"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
January 1, 2020
Happy New Year!
Can you believe that it is already a new year?! It doesn't seem as if it's been twenty years ago when there was the huge national panic about Y2K. I was working in banking during that time and in the months and weeks and days leading up to the year 2000 there were so many "what ifs" and trying to plan for any disaster that might possibly occur with the beginning of a new century. We had to have a disaster plan in place and it was a lot of work and preparing and planning. But we all woke up on January 1st, 2000 and the world was operating and going on as normal, nothing major had happened, the world hadn't came to an end, and there were no huge national disasters with the turn of the century. A lot of panic for nothing!
But honestly, isn't that the way it is with most things? People will worry and fret and think of all the various scenarios and what ifs, trying to preplan for anything that could possibly go wrong; and they spend a lot of wasted time stressing about things that never come to pass. Instead of enjoying life and trusting God, many spend a lot of time fearful about the unknown. Really, all of our lives are unknown from one minute to the next. But I'm grateful for the peace that surpasses all understanding, which fills our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. It's a peace we can have, regardless of our situation or what curves life throws our way.
One of the things that we have been studying and putting into practice at our church is truly understanding what it means to "enter His gates with Thanksgiving in our heart and into His court with praise". It means that regardless of what happens or is going on in our lives -- good or bad; regardless of our emotions and how we feel at any given moment; regardless if we have little or a lot; regardless if we "feel" blessed or are overwhelmed; regardless if we are feeling joyful or our hearts are filled with grief; whatever our circumstances may be -- we choose to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise!
Sometimes it may be difficult and we may have to ask someone to help us give thanks and praise, because we are feeling weak or helpless or stressed or overwhelmed. We may need someone to stand alongside of us, encouraging us and worshipping with us. Yet we make that choice to not give into our emotions and feelings, but to give thanks and praise. It makes a difference when we do so!
I know that this past year was tough for many people. There were those who lost loved ones, dealt with health issues, had family who went through health crisis, had financial losses and problems, and many other difficult situations. Some of you may have felt as if it was going to be the year when specific prayers were going to be answered, only to find yourself entering a new year with it not yet coming to pass. It may have felt as if you had to go through one thing after another. You may feel overwhelmed and stressed and weary.
Some of you may feel as if it was an incredibly blessed year and can think of many wonderful things that happened and prayers that God answered. While others may see it as being a mixed year of hardships, pain, blessings, and joy.
In Philippians chapter four, Paul writes about this topic. Beginning with verse 4, "Rejoice in the Lord always -- again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all people. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything -- but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ."
When we read this passage of scripture it seems so simple, yet can be so difficult to put into practice. Rejoicing in the Lord always, means always. It doesn't say, "Rejoice in the Lord when you feel like it.... or when you are being blessed.... or when your prayers are being answered as you desire.... or when you're in a good mood and everything is going well for you.... or when everyone in your family is healthy and feeling well.... or when you have money in the bank.... or when everyone likes you....." It says to rejoice in the Lord always! That means to rejoice even when we don't understand our circumstances, or we feel lonely, or we have a need and don't know how God is going to provide, or someone says hurtful words that wound us, etc. Always means always! Rejoicing at all times is sometimes hard. Sometimes it is an act of faith, because we don't "feel" like rejoicing.
What we have to remind ourselves is that the Lord is at hand! He is always near and will never leave or forsake us. Never! Knowing that and really believing it, helps us to be able to rejoice at all times. Why? Because we aren't rejoicing in our circumstances, but we are rejoicing in the Lord!
We aren't to worry about or be anxious about anything, but are to let our requests be made known to God. Not just by prayer and petition, but with thanksgiving! We aren't giving thanks for our requests and needs, but are giving thanksgiving to God; knowing that He has an answer to all of our needs and we can trust Him. When we do all of these things, then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. The peace of God is not contingent on our circumstances or our emotions, but it is a seal that guards our hearts and minds from the lies and deception of Satan. We can have the peace of God, when it makes no sense to others.
So how do we rejoice in the Lord always, make our requests known to God with thanksgiving instead of anxiety, and have the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds?
Verse 8 tells us: "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable -- if there is any virtue and if there is anything worthy of praise -- dwell on these things."
We fill our minds with these type of thoughts! We don't fill our minds with garbage, doubt, negativity, sinfulness, wickedness, fear, anxiety, lies and deceit, bitterness, hatred, lust, jealousy, worry....... We just don't! When those type of thoughts come, we rebuke them and set our thoughts on things above, not things below. That's not always easy to do, and we often find ourselves having to reign our thoughts in and covering them with the blood of Christ.
In verse 11, Paul continues writing these words: "Whatever circumstances I am in, I have learned to be content. I know what it is to live with humble means, and I know what it is to live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment -- both to be filled and to go hungry, to have abundance and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Our contentment should never be based upon what we have or don't have, or determined by our circumstances. But through Christ, who strengthens us, we have the secret to contentment.
Whatever the new year holds in store for you, and for me, I pray that we truly learn to be content in all things through Christ who strengthens us in all situations. I pray that we truly learn to rejoice in the Lord always; regardless of what comes our way. That we allow the peace of God which surpasses all understanding to guard our hearts and minds. I pray that each of our relationships with Jesus will flourish and grow and mature, and He will always be our focus and priority. I pray that 2020 will be a year of jubilee for each of us; a year of restoration and celebration.
Over the years I've tried making resolutions. I don't remember ever sticking to one more than a few weeks. And at work, I've been given many resolutions at regular personnel meetings. And by the time the next personnel meeting comes along, the reason for the resolution changed so much it had become moot.
So I resolve not to make any serious resolutions this year. Instead, I'll try to be flexible with the circumstances, and change my focus as needed.
I both want and need God's presence in my life. And adopting a spirit of thankfulness and love is the most effective (or maybe only effective) way to have that. When asked, Jesus said that love was the only real commandment. We must love God first, and then our neighbors as ourselves. Everything else follows if you achieve that kind of love first.
I've been taught (work related, mostly) that any resolution must be concrete (you either succeed or fail; not 'kinda...'). So, "Loving more" doesn't really work. So, how about "Each morning: remind myself to love more and be more thankful."
Sausage & Cream Cheese Breakfast Casserole
1 can refrigerated crescent rolls
1 pound breakfast sausage, cooked
1 package cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven to 350.
Lightly spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray. Unroll crescent rolls and press into the bottom of the pan; pressing seams together to seal.
Mix together the cooked sausage, cream cheese, and 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese. Spread mixture over crescent rolls. Whisk eggs, milk, and pepper until well blended. Pour over sausage mixture. Top with remaining half cup of cheddar cheese.
Bake 25-35 minutes or until center is set.
The older I get, the faster 365 days pass by! I like reminiscing about past New Years, as well as New Years' Eves. January 1st was Daddy's birthday, so it had a special significance growing up, besides just being the beginning of a new year. When I was growing up, many churches would have New Years' Eve services; singing and preaching and eating together as a church family to ring the new year in. It would generally begin around 7:30-8:00 and last until midnight. As adults, when we could, my sisters and I would try to go spend time with Daddy for his birthday on New Years day. Now, we sisters still like to get together when we are able to; eating and visiting together as a family to start the year off.
However you choose to celebrate the beginning of a new year, take a moment to thank God for all that He did for you in 2019; and dedicate yourself anew to Him for 2020. Whatever the new year may bring our way, we can be assured that God will be with us each and every step of the way.
Peace is not the absence of trouble; but the presence of Christ. - unknown
We love you!
Loretta & Jon