I love the hope of New Year’s Eve and the joy of anticipating a fresh start.
New wine. New wineskins.
I’m eager to grow in my faith and step into situations that require faith. I’m eager to think about how to bless others around me and live a Philippians 2 life that takes on the “nature of a servant.” I’m eager to grow in intercession as I pray for my family and friends and, more recently, the persecuted church.
And I have a small resolution: to drink more water.
These past few days, I’ve been in Minneapolis to speak at Cru’s Winter Conference on Seated and Sent. I met so many vibrant, hopeful Christians and heard the most beautiful worship music from the college student worship team. What wonderful people! What a powerful event!
I recently began to study a curious passage in Matthew 9: Jesus tells his disciples that His teaching and His new way of being are radically different from the old ways of living to try to earn God’s favor through obedience. But Jesus says it like this: “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
The old clothes and old wineskins represent the old way of thinking and living apart from Christ. We need a whole new way of thinking and living. We can’t just stuff Jesus into our regular old patterns of living or working. We need an entire makeover. We need a life of new wineskins.
I think about any way I’m living or working that places me back into the old me that’s not the Holy Spirit’s new wineskins.
Sometimes we need a little comparison to refine our poor attitude. For example, I recently find myself wishing I didn’t have a boring two hour flight. It’s too long. What will I do for two hours?
The kind woman beside me begins to tell me about her travel plans for the day. After this two hour flight, she’ll enjoy 14 more hours of plane rides on her way to Kenya. Then she’ll journey another 4 hours to her town. Her eyes sparkle with the joy of seeing family again. She’s thankful for modern travel possibilities. Nothing seems to discourage her or bore her about her travel day that will extend well into the night and till the morning. She’s on a grand adventure as she tells me what’s next on her flight on Ethiopian Airlines.
I love birds in winter. In Pennsylvania, certain birds migrate here just for the winter. Here? To our little Pennsylvania town? What’s there to see here? Well apparently, certain birds come here in winter, including the snowy owl!
Our local newspaper reported today how “the dark-eyed junco . . . fly here from Canada each fall by the millions — and that number is no exaggeration.”
Millions? That’s right–millions of dark-eyed junco fly in to see us for the fall and winter. They stay here till April. Just when I thought winter wouldn’t bring anything special in our neighborhood, nature delivers the biggest crowd. These “snowbirds” bring a sweet song and playful movement in our trees and around the feeder. They dance on the ground to stir up dirt and seeds.
The dark-eyed junco comes with an expression from birders to remind you of their arrival time: gray skies on top, white snow on bottom. That’s what they look like with their gray top feather and white underside. So when the sky is gray and the snow begins to fall, I know I’ll see the junco soon.
And guess where they’ve been? Not just Canada; some fly in from Alaska and even the Arctic Circle. These dark-eyed junco might just have spent their summer with the polar bears, arctic fox, caribou, and reindeer.
When I look at the dark-eyed junco, I’ll remember the vastness of our planet and far away places. I’ll remember how every season delivers unique gifts. Tomorrow morning, I’ll listen for the song of the dark-eyed junco which you can enjoy on this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlJUsAl4YCA
I remember C.S. Lewis’ line about how in Narnia, it’s always winter but never Christmas. Now, with Jesus, it’s always Christmas and never winter. We no longer endure a winter of the heart that’s devoid of fruitfulness and joy, that fears death, or sees no hope. It’s always Christmas now.
In the book of Matthew, we read how the wisemen followed the star to know when and where Jesus had arrived. They understood the sign. The followed that light God gave. They looked upward. They let the light lead them.
The followed the star.
As we search for meaning and truth in our own live, we know that Jesus becomes the bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). He’s the Star we follow now; He is the light that keeps our path true. We look upward. We let Jesus lead.
I’ve always loved that Jesus came as a weak baby. There’s something so biblical about weakness that hides a secret, counterintuitive strength. It’s like the upside world you inhabit in Philippians 2 where we learn how the servant becomes the exalted one. You know the mystery: the first become last; the last become first. You see this remarkably laid out in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 where God speaks to Paul about Paul’s weakness that becomes his strength:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
It’s a strange phenomenon that the weak person enjoys God’s power resting on her. The weak Christian takes particular delight in the things everyone avoids and detests: insults, hardship, persecution, difficulties (one translation says “calamities”). Delighting in calamity? In hardship?
The older I grow in the Lord, the more strange I realize Christianity actually is. It’s a profoundly different kind of living.
If it’s a Christmas of weakness—through illness and difficulty in any form–may we know the mystery of Christ’s power resting on us in a special way. May we feel fresh strength and supernatural delight.
I love the practice of keeping a gratitude journal each morning. Today, I find myself so thankful for things that keep to a theme: nature.
Do you find your gratitude contains a theme?
I’m thankful that my Christmas amaryllis will bloom in the next few days. I’m thankful for the beautiful moon on the crisp winter night. I’m thankful for a cat curled up on my lap. I’m thankful for my orchids that once again have thrived on neglect and will also bloom soon. I’m thankful for snow. While we aren’t supposed to enjoy a white Christmas this year, today the forecast shows flurries. I cannot wait to pull out my new snow boots when the time comes.
It you aren’t in the habit of keeping a gratitude journal, let me suggest this as one of my top 3 mental health practices (next to daily walking and prayer). I record just five things a day. You can also list people you are thankful for, and then you can send them a message of thanks sometime that day. Add your husband and children to that list if you haven’t affirmed them in a while! Ha! You will feel so good as you cultivate a thankful heart.