Those of us who read The Traveler celebrate the beginning of the next year in the middle of the bleak, dark winter. Other readers from various locations around the world celebrate the coming of the new year in the spring (or near the spring). That seems more reasonable to me because that’s when new life bursts forth all over: new leaves on trees, flowers springing up, newly born baby animals, ice breaking on rivers and lakes . . . In my own mind, I always feel spring is actually the beginning of the new year, even though our culture celebrates it in the dark, cold winter. As Anne and I look back at the 365 days called 2013, it’s been a mixture of both good and bad for us. How about you? How was the year 2013 for you? We’re trusting God that the best of 2013 will be the worst of 2014!
In some ways, we can actually cooperate with God in “co-creating” the 365 days we call 2014. God exists outside all the limitations of time and space; to God, everything is always absolutely simultaneous. God already knows everything that will happen in 2014. But we don’t. We humans are trapped inside the limitations of time and space where everything is always fluid, always changing, never staying the same. We have no clue what might happen throughout 2014. God has given us the amazing capacity to have a personal relationship with Him through Jesus. Within that relationship, we also have the capacity to make choices and decisions: good or bad. On a day-to-day basis throughout the 365 days we call 2014, we can cooperate with God in building and forming our own future. Oh, we can’t totally create things from nothing as only God is able to do, but we can co-create our futures in cooperation with Him, knowing God is altogether good and absolutely everything He does is good.
No, everything that happens to us during 2014 may not be good, but God can always work out absolutely everything for our ultimate good . . . if we will simply cooperate with Him in working out his good plans and purposes for our lives.
Choices and Decisions
Throughout each of our lifetimes, changes usually come when we make small and large choices and decisions moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year. Most meaningful and lasting changes occur first in our spirits, then in our core beliefs and thoughts, then in our attitudes, and then in our behavior. Meaningful and lasting changes begin on the inside of each of us and then work their way out into our outward actions and behavior.
Beware of anyone who tells you to change or modify your behavior first and then change will work its way inside you. Nope! It doesn’t work that way. Never has. Never will. And, of course, the best way to make such inner changes is with the strong power of God’s Holy Spirit Who lives inside us. He is Jesus in his unbodied other form. It’s a rare person who makes genuine, lasting changes inside himself or herself without the inner power of God’s Holy Spirit.
I don’t want to insult your intelligence, but you do know, don’t you, that every decision and choice you make in life has consequences? The consequences may be good or bad, negative or positive, but there are always consequences. What types of choices and decisions have you already made at the very gateway of 2014? They always . . . always . . . always . . . always have consequences. Guaranteed. A famous leader and army General named Joshua who lived about 3,500 years ago was faced with some tough decisions and choices at one point in his life. Almost all the people he led and commanded seemed to be making wrong choices to worship and serve lifeless gods and idols; Joshua knew what the dire consequences of such decisions would be.
He talked things over with his family and then proclaimed: “As for me and my family, today we choose to serve only the one true and living God!” He was saying he and his family would not choose to serve lifeless gods and idols, they would not choose to follow what seemed to be the “popular” religious trends of that era. They chose to love and serve the living God. They chose to have an intimate relationship with the true and living God.
How about you—here at the beginning of 2014? Are you choosing to serve only yourself? Are you choosing yourself, your family, your friends, your money, your “toys”? Or are you making quality decisions to serve and love God foremost during 2014? Are you serving a “dead” religion or church? Are you trying to impress God with how holy you are? Are you choosing to be one of those “holier-than-thou” religious hypocrites people around you talk about? If so, you’re not fooling anyone but yourself; everyone around you knows what you’re really like. It’s a matter of your choices and decisions . . . and their consequences.
You decide. You choose. Realize every choice and decision you make throughout 2014 will have good or bad, positive, or negative consequences!
Here we are in early 2014. Christmas is over and you don’t have even a dime left to give yourself even one gift. But you won’t need money for the gifts I’m writing about. Jesus instructed us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Who are our neighbors? Are they simply the people who live next door to us? Or across the street? The Bible defines “neighbor” as “someone who is close to me.” So . . . my neighbor is anyone who is close to me: geographically, physically, spiritually, or relationally. No, a neighbor is not necessarily the person who lives next door—but it can be. A neighbor can even be someone who lives far away geographically, but close relationally. For example, we have some close “neighbors” who live half a world and continent away in China and New York City. A neighbor can be a family member, a friend far away, someone next door, a brother or sister anywhere in God’s worldwide family: anyone who fits the Bible’s definition of “someone close to me.”
Actually my point here is not so much who my neighbor is. My point is we’re not to love our neighbors in place of ourselves, or instead of ourselves. We’re to love them as we love ourselves—in the same manner and to the same degree we love ourselves. Stop trying to avoid facing yourself and not loving yourself by attempting to love others in place of yourself. Until you honestly love and accept yourself, any love you devote to others is diminished and even wasted sometimes. Of course, you can love yourself only when you understand that God loves you with all his love, all his favor, all his grace just as you are—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Your greatest gift you can give yourself in 2014 is to love and accept yourself in the same manner and to the same degree God loves you. Love yourself “as is,” knowing you are a work in progress by God to fully restore you into his image over time.
The Image of God
God’s image means you are a visible representation of the invisible God. Sin has marred and blurred and smudged God’s image in you, but He is in the lifelong process of restoring you into his clear image. So . . . accept yourself just as God does. Be easy on yourself. Accept the mistakes you will make in 2014 as merely being stepping stones to future successes. You’re not a failure. Sure, you’ll fail many times in 2014, but you’re not a failure.
You Will Not Be A Failure in 2014
People are not failures; failures are events which occur in our lives. No, we are not failures! Lighten up in 2014. Live a little. Laugh a little. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Give yourself the gift of loving yourself. Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying: “Most people are just about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Also, why not try to learn once and for all in 2014 that God doesn’t depend on you alone to“defend” Him or defend the truth. You are not his sole spokesperson on planet earth. You’re not his only “defender of the faith.” You’re not his only witness running around frantically trying to convince people to receive Jesus into their lives.
Believe it or not, there are 7+ billion people on planet earth who don’t even know you exist. Yuh can’t win ‘em all! God and Jesus are perfectly capable of drawing people into a vital relationship with themselves without you. True, in Jesus, God has selected you to accomplish certain portions of his plans and purposes for all humankind, but you, personally, are not the savior of humankind, nor of your friends, nor of your family, nor of your neighbors. God is the sole Savior of humankind through Jesus! Take some walks this year. Spend time with your family. Skip a rock across a lake. Hold a cat on your lap and pet it for a few moments. Join hands and skip through a park with someone.
Another tip: if you’re too busy as you enter 2014, unbusy yourself. You cannot say “Yes” to God, to life, to your church, to your family, to your work, until you learn to say “No” to the unessentials. Always be careful not to be significantly engaged in that which is not significant! Learn to live in 2014 on a “choose to” or “want to” basic rather than on a “have to” basis. You may engage in many good things, but remember the good is always the enemy of the best!
Turn your life around in 2014. You have the strong inner power of the Holy Spirit to change key areas of your life. Become a victor instead of a victim in 2014. Be a power-full self-changer in 2014.
Change and Transformation in 2014
2014 won’t have all the qualities of God in it, though. Learn to recognize the differences between God and life on this planet. Life is life. God is God. Don’t confuse the two. Life will not always be fair. Life will not always be good. Life will always be changing. Life will always be full of a certain amount of dis-stress. But God is fair. God is good. God never changes. God is serene and free of stress. Learn to tap into God in 2014. Learn to see that God filters all the events of your life through His love and grace for you. Speaking of some of God’s qualities, try to learn once and for all during 2014 that, although God is always and ever good, not all the people He has created are good. Yes, He has created us humans in his image, but some humans grossly distort that image.
During 2014 learn that God’s goodness is often overshadowed by our own self-centered badness. You can’t change the badness in others, but you can change it in you with the inner power of the Holy Spirit. Frankly, I grow weary of people who tell me they keep praying and praying for God to change them. You’re wasting your time. You need to change yourself with the inner power of the Holy Spirit!
God has already given you power to change yourself—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is inside you right this moment as you enter 2014! Yes, for 2014 give yourself a gift of a changed and transformed you. You can’t permanently change and transform yourself without the inner power of the Holy Spirit. If you will learn to rely upon the inner power of the Holy Spirit as you attempt to make changes in your life, I predict that 2014 will be the most successful and prosperous year of your life thus far.
“I know what I’m doing. I have 2014 all planned out–plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me . . . I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed. I’ll turn things around for you in 2014.” –God, Jeremiah 29: 11- 14, paraphrased
To Think About This month
“I pray that the best I’ve experienced during 2013 will be the worst I will experience throughout 2014!”
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Revised and Updated May 2019