Here are two intimately reflective essays by clergy leaders about best ways to start this new year, 2018, with a healthy and right spirit. Each column, republished with permission from their church newsletters, offers wise insight, gentle challenges and helpful encouragement that readers may find edifying.
Indeed, the year is still new and fresh, still unformed and still open to receiving wise direction and welcome evidence of an immediate, or eventual, future with hope. So read on, reflect and be resolved in this, your new year, to “Making all things new” and “Celebrating good times.”
The Rev. Maryanne Ditter,
Minister of Spiritual Formation
Tabor UMC, Woxall, PA
Just a few months ago, I was listening to songs on my computer to try and figure out what song my son and I would dance to at his wedding. We didn’t want to have a serious dance the whole way through; so we were thinking about and listening to songs that would shift from serious to fun music.
One of song I considered was “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang. Do you remember the lyrics? “Celebrate good times, come on.” I reflected on how we approach a new year and how we might begin it. And then I thought of this song. Also, I saw an e-mail message that talked about celebration in the church, and I came up with a way that this all could be tied together.
The beginning of a new year has various emotions. We struggle with whether or not we should change things when a new year comes around. We either consciously or unconsciously decide that we need to work on certain things to either better ourselves or improve the way we have done things before.
To many of us, a new year is a celebration because we get to think about our lives and what we would like to change. We get to correct things in our lives which gives us a sign of hope that we can change and be better. Doesn’t it feel good to sense that you can have a “do over”?
I share this with you because I believe the same is true with our spiritual lives. In a new year, we might vow to draw closer to God by attending church more often, or doing more Bible reading, or having more times of quiet with God.
Then there are times when we personally experience God, where we can celebrate God’s goodness or healing, or His provision or…… Sometimes, we thank God for this through our personal prayer time with Him. Other times we share with family and friends what God has done. Sometimes we even go to our church family and give testimony of God’s goodness.
All of this is a great thing. But, it is the other times that I would like you to consider, when we don’t share God’s goodness with others. Why do you think that is? We should be celebrating what He is doing all the time.
You may think it is okay to keep what God is doing for you just between you and God. But did you know that sharing testimony about what God is doing gives other Christians encouragement? Maybe someone is struggling with their faith because they don’t see God responding to them the way they had hoped. But hearing from others will remind them that, Yes, God is still revealing Himself. We just have to keep waiting on Him, and He will reveal Himself to us too.
I believe we Christians need reminders and encouragement often because living the Christian life is not always easy. There are times when we have to trust God, although that is not always easy. It can be challenging. Or maybe we are going through something difficult and we are having trouble seeing God in it. Hearing of another’s struggle and the way God helped to get them through it can be just the encouragement we need.
You have opportunities, no matter where you are, to tell others whenever we see them what God has done for you. We can share in our small groups, worship, meetings or Sunday School classes. Really, that is the main purpose of small groups and Sunday School classes. They give us, and others, chances to grow spiritually through the teaching of God’s word, but also the opportunity to remind people how good God is through testimonies of experience. Won’t you make 2018 a Celebration time? Celebrate with each other the goodness of God, and encourage those who might desperately need to know Him or need reminding of what He is doing in our world.
By the Rev. James Anderman,
Lead Pastor, Covenant UMC, Springfield PA
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 2 Corinthians 5:17
As we begin a new year, it’s natural to think about New Year’s resolutions, new starts, and putting our past behind us. For some there is a desire to drop a few pounds, for others the goal is a new job, and maybe for all of us a closer walk with the Lord. What are your goals and how do you plan to accomplish them?
When I think about the opportunities a new year brings, I am reminded of a fresh blanket of snow. The snow changes the look of the landscape: unsightly leaves left on the lawn disappear, there is no litter to be seen in the street, the tree branches are coated in white, and everything takes on a crisp clean look. It’s picture perfect!
Ah, but therein lies the problem. It’s “picture perfect,” yet beneath the snow leaves are still on the ground and litter is still in the street. A few degrees rise in temperature will return everything to the way it was, well almost! Little has really changed; there are no permanent improvements. If anything, things may be worse than they were before. Leaves are matted together, litter is stuck in place, and tree branches are stressed from the weight of the snow.
So it is with our lives. Each day and each year brings fresh opportunities to accomplish our goals, strengthen our relationship with the Lord, and become a better person. But it takes work, sometimes really hard work! If I truly want to drop the extra pounds, I need to drop the fork, drop the extra-large helping, and learn to be satisfied with a more appropriate serving. If you want a new job, you need to apply for it; you may even need to hone your skills to qualify. If we want to walk closer with the Lord, we need to spend time with God in prayer and then act in ways that are in accordance with God’s will.
In 2018 I’m going to drop the fork, the extra-large helping, and learn to be satisfied with the more appropriate serving, but more importantly, I’m going to spend more time with God in prayer and act in ways that are more in accord with God’s will. I invite you to join me on the spiritual part of my journey. Together let’s do the work needed to be God’s new creation.