Written by Rebecca Marie-Jo Flores
The feeling of a fresh journal when you press your pen on to the first page. Ripping the tags off a new outfit you want to wear. Unpacking a freshly minted Apple product.
There’s something in the human spirit that naturally draws toward new things and fresh beginnings are no different. 2016 has been a doozy of a year for many (seriously, what was that about?) and the prospect of its end brings the hope of a new start.
Humans are pretty much engineered for fresh starts. Our brain is hardwired to respond to new stimuli as a part of our learning processes. This allows us to neurologically wire our understanding of life, ourselves and the natural order of things. It allows us to grow, to push forward into creating new stories, new inventions, to adapt. The unending opportunity for fresh beginnings and the new discoveries they bring are a part of what makes our humanity remarkable.
Even God seems to think new starts are pretty sweet. Here are 7 verses on what the Bible says about them to usher in your new beginning in 2017.
He's faithful in making the new reveal itself in your life.
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”
— Revelation 21:5
God gives his people new songs of praise.
“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”
— Psalm 40:3
He is the author of a renewed spirit.
“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”
— Ezekiel 11:19
He makes new ways out of the wilderness.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
— Isaiah 43:19
Living in the new is our responsibility and privilege.
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” — Ephesians 4:22-24
He's still creating things unseen.
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”
— Isaiah 65:17
And in Christ, he's given us a fresh start.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
— 2 Corinthians 5:17
You don't have to wait until the new year for a fresh start because his mercies are new every morning.
"Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."
— Lamentations 3:22-23
This article was originally published by RELEVANT Magazine on December 29, 2016.
Every challenge has a lesson in it.
Written by Kimberly Grunden
Who wants difficulty in their life?
I'm guessing I won't get many takers. I haven't met many who will volunteer for the things that might make them unhappy.
I knew this guy who prayed for conflict once. When I learned that guy was praying that God would allow some conflict between him and me, I grew pretty upset. Considering I went on to marry that boy, I’m sure that says something about me. The truth is my gut reaction to his prayer was anger because, at my core, I fear conflict will lead to sadness.
Happiness and ease is what I want most at any given time in my life.
I have experienced the kind of struggles that keep the tears flowing and peace distant.
After battling through several seasons of difficulty in my life, I have come to consider Paul’s words when he tells us to rejoice in all things and have asked, "Can trials really be a blessing?"
Can we really consider suffering to be an opportunity to build perseverance without faking it?
Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned from the many long days I’ve walked through these questions myself.
What we fear, God has already conquered
A few years into being married to my husband, our calendars were filled with baby shower invitations. We watched our friends grow their families and we dreamed of babies of our own.
And while they decorated nurseries, we saw infertility doctors.
While they took prenatal vitamins and learned to breastfeed, I recovered from four surgeries, took 20 nausea-inducing pills a day and threw out dozens of negative pregnancy tests.
And then finally—after five years of tears, medicines, hospitals, scheduled intimacy and two hearts holding on to thin threads of hope—we saw those two little lines. Just two lines that promised to end the longing of our hearts and the emptiness we felt in our home. We were pregnant!
And you can ask Christ to faithfully walk you through it, teaching you how to lose less of yourself within it.
We immediately told our family. They cried happy tears with us, screamed praises with us and rejoiced with us—thanking a loving God who had loving plans.
And then two days later, in a bathroom by ourselves, we lost our first child.
We cried bitter tears, screamed in anger and agony and rejoiced over this life gone too soon … yet still, we thanked a loving God who had loving plans.
And all the while, the sadness mounted.
As it became more difficult not to sink deeper into that emotion and my body refused to return to the surface, I reached out for help. I found a good doctor who I could discuss my physical symptoms with. I found a Christian counselor who would help me process my thoughts and emotions. And I dug into my faith for what it said about life and hope.
I learned about a man named Abraham and read, "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations" (Romans 4:18). I then asked for hope against all hope to believe in the author of life.
I learned about a man named David who had a heart like God's and knew that "the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18) And I asked the Lord to reveal himself as the healer of hearts.
I read about a man blessed with wisdom who wrote, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." (Proverbs 13:12) And like the faithful before me, I reminded God of what His Word said, and I asked for a heart that would be well.
And this time, this season of challenge and pain in my life felt different.
There were still days on the couch. And there were still inconvenient and plentiful tears. But there were also moments from another world that dazzled with joy and overwhelmed me with wholeness.
Depression, like grief, may never go away, but it can change.
It can sting less. It can control less. And you can ask Christ to faithfully walk you through it, teaching you how to lose less of yourself within it.
Although my reality may be marked with pit stops, I found a patient Savior who would cry big bitter tears with me in those valleys with me.
God's love is with us through our brokenness.
Not all seasons of challenge are caused by our own poor choices but many of my times in the valleys were a result of poor choices I had made. These moments of despair brought me back to Christ and led me to realize our loving Heavenly Father allows consequences to teach us about the depths of His love.
In those early years, young and headstrong, I chose all the things the world told me would make me happy. Self-destruction was evident. But the pursuit of the worldly led me to compromise that which was most dear to me. As a result, I sank into depression caused by feeling the devastation I had caused in the wake of my selfishness.
But in that space—where we had to depend on a loving God to care for us, where joy and sadness shared the same tiny breathing space—we were the safest we could ever be.
Friendships in tatters, my integrity lost, I was beaten up as much as I had beaten others, which made the sting of loss that much greater. My pain and sadness could not acquit me of my guilt.
What would God do with me now?
It wasn’t until recently that I began to understand the balance between consequences and love. I’m beginning to see what it looks like to come as a child to my Heavenly Father, heeding the wisdom of Solomon, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:11-12)
Despite all the odds, God made me a mother of four. And these wonderful blessings occasionally, shockingly, learn through trial and error. Similarly, God honors our free will and the free will of broken, imperfect humans we’re in relationship with. Sometimes, that means we’ll encounter consequences and difficulty that is just brought on by our fallen world.
God’s still with us in that.
Difficulty helps us trust God unlike any other time in our lives.
When I was in college, I was deeply moved by Ephesians 1. Starting in verse 7 it says:
“In Christ, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will."
And I thought about the part that says "with all wisdom" off and on for years.
It never made much sense to me that Jesus’ revelation of himself to us, knowing what it cost, would be considered wise. Sacrificial. Benevolent. Merciful, sure!
And then the Lord led us delicately and convincingly to our daughter. A little girl born in brokenness, in need of a loving home, whom we were eager to lavish with love. We immediately adored her. In fact, we could not imagine our lives without her. And nothing about her circumstances could deter us from fighting to be hers.
We would not be legally confirmed as her parents for 14 long months. And in those months, when our hearts were on the line, I realized God's view of wisdom is not like ours.
Many would caution us away from the risk of heartbreak and loss.
But in that space—where we had to depend on a loving God to care for us, where joy and sadness shared the same tiny breathing space—we were the safest we could ever be. Living in the risk that love invites suddenly seemed like the wisest thing.
Had we not chosen what was hard, had we not chosen the risk of venturing out into the unknown, we never would have been in a position to grow in our trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God.
Through the depths, we have a choice to learn how to trust the Lord in the moments we can’t protect ourselves. We learn that giving of yourself, even at great cost, is a worthy thing.
Through it all, I learned that our God is the author of the grace that equips us to press on. He weeps with us, rejoices with us and through the lens of my trials, I learned that it’s sometimes when we are crumpled and crying that we can see His face more clearly than ever.
This article was originally published by RELEVANT magazine on November 6, 2016.
Webster’s Dictionary defines gratitude as “a feeling of appreciation or thanks.” So if gratitude is feeling thanks, I suppose being grateful is expressing the thanks you feel.
Psychology Today states that gratitude has 7 scientifically proven benefits. Gratitude:
I think it all lies in EXPRESSING our gratitude. We can feel grateful, but if we don’t share what we feel, we won’t experience the true positive effects gratitude can afford us. In my own experience, I learned firsthand how gratitude can shape you. My father passed away a couple months ago, and I still struggle on a daily basis, but having friends and family around to love on me has lifted my spirits immeasurably. They have done simple tasks such as send me cards, encouraging text messages, bring me cookies, coffee, flowers, as well as help me with errands and menial tasks. What makes me grateful is not simply that they bought me something; rather, it’s that they made me feel special by helping carry my burden so I didn’t have to do it alone. Sometimes I would have an especially hard day but then would come home to a new card and flowers with just the words I needed to hear. I’m beyond grateful for my friendships. Letting people I love into this hard season of my life has led to healing. It has made my darkest days a little brighter. I wrote a couple thank you cards to express my gratitude, and actually writing the words was cathartic. It showed me that though I just had a horrible loss in my life, I have been blessed with wonderful friendships. Essentially not all is lost.
I often think of the verse, Philippians 1:3 “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Now when I remember my father, I’m not only sad, I’m also overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude.
Written by Alexa, a guest contributor
How expressing thanks opens us up to God's grace.
Written by Eric Demeter
It’s almost unbelievable that Jesus heals 10 lepers in Luke 17 simultaneously. Without fanfare, He simply commands the motley crew, “Go, show yourselves to the priest.” They exit stage-left and their skin is restored.
Jesus certainly missed an opportunity there to make a big, impressive scene. The Lord was never concerned with aggrandizement. What was unbelievable to Him, however, was the lack of thankfulness from the former lepers. Only one makes a U-turn to thank Him for His tremendous miracle.
As the Bible records, “When he saw he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan” (v. 15-16).
Jesus was shocked and asked, “Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
The unfortunate result was that 90 percent of the lepers missed the second, more important gift Jesus had planned for them. To the lone, grateful Samaritan He responded, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Even more important than physical health, this person’s spiritual life had been restored.
Scripture doesn’t tell us why the other lepers failed to praise God. Yet it’s clear from Jesus’s response that thankfulness was the only proper response to the miracle.
What About When We Suffer?
Gratitude flows easily when we’ve landed our dream job or just fell head-over-heels for a potential mate. And it’s easy to lift up some heavenly appreciation when we only receive a warning (instead of a ticket) for speeding. But what about when we don’t get our way? Or what about when tragedy strikes? Can we still be thankful then?
Indeed, life is not always a buffet of delicious circumstances where we get to pick and choose which items we put on our plate. Sometimes we get served a dish of lemons.
Fortunately, Christian gratitude doesn’t require us to “turn our lemons into lemonade”—a cliché that might be found in some cheesy self-help book. Certainly, painful events can shape us and build our character, but that doesn’t mean we have to simply smile through the pain and pretend everything’s fine.
A theology of gratitude that doesn’t allow for grief is at best misguided, if not downright egregious. Can you imagine a passerby saying to Jesus on Calvary “turn that frown upside-down”?
Ingesting life’s difficulties and tragic events can be overwhelming. Having a heart of gratitude, therefore, is not about looking at the bright side of things. And it’s not even acknowledging that things could be worse. Our thankfulness is never to be based on a set of circumstances. It’s based on a Person.
The answer to our pain and suffering isn’t new circumstances but God Himself. Jesus came, not only to suffer for us, but to suffer with us. Isaiah describes Christ as being: “Despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (53:3).
Jesus understands our pain and empathizes with us.
Practicing gratitude rests soundly in the assuredness that God will ultimately redeem every horrible situation in this life or the next. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
This promise allows us to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Yet it’s easy to miss God’s current blessings when pain overwhelms us, however. I’ve shaken my fist toward heaven more than once in agony. Even so, God will never take away His gifts. He’s that good. If I were in Jesus’ shoes, on the other hand, I’d probably replace the nine leper’s healings with nine nasty curses. Or, at bare minimum, I’d unheal them all. That’ll show ‘em to be thankful!
But it was love, not intimidation that drew one Samaritan to unwrap the gift of eternity. Saying “thank you” will always reveal unseen blessings. We can’t control the Giver, but we can always expect one gift: the power to hope.
Then, we’ll receive other common events like watching sunsets, eating dinner with a friend or sleeping in a comfortable bed as undeserved blessings. In practicing gratitude, every day is a treasure hunt.
This article was originally published by RELEVANT magazine on December 10, 2015.
This month our contributors are sharing their favorite Bible verses.
One day I was reading my Bible, and I came across a verse that sounded very familiar:
Be still, and know that I am God.
Not familiar like, oh, I have read this passage before, but familiar like I’ve heard it outside church and its community. And then I realized that I recognized it from one of my favorite songs, “Be Still” by The Fray. After that, the verse really stuck with me.
I like the verse because it gets to the point: to be still for a moment and know that God is with you. I found this verse at a point in my life when everything was chaotic and felt like it was all out of place. But with this verse, I felt like the world around me could stop for a second and I could just relax (which is all I wanted to do with my busy school schedule), knowing that God had my back.
When I started to write this blog, I researched the song because I was curious to see what the meaning of the song was. For most Christian music, the meaning of the song is typically clear, but since this was a secular song, I wanted to figure how to connect it. It was written as a lullaby for the lead vocalist’s younger brother when he couldn’t go to sleep at night. He said that when he was writing it, “it felt like [he] downloaded it from somewhere” and that the “lyrics and melody just fell into place” (Westword).
One of the many things I love about music is that it can be comprehended by different people and they can get two very different things from it. And I believe that all music, in some way, even secular, could be understood to be about God or Jesus. As for this song, I think it could be perceived as a song that God could sing to his children, like in the psalm.
Written by Sarah
This month our contributors are sharing their favorite Bible verses.
Two of my favorite verses from the Bible are John 1:1 and 1:14. From the New American Standard Bible translation regarding Jesus:
The Greek word here for “Word” is logos. According to HELPS Word-Studies, the definition of logos is primarily word or words. A deeper look at logos yields logic or reasoning. Jesus is the very logic and reasoning of God in the flesh.
I am often told, “God in the Old Testament seems different from God in the New Testament.” The book of John is generally where I start. You see, the Word (that is Jesus, the second person of the Trinity) has been there from the beginning and is in fact God.
All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
So from Genesis 1:1, Jesus was there.
Caveat: “For I, the Lord, do not change…” (Malachi 3:6). So according to God Himself, God in the days of the Old Testament is the same as in the days of the New Testament. Keep in mind the Old Testament accounts for 1,600 (conservative estimate) to 3,000 (more likely) years; the New Testament spans less than 100.
God was so disappointed with His people that He went 400 years without speaking between the days of Malachi and the angel Gabriel announcing the Word becoming flesh (Luke 1:26-38)! He was moved enough to become flesh and dwell among us so that His glory as of the “only begotten” would be seen (John 1:14).
(Many translations of John 1:14 and 3:16 refer to Jesus as God's "one and only" son, as opposed to "only begotten" son in other translations. As we are all adopted sons and daughters of God through our faith in Jesus, I feel it is more accurate to say that Jesus is the only begotten son.)
For me, anytime I see “God” or “The Lord” with speech in my Bible — Old Testament and New —, I envision Jesus speaking…I hear His voice. So unless specifically noted otherwise, to me the words of God are coming from the Word of God. Jesus has been speaking to us for quite some time…from the beginning to be exact. He has always been full of grace (Genesis 6:8) and His words full of truth (1 Kings 8:56; Hebrews 6:18).
Written by Harry
This post continues part 3 of our 3-part series based on Matthew 22:36-40:
I do my best to follow the example my parents set. One of my favorite things to do is go on mission trips. For UM ARMY, a group of our youth goes out into communities around Texas and helps make someone’s life better by building a ramp, painting a wall, and just listening to the wisdom these people have to share about life. We love these statewide neighbors through our actions, but even more so with the company that we share with them.
The other mission trip that I love participating in is focused more on spreading God’s word and love to those all across the United States. Celebration Singers Choir Tour has allowed me to love and talk with countless neighbors across the lower United States and to receive the love they have to share.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
loving God (part 1); loving your neighbor (part 2); and loving yourself (part 3).
"For the first time in my life, I saw people that looked like me living freely. I saw people in their joy. I saw people in their celebration of life. Over the next several years, [it] became the place where my best friends learned to be themselves. I’ve seen [it] go through renovation after renovation, growing to accommodate the crowds of people who came there every weekend to celebrate."
I think the above quote could have come from someone who attended a weekend service at a church, but I read this quote in an article recently, and it was talking about a very different place. Here's more about the place this person is talking about.
"While a lot of people turn to churches, LGBT communities are often forced to use nightclubs as our safe haven, and Pulse was mine."
Yes, that Pulse. The same night club that experienced the worst mass shooting in American history.
What happened in Orlando is incredibly sad on so many levels. It was an act of evil and terror. It sent shockwaves, again, through our country. Most importantly, it resulted in the tragic loss of 49 innocent lives. The impact of this event is strong and widespread.
It reminds me of the tragedy at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston a year ago when a gunman shot and killed 9 people in a church while they were in a prayer service. We were angered because it was a hate crime against the black community and because it was another mass shooting. We were also shocked because it infiltrated one of the most sacred spaces in our country - inside the church - a place where people are to feel safe, accepted, loved, and free to worship God.
The shooting in Orlando was a shooting in another sanctuary - one that so happens to also be a bar for the LGBT community of Orlando.
And so I'm saddened because someone went into the most sacred and accepting space for a population of people that doesn’t feel safe and accepted in our country. I can’t pretend to know this kind of pain. I cannot imagine if someone came into my church during Sunday morning worship and shot and killed 49 people. It would be utterly devastating. For these people in Orlando, they don’t get the privilege anymore of not imagining such an experience in their place of support.
I'm also saddened because this reminds me the church isn't a place where many in the LGBT community feel safe and accepted. We truly have much work to do here.
When I think of Jesus' command for us to love our neighbors, I think how important it is for the church to embrace people where they are and to help them feel loved and accepted because God has done this for me and for them.
As for me, Orlando reminds me once again that this extension of love and acceptance to all people is what I’m called to live out.
The 12:12 Project is sponsored by Katy First United Methodist Church.
Book Of Mark
Favorite Bible Verses
Fruits Of The Spirit
Gratitude & Generosity
Love In Action
Series On Matthew 22:36 40
Walking By Faith