Monday, January 3, 2011

One (New) thing in this new year

Hi all.  It has been a while.  Sorry about that, but as we are in the new year, I am back to a regular schedule here.  Today's offering is yesterdays message, shared at Good Shepherd.
It is a message of change and Sanctified Memory and Holy Imagination (the credit for those two terms goes to Mark Batterson of National Community Church in Washington, D.C.)
Here is to a closer walk with our God in this new year . . .

We are just barely into 2011 and with the ending of one year and the beginning of another it is a natural time for reflection.  Looking back at what has happened in the year gone bye and looking forward to what might lie ahead in the year to come
One of the really interesting things about being connected to so many people by facebook and other social networking sites is the kind of thing that I saw happening the last two days
People , one after another, sharing what they were thankful for or what they most remembered from the last year.  Memories of an eventful year
There were also lots of people – some of the same ones, in fact – that shared resolutions about what they hoped to change in the coming year or their most basic hopes and wishes for the year ahead. 
It was interesting to get that kind of insight from so many people.
I was thinking about all of that as I was preparing what I was going to share with all of you this morning. 
So I thought it was only appropriate to look at what the Bible has to say about new beginnings, looking forward and even about looking back and remembering what has already happened.
First, from Isaiah 43:
Isaiah 43:16, 18, 19  This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters. "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 wilderness and streams in the wasteland."
Definitely a great verse as we think about the power God has to make things new, even our very lives – no matter how messed up they might be. 
But what I found interesting and surprising – because I think I have always focused simply on the ‘I am doing a new thing’ part of the passage. 
But in those verses, right along with the pronouncement that God is doing a new thing, is a call for us to ‘forget the former things and not to dwell on the past’
Again, maybe the point is simply to focus on the New Thing that God is doing, but then the idea pops up again.  This time from the New Testament, Philippians 3:13:
"I'm focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past & looking forward to what lies ahead..."- Phil 3:13
And there are other passages like this as well.  So it seems that there is a real call to forget about our pasts, or at the very least not to dwell on our past and instead look to what God is currently doing in our lives and what God has in store for us.
At the same time, there are many, many passages from both the Old and New Testaments that point to the past and thank God for what has happened or what God has done. 
The Psalms in particular are literally full of mentions of God’s work and faithfulness in the past.
So it can’t be as simple as: we aren’t supposed to think about the past. 

The point isn’t really to forget our past, but to let it go and not carry it with us.  When we do look back at our lives, it needs to be with the ‘sanctified memory’ that fills us with gratitude for where we have been and how God had brought us through both good times and bad.  Difficult situations and joyous ones. 
When we look back at our past, the life we have lived, with the proper hindsight – through God’s eyes.  We are often able to see God’s work, mission and presence where we missed it before.
When we look back at our lives with a ‘sanctified memory’ we are able to see God’s faithfulness in things big and things small, we are able to recognize God’s faithfulness to us in everything.
When we are able to look at our past this way it fuels the sanctified imagination that is the vision that God has for our lives and fills us with the faith to move forward trusting in God – who has been present and faithful with us – to continue to be present and faithful to us.
The sanctified imagination we have fuels our faith.  Our sanctified imaginations, supported by our sanctified memories, reminding us of God’s presence and work in and through our lives and our histories is what gives us hope and confidence in things not seen.
So then, it is critical for us to look back, but in the proper way.  We must look at our lives and our past in ways that cultivate that sanctified memory.  Gratitude is an incredibly powerful tool for looking at our lives and seeing God’s hand at work. 
As you look back at this past year, what are you grateful for?  What are the moments that you can recall where the Lord revealed himself to you?  What where the ‘God moments’ in the year where you felt God’s presence or saw God’s love or knew God’s will? 
The more we look back at our past with gratitude, the more we are able to look forward in faith.  The more we can remember and focus on that we are grateful for, the clearer we can be about what we are hoping for in faith. Our memories, sanctified by our gratitude to God provide us with a holy confidence about the future God is calling us to and that we are hoping for. 
So let us look back in gratitude, so that we may look forward in hope and faith.
One of the perspectives that changes, I think, when we look at the past with a disposition of gratitude is just what a difference a little or small change can make.
I believe that if we look back at our lives we will see the difference that can be made by one decision and the power that enters into our lives when we begin to give parts of our lives over to God – even if we start small.
While we often look forward at the beginning of a new year hopeful of a fresh start, big changes – life changes of any ‘substance’ can be overwhelming and daunting to the point of discouragement. 
But the truth is that it is the little habits that we have that make us who and what we are. 
We don’t have to make massive changes quickly or all at once. 
Instead, make little changes and then stick with them for a long time, allowing them to become fruitful and faithful habits. 
Habits are like the compound interest of character.  They quickly add up and have an ever increasing effect on the bottom line of who you are
So this year as we move from looking back on 2010 with a grateful heart and a sanctified memory and look forward to what God is calling us to do and be in 2011 and beyond, don’t be overwhelmed by the size of the task. 
One decision matters. 
Taking a step towards God – no matter how small, if it is taken faithfully will produce mighty and powerful dividends. 
In this new year, I invite you to join me in making ‘one decision’ or do ‘one thing’ in three general areas and see if God doesn’t use our ‘little decisions’ to produce massive change in our lives, for which we will end up being grateful.
I am going to give you the three categories and then my little decisions.  You can share in mine or create your own (bulletin insert)
In my spiritual life, I am committing to read the Bible everyday for personal study (for me this means not ‘just’ for teaching/preaching)
For my health, I am committing to run or exercise at least three times every week.
For my mental health and my mind I am committing to read  at least one (more) book each month
Looking back at this last year, I am amazed at how much I have to be thankful for. 
It is with that spirit of gratitude that I am able to look forward to this year, with a holy expectation and a holy confidence that God is going to do amazing things in, around and through you, me and Good Shepherd. 

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