As I read through the Bible last year, I couldn't help but notice this theme throughout.  The first place I notice this is with Noah and the flood.  Scripture says, "The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain."  So the Lord decided to wipe them all out and start over, with only one faithful man and his family.    After the flood, when Noah stepped out of the ark, God made a covenant and put his rainbow in the clouds as a reminder of His promise to never again destroy the earth by flood.

The next time I notice this theme of fresh starts is when God has led the Israelites out of Egypt and is giving them the law.  If you read Leviticus (your favorite, I know), God gives the Israelites many instructions on how to live their lives, and a large portion of that law is set in place to ensure that they treat each other fairly and do not take advantage of each other.  One such way of doing this was commanding the people to recognize a Year of Jubilee every 50 years.  If anyone had sold any property to repay a debt, in this year, the property would revert back to the original owner.  Likewise, if anyone had sold himself as a slave to repay a debt, in this year, the Year of Jubilee, he would be set free!  What a blessing to know that their situation would not be permanent!

As the Israelites are ruled by judges, a cycle is seen over and over again, where they fall away from God, but then they have a change of heart.  They call out to God who forgives them and sends a judge to save them.  They eventually ask for an earthly king to rule over them, and that turns out disastrous, for the most part, just as God had said it would.  It is during that time that God reaches His point of anger with His people that He decides that punishment is imminent.

God sends prophets who warn with startlingly powerful language of the punishment to come upon them because of God's wrath.  The people will be taken into exile and their land destroyed.  However, in the midst of all this, we can still see God's promise of a fresh start and a second chance for His people.  He promises that there will be a remnant to return to their homes.  Along with that promise, God also alludes to a time when He will create a new covenant with His people, better than the one He had established with them at Sinai.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, He says,  "The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them.  This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel at that time.  I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

After God has brought about punishment upon His people...Israel and Judah have been taken captive...Jerusalem is completely destroyed...God has abandoned His temple and His altar...His prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, could still pen these words:

"Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I hope in Him!'  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.  It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord...For the Lord will not cast off forever.  Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Blessing of God's Word

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."--Matt. 4:4, Luke 4:4

I can't say what a blessing all of the Project 4:4 reading and writing has been for me.

I absolutely love my church and our leaders for guiding us in this project this past year, and I'm very excited about our new project for the upcoming year. More about that later...

For now, I wanted to share this YouTube video, which features members of my congregation, talking about the impact that Project 4:4 has had on them.

I can't tell you how proud I feel, and how blessed I am, to be a part of this family. I thank God for them every day.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Beginnings and Fresh Starts, Part I

2010 has been a year of new beginnings and fresh starts for me.  Experienced some things for the first time ever!  

At the end of January, my roommate moved out.  This was my first time to be completely on my own, with a place all to myself.

In the middle of this year, I changed jobs.  Left the place I'd been at for three and a half years, for a similar position at a larger organization.  It's an absolutely wonderful environment, and it's been an incredible blessing.  

Shortly thereafter, I moved, in order to be closer to said job.  So I got the chance to go through all my stuff and clean house, both in a literal sense, but also in a figurative sense, in that I tried to simplify my life. If I didn't need it, I got rid of it.  Cause I surely wasn't moving it across town in the 115-degree heat that we experienced this summer!

The next month, I traded vehicles, got a new (to me) car that was a little more fuel efficient.  This was my first completely-solo car-buying experience, in that I didn't even consult the Dad.  I didn't tell anyone I was buying until after the fact.

Thanks to my new job, I experienced my first ever airplane flight, as I went with a coworker to an accounting seminar in Indiana.  Oh. My. Goodness.  I was a little nervous beforehand, not knowing what to expect of the luggage and security and layovers and waiting.  But whatever hassle there might have been (and there was none, really) was more than worth it after my first glance out the window from 30,000 feet up in the air.  Definitely a Psalm 19:1-2 moment for me, the view was absolutely breathtaking.  I'm quite certain I could never get tired of it.

Later that month, I held a new nephew, Rowdy Kyle Smith, the first child of my younger sister and her husband. (Yes, his name is really "Rowdy".  I usually just call him "Roo" or "Lil Roo", short for "Rowdy Roo".). He is adorable, and I love him.

I would be remiss to leave out the fact that in 2010 I also read the Bible through, in it's entirety, for the first time ever.

This year has been incredible, and as a year that has included so much change and new beginnings and fresh starts, it has prompted me to take a look and see what the Bible has to say about all of this.  As it turns out, my Father also seems to be a fan of new beginnings and fresh starts...