Looking to the New Year: Embracing a week of nothingness


That magical week between Christmas and New Years is always one of my favorite times of the whole year.

First, it’s filled with rest.

The busy Advent season rolls into Christmas morning. We enjoy a small and casual church service filled with jolly “Merry Christmas!”-es and “Joy to the World” sung at the top of everyone’s voice, whether they can sing or not. It’s a joyful noise kind of unabashed worship that is rare and wonderful. There’s coffee and Ohio-style coffee cake in long sugary strips. Then we come home. And we sit. We open presents. Sometimes friends and family visit or we visit them. There aren’t any rules or rushing. It’s a week with something we wish most of life held just a little more often…no expectations.

Second, it’s filled with togetherness.

People come and gather around our table or we gather round theirs. There’s munching and new lego sets that require help. There’s iceskating and games and too many baked goods. There’s a book and the last of the Christmas movies that never got watched. There’s wine and snuggles, fluffy blankets, and car trips. Sometimes, there’s nothingness and it feels like a slice of grace and restoration from the Savior Himself.

Third, it’s filled with what’s to come.

It’s that quiet time of contemplation that exists before planning. It’s not hard core we-must-get-stuff-done planning, but it’s that place before it. That time and space where we know we are going to plan some stuff, new stuff needs to happen, life needs to move forward, but nothing needs to be done yet. We get to just think about things without the pressure to act. We get to hope and dream about what’s to come. A little voice says action is coming and it’s coming soon. It feels fresh and filled with energy, but is not pressing. It’s the nudge of New Year’s, not the shove from a life left undone.

I pray you get to enjoy this special week. The space in-between. Jesus lived a span of 33 years between His birth in that stable and His death and resurrection on Easter Morn. The space in-between is purposeful and worthy of a breathe of thanksgiving. Let fill this time of not yet with more and more of Him. Always more of Him.


*To help you fill this New Year with a little more of Him, from today thru Jan. 2 you can get the Kindle version of Think of These: A Study of Philippians 4:8 for just $1.99! See the link below to grab the deal!

Think on These on Amazon
Also- plan to join us for our Spring Online Study of James, Good Gifts, starting March 6th! This study has study posts each week AND an optional weekly video segment. Sign up will begin in early February. Follow on your own or gather together a group from your church, your neighborhood, or online from anywhere!

Gathered to Go


Eight weeks of study, friends. Eight weeks of walking in Truth –

He Calls You Beloved

He Calls You Ransomed

He Calls You Child

He Calls You Redeemed

He Calls You Clay

He Calls You Sought Out

He Calls You Gathered

We have stood in the promise that He aggressively pursues us, He picks us up from the dust and lifts our pretty heads, He infiltrates our lives with restoration and gives salvation to every little piece of brokenness He finds.

Oh, the Truth of it! The joy of a God who loves enough to proclaim my place at His table, a God who chases, a God who brings back, a God who says “Daughter, draw near.”

On this last day of study, let’s turn to the final chapter of Isaiah’s writing. I think you’ll find that God’s concluding message in this beautiful book is this…

Gather to Go.

Read Isaiah 66:18-23 –

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, 19 and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20 And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21 And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord.

22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth
    that I make
shall remain before me, says the Lord,
    so shall your offspring and your name remain.
23 From new moon to new moon,
    and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the Lord.

The message is not just that God gathers us, but He gathers us to gather those around us. He reaches His arm out and sweeps up not just me and you, but all of those we love, our offspring, and our neighbors, and our communities by the simple act of allowing ourselves to be gathered.

The message of Isaiah from beginning to end is consistently –

People matter to God.

He will do anything to reach them. He will send us to the coastlands (v.19). He will have us go and fetch the brothers (v. 20). He’ll use planes, trains, automobiles, camels, sheep, mustard seeds, pastors, teachers, and any other person, place, or thing to get to His people (v. 20). Day by day, He is faithful. From workday to rest, He is available and ready and willing to meet with us and seek with us. He will not desert us now, dear sister. He will not desert us now.

We need to Go.

Go…

He uses any means necessary to get to us

Go…

and use any means necessary to get to Him – Bible study, worship, relationship, conversation

Go…

and use any means necessary to reach the world

Go…

let them know, let all flesh know what you know

Go…

loved, honored, encouraged, held, entrusted

Go…

worshiping, giving glory, lifting high, offering up the good, the hard, the daily.

I wonder what message of Isaiah sticks with you the most? Which one is stickiest in this season of your life? Which one reminds you of your priceless worth in Him and His love for every soul walking on this earth?

Beloved

Ransomed

Child

Redeemed

Clay

Sought Out

Gathered

The message that sticks out to me the most is this: I am loved.

God says it flat out in Isaiah 43:4 –

Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you…

And if I keep that to myself, I will be gathered, and He will continue to gather, but what woman out there needs to know? What woman has never heard that they are loved…with a love that never gives up, that never quits, and never lets go?

We need to Go.

I’d rather be a part of the gathering, girls. Because when I look around me, it breaks my heart to know that even one woman, one young girl, one precious child of God would cross my path without knowing the message that I know.

He Calls Me Loved.

Go Loved, girls.

Go Loved.

 

Exploration:

What message from Isaiah was the stickiest for you?

Who in your life are you a part of gathering with the message of God’s Love?

Let’s do this. Let’s gather. Share the photo on today’s blog, with a message you learned in Isaiah that stuck, and an offer of conversation. This can be public, like on social media or you can utilize the pdf below to share our free printables with individuals in your life, even just one. Whatever you choose, let them know that He Calls Them Loved.


 

He Calls Me Loved free printables

 

Promises to Keep


My children are promise trackers. If you tell them that we “might” go to visit a friend, it’s as good as complete to them. If you suggest there “may be” dessert in the cupboard, you better have checked the status of the Oreo package before throwing haphazard statements around. Children misunderstand the difference between promises and basic conversation. They often believe that something stated is something as sure and certain as the sun rising each day. Adults should always be cautious about making promises they can’t keep, but it’s also an important skill for children to learn that promises are meant for big things, not Oreos; life happens, and forgiveness reigns where there is trust.

God makes promises to us in the book of Isaiah, over and over again. These are not maybe-there-will-be-Oreo promises. These are big promises.

The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel… 

But He was pierced for our transgressions…

With righteousness He shall judge the poor…

My servant shall be exalted… 

God tells us clearly in Isaiah that not one thing is missing, not one promise is left out or abandon.

Not one promise is broken.

Hear it for yourself by reading Isaiah 34:14-16 –

And wild animals shall meet with hyenas;
    the wild goat shall cry to his fellow;
indeed, there the night bird settles
    and finds for herself a resting place.

15 There the owl nests and lays
    and hatches and gathers her young in her shadow;
indeed, there the hawks are gathered,
    each one with her mate.
16 Seek and read from the book of the Lord:
    Not one of these shall be missing;
    none shall be without her mate.
For the mouth of the Lord has commanded,
    and his Spirit has gathered them.

While goats and fellows, owls and nests may seem obscure, they couple up. This is how God’s promises work. Verse 16 above brings the obscurity together, reminding us that as we seek and read, our eyes are opened and every promise meets its rightful destination – fulfillment in Christ Jesus.

God does indeed keep His promises…because He gathers.

He gathers prophecies up in His Word and fulfills them all like puzzle pieces clicking together over the course of time. This match here, that match there. We are given the privilege of studying them, finding a promise, seeking its fulfillment in the Word and lifting the pieces up in praise to His name.

We may as parents misspeak. Life may happen and promises might fall by the wayside, but God is completely in control. He reigns over the universe, so life doesn’t get in the way for Him. He is also perfect, so not one promise falls. He is ever-present in all time. He sees the whole of eternity before Him and He plans accordingly.

How often, however, are we like children and try to hold God to promises He never made? How often do we claim He promised worldly treasures, when He really promised just what we need? How often do we rail at Him for our suffering, when He promised to be there with us in it, rather than to give us a life called perfect by our own standards? How often do we demand control in life, when He promised to lead rather than leave us in the white-knuckle life of fear, fighting for control?

God’s message in Isaiah through the gathering of prophecy and fulfillment is this –

He gathers up His promises and holds them tightly for just the proper time. Every Word will be fulfilled. When we can’t see what He’s doing, we lean into His promises that never change.

Not one promise broken. Not one.

Because He gathers.


Exploration:

What kind of plans disappoint children when they are broken? What kind of plans disappoint us, as adults, when they are broken?

How do you differentiate between a plan that is able to be shifted and a promise that can not be broken?

Do you think God differentiates in His word between plans and promises?

What promises of God do you cling to?

I do, in fact, Love My Shepherd


I like blankets. When I was little they were my comfort, with their fuzzy middles and their silky edges. They wrapped me up when I needed to feel safe, and warmed my toes and arms on winter nights. My mom knew that when I was sad, I needed a hug and my hole-y blue blanket, ragged and worn, so I could love it to literal pieces.

What speaks comfort into your life? What physical manifestation of God’s warmth and goodness has He blessed you with in this life? God encourages us to fix our eyes on the eternal, but He leaves us with the temporal as a bonus, small reminders that He is good. He is our comfort on cold days and in the dark of night.

God, throughout Scripture gives us a vision of comfort in the language of Good Shepherd. The Shepherd who consistently gathers His sheep. Please open to Isaiah 40:10-11 or read below –
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead those that are with young.

He comes with might, but listen to the tenderness of it all. God is so fantastically perfect that He is complete in a way we cannot fathom. This mighty God, this powerful Shepherd goes out to defeat the wolves of this world, to defeat the devil who destroys… He also holds you in His arms. He gathers every part of you to Him and will never let you go. He gathers His people to His chest and loves, loves, loves, and loves some more. What a God we have!

How many of you would list Psalm 23 as a verse on your comfort list? Clearly I would! I named my blog after it. 😉

Let’s read it together today.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

He restores. He overflows. He walks with me. He pursues me with mercy. He provides for me. He gathers me around the table and He eats with me.

Let’s widen it a bit. Let’s think about gather in its fullest sense.

He restores us.

He overflows into us.

He walks with us.

He pursues us.

He provides for us.

He gathers us around the table. He eats with us.

We were made for gathering. We were born into a flock. We experience the fullness of Him within the gathering of His people.

I Love My Shepherd is about We Love Our Shepherd

…stretching my heart for my husband, Christ, and His Church. We are the comfort, dear friends, for our husbands, and those in our homes, in our churches, and in our lives. We speak Jesus into one another’s life in a way we wouldn’t experience walking this earth on our own.

Let’s pray Psalm 23 today for our own needs, but also for one another. Let’s thank our Shepherd for just being Himself in all His wonderfulness as well as giving us this life to live together.

So, here’s how this is going to go. Read Psalm 23 through 3 times.

Read through #1 – focus on who God is, as our Shepherd. When you read the Psalm, what do you learn about Him? Spend time in prayer proclaiming His character, such as provider, comforter, leader, etc.

Read through #2 – focus on what our Shepherd does for you as an individual. How has He brought His work proclaimed in Psalm 23 to bear in your real life? Where have you seen Him shepherd? Where have you seen Him lead? What do you need Him to walk with you through?

Read through #3 – focus on what our Shepherd does for His people or for other people in your life. Pray the psalm over anyone in need or ask for God’s provision, comfort, overflow into individuals and/or your church.

We are gathered, sheep into our Shepherd, sheep into the sheepfold. Loved on, cared for, mightily rescued, guided, filled to the brim with overflowing.

I love my shepherd. And I know you do too.

(I LOVE MY SHEPHERD MEME to share)

Exploration:

Share some of your prayer insights from Psalm 23 with us, fill in the requests you feel comfortable sharing for each prayer round or share some that stick out to you overall.

Round 1 – Who God is as our Shepherd…

Round 2 – What God does for you, as an individual…

Round 3 – What God does for His people, or the people in your life…

Worship speaks Life


Ever feel like you need a flashing neon sign from God? I think we all have at one time or another. Most of the time, God doesn’t really work like that, but today we get a treat. Today, we’re going to talk life. And we’ll keep it simple.

Please, open your Bibles to Isaiah 11 and read just one verse, Isaiah 11:12 –

He will raise a signal for the nations
    and will assemble the banished of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
    from the four corners of the earth.

If we needed that flashing neon sign from God, here it is. God raises a signal and holds it high for all people to see, crying out with arms outstretched –

“Come to me. Let me gather.”

We look for giant billboards and signs for what to do and where to go from God, but the signal is no mystery. The signal is very simply Christ Jesus saying “Come.”

God makes this clear throughout the Scriptures over and over again, but Isaiah 11 is like a giant beacon, shining light into the darkness of the unknown. Back up and read Isaiah 11:1-2 –

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Don’t these verses just make you want to worship Him? This is no mistake, my friend. Jesus is the signal, raised high for us to gather around, but how will the world know?

What if God uses our worship as the bull horn of salvation for the people? And the billboard of encouragement and discernment for one another?

What is worship? His Word going out, His promises proclaimed, and His people responding. The Word surely does the work, but what do people see when they look around them and see worship?

They see Life in Worship and worship as the way we live our life.

Sweet, sweet worship. What a gift! Worship may be at times just between you and God, but mostly, it was meant to be communal. It was meant to be you and God, and God’s people. It speaks to one another and it speaks to those on the outside looking in.

We don’t worship for a show. We aren’t performers or puppeteers putting on a nice pretty picture for the world around us, but when the people of God gather, Life flows. Forgiveness flows. Confession happens. Mercy is given. Truth is spoken. Love is bestowed. Grace rains down. Encouragement builds.

God gathers His people. Only by His grace do we get out of bed on Sunday morning or Thursday night or whenever else, to worship alongside family, friends, and strangers. Only by His grace do we remember to pick up the family devotion book off the table and share His Peace with one another. Only by His grace will we be brought together in the heavens to sing with all the saints and angels “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth! Heaven and earth is full of Your Glory. Hosanna in the Highest!”

Jesus is always concerned with reaching the nations around us, the people around us. He reaches out and sweeps in the people with His ever-loving arms every time He comes to us.

Listen to what will happen. The Signal that is Christ Jesus will come again and the worship that results will be like nothing the world has ever seen. Indeed, every nation will see and hear –

…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:10)

Highly exalted, worthy of worship, every knee, every tongue.

Worship is Life and it speaks Life to a hurting world.

Worship with your life, friends. Worship for the Life He has given you and let Life flow to others by the act of your worship. And watch Him gather!

Lord, we worship You. We adore You. You alone are faithful, Lord. You alone are worthy. Let our worship be in honesty and in Truth. Let it be only for You. May you use each of us as your signals, as “little Christs” proclaiming Your Honor to all the earth. In Jesus we pray, Father, through Your everlasting Spirit. Amen!


Exploration:

What are your favorite parts of worship? Consider phrases or hymns, songs or proclamations, or elements that are not spoken, things you see, touch, or the people around you?

What is special at the place and in the people you worship with weekly? What makes your church and church family unique?

Bonus: Look at Isaiah 11:1-12 in full. What promises do you find? What will gathering look like in the end?