Slow and Steady Faithfulness in the New Year

Slow and Steady Faithfulness in the New Year

As we untangle the lights from the tree, store our precious ornaments in the attic, and make tentative plans to come off sugar at least until the second week of January, many of us will make resolutions for the coming year.

Charting plans and making goals at the top of the year seem like wisdom to me—no time like January to consider what we want to do with a fresh beginning. But what will prove more significant than the one or two major tasks we hope to accomplish this coming year will be our small, daily, faithful acts of obedience to Jesus. These are what will make a far greater difference in our lives when we pull those lights back out next year (and half the bulbs aren’t working). Our daily obedience to Christ in the seemingly small and hidden places will also put us in the best position to experience our Savior.

ZECHARIAH, ELIZABETH, AND THE NEW YEAR

Though we tend to think of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s account in Luke 1 as a Christmas story, their faithful obedience is also a good New Year’s one. Luke goes out of his way to detail how good and faithful these two servants were (Luke 1:6). He also goes out of his way to detail the plight they bore as a childless couple (Luke 1:7). Can you imagine how many times Zechariah showed up for work for his daily tasks as one of 18,000 priests? Or how many times he ran through his ritualistic duties, offered a sacrifice, or prayed for a worshipper, meanwhile wondering when God was ever going to answer his and Elizabeth’s own prayer for a child? Not to mention their prayers for a long-awaited Redeemer to come and rescue their people. Elizabeth and Zechariah’s daily obedience was being worked out when it’s most difficult to obey—in their trials and longings.

 
How many times do we tire of taking the next right step or simply doing the next thing we know we’re supposed to do? The regular and sometimes mundane tasks of the day can seem like the least likely place for God to show up. And yet isn’t it true that most of the supernatural happenings we read about in the Bible took place in the middle of someone’s otherwise “normal” circumstances. While supernatural happenings solely belong to God, our daily faithfulness and obedience tend to put us in the places where we’re most likely to encounter Him. This is exactly what happened to Zechariah and Elizabeth.
 

A LONG OBEDIENCE IN THE SAME DIRECTION

After decades of serving, Zechariah was chosen for a special task of service in the Lord’s temple. This sacred opportunity came around once in a priest’s lifetime. As Zechariah was burning incense and the priests were outside the temple praying, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Your prayer has been heard.” Those words changed everything for Zechariah and Elizabeth. All those steps of quiet obedience, every faithful act, every uttered prayer had led to this moment. I’m not talking about works-righteousness here or the false idea that if you do the right thing you’ll earn a blessing. No. I’m talking about how much the Lord delights in a long obedience in the same direction (as Eugene Peterson wrote about), and how our small acts of daily devotion make a difference over the long haul.

As we begin a new year, do you find yourself praying the same prayers you were praying last year? Are you wondering if your daily faithfulness and obedience are really worth it? Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story should give you confidence. Not in your ability to be righteous and blameless, but in God’s power to accomplish His good work in your life. Not in your strength to crush the goals on your list for the new year, but in His grace to empower you to take daily steps of obedience, even when they seem small and insignificant. After all, God has been known to show up in the most unexpected places. And we want to be there when He does.

 

The post Slow and Steady Faithfulness in the New Year appeared first on LifeWay Voices.

A Place at the Table For You

A Place at the Table For You

Day 1: Preparing Our Hearts

As we seek to turn our hearts to the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, I pray these devotionals will be an encouragement to you, an anchor in a season that thrives on busyness and activity (and materialism while we’re at it.) For some of us the Christmas season is truly one of our favorite times of the year, yet we can blink and miss everything that matters about it. For others, it’s a challenging time when we’re reminded of what we don’t have or all the ways our Christmas can’t measure up to our ideal. No matter how you’re entering the season, we can all find hope and refuge by turning our hearts to the Christmas story and the life-changing message of Jesus. 

We often think that Jesus’ birth begins the Christmas story, but there’s a story before the story. Luke 1 opens with a couple named Elizabeth and Zechariah. Both were from distinguished Jewish lines and both were righteous people who earnestly followed God’s commands. What’s more, Zechariah was a priest in the house of the Lord. In modern terms these are the people who can trace their ancestors back to missionaries or church-planters, who teach the kids in Sunday School, who always have a casserole ready for the neighbors. We love these kinds of people, and if we’re honest we expect that the really good guys should enter Christmas blessed in all the ways we think of as blessed. 

But there was a problem. An ache. A prayer that had long gone unanswered. Luke 1:7 tells us that Elizabeth and Zechariah had no children. Elizabeth was barren, and both of them were old and past child bearing years. Not being able to bear children in first century Judaism was a deep grief not only because of the obvious void, but also because it cost you your legacy in Jewish culture. You were unable to carry on your family name and line. In many ways, it cost you your status in society and even your standing in your religious circle.  

We’d expect Luke to write that because they were righteous God blessed them with a large family, filling every room in their home with children. But that’s not what the verse says. Something that’s always stood out to me about this story is the way Luke puts Zechariah and Elizabeth’s blameless walk before the Lord right up against their barrenness (Luke 1:6-7). I think Luke wanted to tell us many things here, but one is that just because you’re going through a trial doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. And just because you’ve prayed a prayer that hasn’t been answered yet doesn’t mean God has abandoned or forgotten about you.

Scripture Reading and Questions for Reflection:

Read Luke 1:1-7.

  • According to verses 3-4, why did Luke write the way he did and what did he want his readers to feel confident about?

  • What two reasons does Luke give for why Zechariah and Elizabeth couldn’t have children (verse 7)?

  • Are you going through something that seems impossible for more than one reason? What are they?

  • Does it encourage you or discourage you to see that two really good people who were following the Lord also were experiencing a painful void in their lives? Explain.

HOLIDAY HOSTING HACKS THAT FREE YOU TO SERVE

HOLIDAY HOSTING HACKS THAT FREE YOU TO SERVE

Entertaining during Thanksgiving and Christmas can be stressful but a lot of pressure can be eliminated with a little planning and by keeping our daily focus on Jesus’ command to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-39). Here are a few tips to get organized and prepared so we’ll have room to do what Jesus calls us to do.

Plan Ahead

After your guest list has been decided, settle on your menu. Once your menu is set, make a list of all the ingredients you need at the grocery store or farmer’s market, as well as which stores you’ll need to visit. Pro tip: the holidays are not the time to try out a new grocery store. Stick to what you know or you’ll be wandering the aisles frustrated that you can’t find the vanilla extract or chopped pecans. This will put you in a very bad mood, and you can’t be in a bad mood when you’re about to possibly encounter sometimes-challenging relatives you haven’t seen in a year (we’ll get to relatives in a moment). While you’re shopping, cooking, and cleaning, pray as you go. Thanking the Lord for His many blessings and praying specifically for those you’ll be encountering is a great way to prepare your heart.

Do As Much As You Can Ahead Of Time

After you’ve bought your ingredients, whatever you can make ahead of time, make it. If you’re serving a salad, have your vegetables chopped, nuts toasted, dressing made and stored appropriately. If you have casseroles that can be chilled in the fridge, make them a day or two before. Appetizers like a charcuterie board can be put together ahead of time as well. Have your bread sliced, asparagus trimmed, lemons squeezed beforehand—you get the idea. Also, clean as you go. There’s nothing like waking up to a spotless kitchen on the day you’re hosting a large meal or party. Instead of running from room to room with your hair on fire, you’ll be able to enjoy your guests. You’ll have the capacity to ask good questions, listen, and watch for opportunities the Holy Spirit gives you to encourage or pray for someone who needs it.

Delegate

Every year I have this ideal that I want my guests to be able to simply show up and not have to do a thing. But the older I get and the more people I host, the more unrealistic this becomes. Friends and relatives really are happy to bring their specialty dessert, or pick up that artisan loaf of bread, or come with an overflowing bowl of salad. I find that for every dish or drink that someone else handles, a surprising amount of pressure is taken off on the big day. When others pitch in not only are you, as the host, more at ease but also more people get to share in having a part in the celebration.

It’s Not Your Responsibility To Fix Your Relatives

If your guest list happens to include difficult or awkward relatives, it’s freeing to remember that it’s not your responsibility to fix them. I know what you’re thinking… but I know exactly what’s wrong with them and have so many good ideas! Let Jesus decide what He wants to do with those great ideas and then ask Him to help you walk out the gifts of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness… (Galatians 5:22-23). Think of how less stressed you’ll be if you don’t task yourself with having to change all your loved ones over Christmas. This is very freeing news. The day may come when you have to gently confront a loved one, or deal with a perpetually difficult problem. But the holiday season typically isn’t the time to try to solve decades-old issues. Throw off the responsibility of having to fix everyone, pray, and pick up a piece of pumpkin pie. You’ll thank me for this one.

Focus on What’s Right This Year

Every holiday season has a cultural ideal that none of our holiday experiences can live up to. Our Thanksgivings and Christmases will never totally measure up to the standard we read about in books or see in the movies. Someone or something will always be missing. Disappointments will happen. But make a decision to focus on what is right this year. Be intentional to thank God for who is present with you, for who He is, and for all the blessings He’s given you. A thankful heart will be a salve for whatever disappointments linger. With a little planning ahead, a few people to help, some delicious recipes, your loved ones around you, and most importantly, the presence of Christ Himself, this holiday season is sure to be the most wonderful time of the year.

Check out Kelly’s New Cookbook, A Place at the Table.

The post Holiday Hosting Hacks That Free You to Serve appeared first on LifeWay Voices.

WHAT THE FAMILY DINNER TABLE GAVE ME

WHAT THE FAMILY DINNER TABLE GAVE ME

Filmmaker and journalist Miriam Weinstein once asked in The Surprising Power of Family Meals:

What if I told you that there was a magic bullet—something that would improve the quality of your daily life, your children’s chances of success in the world, your family’s health, our values as a society? Something that is inexpensive, simple to produce and within the reach of pretty much anyone?

You may have guessed her answer: the family dinner table.

Now some of you may be wondering why I’m writing an enthusiastic post about the importance of the family dinner table as someone who has never been married and doesn’t have children. For one thing, I grew up in a family where my mom made dinners for us most nights and I’m still reaping the benefits. But “family” also has a much wider significance than our mere flesh and blood relatives. Jesus shared many significant meals with those who were part of His spiritual family and those who might one day be. When we offer our tables to Jesus and those we’re serving, we create a place where relationships flourish and bodies are nourished. Plus, even without a family of my own, I sit down for dinner in some form or fashion most every night with friends or in-town family.

Our Table Gives Others a Place to Belong

Growing up I could always count on sitting down as a family for dinner. It was grounding to look forward to my mom’s meals and the time together as a stabilizing force in my day, even if my siblings and I fought and complained about the minced onions in the meatloaf. My mom once pointed out that kids are buffeted all day long by things and people; they feel insecure and rejected because their friend has gone after another friend, for example. Dinnertime is a sacred time to draw your kids in, look them in the eye and let them know they belong.

This truth translates into almost any setting, whether you’re single, married, a parent, aunt or uncle, child, or friend. I try to cook and have people at my table as often as I can for the health benefits, yes, but mostly for the deepening of relationships. As we grow older our problems and trials only become more difficult and complex, making the safe harbor of the dinner table an even more meaningful place of respite and restoration. What a delightful gift God has given us in being able to gather around good food and fortify one another in the process.

The Table Cultivates Conversation and Storytelling

It’s no secret we live in a society that’s recently undergone a vast change in its communication habits. What used to be conversations that happened in person or on the phone now take place over texting. Texting may be expedient but it doesn’t help build relationships. The beauty of sitting down with other people around a meal is that face-to-face conversation becomes necessary. The dinner table is a place where we get to learn how to ask good questions, brush up on our listening skills, and refine our storytelling abilities.

Dinnertime is a sacred time to draw your kids in, look them in the eye and let them know they belong.Click To Tweet

Growing up I loved hearing stories like how my parents met, or why they chose my name, or what it was like when my mom finally gave birth to a boy after having three girls. My parents often asked us to share about our day and encouraged us to ask questions of one another. Even when we went through phases where we didn’t feel like talking, or we siblings rolled our eyes at one another, or we were plain grumpy from the school day, we learned how to dialogue and enter into dialogue, even when we didn’t feel like it. I’m thankful for those life skills I’m still drawing on today.

The Dinner Table Gives Us a Reason to Cook and Serve

Cooking and serving others isn’t for the domestic or epicurean elite. We’re all capable of making a simple meal and having people around our table to share it with. Over the years I’ve grown in my cooking and entertaining abilities, which incidentally has been an empowering journey. The empowerment finds its roots in Genesis 1-2 where God gave man and woman dominion over the earth—to cultivate it and be nourished from it. When I prepare a meal I’m actively taking part in the gift God has given us to create, and feed others and ourselves. This feels good!

But cooking has also helped me become a better servant. Shopping for ingredients, chopping vegetables, setting a table, and inviting people into my home is a natural way to serve others. Whether a friend is going through a hard time or a family member has a reason to celebrate, putting on a meal is a tangible way to feed both body and soul.

I know we’re all short on time and have countless reasons why cooking and sitting down together isn’t realistic or feasible. But let me encourage you to start with a simple meal and a 30-minute time frame with your family. If you don’t have a family like myself, invite some friends over. You may then want to graduate to having some neighbors over who you’d like to get to know better. Who knows where the journey will lead? And what matters more than the destination is all the community, good food, and meaningful conversations you’ll have along the way. Ingredients that fast food and texting can never give you.

STUDY THE BIBLE FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS

STUDY THE BIBLE FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS

I grew up in a church environment where a “Plan of Salvation” was regularly presented. If you prayed the sinner’s prayer, it was generally understood that no matter what happened from there on out, you were saved and good to go. Bibles were sometimes passed out with...

DO YOU NEED A FRESH WORD?

DO YOU NEED A FRESH WORD?

For the past year and a half, I’ve been positively captivated by Matthew’s Gospel, specifically how he crafted the material about Jesus’ life in between Matthew 4:23 and 9:35. What Matthew states in 4:23 he repeats in 9:35: Jesus went all over Galilee “teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” Matthew tells us in both verses what he shows us in between—that Jesus’ ministry was made up of both healing and teaching. In Matthew 5-7 we get Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (the teachings of Jesus), and in chapters 8-9 we get an assortment of His miracles and healings.

MORE THAN MIRACLES

I’ve been moved and inspired by Matthew’s writings because he’s reminded me that Jesus’ teachings are as majestic as His miracles. So often I’ve prayed for Jesus to move spectacularly in my life and the lives of others, to do the marvelous, to work miracles. But do I see the power of His teaching, and incidentally my obedience to His Word, as important as His supernatural workings? For clarity, I think it is good and right for us to long and pray for Him to do great and mighty things that are absolutely outside of our abilities to accomplish. After all, Matthew goes out of his way in chapters 8 and 9 to highlight the extraordinary power and authority that Jesus has over sickness, disease, darkness, and sin. They’re astounding chapters that I’ve benefited from reflecting on and studying over the past several months. But we can’t forget that Jesus’ teachings are as powerful as His miracles. They both hold tremendous power to change our lives.

ASTONISHED AT HIS TEACHING

After Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records that “The crowds were astonished at his teaching” (Matthew 7:28). Jesus taught with a power and authority that the crowds had never before experienced. He spoke with a conviction the scribes and Pharisees couldn’t begin to rival. Jesus’ miracles were astounding to the crowds, but so were His words! Being reminded of the preeminence of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s gospel has inspired me to better learn from Christ, not only so He can change my life, but also so I can articulate His words to others. I’m thinking of the broken marriages around me, the fractured friendships, the jealousy that festers and steals our joy, the unforgiveness that robs us of moving forward. Wherever we find ourselves Jesus has hopeful and restorative words for us—we must listen and put them into practice.

To emphasize this truth, a bit later in Matthew’s gospel Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). I was freshly reminded of the significant place that learning from Jesus must have in our everyday lives. Our rest, restoration, and direction are dependent upon it. Sometimes we want the miracle when the miracle is that God spoke to us through His Son Jesus, and we simply need to listen and obey.

No doubt Jesus calls us to a radical obedience of loving those who have betrayed us, putting away our anger, making things right with our neighbor, forgiving as we’ve been forgiven, ceasing to worry, generously giving, and so on… We can’t miss that the grace Jesus gives us to obey His words is a miracle in itself.

Would you like an excerpt of Kelly’s Finding God Faithful Bible Study?

Click HERE to sign up and it will be delivered straight to your inbox.

This post was originally seen on lifewayvoices.com.

STUDY THE BIBLE FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS

STUDY THE BIBLE FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS

I grew up in a church environment where a “Plan of Salvation” was regularly presented. If you prayed the sinner’s prayer, it was generally understood that no matter what happened from there on out, you were saved and good to go. Bibles were sometimes passed out with...

THE SIMPLE SECRET TO BEARING THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

THE SIMPLE SECRET TO BEARING THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

“Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

As followers of Jesus, we’ve all had the feeling of grasping for one of these fruits of the Spirit while wondering if we had a single one to give. A reader once wrote to me, “I think I have plenty of each of the fruits when I don’t need them. It’s when I’m in a trying situation that I discover the fruit I need is the one I’m short of.” I’ve always loved this woman for her honesty because we can all relate to her sentiment. I have patience in droves when everything is going my way. I’m the kindest person I know when people are treating me well. I’ve got humility for days when no one is challenging my pride. You see where I’m headed here…fruits are not fruits until they’re tested.

Which leads us to another challenge: What do we do when we’re trying to heed Paul’s advice to wear these fruits, yet we have very little compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience growing in our hearts? Not to mention, when we study these fruits we realize that each has a powerful meaning, and Jesus embodied all of them (perhaps another post for another day). In other words, when Paul asks us to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, he’s asking something extraordinary of us. This way of living and being around others isn’t something we can simply will ourselves into. I tried to do this for the longest time until Paul’s opening line grabbed my attention: “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved…”

“When I truly believe I’m significant to my Savior, the fruits flow more freely from within me.”Click To Tweet

For most of my life, I’d inadvertently leaped straight over these doctrinal principles, not realizing that these truths are the very basis for being able to love one another with the fruits of Jesus. And oh the difference this has made.

TO BE CHOSEN

The Greek word for chosen is eklektos. It means picked out, chosen to obtain salvation through Christ. When we sit in the reality and mystery that God chose us before the foundations of the world to be His adopted son or daughter (Ephesians 1:4-5), our heart can’t help but soften and enlarge. When I truly believe I’m significant to my Savior, the fruits flow more freely from within me.

TO BE SET APART

In addition to being chosen, we’ve been made holy. The Greek word here is hagios, and it means to be set apart for God, to be exclusively His. The word can also mean sacred, unlike or otherness, different. When we’re grounded and settled in the reality that we’ve been set apart for special and sacred purposes within God’s Kingdom, the fruits come more naturally. When we’re secure in our calling, the posture of humility and the ability to cheer for others will flow more freely.

TO BE DEARLY LOVED

Some Bible versions say beloved instead of dearly loved. Both express the deep and beautiful meaning of the Greek word agapao, which is an active love. It means “to be fond of,” “dear,” “precious,” and “costly.” Growing up I sometimes felt more tolerated by God than I did precious to Him. As though I’d barely made the cut as His child. But Paul boldly declared that we are His beloved in Jesus Christ. We won’t be able to effectively embody the fruits of Jesus without first knowing how dearly He loves us.

Simply put, we often try to live the fruits of the Spirit in hopes of being chosen by God, loved by Him, and set apart by Him, when in reality it’s the other way around. Because we are chosen, made holy, and set apart, we are now able to bear the fruit as Jesus has taken up residence in our hearts. While sanctification plays a part in fruitful living, and sanctification takes time, the fruits of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience are always accessible to you, because Jesus is the embodiment of them all. And He loves you dearly.

Would you like an excerpt of Kelly’s Finding God Faithful Bible Study?

Click HERE to sign up and it will be delivered straight to your inbox.

 

 

This post originally appeared on lifewayvoices.com

STUDY THE BIBLE FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS

STUDY THE BIBLE FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS

I grew up in a church environment where a “Plan of Salvation” was regularly presented. If you prayed the sinner’s prayer, it was generally understood that no matter what happened from there on out, you were saved and good to go. Bibles were sometimes passed out with...

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