Friday, January 21, 2011

New Beginnings

It is January, and people all around are making resolutions.  Ok, so it's halfway through January, so people all around are breaking their resolutions...!

While I'm not a huge fan of resolutions, I do think it can be powerful to see each year as a new beginning, and take some time to think about what we hope and plan for the new year to bring.

For our January gathering, we reflected a bit on 2010 by writing down three good things that happened, big or small.  With most everyone having experienced a major loss in 2010, looking for good things proved to be a challenge.  But we acknowledged that the good things were woven throughout the year whether or not we recognized them.

Next we wrote down three dreams/hopes/goals for 2011.  Just a little looking ahead and imagining things to be different from how they now appear.  Sometimes we can feel stuck in a perpetual circle, not making any forward progress.  And that can be discouraging.

We took a brief journey into the lives of several Biblical characters.  It is important to remember that these were actual people who lived long ago - not fictional characters.  We began with Jonah.  His life calling was to present people with God's messages.  I imagine he was waiting for his next assignment, hoping to be sent to give good news to some wonderful town, when God told him to go to Ninevah and call the people to repent.  To Jonah, this was an awful assignment.  The last thing he wanted to see was the people of Ninevah being given another chance.  This new beginning felt like a slap in the face.  Jonah, angry, went in the opposite direction and boarded a ship for Tarshish.  Of course he could not hide from God any easier than we can today...God sent a fierce storm that threatened to break apart the boat and cause the sailors to drown.  Only by throwing Jonah overboard did the seas calm down.  God sent the huge fish to swallow Jonah, preserving his life, giving him a chance to repent and get his heart right.  After being spit back onto land (and hopefully taking a nice long shower), Jonah began the journey to Ninevah.  While his feet were obeying, his heart was still resentful of the assignment.  He missed out on some of the blessings he could have received.

Jonah is an example of the wrong way to react to a new beginning that we do not desire or welcome.  Running from the next thing God has planned or allowed will not change our new reality. It will only prolong what must take place, and may very well result in negative consequences along the way.  Let's not make a hard situation worse by refusing to submit to what God is calling us to do.

Next we looked at the life of Ruth.  After her father in law, husband, and brother in law all died, Ruth made the hard choice to travel with Naomi (mother in law) to Naomi's native country.  Ruth left all she knew to accompany another grieving woman (who had lost husband and two sons).  That was probably not an enjoyable trip.  Once they arrived, Ruth had to find discarded/leftover grain from fields so she and Naomi would have food to eat each day.  Perhaps she only collected this food for a few weeks before meeting Boaz, the man she would later marry, but Ruth did not know at the time that the season of collecting grain would be short.  Yet rather than despair or dwell on the obvious hardships in her life, she made the most of her new beginning and "did the next thing" that needed to be done.  Her story ends well, with a new husband and children, provision, and many other blessings.  None of us can see what is ahead, just around the next curve of the road we travel.  But we do know that God is with us every step of the way.

Remember the kid song "12 men went to spy on Canaan, 10 were bad and 2 were good"?  The 2 "good" spies, Joshua and Caleb, saw the same super-sized men who inhabited the land of Canaan as did the 10 "bad" spies, but rather than be overwhelmed by the idea of overcoming those giants, they chose to focus on the abundance of God's provision in Canaan.  God rewarded their faithfulness and trust.  While they had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years with the rest of the unbelieving Israelites, they were allowed to enter into and enjoy the promised land with the next generation.  When God reveals to us a destination or calling, we must be single-minded as we place one foot after the other in the direction He has marked out.  We need to put on blinders like those that horses wear to keep them from being distracted or scared by things to the right and the left.  God's callings and destinations do not come without trials.  We should anticipate them and choose to trust God through them.  Let's not miss out on His abundance by being scared of the journey.

Joseph - you know, the one who had that coat of many colors?  Favored by his father and hated by his brothers, he was sold into slavery.  Not a great new beginning.  He kept a good attitude, trusted God, served well, and was thrown into jail as a result of a woman who lied.  Not a great new beginning there either.  But even in jail, Joseph was faithful.  He was eventually released.  Through another series of events, he was promoted to a high status in Egypt through which he essentially saved the people from starving during a famine.  Among those he saved were the very brothers who sold him into slavery years ago.  Joseph forgave them and they had a wonderful new beginning as a reunited family.  He is a great example of persevering through very difficult circumstances and trusting God regardless of what life threw his way.

Finally, we talked about the woman in the New Testament who had the unstoppable bleeding.  Doctors couldn't heal her.  When she learned that Jesus was coming her way, she pressed through the thick crowds of people so she could touch the hem of His robe - certain that even a tiny touch would bring healing.  She was in desperate need of a new beginning, and she knew exactly where to go.  Straight to Jesus.  May we all do the same.  He can bring a new beginning through a changed situation, changed relationships, or "simply" through a changed attitude and renewed faith and trust that God can do all things and that God loves us very much.

Some new beginnings are truly a leap of faith.  Hold tightly to what you know to be true, regardless of what your feelings tell you.

We finished the evening by talking about the fruit of the Spirit.  We shared which of the 9 fruit of the Spirit we felt our losses highlighted we needed to increase, as well as which of the 9 we wanted to specifically focus on in 2011. control.  They are all part of one fruit - that's why it's called the fruit of the Spirit and not the fruits.  Working on one will have a domino effect and result in improvements on all nine.  Amy brought up the important point that on our own we are helpless to become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, etc.  Only through God working in our hearts, changing us, shaping and molding us, can those traits increase.  It is God's will that we become more full of each trait, so we know that by trusting Him and walking with Him we will see improvements in these areas.  She also reminded us that God can give us the "want to" even when we don't feel strong enough (or obedient enough) to desire change.  (Philippians 2:13, Living Bible)

What will you focus on in 2011?  Which trait do you feel would make the most positive difference in your life?  Are you ready and willing to let God guide you into your new beginning?  The end of all God stories is wonderful...and well worth the trials we experience along the way.

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