Saturday, December 31, 2011

New & Improved

On the eve of the last day of 2011, I can't help but reflect on this past year with wonder and amazement. 

One whole year of new is gone. 

For me, 2011 was filled with...

Stuff I'd never done before. 
Journeys I'd never taken before 
Friendships I'd never made before. 
Experiences I'd never had before. 
Feelings I'd never felt before. 
Lessons I'd never learned before. 
Joys I'd never known before.

But with another whole year of new on the horizon, I gaze ahead, holding my breath, anticipating the wonder and amazement to come. 

What new things lurk around the corner?  What new experiences await?  Only time will tell. 

In light of the new year, I am posting something I journaled last January, which I know is still pertinent today.  Maybe you can relate as well...

New and Improved

Sometime last year our family acquired a Wii game system from a family friend.  Because we had heard so much about it, we were eager to try this new thing out for ourselves.  My brother and sister-in-law, who also had one, were generous enough to let us borrow their Wii fit balance board and game to use with it.  Our family loved it.  We were able to play a variety of new things now, thanks to the addition to the gaming system. 

After Christmas, we returned my brother’s Wii fit items to him.  To be honest, we were a little sad.  We had gotten accustomed to their game and balance board.  My husband suggested we purchase our own Wii fit game and board.  Luckily, we found one at a local store, just like the previous one we had been using.  But their was one difference.  The words, "Wii Fit Plus" were written across the front of the box.

When we opened the package up at home, we realized we had in fact, purchased the new and improved version.  Not only did it have all the same games we had learned to play, but it also had so many more new, unexplored ones.  We were elated!  Suddenly, we were able to forget the former system and reap the benefits of the new one.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 
See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:18-19

Similarities are found all around us as well.  I recall when the iPhone craze hit.  Countless people desired to purchase the newest phone out on the market.  Not too long after that, a new and improved version of the iPhone debuted.  People abandoned their previous phone for the new one.  It is the same with computers, cars, electronics and toys.  People are always seeking out the next new thing.

With the New Year quickly approaching, I cannot help but join the enthusiasm of others as we anticipate the promise and potential of what's ahead.  I look forward to many new experiences, new friendships, new joys, new accomplishments, and new revelations. 

On the flip side, I also understand that there will indefinitely be some new stresses, new heartaches, new struggles and even new trials.  

But I rejoice that I worship a God who revels in new things, too. 

Yes, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Yes, He is constant.  Yes, He stays the same. 

But, He always longs to transform the old into something new.  Actually, it is one of the things He does best.

2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 

God’s heart is to change each of His creations into something new and improved, something different than before, something fresh and original. 

He longs to give us a new life, a new name, a new heart and spirit, a new song in our mouths, and a new identity. 
He does this through a new covenant, a new and living way, through His death and our new birth. 
Then He gives us a new commandment to love one another as He has loved us. 
Each morning He pours out His new mercies on us. 
And one day, He will reign with all of us in a new heaven and on a new earth. 

What an incredible, new perspective on all the old ways of thinking and living. 

So, here’s to a very Happy New Year!

God, thank You that You are always doing a new thing.  Though You want us to remember and call to mind all of Your amazing past gestures in our lives, You do not want us to dwell there.  You want us to look forward and see the new thing You are doing now. 

I ask for a new work in my life today.  Help me not to be content to settle for the old revelations, old works, and even old victories in my life, because it’s what’s most familiar to me.  I look forward to all things being made new and improved by You.

He who was seated on the throne said,
“I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:5

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Good Gifts

"If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" Matthew 7:11

It's Christmas morning and I am the only one awake in my house, waking up nearly two hours before my alarm clock was set to go off.  Apparently, the excitement is just too much for me!  :)

Christmas.  The most wonderful day of the year!  It's the time when all the planning, all the preparation and all the presents align to make some very magical memories.

I absolutely cannot wait to see the girls' faces when they open their gifts in a little while.  Why?  Because this year we got them some really good gifts. 

Both girls will be getting their very own American Girl Doll.  Not just any ol' 18 inch doll.   Nope.  We went big and got them the real deal.

The gifts are a big sacrifice on our part.  They were costly.  They were extravagant.

So why such gifts this Christmas? 

Because we love our daughters.  Period. 

No, we do not spoil them.  No, we will not always be able to make this kind of purchase.  But...

This year they made no wish lists for material things. 
This year our family tried to focus on giving to others instead of receiving only for ourselves. 
This year we tried to revel in the joy and contentment of our eternal treasure in Christ versus the temporary trinkets of this world.

And as I wait for them to wake up, I can't help but wonder.  Will they know how costly their gifts are?  Will they understand the sacrifice we made?  Will their hearts be truly grateful for their gifts?

Hopefully, their new dolls will become their best friends.  Hopefully, they will honor and respect the extravagant gift they've been given.  Hopefully, they will express great joy and gratitude when they receive them.  Hopefully, they will treasure the good gifts they've been given. 

And as these thoughts dance around in my mind this morning, I think of my Heavenly Father.  I can't help but wonder if He thinks similar thoughts of us and His good and perfect gift to us. 

Perhaps He hopes we will pause this morning. 

Take a moment to notice.  To remember His Son.  To give thanks for the costly, extravagant gift He planned in advance to give us thousands of years ago.  

Maybe He hopes to see great joy and great contentment expressed in our hearts as we awake to Christmas.  

After all, He's given us the greatest gift we could ever receive, His one and only Son.  Jesus. 

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
2 Corinthians 9:15

Christmas 2011
Shortly after receiving their gifts!  Big smiles!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Coming Soon

For the last four weeks, our family has been participating in something we've never done before.  We've been observing Advent. 

Neither my husband, nor I, grew up celebrating Advent.  Neither of us were familiar with its traditions or meaning.  Though I'd read of other families who observed Advent and had even seen an Advent candle wreath in a church, I had no prior knowledge of what the season truly meant. 

This year I had to know.  I had to know its meanings and why so many observed it.  What I discovered and what I have experienced has changed me.  Forever. 

The word, "Advent" means "coming".  During the season of Advent, which typically begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve, we are reminded of our desperate need for a Savior. 

As we are celebrating His first "coming", as a baby in Bethlehem, we are also looking forward to His second "coming", as our Righteous King from heaven. 

Advent, as I am learning, is also all about waiting.  And nobody likes to wait.  We all want what we want when we want it.  Now.  Or maybe even yesterday.

Advent reminds us of how long the ancient Jews had to wait for their promised Messiah.  How they yearned for Someone to deliver them.  To heal them.  To redeem them.  To make all things new.

As they waited, they endured.  They endured even though they couldn't always see what God was doing.  They trusted.  They hoped.  They believed, all while they waited. 

It's the same thing for us today. 

We wait.  We endure.  We look ahead, and above, for the promise of Christ's return.  We wait with great expectation.  We hope for what we cannot see.  And in the waiting we are changed.  We become even more grateful for all gifts when they are finally received.

Focusing on the hope of Christ's coming is helping our family to slow down and remember how great His gift truly is. 

Each night as we come together to read the Advent devotions from Ann Voskamp's "Jesse Tree Journey", we are taken back through the holy scriptures.  We journey through Old Testament accounts and find significant meaning and prophetic connections to the One who came two thousand years ago. 

And because He came, we can come. 

We can come boldly and freely to His throne of grace.  (Heb. 4:16)
We can come to Him and never go hungry.  (John 6:35)
We can come, thirsty, and take the free gift of water of life.  (Rev. 22:17)
We can come take our inheritance, the kingdom which was promised for us since the creation of the world.  (Matt. 25:34)
We can come out of our boat as Peter did and walk on water.  (Matt. 14:28-29)
We can come and follow Him, becoming fishers of men.  (Mark 1:17)
We can come to Him when we are weary and burdened down with life.  (Matt. 11:28)
And our little children can come, too, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as them.
(Matt. 19:14)

He extends His invitation to us to come.  To come worship Him.  To come bow down Him.  To adore Him, Emmanuel, this Christmas.

If He never came, then we could not come.

Thank You, Jesus, for coming.  Thank You for Advent.  Thank You for the chance to focus on You.  Thank You for the chance to celebrate Christmas with more meaning and more depth.  I needed it.

"He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' 
Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus." (Rev. 22:20)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Light It Up

The blinking, strobe-like lights nearly blinded us inside our dark car. 

Every time they kicked their little feet together, a myriad of colorful lights illuminated the blackness surrounding us.  The girls were amazed and easily entertained with their new shoes.  Especially at night.   

The first time they tried them on, though, was in the middle of the afternoon.  Daylight covered the room, making it difficult to see their new shoes do what they were promised to do.  Our advice to them:  Go find some darkness and light it up. 

They raced to the bathroom.  Lights off.  Door closed.  Pitch black.  Each time they stomped their feet, jumped up and down, or took a step, the room lit up.  The path was made clear in front of them and they could see where they were going.

Four years ago to the date, I found myself in a very dark place. 

Stumbling around, trying to find my way, blinded by the eclipse that surrounded my heart, spirit and mind.

For whatever reason, this mammoth black cloud had descended upon me and I could not see.

Could not feel.  Could not breathe.  As much as I tried, I could not, for the life of me, catch even a shimmer of light because of the cloud's looming presence.

As the days passed, I became more and more desperate for light to return to my little world.

I tried to pray.  I tried to read.  I felt alone.  I felt numb. 

Then one day, I decided to write out every scripture I could find pertaining to light.  When I finally finished, a long list of truths stared back at me.  A multitude of promises from the Light of the world Himself.  He, who merely spoke the words, "Let there be light" and radiance ruptured the darkness, inviting Creation to come forth. 

As I sat on the sofa in the stillness of a cold, December morning, I gazed at the white lights covering our Christmas tree and prayed. 

I asked the Lord to send forth His light and His truth to guide me (Ps.43:3).
I asked that the darkness would pass and the true Light would shine (1 John 2:8).
Above all, I asked Him to turn my darkness into light (Ps. 18:28).

Piercing light shattered the darkness above me, ripping off the cloak of heaviness and replacing it with His garment of light (Ps. 104:2). 

Out of the brightness of His presence, the clouds advanced (Ps. 18:12) and I could see.  Clearly.  The burden lifted and my vision was restored.

This is the season of lights.   Lots of lights.  Everywhere. They cover all three of our Christmas trees. They are intertwined around the greenery draped across my fireplace mantle. They encircle the columns on my porch outside.   Every time we plug them in, the darkness is pierced by the warmth of the lights.

We, who like Saul on the road to Damascus, have been blinded by the bright love of Christ are witnesses to the true Light who came into the world as a baby thousands of years ago.  As we follow Him, He promises we will never walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 8:12).

There may be many this Christmas season who are not basking in the light of the Son.  For whatever reason, self-inflicted or otherwise, they have found themselves groping around in the darkness, cold and alone.  They are desperate to find the light at the end of the tunnel, promising the hope of something better ahead. 

They need to see and know, so they can put their trust in the Light. 

But they may only be able to do so when we go find some darkness and light it up.

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