To Be a New Creation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:17-19

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When you become a Christian, a new life is born in you. Literally, you accept Christ’s sacrifice in place of your sins, and God forgives and redeems you. You are a new creation. God calls you New.

What does it mean to be a new creation? First, you are different from those who are not new. You desire to please God, and you choose what He commands. You can choose selflessness instead of thinking only of yourself. You are not held in bondage to your sins because you have been forgiven by the grace of God. There is freedom in being a new person.

Second, it means that you have a new purpose. Instead of living to please yourself and your desires, you are now a bearer of what the Apostle Paul calls “this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (NLT) You are not made new simply for your own benefit, but for the responsibility you now have of sharing the Gospel. You can bring the good news of salvation to people who do not know what it is like to fully accept God’s grace and forgiveness.

Who in your life does not know the joy of the Lord? Let your identity as a new person in Christ be a ready invitation offering them the same new life. How can you be a minister of reconciliation for him or her?

Originally published in Her Binder Project, February 2017. I absolutely love the free study resources at Her Binder Project and I completely recommend them. This is my first month writing for them, and I hope to continue!

Interested in which Bible I use for my daily study?
See my review of my two favorite Bibles here!

What does it mean to be a new creation? Thoughts from Grace Upon Grace Blog at deannalexis.wordpress.com

Being Present Physically

PhysicallyPresent

When I chose the word “presence” as my word for this year, I was expecting at best a life lesson or two that I would learn by spending a little more time in prayer and Scripture that would not necessarily impact the rest of my life. This has not been true. My primary ways of learning real, true presence has been by force. A few simple, without-a-second-thought things have come into my path and made me realize the act of being present in the moment with much more clarity.

I bought a new pair of work shoes with low wedge heels a few weeks ago. The first day I wore them was the second day of standardized testing week, and I was not allowed to sit down during the entire three hours of testing each day. Literally, one of my bosses would come around and tell me to keep walking around if they ever caught me sitting down. I basically covered my feet in band-aids and little no-show pantyhose socks in order to make it through the week. By walking slower that week and being more intentional about where I placed my steps, I was forced to pay attention. All of a sudden, I was seeing things I had not seen before and noticing things I had not yet noticed. I was present.

The second instance occurred when I decided to paint my nails. I was between two loads of laundry and putting new sheets on my bed when I suddenly had the insatiable urge to paint both my fingernails and toenails. (I had new nail polish that I was excited about trying.) The polish took 87 million years to dry, and I was frustrated with the fact that I had to sit still instead of doing all the things I needed wanted to do next. I was present, albeit frustratingly.

And finally, a cold/allergies/PMS combo left me exhausted and frustrated this week. In addition, the printer at my workplace wasn’t working the entire week, and I had to print a lot at home, and depend on fellow teachers for help. I could not find the best combination of medication to ease any of my symptoms, and I have not taken a shower in 2 and a half days.

Here I am, the morning after this exhausting week, drugged up and covered in Vick’s Vapor Rub, sipping chai tea and eating microwave oatmeal. The floor of my bedroom is littered with used tissues.

It is still difficult to be present.I have five tabs of recipes open on my computer, and I’m trying to calculate prices at certain stores by ounce and cost per portion. I mentally see myself comparison shopping from the Kroger to the Aldi and back again. But I’m not present here.

So I stop the recipe hunting and sip my tea. I listen to the sounds of the cars driving by my apartment complex. It sounds like I am the only person up on this side of the complex. And I try to stop.

Be present. Sit. Listen. Be. Rest.

I’ve been doing yoga for a few months now. I enjoy the stretching and the breathing. I especially enjoy the focus on being in the moment and being with the breath and moving with the breath. When ancient Hindu people did yoga, they tried to clear their minds of everything else, and just focus on nothing. When I, as a twenty-something Christian woman in the 21st century, do yoga, I try to fill my mind with the words of Christ, the breath of my Lord.

By the breath of God, the formless universe took shape. By the breath of God, Adam, Job, and I were crafted. By the breath of God, the Scripture and prophecies therein were composed. By the breath of God, those who come to know Him by His mercy will be cleansed and reborn not by water, but by the Spirit… The Spirit, which is many times known as His very breath.

So often we look at this world and all that must be done and all who must be rescued, and we neglect the very breath of God. We neglect the peace and stillness that comes from being present with the Lord and we jump straight into what we should do next, instead of who we should be now.

I have heard the story of Mary and Martha from Luke chapter 10 enough to know that I hate it. I am a Martha through and through, and I still think she was important and necessary and good. Keeping a clean house and being hospitable and knowing how to cook for a crowd are wonderful, blessed things. Please do not miss those things when you denounce Martha. Her flaw was not that was hospitable. Her flaw was that she did not sit with her Lord (and she complained about her sister to Jesus!). She did not recognize his presence. In essence, she was worried about good things, but she was not present with The Best Thing: the Lord’s very presence. The Lord’s breath. Jesus was literally there and she ran from one task to another without truly seeing him, without sitting at his feet.

No wonder we, 21st-century Christians without a physical Jesus to see and touch, run busily to each task without stopping to be with Him. If Martha did it with God-with-skin-on, how easy it must seem to us to do it when we cannot see and touch Him.

Oh, but sisters and brothers… We can see Him. We can touch Him. In the flowers. In the sunrise. In the kindness of a co-worker who brings us copies when the copy machine is down. In the joy of a child on her birthday. In the simple comfort of chai tea when we’re sick. In the love of a friend, fiance, or spouse.

So often, we run to what must be done instead of being with the One who must be honored. He says to us: “Be still and know that I am God!” before he says: “I will be exalted by every nation.” These sentences may be located in the same verse (Psalm 46:10), but the be still command comes before the exclamation of His honor.

This is why my daily  mostly regular yoga practice is worship. I am being forced to sit still and think about something while stretching or bending or simply breathing. Instead of the mind-numbing techniques of ancients past, I think on my Savior. I meditate by filling my mind with his goodness. Just as his mercies never end, so do my thoughts of him never cease. See Psalm 119 for that continuing meditation.

This is why I have realized that I cannot be upset when little things, like new shoes and painted nails and sicknesses give me pause (or, more accurately, force me to be still). Have I forgotten that “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”? (Psalm 27:13). I see his goodness revealed best when I stop and look.

In the same way, I love others best when I stop and look. 1 John 3:17 says that you must first “See a brother or sister in need” before choosing to be compassionate or not. How can I love when I do not see? How can I minister to the hurting world when I do not stop?

When I am not still with my Savior, I do not see what his eyes see.

So, how to be physically present in this season? Currently, I am finishing my second year of teaching, planning a wedding, and recovering from a sickness and a surgery. But I can be physically present by:

  • Reading His Words – I had great plans for a huge and complicated Bible Study program to begin in January. I think I followed the program for 2 days. That isn’t feasible for an everyday study for me. Instead, I have a devotional journal that I strive to read each night, and I strive to read a section or chapter of Scripture each morning. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s my goal.
  • Prayer – I struggle with consistent prayer. A non-Christian student of mine asked me if we were allowed to pray more than a certain number of times each day. I told him that we were encouraged to pray without ceasing, to make our lives be full of prayer. It was a very convicting conversation for me. I’ve found that when I let the name of Jesus be ever on my lips, prayer comes so much more easily. I’m continuing to work on this by opening my heart to prayer, not just my mind.
  • Physical Activity – For me, yoga and walking are my physical ways to be physically present. Yoga is the calm, meditative method. Walking is the more active way. Whatever you choose, do it. And stay with it.
  • Focus on who God is and what God does – “I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles.” (Psalm 145:5)

You Can’t Keep God in a Box

Back in 1995, when I was just a little thing, I was privileged to see the Atlanta Braves win the World Series with my dad and grandma, both of whom are huge fans. From then on, despite the fact that I find the sport itself not exactly super exciting, I have attended numerous baseball and softball games. From watching my brother struggle through two treacherously scorching summers of T-ball and eating way too many salty sunflower seeds at church softball games when I was in college, to attending minor league games on warm summer nights and seeing my dad’s favorite college team at their stomping grounds, I have watched my fair share of baseball games. It’s funny what a baseball game experience recently taught me.

Can'tKeepGodinaBox

Last night, I got to see my cousin play a game of coach’s pitch baseball at the community park in the town where my parents live. A bunch of little boys running around in tiny baseball uniforms is precious, no matter who’s winning.

One little boy in a green shirt with tiny blonde curls caught my eye. Too young to play on the team, he sat outside the fenced-in diamond… Maybe “sat” is not the right word. He was constantly up and down, running this way and that way, playing with cups of water and sticks and weeds that hadn’t been cut recently. He couldn’t be still. His dad was after him every few minutes, carrying or calling the child back to the lawn chairs they had arranged beside the bleachers. After a few attempts to keep the little boy in the chair, his father raised his voice at him, demanding that he stay put.

I had been observing the boy, and I thought he was acting in a way akin to little boys. In fact, my cousin who was playing has an older sister and a younger brother, both of whom were roaming the area between the diamond and the concession stand, and given free reign to do so. Everyone was safe, as numerous concerned parents had an eye on the little ones. I couldn’t understand why this father wouldn’t let his little boy go play.

I realize that there may have been a special circumstance, and I acknowledge that each parent has the right to parent as he or she sees fit within reason, but this event stuck with me as I drove back that night.

Little boys don’t sit still, and that’s a good thing. The boy I watched couldn’t be kept in the lawn chair and he was into everything. Likewise, God doesn’t sit still either. He is constantly moving. Often, we tend to put God in a little box and relegate him to meeting our needs when and where we want them met, like a genie in a bottle. But that’s not who God is.

When I was preparing to go to Hong Kong in Summer 2012, the organization I went with gave us a preparatory devotional book. One of the book’s key points is that God has already been working in Hong Kong. Our arrival does not “bring God” to the people of Hong Kong. Our arrival just coincides with the work God is already doing there. It was a new experience for me to arrive in the western-eastern hybrid world of Hong Kong, but God was already a “regular” there. He had been there since the beginning of time, using His circumstances and His children to till soil, plant seeds, water seedlings, and shine sunshine in the hearts of the people there, in order to make his name known. I was just a minuscule blip on God’s infinite timeline of eternity. I was an important part of the team going to Hong Kong, and I believe that God used me and shaped me, but I didn’t “save” anyone. I didn’t single-handedly change the region of HK for Jesus’s sake. I was just a servant doing the will of her master for basically no earthly reward.

And yet for some reason, I feel that I have to keep God in my little box, as if I’m walking around with a little “God-in-a-box” that provides for my every desire.

That’s not how it works.

Going to Hong Kong made me aware that God is so much bigger than I had thought. Not only is He omnipresent (existing everywhere at the same time), but he is also omnipotent (all powerful in every situation). He is “in” time and space, but He is also outside of time and space. And he is in every time and space. At the same time.

No, you can’t wrap your mind around it. And that is good. God is not understandable by the human mind, and that makes him worthy of worship by the human heart.

Instead of praying for the “God-in-a-box” to bless the plans we have created in our finite minds, why don’t we ask the infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent God to place us where he wants us to go and show us what he wants us to do? See, he’s already laid the foundation for our paths, and his plans will come to fruition (Proverbs 19:21). And God is good. He will always provide. He works all things together for our good and for His glory.

How does this play out practically? How do we avoid asking “God-in-a-box” to bless our human plans? 

First, go where God is and invest there. Join the people there. I find this especially useful advice for college students and young adults because I am one of them. We want to start new adventures and plan exciting things and change the world. While that’s exciting and great and some of those ventures have made great differences for the better, we can do great things just by joining the work God is already doing. This is why I’m not a huge supporter of church plants, unless there is already a stirring for God in a certain needy area or demographic. Don’t plant a church just for the sake of planting a church. Don’t create a new ministry just for the sake of creating a new ministry. Go where God is already working and love there. Minister there. Invest there. Love right next door and see what happens. Support a local ministry with your time, talents, and money. This is an excellent way to keep us grounded in the fact that we are not saviors of the world, but Jesus is.

Second, pray big. A common of prayer of mine includes petitions for “grace, guidance, and protection.” Those things are nice, and God promises us all three, but that’s kindof a boring prayer. I think it’s fine to pray with repetition, because it’s a great reminder. However, I would ask that we pray bigger. If we really do have a relationship with the One True King, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Redeemer and Restorer of our souls, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, why do we pray so small? If prayer is communicating with the One who made our inmost beings, why do we pray so small?

I have heard people say that we should pray generically, following a “May your will be done” philosophy. I have heard others say that we should pray specifically, asking for big things with faith in a God who can move mountains. I think both are correct. Sometimes we pray with broken hearts: “God, we don’t know what to do in this situation.” Other times we pray with hopeful hearts: “God, we ask for this job, this healing, this provision.” In both situations, however, we are naming things. We bring our specific worries and needs and cares before God, trusting that he will make paths for us and work through situations in ways that only he can, for our good and His glory.

Personally, I don’t think prayer changes God’s mind much. I think it changes our hearts. I think it makes us more aware of what God is doing. I think it opens our eyes to see God’s work in, around, and through us. When we pray big, we acknowledge that we want to see God at work. We acknowledge that he may work out things differently than how we expected him to do so. We acknowledge that he is big. He is not “God-in-a-box.” He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and worthy of worship.

Third, always be thankful. When God answers our prayers by way of Scripture, people around us, circumstances, or provisions, our response should be gratitude. Thankfulness proves that we are small. To extend thanks to someone else makes us humble and accepting. It reminds us that we cannot provide for all of our needs on our own.

I recently read a few articles detailing things happy and healthy people do first thing in the morning. Many of the article listed gratitude as a good morning habit. Thinking of one thing you are grateful for keeps you going on stressful or difficult days. Is it any wonder that God calls us to be “Thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18)?

You can’t keep God in a box anymore than you can keep ten kittens out of trouble or an ice cream cone from melting on a hot day or a little boy from wandering around outside. Don’t ask God to bless your finite plans. Ask him where he wants you to go, and then go. Go with love, go with prayer, and go with thankfulness.