So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All of this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:17-18
The time leading up to the New Year is filled with reflecting on the past year and planning on making the New Year even better by creating resolutions. We think resolutions to eat healthy, work-out more, or declutter our lives will create a new us. However, most of these plans fail before January ends.
This review of the past can also be dangerous. Focusing on the past does not allow for us to be in the present moment. We are not able to see what God is doing in the here and now because we are focusing on what God has or has not done in the last year.
The past can be improved. The story is yours to write. However, this can be done at any point. We do not need the New Year to decide to do what is best for ourselves. There is no New Year, New Me. The way we become new is not the hours between December 31st and January 1st.
We become new in Jesus. In our relationship with Jesus, we are reconciled with God. The old versions of ourselves pass away and we become new in Christ Jesus. There is no need for resolutions or unmet goals. There is only a need for preparing room in our hearts.
As the New Year greets us, do you have room in your heart for Jesus?
My brother Rees Harris II was born in December of 1982. He was soon diagnosed with Werdnig-Hoffman Syndrome, the infantile form of spinal muscular atrophy. It was very rare. Only a handful of kids were diagnosed with it. The nerves don’t send impulses to the muscles so they don’t work. He could not move. He had a tracheostomy tube and a ventilator to breathe for him. He had a feeding tube so he’d get nutrition. He had around the clock nurses to care for him because his condition required suctioning of his trach & use of an ambu bag while not attached to the breathing machine. He passed away exactly 22 1/2 years after his birth, outliving his life expectancy by 22 years. He also outlived several of his doctors and our mom. So where was God in this struggle? Rees had a smile that kept you from seeing his problems. God was there. Rees had a fabulous mind trapped in a terrible body. God was there as he not only went to school, but excelled and was inducted into The National Honor Society. To have Rees live 22 years longer than expected was truly of God. He was sent home to die on July 1, 1983. Our parents were told early on to just let him go, to enjoy their three healthy children and live their lives. They did not. God was in their decision to keep him alive. God was there when they didn’t sleep, worried his condition would kill him sooner or later. God was there when our Mom died unexpectedly and we had to carry on without her. God was there when Rees finally could not fight anymore, when it was his time to go to heaven and join our mom and Jesus. As Rees was dying, my husband joined two of his nurses and me around his hospital bed. We prayed him up to heaven and Ken remarked, “Can you imagine your mom’s face when Rees WALKS to her in heaven?” How could we be sad? God won! Rees won! Every day was a miracle from God and we got well over 8000 of those days. God was always there and He is always there. He’s there in our struggles and our celebrations. Thank you God for always being there.
I believe that God heals. Isaiah 53:5 writes prophetically about Jesus, the Messiah who would redeem all of humanity, and notes that “He was beaten so we could be whole; He was whipped so we could be healed.” This passage coupled with the numerous healings Jesus and the apostles did, as well as a few healings I’ve seen personally, solidifies this belief.
But what happens when God doesn’t answer prayer? What happens when we don’t see the healing that we desperately seek? Is God still a God of healing?
On May 23, 2016, my family began to explore these questions when my mom was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. I was working on campus at Messiah College for the summer, with few friends to confide in, and I was mad. I was mad at God. I was having some difficulties with my faith at the time, and I didn’t know what to do. After an hour of talking with God, yelling at Him and crying to Him, God reminded me of a verse from the book of John: “In this world you will face many troubles. But take heart, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). I had a choice: to either give up hope and turn from God, or to turn to Him and cling to the hope of this promise. Choosing to trust God, as I had in years prior, our family clung to His promises and prayed for Mom’s healing.
Mom started chemotherapy and was discouraged for the first month and a half. However, she found that living in fear was not only a hopeless position to have, but physically damaging for her health. When we are afraid, our body has natural responses: our heart rate increases causing our blood pressure to go up, our breathing becomes heavier, and adrenaline starts flowing through the body. While these symptoms of fear are typically used for a fight-or-flight scenario, when battling cancer it actually weakens the body and gives the cancer more strength. Mom put her hope in Jesus instead, and we saw her rapidly improve thanks to a lack of fear and the many prayers that were sent her way. By the end of August, three months after the initial diagnosis, her health was where most patients would hope to be six to nine months into chemotherapy. Mom was able to go back to work at our church in September.
We were grateful for God’s providence, and even during this time of better health, Mom continued to seek God for complete healing in her body. She declared Scriptures over herself, read various books about healing, and spent a lot of time in prayer. Our church was also very supportive during this time, in ways we had never seen our church work before – providing meals for our family, sending people to our home every night to pray, and even doing things that we hadn’t thought about, like yard work.
However, our time of rejoicing was short. Near Christmas, Mom had another scan that showed the cancer had grown. We were disappointed, but Mom chose to be thankful for the healing work that God had done, knowing that the growth was small compared to where her journey had begun. We recognized that cancer was not just a physical battle, but a spiritual one as well, as any sickness or disease is. However, we also knew Who held victory over sin, death, and disease, and we continued to trust Jesus.
The Spring of 2017 was a fairly consistent season with little change in Mom’s condition. For the most part, she was feeling well with the occasional bout of symptoms with each chemo treatment. In this strange season of seeking health for Mom, my parents went on a retreat together as they did every year. During that retreat, they felt God was saying something kind of odd: to make plans for the summer and to not change them. So Mom and Dad took that to heart and made their plans for the summer: they planned to help with a summer camp in June, attend a conference in DC in July, and visit missionaries in Thailand in August.
In May, a full year since Mom was diagnosed, she received bad news. The cancer was growing again – and we saw similar symptoms to what happened the year prior: the cancer in her liver was sending funny signals to the kidneys, and the kidneys were essentially telling her body that she was not retaining enough water. Thus, her body started to balloon with excess water weight, so much that she looked pregnant and had swollen feet and legs.
Despite these symptoms and the difficulties they presented, she did not fear and fully trusted God. Even though she was sick, she held onto what God told her to do and did not change anything. She helped out with camp in June and delighted in ministering to the campers and other counselors. She attended the conference in DC in July and enjoyed her stay, holding firmly to faith. Several of the other conference guests would approach Mom and, seeing her ballooned belly, ask “Are you expecting?” Mom would smile and say, “Yes, but I’m not expecting a baby. I’m expecting a miracle”, and would proceed to tell them her story. At the same time, she quietly made preparations in the scenario that healing would not occur – organizing her files, making sure people knew where things were, and having people at the church take on responsibilities she could not do as easily in her weakened state.
The closer the day to leave for Thailand came, the worse Mom’s condition became. Family, friends, and doctors asked her if she really wanted to go, but Mom was adamant: “God said not to change anything. I’m going on that plane.”
Mom passed away in a hospital in Japan after the plane stopped for a layover there. She passed in perfect peace, as if God’s Spirit had enveloped her in His love. Her story ended with her repeating a single phrase while on her deathbed:
“Just trust Jesus.”
There are many cliché things that can be said – “she was healed in heaven”, or “she received her healing differently than we thought”, which is true. However, it doesn’t help the heart ache of losing someone you loved. It doesn’t help to overcome the pain, the longing to see her and hear her say “I love you”, things that over a year later I am still wrestling with.
What it does do is beg a question: does God really want to heal?
Even now, I say yes.
Mom’s testimony of faith was to trust Jesus with everything. Jesus healed everywhere He went, and He delighted in restoring identity and wholeness into those around Him. Jesus also says that God hears our prayers, and desires to answer them, for a good Father will always have compassion on His child, and gives good gifts to His children.
However, I recognize that God is not the only unseen power. I think a better way to understand the world is to recognize the battle behind this reality. Life, both physical and spiritual, is often a battle, and sometimes, people die in battle. In mom’s case, she died valiantly and will full confidence in Christ. I am glad to know that I can take her words to heart and hold the same bold confidence in Christ and His power.
Besides, if she was able to fully trust Jesus in the midst of sickness and death, why should I not trust Him while I still have health and life?
Just because you don’t feel like being yourself is good enough doesn’t mean you should act like someone else just to please those around you. God made you. He made one of you. He said the world wasn’t perfect without you. Just be you. Because you is all you are meant to be.
In Matthew 22:37-40, and it’s parallel verses, Jesus sums up all of the Old Testament laws with just two Great Commandments. This is impressive because there are 613 Old Testament Laws. All of these laws have been summed up to love. Which I think we do lose a bit in translation with these two commandments. If you look at the Greek, Jesus says, “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” and “you will love your neighbor as yourself.” We’re not given an option here. Jesus is literally commanding us, yet we treat them as options sometimes.
So let’s dive into the commandments a bit more. “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Let’s start with all your heart since that is the easier part. When we think of love we think of something dear to our hearts; family, friends, pets. Here we are told to love God with all of our hearts. Not just a piece. Now I know I said this is the easy part and you are all sitting there going I already don’t have enough of my heart to go around. Well… just wait.
Next we have, “You will love the Lord your God with all your soul.” I think we lose a bit in translation here too. The Greek word is psyche which means life. And not just the fact that you’re alive, but with everything that is your life. The job you have should be done loving God. The relationships you have should be aiding in your love towards God. The free time you may or may not have should be spent living God. You should be living your life loving God in preparation for spending eternity praising God.
Alright, so now you know that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. Next we will love with our whole mind. This one word, mind, covers the rest. Mind is our words, our thoughts, our knowledge, and our imagination. All we say, think and know should be loving God. To sum this all up, every piece of our heart, everything we do, all we say and all we think should be done by loving God. This should be easy right? I mean look at the God we serve! He is worthy of all that. Yet, we get busy, our mind wanders, and we are all human. However, we can only love because God first loved us. Therefore as long as we are striving to love God with all we are and strive to be in a constant relationship with God then God is pleased. It’s when we begin to wander away, when we begin to place things before God, that God gets sadden with our absence. But He never stops loving us. We aren’t perfect and God doesn’t expect us to be.
All of that and we haven’t even got to the second commandment yet. Take a deep breath. Are you ready? The second is like it, you will love your neighbor as yourself. This too is multifaceted. Who is our neighbor? Que the story of the great Samaritan. We are to love the least, the last, the lost, and everyone else as our neighbors and therefore as ourselves. Now this leaves room for one tricky excuse. I don’t love myself much so I don’t have to love others much. Sadly, we hear this more often than we should. If you struggle with this, Think of the love God has for you, but overflowing, never ending love. What God sees in you is what you should see in you. Then you should see that and everyone else is well. God loves everyone, and that is your neighbor is. If you think about it the second commandment falls under the first one since it is an action of love and God by loving others. So, why would you just choose to state it as well? He chose to state this just to show how important it is to love others especially when it’s just plain easier not to sometimes.
I just recently saw church sign that said, “God loves me God loves you let’s love each other.” The first time I saw I just kind of dismissed it, but then it kept coming back to me. And since it was on my path from Tyrone to Morrisdale, I saw an awful lot. Then I began to realize that this commandment really is just as simple as the church sign makes it look. If God loves your neighbor just as much as He loves you, why shouldn’t you love your neighbor? That was the question I had for my weekly devotion and I would really recommend doing the same thing yourselves.
Either way, challenge yourself to begin fulfilling these commandments the new ways. Maybe that’s a new spiritual practice to grow closer to God. Maybe it’s reaching out to new people in your community. Maybe they’re trying to compliment someone everyday. Whatever it maybe love. Love with all you are. Love with all you do. Not only will your relationships here on earth begin the blossom, they are relationship with God will grow expeditiously as well. You could even say Jesus knew what he was talking about.
Let us pray:
God we thank you for loving us no matter what, 24 seven, no exceptions. We thank you for sending your son to pay for the way and even die, so we may live with you eternally. We thank you that the Holy Spirit resides in each of us, so we may begin to love as you love. Grant us the ability to open our hearts, souls, and minds to love more. Then open our eyes to see your neighbors the way you do, Lord. May we honor you and all that we do amen!
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” -Matthew 16:16
Take a second. Flip to Matthew 16 and read 16:13-20. This is a powerful piece of scripture. Jesus is asking those closest to Him if they have learned anything from Him. This is a huge test of His teachings. We are thrown this question everyday. We say we’re nervous about something and someone asks us, “don’t you believe in Jesus?” What they’re saying is, “Who is Jesus to you?” This is a question we should be asking ourselves daily. Jesus is our Savior, the Son of God. Lord of Lords.
Is this who Jesus is to you? Do you have a special title for Jesus?
Don’t let your battle with anxiety cause you to stumble answering this question. Jesus doesn’t leave you in your time of doubt, so don’t leave Him either. When others face you with this question, answer it with pride.
We all have those days that we just don’t feel worth it. Why would God die for us? Why would God choose to save us? What makes us worth it?
The good news is that God died for us while none of us were worth it. That is just how much I love that God has for me and for you. So the next time that you don’t feel worth it, please remember that God’s love for you is not based on your work it’s based on his love and that is never ending.