Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Romans first celebrated the New Year on January 1 in 153 B.C. An ancient Roman festival honored the god Janus, from whom we get the name “January.” Janus was believed to have two faces – one looking forward and one looking backward. He was known to be the god of doorways and of new beginnings.

Romans made resolutions during this time that had a moral tone like being good to others. Some made promises to the gods in hopes that they would grant a favor in return. The Romans also believed that breaking a New Year’s resolution brought bad luck. The Romans celebrated by decorating their homes and exchanging gifts.

The early Christian church was opposed to celebrating the New Year because of the pagan history. In the 1600s Puritans didn’t even say the name of the month January, instead saying, “First Month.” They encouraged their young people to skip the celebrations and meditate on the year past and the year to come. They once again adopted the practice of making resolutions by promising to make better use of their talents and gifts, and to treat others with Christian charity.

Whether we follow the revelry of the Romans or the practices of the Puritans, New Years is an obvious time to reflect on the old days and look toward the new ones.

The Bible doesn’t tell us about New Year’s Resolutions, but it has plenty to say about “newness.” In fact, God likes new things.

“Behold, I make all things new.” Revelation 21:5
“Put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness...put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him…” Ephesians 4:24
“He is a new creation: old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Romans 6:4 reminds us that just like Christ rose from the grave to new life, we should “walk in newness of life.” As I look to 2009 I want to “walk in newness of life.” What a great New Year’s resolution! What a great new life purpose! What does this really mean though? There is a difference between “new” and “newness.” New things can quickly become old; however, the Greek word for “newness” in Romans 6:4 implies an ongoing quality. This verse declares that God’s purpose for us is to live an ongoing life of dependence on him, not one with fits and starts. Walking in newness of life means walking in step with God every day.

The activity of walking each day with Christ will need to become a habit. Experts say it takes about 21 days for a new activity to become a habit, and 6 months for it to become part of your personality. This is a reminder that habits take time to form, but as Colossians 3:23 & 24 state, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”

The true God of New Beginnings desires for all of us to resolve to walk in newness of life. It’s a resolution God expects us to keep!

For tools to help you assess your spiritual walk, you might check out the following resources.
Faith Assessment for Spiritual Health

Spiritual Growth Assessment Plan

To share your New Year’s resolutions or to comment on this article, click on the title “Newness” and then scroll to the bottom of the page to “Comments.”

Jesus' First 40 Days

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The number 40 holds special significance throughout the Bible. It rained 40 days and nights; Moses was on the mountain with God 40 days; the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness; Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness; Jesus was seen on earth 40 days after the crucifixion. These events always ended with renewed or extended rule. At Christmas time we talk a lot about the day of Jesus’ birth, but actually Luke 2: 1-38 tells of the first 40 days of Jesus’ life. We know well of the role Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds played, but we talk little of two other very significant, yet quiet, servants that God chose to be a part of the first 40 days of Christ’s life. It is awe inspiring to see how God chose ordinary people much like you and me to be a part of an event that would change the world. Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna were unlikely and little known participants in the greatest story ever told. They were all humble, obedient, and faithful to the call.

Joseph was an upright man but one of lowly means, a carpenter. When he learned that Mary was pregnant, maybe he thought of putting her away and avoiding public humiliation. Instead he listened to the angel, obeyed God, and took Mary as his wife.

Mary had a humble, quiet spirit. She must have felt frightened and alone when she learned that she would bear a son, the Savior of the world, yet Mary proclaimed that she was the Lord’s servant saying, “Whatever he says, I accept.” Mary and Joseph believed the angels that appeared to them, trusted God and were obedient to him. God chose this meek couple to be the parents of the King.

It’s remarkable that God chose shepherds to be the first to receive the announcement of Jesus’ birth. Shepherds were simple men of the field who could not even observe all the ceremonies of their religion because their time was spent tending the flock. Yet God invited them to visit the Christ child, and they were obedient and even hurried to see him. Isn’t it an awesome thought that God chose these unassuming shepherds who care for “sheep” to herald the coming of the “lamb” of God!

Many of our traditional readings of the Christmas story end at Luke 2:20 after the shepherds visit Jesus. However, there are two more witnesses that played significant roles in the birth story: Simeon and Anna. Simeon met Joseph and Mary at their temple presentation 40 days after Jesus’ birth. Known for his righteousness, Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before seeing the Christ. This devout Jew blessed the baby and then prophesied about his future.

Anna was another quiet witness in the early days of Jesus’ life. She was an elderly widow who spent her days and nights worshipping and praying in the temple. When she learned of Jesus’ presence in the temple, she began giving thanks and telling of the good news to all who were there. The first 40 days ended with Simeon’s blessing and Anna’s sharing. What an inspiration for us during this season! We too can share with others the blessing of the Christ child.

God chose to use humble, righteous, and devoted servants as the first witnesses to the birth of our Savior. They were unknown outside their own finite worlds. They were like many of the forgotten or invisible people in our own worlds. Yet Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna were all picked by God. They were faithful; they were obedient; and they were witnesses to the world. They accepted the call and each one chose Jesus.

God wants each of us to be witnesses to the world about the good news. All he asks is for us to be faithful and obedient servants. He leaves the choice to us. During this Christmas season, let’s choose to be like Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna. Let’s choose Jesus.

Blessing Tree

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Many years ago during a rough time in my life, I learned to focus on blessings and made the habit of praying this prayer each morning: “God help me to be open to the giving and receiving of your blessings today and help me to do all things pleasing in your sight.” So last Christmas morning the devotional I read really struck a chord with me. The story was about a couple whose business had failed leaving them with little money to spend at Christmas. Not wanting their spirits dampened, they decided to throw a party. When the guests arrived, they saw a simple lighted tree with rolled up pieces of paper tied with ribbons for decorations. Each paper described a blessing the couple had received during the year.

This Christmas I decided to have a Blessing Tree too. A small tree in my bedroom is decorated with a strand of lights and rolled paper tied with gold ribbons. Each slip contains a blessing I have received this year. It was interesting to note that my blessings are centered on the many wonderful relationships that I enjoy and the great experiences that I’ve had throughout the year. I hope to make the Blessing Tree a tradition in my home.

The words of one of my favorite hymns, “Make Me a Blessing,” encourage us to seek ways to bless others.

Make me a blessing,
Make me a blessing,
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing,
O Savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

To be blessed means to be favored by God. The first blessing in the Bible came when God sent Abraham from his homeland with the promise, “I will bless you… and you will be a blessing.” Genesis 12:2. He makes the same promise to us each day. He will bless us and we will be a blessing to others.

Let’s look for ways to be a blessing and in return be blessed.

Advent - Waiting

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Advent, meaning “coming” or “arrival,” is the beginning of the Christian year and starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, November 30th this year. The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King. It is marked by the spirit of longing, expectation, and preparation. As Christians, we look back, forward, and inward during this period.

We look back to the Israelites who longed for God to fulfill his promise of salvation. We imagine what it was like to wait upon the Lord. During this season let’s thank God for sending his son into the world. We rejoice in the first coming.

We look forward as we anticipate the second coming of Christ. God fulfilled his promise to send a Savior, yet we still live in a broken world. We await the time when God will renew his creation in the second coming.

We look inward as we examine our lives and prepare our hearts for Christ. Advent is a time to renew our minds to his “good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). This season is a reminder for us to long for God and to make him Lord of our lives.

The Advent season is one of waiting. The Christmas season is also a time of waiting – waiting in traffic, waiting in line, waiting for service, waiting at the airport, on and on. Life is full of waiting. We wait for a baby to arrive, for Mr. or Miss Right, for good news, and for the weather to change. And according to John Mayer’s lyrics, we’re “waiting on the world to change.” Waiting challenges me! Yet, it is through our waiting that our character is tested and shaped. Spiritual waiting is an even greater challenge. Waiting on God – whether we are waiting for answered prayer or the second coming – challenges our faith because we have absolutely no control over the timing.

This Advent as we wait to enjoy our favorite Christmas traditions, let’s also wait on the Lord to guide our thoughts, words, and actions. Let’s celebrate Christ’s presence in our lives by living a life of longing, expectation, and preparation for his return.

“Wait thou only upon God, for my expectation is from him.” Psalm 62:5

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