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.

this is God's will

God has been working in me.

It's always interesting to watch Him, because so often, His shaping touch is so gentle that I don't even feel it until I notice its tangible effects on my life months or years later. He works slowly, deliberately, never hurried or pushy, and why not? He has all the time in the world. I am learning, the longer I watch Him, that the aggressive, domineering, hurry-up-or-you'll-regret-it messages I sometimes hear in my heart and mind are never from Him - they are just my Enemy's strategy to distract me from the loving and teaching voice of my Father.

Today I noticed that my prayers have changed in the last year, maybe two. It was such a gradual shift that it didn't occur to me that anything was happening at the time, but now I can see it: Where I once asked for miracles, I've begun to ask for the revelation of God's character. Where I once asked for changed circumstances, I've begun to ask for changed hearts. Where I once asked God to step in and do blatant divine work in my life (and others'), I've begun to ask Him to lead His children to be His hands and feet toward one another.

I've asked God to miraculously heal the pain and suffering of a family member (well, let's face it... more than one family member), and I don't think that's wrong - but the beauty I have found in "Thy will be done" is that He often wills to do far deeper and greater work than simple healing of a physical problem. He shows us who He is - and there is no greater miracle than that.

The gloriously inefficient plan

But He doesn't necessarily show us who He is the way that I have often expected or desired, either. Looking back, I see that I wanted Him to sweep in in a grand vision, in an incredible event that no one could possibly doubt was an act of God - that would force us to turn our hearts toward Him more. But He has very rarely done so. Instead, He seems to prefer to work small... gentle... slow. He seems to prefer inefficiency. He seems to prefer to involve us, not to force us.

And I am coming to see that His favorite inefficiency is to reveal Himself chiefly in the small, Spirit-led voices and actions of His children. He shows us who He is in the unconditional love, the bottomless forgiveness, the open-hearted welcome of people who are just like us, people who are broken, but have been saved by the blood of Christ and transformed by the Holy Spirit.

So instead of asking Him to put on a huge show of power to remind me of His worthiness, His faithfulness, or His love, I have begun to ask Him to send someone - one of His small, saved people - who can gently, slowly, inefficiently live out His character before me in the humblest of ways. I am learning that He wants to do His deepest work through us, the Church. He wants me to hear His voice from the mouths of His children and see His love through their sacrificial actions and invite His grace into my life in the form of these genuine and difficult relationships.

And He wants me to do the same for them.

We, the Church of Christ, are intended to be His will. His voice. His hands. His arms. His feet. His heart.

The call to imitate Christ has never been more vital.

Now is not the time to wait for miracles to rain down from heaven. If God chooses to do that, then hallelujah, but here is the truth: we are the miracle. The God of all Creation has spared no expense to purchase a relationship with us, and to offer Himself fully to every living soul. That is a miracle. Every day that we walk with Christ as the active manifestation of His love, His grace, His power, His mercy, His unity, and His forgiveness for others is a miracle - and it's the miracle that will save the world, that will bring life to those who are dying in darkness.

God isn't showy or controlling or in a rush. He's not even all that efficient at times. But He is working - and He wants to work in me, and in you, and through us all. Broken and hurting people in our sanctuaries and our world are praying for a vision of what God's heart really looks like. What if we - the Church, the body of Christ - are the answer to that prayer? Am I ready to step in and live it? Are you?

This is your calling and mine - God wants to do His deepest work in us and through us. His Church is called to be His love to the world.

The hard, healing work

This is hard work. The hardest work. It means that instead of burying our brokenness, we re-open the old wounds to the community of Christ - to be healed and, equally importantly, to provide an opportunity for His Church to practice its lofty call. It means that instead of pretending we're all okay, we build relationships based on the assumption that we are all not okay - and that no matter what your pet sin or your coping mechanism or your personal trauma, I've got my own pet sin or coping mechanism or personal trauma that really isn't much different, except maybe by name.

It means I am not just climbing to get myself to the top, but I'm choosing to throw my weight into these burdens in perfect sync with those who are climbing beside me, so that together we can lift up those who are too wounded to make the trek on their own.

And it's risky, because without exception, all of our deepest wounds came from other people to begin with - often the people closest to us. It seems counter-intuitive that we'd need to look for healing in the same position of vulnerability that hurt us, or that we'd ever trust someone other than ourselves to pull us up the treacherous mountainside to victory. But this is the plan.

The gloriously inefficient and hazardously optimistic plan.

Disorders. Addictions. Emptiness. Trauma. Sin. Pain. Abandonment. Disease. Not a single one of us is not suffering somehow from the wounds of a broken world. But until we stop pretending otherwise, until we stop hiding from each other - which can only mean we are hiding from the healing hand of God - the destructive cycle will go on.

God has been working in me. Slowly, gently, He has been clearing my vision to see what my true vocation as a servant of Christ is. It's not to preach the Gospel to a certain number of people or to write a particular book or to revolutionize the way we learn Scripture. Even if any of these things did happen, my real, bottom-line vocation would still be exactly the same as yours: To imitate Christ, who lived unapologetically real, fearlessly vulnerable, and inexhaustibly loving.

He laid His life down for His friends - not just literally, but also daily, entering into other people's muck and empathizing with their pain and loving them all the way to healing. And all this He did fearlessly, freely, even at the risk of unimaginable betrayal.

Now He has passed the baton to me. To you. To His Church.

This is God's will. We are God's plan.

Will we obey?

through Him

through Him

Today, my words are few - because there are words far more precious than mine, far more encouraging and life-giving, in God's Word.

I have a hard time choosing a favorite book of the Bible (usually I waffle between Genesis and the Samuels, but then I love Revelation and 2 Timothy as well....) but I think, at least recently, this is my favorite chapter. It's my goal to memorize the whole thing one day.

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