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...

UNMET LONGINGS, HOPE AND CHRISTMASTIME

UNMET LONGINGS, HOPE AND CHRISTMASTIME

Most of us enter Christmastime with anticipation and dread, hope and jadedness, excitement and I’m-already-over-this.

Perhaps for most of us, it’s a blend of all of these and more. You may not be able to tell where one emotion ends and the other begins, or even why. I’m personally entering this season with some real gratefulness along with some unmet longings, and the holidays accentuate both for me. I imagine the same is true for you. While the Hallmark movies, nostalgic Christmas carols, and commercials that emphasize more stuff and romance and flawless families call forth in us an ache for more, I’m especially grateful for the way Luke begins his account of the very first Christmas.

The curtain opens on Zechariah and Elizabeth, a married and childless couple, who are longing to be parents. In a Jewish culture where having a son to carry on your family name and legacy was paramount, life hadn’t worked out the way Zechariah and Elizabeth had hoped. And we simply can’t miss that up to this point in their lives God had been silent for 400 years. No prophets, angels, signs, wonders—not a peep from heaven. It was with dashed hopes in the thick of God’s silence that Zechariah and Elizabeth move toward the very first Christmas. 

HURTING BUT FAITHFUL

“Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.” Luke 1:6-7

 It’s Elizabeth and Zechariah’s faithful obedience that makes the tiny conjunction but appear so starkly here, “But they had no children”. You can be following the commands of Jesus this Christmas season and seeking Him the best way you know how, and still there can be aches and gaps and even silence. You’re in good company with these two. My simple encouragement is to keep doing what Jesus has told you to do from His Word. Don’t complicate the way forward by turning to consumerism, numbing the pain with busyness or throwing your hands up when God seems quiet. He sees you, He knows your longings and even when He’s silent He’s moving. He had never forgotten Zechariah or Elizabeth for a single moment.

He sees you, He knows your longings and even when He’s silent He’s moving.Click To Tweet

DOUBTFUL BUT PRAYERFUL

“But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John’.” Luke 1:13

When the angel Gabrielle shattered the 400 years of silence, he did so by letting Zechariah know that his prayer had been heard. The impossibility of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s situation didn’t stop them from praying about it. The angel is almost certainly referencing all those prayers for a son that they had been praying for decades. What prayers have you given up praying? What or who have you stopped praying for because it’s been too long or too quiet? Follow the lead of these two and keep praying because God hears your prayers. Like Zechariah, even when you don’t feel it, keep serving in your houses of worship this season, expectant to encounter the Lord. He may show up in a way you least expect.

GLOBAL BUT PERSONAL

“The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people.” Luke 1:25

I have a lot of favorite Bible verses but this has to be one of my favorites of the favorites (plus, it has the word favor in it, so this works out splendidly.) The child that Elizabeth would give birth to, John the Baptist, was no doubt a gift to the world. He was appointed the forerunner of Christ who would prepare the people for the coming Savior. But notice what Elizabeth proclaims: He’s done this for me. Yes, John the Baptist would help prepare the world for the Messiah, but God is very good at doing global things while also intersecting the lives of individuals and blessing them along the way.

This Christmas while we should certainly turn our eyes to Christ and rejoice in what He has done for the world; don’t miss what He’s done for you.

This Christmas while we should certainly turn our eyes to Christ and rejoice in what He has done for the world; don’t miss what He’s done for you.Click To Tweet After years of longing, God removed Elizabeth’s disgrace and gave her a son who would be a joy and delight to his parents. He invited these two faithful yet flawed humans (Zechariah wasn’t able to speak for 9 months because of his unbelief at Gabriel’s promise) into His story and blessed them with the longing of their hearts. Most importantly, they were blessed by encountering their Savior (Lk 1:43).

No matter the ache, the years, the quietness, the Savior has come and I know He wants you to encounter Him this season. In the midst of our culture’s holiday ideals, hold fast to Him, choose obedience, commit to serving and worshiping with other believers, and who knows what the Lord might just do this Christmas for you. Encountering Him will be greater than any gift we can hope for.

 

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Jesus, Our Brother

Jesus, Our Brother

Every week leading up to Easter, I’m sending out devotions on the Person of Jesus. If you’d like to receive the rest of these devotions in your inbox, you can sign up here.

Key Verses for Lent

Hebrews 2:10-18 “For in bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was entirely appropriate that God—for whom and through whom all things exist—should make the source of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying: I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters; I will sing hymns to you in the congregation. Again, I will trust in him. And again, Here I am with the children God gave me. Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through his death he might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. For it is clear that he does not reach out to help angels, but to help Abraham’s offspring. Therefore, he had to be like his brothers and sisters in every way, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in matters pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For since he himself has suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.”

Jesus, Our Brother

As we enter the third week of Lent and turn our attention specifically to the Person of Jesus, I want to dwell on Christ as our Brother. Isn’t that an interesting term for Him? We often think of Jesus as Savior, Redeemer, Ruler, or King, but when’s the last time we really thought about Him as our Brother? The more I reflect on Hebrews chapter 2, the more I realize how meaningful this is—not just from a theological standpoint, but also from a deeply personal one. The fact that Jesus is our Brother brings Him right to our doorstep, meets us right where we’re at, in the middle of our heartache and joy.

Jesus as Brother comes right to our doorstep, meets us where we're at, in our heartache & joy.Click To Tweet

I have a brother. The last few weeks I’ve helped my brother coach my nephew’s 7 year-old basketball practice. If you’ve never had the distinct privilege of wrangling second grade boys who are attempting to play basketball while employing limbs they can’t yet control, I highly recommend it. It’s the most exhausting 60 minutes you’ll ever spend, meaning you’ll have a fresh appreciation for all other activities in your day (like scrubbing the mildew from your shower tiles). You only do this kind of stuff for a brother you love. For a brother who loves you.

Jesus is the Brother Who Gives Us Our Father

My brother is my brother because we share the same parents. Similarly, the author of Hebrews explains that Jesus is our Brother because we share the same Father, who is God. But how can this be possible? We weren’t born having God as our Father. Only Jesus can call God “Father.”

The author continues to explain. Jesus is the only one who can sanctify us (cleanse us from our sin), and once we’re sanctified by Jesus we then have the same Father He has. If we have the same Father as Jesus, that makes Jesus our Brother. From a human perspective, children are related to one another because of the parents they share. From a spiritual perspective, God is our Father because of the Brother we share—Jesus. We have access to the Father because of our Brother, who is Christ.

The term brother here can also mean someone who has deep affection for us, someone who’s a friend—not just someone who loves us because they have to, because we’re related.

Jesus is Not Ashamed to Call Us His Brothers and Sisters

Shame is nothing new, but in recent years it’s stolen the spotlight. Shame is everywhere you turn. We carry around shame because we don’t feel like we measure up, because of past abuse, wounding words spoken over us, rejection from someone we loved or looked up to. We also bear it as a result of our own doing—the actions we’ve taken, or didn’t take, that have caused us shame are more than we can bear.

The people during the time of Hebrews also understood shame. Their society put a premium on honor and status for oneself and one’s family. Shame was to be avoided at all costs. The people to whom Hebrews was addressed in particular were being persecuted and shamed in their society. (We find this out later in Hebrews.) Even though they were being mocked, Jesus wasn’t ashamed of them. On the contrary, He testified about God to them and proclaimed praise to the Lord in the congregation with His brothers and sisters.

Can you see the solidarity this shows between Jesus and us? This is intimate, family unity here. Though you may have suffered or even caused shame, He’s not ashamed of you. He identifies with you before God and in the community of the saints! You have access to the Father because you’re with Him, your Brother, who loves you and gave His life for you.

Though you may have suffered or even caused shame, He’s not ashamed of you.Click To Tweet

Jesus is the Brother Who Shares in Our Suffering

The Christian faith is truly unique in that God descended to us in the form of human flesh and blood. And not only did He descend, but He also suffered on our behalf. He tasted death for us, His brothers and sisters. He suffered beyond the farthest stretches of our imaginations and the farthest reaches of our own suffering.

What I find particularly meaningful is that His suffering has made Him merciful toward us. He sympathizes with our weakness and heartache. He’s lived the gamut of the human experience, or as the great hymn Crown Him With Many Crowns puts it, “Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast.” When He suffered He was also temped, so He’s able to help those in the throes of temptation. He’s able to help you exactly where you are.

As we continue to set our sights on Easter and the different aspects of Jesus and His character, be encouraged today. You have a Savior. You have a Redeemer, Ruler, and King. But did you know that you also have a Brother?

You have a Redeemer, Ruler, and King. But did you know that you also have a Brother?Click To Tweet

Questions for Reflection or Discussion

1. What means the most to you about having Jesus as your Brother?

2. What specifically did you learn about Jesus through this passage that you never knew or thought of before?

3. How does Jesus as Your Brother cause you to think about Him in a different light? In other words, Brother is different—but not mutually exclusive—from Redeemer, Savior, King, or Ruler.

4. Why do you think it is important that Jesus is a Brother who suffered with and for us?

 5. Explain how the reality that Jesus is not ashamed of you is healing, encouraging, and empowering. How can this truth change the way you live?

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