all things new

It’s a new year - again - already.

It feels like we were just here, turning the calendar from 2017 to 2018. It feels like I was just waiting to turn 24 and holding my breath to see what the year would bring and writing about my hope to remain thankful, regardless.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a love-hate sentiment toward the turn of each new year. I love the idea of a clean slate, a time to reevaluate life and make changes where needed. But I have always listened to the midnight fireworks popping with a sense of fear and dread, too - afraid of change, afraid of what could happen and what could be lost, afraid of trading what’s old and familiar for what’s new and uncertain.

This new year, in particular, has been difficult. It’s an anniversary of the many painful things that came one after the other at the beginning of 2018, and to be candid, I’ve been working hard to remain in denial that it’s January again because I just don’t want to think about that stuff. Last year, “new” meant “bad” - just like I’ve always feared.

Then I came across a handful of verses that got me thinking.

Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. The beasts of the field will glorify Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people. The people whom I formed for Myself will declare My praise.

Isaiah 43:18-21

I’ve heard this passage plenty of times before, but this time one contextual fact stuck out to me: This assurance from Yahweh to His people comes in the midst of Isaiah’s prophecies of the coming of Babylon, who will conquer Israel and drag the nation into exile. Pain and suffering are coming, and have already begun - yet the God of Israel says “Behold, I will do something new.”

And “new” doesn’t mean “bad.”

In the chaotic unknown of the wilderness, He will make a path.

In the dry and despairing desert, He will make a river.

He doesn’t end the struggle for His people, or rewind the story so they can continue living peacefully in their own land. The wilderness and the desert are still there. But He does something greater, mightier, and more unthinkable: He creates a new, good thing out of what was hopeless and dead - extending grace so far that it touches even the onlookers and the wild creatures.

My God is doing a new thing - a new, good thing - right now. He isn’t (yet) rescuing us from this earthly domain or rewinding the consequences of sin, but He is doing something greater, mightier, and more unthinkable: He is creating something beautiful and new out of that which was old and dead.

One of my favorite verses in Revelation says, “And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:5). I’ve always thought this was an end-times verse, a promise we cling to for the future - and so it is. But it’s also a now verse.

God isn’t waiting until the world as we know it ends to start making all things new. He’s been doing it since the dawn of time, and He is still doing it every single day in the hearts of people like us.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

2 Corinthians 5:17

My God is doing a new thing - a new, good thing - right now. He isn’t (yet) rescuing us from this earthly domain or rewinding the consequences of sin, but He is doing something greater, mightier, and more unthinkable: He is creating something beautiful and new out of that which was old and dead.

He is making rivers in the wilderness and streams in the desert.

He started this work all the way back in the Garden of Eden, with a new plan to reveal His glory by reversing the curse of sin. He created a river of life through our wilderness of death with His own Son’s blood, available to anyone who would drink from it. He resurrected His Son’s dead body back to life and glory, and now He is doing the same thing in my heart, and in yours.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:11

This is what I cling to as I stand with some trepidation in the doorway of this new year. In God’s work, “new” never means “bad” - it’s always part of the glorious and gracious transformation from death to life. The suffering may not yet end, but we stand right now at the beginning of our eternal lives, and He is already working here and now to make all things new.

who do you say that I am?

One of my favorite stories in the Bible - and one I’ve written about several times before - is the disciple Peter’s confession of the Christ in Matthew 16.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:13-19

I think this story has especially hit home for me in the last year or two, because wherever I go and whatever I do, I seem to hear echoes of the same question: “But who do you say that I am?” It’s a query that inevitably becomes louder and more urgent when life grows darker and more uncertain, because the answer holds the key to everything - literally. As A.W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Why is that? Because how we define our God, how we identify Him, will inevitably define and identify us.

It was only when Peter said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” that Jesus replied, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church.”

Peter’s whole identity hinged on how he identified his Lord, right down to his future calling, his spiritual power, his brazen courage, and his eternal hope.

How we see God is an inextricable part of our identities. Are we going to be people of fear who see God as angry and vindictive? People of shame who see God as distant and judgmental? Or people of faith who know that God is, for reasons we can’t possibly comprehend, truly compassionate toward every facet of our being and lovingly sovereign over even the minute details of our lives?

God has been asking me: “Who do you say that I am?” I thought I had answered this question before, but in reality I was still answering the first question - “Who do people say that I am?”

People say You are Yahweh, the perfectly loving and perfectly holy God of Israel and King of the universe. That’s what I’ve always learned, that’s what I read in the Bible, that’s what I was told in Bible school.

“But who do you say that I am?”

I wish that my answer to this question was always as confident as the other - even when I’m lost in worry and fear, or even when I’m walking through the valley of the shadow. But many times it isn’t (and clearly, if we keep reading in the Gospels, neither was Peter’s).

I may not achieve a perfect, unfailing faith in this life, but there is one place I know that I can turn when my answer to this question is shaky or, God forbid, untrue. And that is to the Word of God where He has chosen to reveal who He is - where He has painted a picture of His character using the vivid colors of His beautiful attributes.

I believe that the Bible is the story of who God is. That’s why I value it so much, and why I am still hungry to read it after six years of nonstop study. I am hungry for the true answer to this all-important question - the answer that never fails, even when I do.

How we see God is an inextricable part of our identities. Are we going to be people of fear who see God as angry and vindictive? People of shame who see God as distant and judgmental? Or people of faith who know that God is, for reasons we can’t possibly comprehend, truly compassionate toward every facet of our being and lovingly sovereign over even the minute details of our lives?


Who do YOU say that He is?

Maybe God is asking you this question too. Maybe you don’t know your answer. If that’s the case, I’d love to have you join me in reading through the Bible in 2019. It’s a 180-day challenge that will guide you from Genesis to Revelation with a focus on who God is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. You can sign up easily below, or learn more by clicking here.


on the road to glory

The approach of Christmas has been quick and quiet this year.

I have heard, from the many mourning souls who have walked the path of grief before me, that it’s quite normal for holidays to become difficult after a profound loss. And while I do immensely look forward to being at home with my family as I have been for twenty-four Christmases past, I know that when I arrive, one seat will be empty. One familiar and beloved voice will be silent.

Maybe it’s even more profound because I last saw my Grandma B on Christmas Eve a year ago; I hugged her goodbye for what I didn’t know would be the final time after we had all enjoyed our traditional family dinner and Christmas cookies and conversation. She passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly shortly after the New Year.

I know myself: I like to be prepared. I seek out others’ testimonials and experiences of grieving so that I’ll have a better chance of knowing what to expect. I even try to worry about every single possible outcome so that I won’t be caught off guard if the worst happens. In fact, one thing I’m wrestling with the most as Christmas approaches is the fear of being traumatized so very unexpectedly again, since everything about this time of year now brings the memory of that trauma to the forefront of my mind.

But I think - slowly - I’m beginning to learn that for some things, there is no adequate preparation. No one can tell me exactly how it will be. No one can predict exactly what will happen. There are no preventive exercises that can steel me against the pain of loss.

We don’t get to practice this ahead of time. There’s no test drive for our lives. There is only living.

There’s only the choice to keep walking, even when the path winds deep into the valley of the shadow and our surroundings become unrecognizable. There’s no recharting our course and there’s no turning back.

But there is a Guide, a Good Shepherd, who will gladly walk it with us.

One of my favorite passages to meditate on and still my soul when my life roils with uncertainty is Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I 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 have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

the road to glory through the valley of the shadow.jpg

Yahweh tends me - I have no need for anything more. He gives me such abundance and such peace that I can truly be at rest. He refreshes my being. He walks faithfully with me on the road that will bring Him glory.

Even when I find myself in danger and darkness, I need not fear harm, for He is with me. His correction, direction, and protection are my comfort. He gives me the courage to face my foes; He acknowledges and gently heals my pain; He blesses me with more than I can hold.

I know that His goodness and His covenant love will never let me go - and when this earthly journey ends, I shall dwell in the safety of His presence forever.

Consider this: shepherds were nothing special in the time of the Bible. They were poor and nomadic and spent their days and nights with animals known chiefly for their helplessness and frailty. Yet that’s what Jesus came to be for His people: A shepherd. The Good Shepherd, the One who lays down His life for the sheep.

He’s not put off by our fearfulness, our flightiness, our helplessness - He knows that these are all inherent traits of sheep. He doesn’t treat us harshly when we become afraid in the valley or punish us for hesitating to face our enemies. He knows us, all the way down to our deepest fears and greatest weaknesses. So He just gently speaks, and keeps leading us toward life.

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me. . . . My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

John 10:14, 27-28

I don’t know the way forward, but He does, and though I’m only a helpless sheep walking a treacherous path, I know that He goes before me as a warrior, a rescuer, and a comforter. . . and I know we’re on the road to glory.