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.

 

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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.

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?

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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?

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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...

6 ESSENTIALS FOR SPIRITUAL AND EMOTIONAL HEALTH

6 ESSENTIALS FOR SPIRITUAL AND EMOTIONAL HEALTH

Two years ago I began to hit a wall.

I was run down and burned out. It wasn’t that I didn’t love the Lord or people anymore. It wasn’t that I’d lost my passion for God’s Word, teaching the Bible, writing, or taking mission trips to the Amazon and Moldova with Justice & Mercy International.

I simply had no margin. I was so busy that there was little room for anything fresh to come in. Little was growing, and I felt as though all I was giving others were crusty leftovers.

I met with my pastor and he encouraged me to evaluate the way I was using my time. He challenged me to guard the most important tasks the Lord has given me to do and say no to what wasn’t part of that agenda. Since that meeting, I’ve recognized six things that have significantly supported my spiritual and emotional health. I’ve put them in the form of questions so you can think personally and critically about how well you’re covered in each area.

1. WHO IS TEACHING YOU?

While it sounds simple, I realized that part of my problem was that I’d stopped learning. Teachers often forget to take time to be taught. Even if you don’t consider yourself a teacher, we all need to be fed and led spiritually. In addition to being involved in a local church that feeds your soul, commit to a Bible study, take an online seminary course, listen to podcasts by teachers who point out truths from God’s Word. Continuing to learn and grow is vital to our personal refreshment.

2. WHO DO YOU PRAY WITH?

In busy seasons we tend to depend on our resources and strength to make it through, meanwhile prayer is the first thing to go. Several years ago I decided I wanted to see God do immeasurably more than I could ever do on my own. I wanted to be an intercessor for others who are hurting, sick or stuck. And because I love what I do, I also wanted to make sure I have a stronger relationship with Jesus than I have with my ministry. Prayer has been the game-changer for me in these areas. Whether it’s praying alone in the mornings or praying with a group, this is where the supernatural happens.

Whether it’s praying alone in the mornings or praying with a group, this is where the supernatural happens.Click To Tweet So make a commitment to be renewed and encouraged in prayer, and don’t allow it to be edged out by busyness.

3. WHO REFRESHES YOU?

Who builds you up? Who listens intently to you? Who makes you laugh? Who encourages you especially as it relates to your relationship with Christ?

The Apostle Paul described his friends Onesiphorus and Philemon as people who refreshed him (2 Timothy 1:16, Philemon 1:20). I love that word refreshed. It can mean “to cool and refresh by a breath.”¹ Soon I’ll be flying to New Jersey to visit friends who have been missionaries in Italy for nearly 40 years. They’re older in the faith than I am, have a fantastic sense of humor, inspire me in my relationship with Christ, and they cook me authentic Italian meals. Being in their presence fills me up and renews me so I have more to give when I return. How can you proactively schedule time to be with those who refresh you?

4. WHO CAN YOU BE COMPLETELY TRANSPARENT WITH?

We all have to have people in our lives with whom we can share our struggles, doubts, fears, even our sins (James 5:16). That last one might seem a little over-the-top, but my friends and I often confess our bad attitudes, ask one another for forgiveness, or simply talk about the struggles we’re having. One of the enemy’s oldest tricks is leading us to believe that we can’t tell anyone what’s really going on inside us. 

One of the enemy’s oldest tricks is leading us to believe that we can’t tell anyone what’s really going on inside us. Click To TweetJesus, on the other hand, desires that we live in the light. I’m so thankful that part of His plan to accomplish this is through safe and open relationships where we can be truly known with the best and worst parts of ourselves out in the open. While you may have lots of relationships, make sure you have a trusted few with whom you can be completely honest and transparent.

5. WHAT ACTIVITIES REFRESH YOU?

It’s taken me many years to discover that I’m a much better friend, family member, and person in ministry when I’ve taken time for rejuvenation. When I race from commitment to commitment without any margin I’m no good to anyone. For me, hobbies like gardening, cooking and long walks are restorative to my soul. I don’t have to think too hard in these spaces and ironically it’s in the midst of these activities that some of my best thoughts come to me. I’ve learned to be intentional about guarding time for activities that feed my body, mind and spirit. Ask yourself what you love to do and make some time for it.

6. WHAT DOES SOLITUDE LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

One of the worst assaults on our spiritual and emotional health is our addiction and connection to television, the Internet, and social media. Without being intentional it’s nearly impossible to disconnect from our phones and computers, even for brief periods. Times of solitude are so foreign that they can make us feel uncomfortable. We can even grow anxious with that much “peace”. But solitude is vital for quieting our souls and the voices around us so we can hear from God. I emerge from periods of solitude with calm and clarity that are simply impossible to find in the midst of busyness.


¹ Schweizer, E., Bertram, G., Dihle, A., Tröger, K.-W., Lohse, E., & Jacob, E. (1964–). ψυχή, ψυχικός, ἀνάψυξις, ἀναψύχω, δίψυχος, ὀλιγόψυχος. G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological dictinary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 9, p. 663). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans

This post originally appeared at lifewayvoices.com

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Jesus, Our Intercessor

Jesus, Our Intercessor

Hebrews 7:25 “Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them.”

 Hebrews 9:24 “For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands (only a model of the true one) but into heaven itself, so that he might now appear in the presence of God for us.”

This is the 28th day of Lent, and we have 19 more days until Easter. I’m pointing this out because I want us to press in! If you had high hopes for this Lenten season but have fallen off your fasting wagon, or you haven’t prayed as much as you’d hoped, or you’ve just gotten busy and distracted, you can pick back up right now. The goal isn’t to get to Easter and realize how amazing and disciplined you are. The goal is to grow more deeply in love with Jesus. You can get back at it today.

As we continue our focus on the Person of Jesus, I want us to reflect on Him as our intercessor. The word can mean to mediate between two parties, particularly the act of praying to God on behalf of another person. I love this quote about Christ as our intercessor, “the believer may know that he is not left in helpless isolation. There is an ἐντυγχάνειν [Intercessor] for him which reaches up to the very top.”[1]

Right now, you may need an intercessor to go between you and your parents, your boss, your spouse, your professor, the judge, the president. But you also need an intercessor all the way to the very top—all the way to God. There’s simply no intercessor more important in heaven or on earth than the One who can stand on your behalf before God. The author of Hebrews tells us that His name is Jesus.

There’s simply no intercessor more important than the One who can stand on your behalf before God.Click To Tweet

From a purely practical standpoint, I’ve been in a challenging season. I’ve felt alone and lacked the help I need in certain areas. This is not a woe-is-me cry for help. (Although I’m not above crying for help, and my friends are sick of hearing about it.) This is just to say that these past few months made me more sensitive to the reality of Jesus as Intercessor. My own frailty made me more appreciative that not only does He care about my day-to-day reality, but He stands before God on my behalf.

At times, the faintest thought of my past sin made me aware of how impossible it would be for me to stand before God on my own merit. Our guilt in particular exposes how desperately we need an Intercessor between us and God the Father. As we study Christ in the book of Hebrews, we see that one of the reasons that Jesus took our sin on Himself, died on the cross, rose from the grave, forgave us, and now stands before God is so He can be just this. Our Intercessor. So He can say to God, She’s with me. She’s covered. She’s Ours.

Who could possibly be a more worthy or powerful or just or righteous or good Intercessor before God on your behalf than Jesus? Reflect on these two passages in Hebrews and spend some time in prayer thanking Jesus, our Intercessor.

Questions for Reflection or Discussion

  1. Who has been a human intercessor for you in your life? What did he or she do for you, and what did it mean to you?
  2. As you think about Christ appearing in the presence of God on your behalf, what means the most to you about this reality? Why?
  3. God the Father knew that we needed a Savior, so He sent His Son Jesus to die for us. As you appreciate Jesus as your Intercessor before God, specifically thank God the Father for sacrificing His Son so that Jesus could be our Intercessor. Praise and thank both God and Jesus.
  4. Without overly focusing on past sin, for what season of life are you most grateful to know you’ve been forgiven and have an Intercessor in Jesus?
  5. What means the most to you about Hebrews 7:25 and 9:24 and why?

[1] Bauernfeind, O. (1964–). τυγχάνω, ἐντυγχάνω, ὑπερεντυγχάνω, ἕντευξις. G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 8, p. 243). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

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