Category Archives: Spiritual Journey

Blank Pages: The Best Days Are Yet to Come

small-pen-in-hand

Photo by Karen Mitchell Smith of TopShelfPhotos

Good-bye, 2016!

The New Year’s Eve parties are over, the last of the New Year’s Day football has been watched, the black-eyed peas (if you’re southern, like I am) have been eaten, and the holiday guests have gone home. It’s January 2, 2017, and 364 more brand-new, unsullied days stretch out before us. Social media is filled with people lamenting how terrible 2016 was. And really, it wasn’t great. We lost too many favorite celebrities and watched the worst mud-slogging political race most Americans have ever seen, to mention just a couple of rotten apples 2016 gave us. 

But that was then; this is now. This is the moment the new year really begins. The day people return to their jobs. The day the Christmas tree is put away, holiday leftovers are thrown out, checkbooks are balanced, and the first tentative steps toward keeping the new year’s resolutions are taken. This is the day that always reminds me of the first day of school, when my crayons stood in bright, fresh soldier rows, my little cigar box held my newly sharpened pencils, and my Red Chief writing tablet lay empty and open on my desk, just waiting to be filled with carefully crafted cursive letters and a good bit of side-doodling. Nothing yet was dirty, crumpled, torn, or marked on. Possibility and imagination sprawled before me, inviting me to write something wonderful. Today is that day. Today is the day to pack away any leftover bitterness, resentment, depression, or hopelessness that 2016 hung around your neck. Today, this day, is full of promise and hope.

Hello, 2017!

As I turn my face away from 2016 and look to the new year, I am reminded of God’s word in Isaiah 43:19, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; even now it springs up. Do you not perceive it?” The word perceive is defined as “to become aware of or conscious of something; to come to realize or understand.” So, perceiving, then is the key to understanding this verse. The word of God teaches us that we must walk by faith, not by sight. That is, we must see with the eyes of our heart, where our faith resides, because our physical eyes may not actually see what God is doing. We have to perceive, become aware of, become conscious of, the areas in which He is already working in our lives.

How does that happen?

To do this, we must look expectantly at our future with our faith-eyes wide open. Anything is possible. Miracles of forgiveness, healing, financial blessing, restoration of broken relationships, and redemption. What do you need this year? God says to ask and you will receive. He goes on to say, “Which of you, if your child asks for bread, would give him or her a stone?” Our Father tells us to approach his throne boldly, with confidence, as you would expect your own little ones to approach you, knowing that He wants to hear from you. He wants to provide. We are to ask, expecting to receive because “if you, then, though you are sinful, know how to give good gifts to your own children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7: 7-11)

Make it personal

I am in no way proclaiming that God is the great Santa Clause in the sky, just waiting to fulfill your total wishlist and drop that luxury car in your driveway, but I am saying He desires good things for you, and He sees your every need, both spiritual and physical. And the Father is even now doing a new thing for you, do you not perceive it? If you don’t, if you can’t see past the fog of 2016’s disappointments and hurts, ask God to open your faith-eyes.  Try it out! Tell him your needs and wait expectantly for Him to act. Keep believing that He will act. Stand in faith while you wait.  And if you don’t get around to doing all that today, remember His mercies are new every day (Lamentations 3:22-23). Every day with God is a blank page. Consider carefully how you will fill those pages, whether with faith or with doubt and despair. But if you want to choose joy and faith, let the eyes of your heart perceive what the Father is saying to you even now.

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To Fast….or Not To Fast…A Question for Lent

Photo by Karen Mitchell Smith of TopShelfPhotos, cross by John Stout

Today,  Ash Wednesday, begins the traditional Christian season of Lent. Having grown up in a Baptist home, Lent wasn’t something we observed. I knew that my Catholic and Episcopalian friends ate fish on Fridays, and they talked about “giving up” certain things for Lent, but beyond that, I really knew nothing of this Christian season.

As a convergence Christian, I truly became aware of Lent a few years ago and began to do a little more study each year as to the purpose. Sometimes it’s hard to break out of past mindsets (whether or not they are correct) about so-called dead traditions, etc., so I wanted to be sure that if I chose to observe Lent, it wasn’t to be en vogue or so that I could join the masses who give up chocolate for Lent and then complain long and loud about it. I wanted it to mean something.

So, the first step was to gain an understanding of what Lent actually is and is not. The word “Lent,” itself, is a word with ancient Germanic roots, meaning “springtime.” A time of renewal. Traditionally, Lent is observed in four ways:

Fasting, Prayer, Charity and Scripture

The idea of fasting at this time is to die to oneself (Gal 5:24  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires), in preparation for proper reflection on Christ’s life, death and resurrection as we move into the Easter season. You can fast food, television, Facebook, texting, and any number of other things that will remind you that you are giving up something to which you have the right, but you are choosing time with God instead.

The encouragement for prayer and works of charity comes from Isaiah 58:6, where God rebukes those who fast for public approval’s sake and exhorts them to a fast that He can honor. A fast where his people break the yoke of oppression, divide their bread with the hungry and loosen the bonds of wickedness.

This same scripture tells us what Lent is not, or more generally, what fasting is not.  “‘Why have we fasted and You do not see ? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice ?’ [the people say.] Behold, [says God] on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?”

Through this scripture, God makes it clear that the purpose for fasting is not to draw attention to ourselves, to whine about what we are giving up for Lent and how hard it is or to live by our own fleshly desires. For this reason, I have hesitated to participate in Lent. I don’t want to begin a commitment to God and not be able to keep it. I don’t want my experience to be another type of New Years Resolution that lasts the first week and is a memory by the third week.

Moreover, the ideals of Lent are ones I try to live by daily, anyway. Although I don’t fast, I do try to die to my flesh in other ways. Fasting can be giving up your rights: your right to be right, your right to be first, your right to sleep in on Sunday mornings, etc. I read the Word daily and meditate on scriptures during devotional time, and I find ways to help those less fortunate than me. So do I really need to observe Lent?

I think, for me, this year the answer is yes. I want to enter a deeper time of devotion to God. A time of consciously making decisions that honor him. A time of being aware everyday that I’m choosing God over myself.

With that decision made, these are the things I plan to do during Lent, 2011:

  • Give up worry: When I begin to worry, I will consciously turn that worry over to God and quote scriptures, just as Jesus did when Satan tempted him in the wilderness.
  • Pray for the world, one nation per day: Operation World makes this easy by highlighting a nation everyday. If you follow their schedule, you will have prayed for every nation by the end of one year.
  • Support a needy child in a Latin American country through Latin America Child Care, an outreach of the Assemblies of God church: Because I love Roatan, Honduras so much, I have chosen a little girl in that country. Her name is Uzi, and I will be praying for her daily and sending money for her support monthly.
  • Read my Bible everyday: It’s something I already do, and I would love to say I’m going to do something amazing like read the Bible through in a year, but I know it won’t happen. At least not this year. So I’m going to do what I know I will do.

The Choice Is Yours!

If you’re thinking of participating in Lent this year, I would encourage you to first examine your heart for the reasons why. God lays out six wonderful blessings in Isaiah 58: 8-10 for those who fast with a purposeful and right heart.  If you decide that God has purposed you to celebrate Lent this year, I pray for your springtime renewal as you move with me and the millions of others through this meaningful season. And if you choose not to observe Lent, remember “there is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The choice is yours. Be blessed, whichever you decide!

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