Somehow to say Happy New Year, Living Word just sounds so inadequate. In light of 2020, and the realities of 2020 that continue into 2021, at least for a time, to say “happy” just sounds at least a bit superficial.
Instead, I’ll say a Blessed New Year to everyone at Living Word. Blessed. Now, that is a good word. Blessed. And blessing.
So, I could and will say, a Very Flourishing New Year to Living Word Community Church.
That is how Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount—with beatitudes, with blessings, with flourishings. And we learn from Jesus that blessing and flourishing can happen even in hard times. Perhaps some blessings and flourishings happen mainly (maybe even ONLY) in hard times.
I want for each of you what Jesus wants for you—that you be blessed and flourish in 2021.
Okay, I am biased in what follows.
My bias is simple. If Jesus says something, I believe it. I need to trust it and find a way to experience and join in with what Jesus says. In that way, my Christian faith is simple. It is Jesus-centered above all else.
Similarly, if the Bible teaches it (now I have gone wider than the specific words and ministry of Jesus), I believe it. I need to trust it and find a way to experience and join in with what the Bible teaches. In this way, my faith is also quite simple. It is Bible-centered.
Here are a few (of the many) things Jesus and Scripture have to say that are worth a humble, attentive, and continual listening and obeying (if you missed the message from the Book of James this past Sunday, you can check it out on our website).
ONE: We live by faith, not by sight.
A few weeks ago, Pastor Garrett shared with several of us a thought on making plans from author Jon Acuff. Acuff said,
“Three days is firm. Three weeks is fuzzy. Three months is fictional.”
That is so true. I am one of those who loves to think about the future and make strategic plans for a better future. I am a visionary leader, but a visionary who also plans on how to get there. 2020 taught us that plans can easily fall by the wayside and that planning is harder than ever.
More than ever, we live and walk into the future by faith, and not by sight. Definitely not by our well-laid plans. We will keep on making plans, but now we know that for much of 2021, they will be fuzzy at best.
My prayer for you in 2021 is to be full of faith, because as you are you will FLOURISH.
TWO: To be full of faith and live by faith requires a deep grounding in the Bible and in prayer, both which connect us with the heart of God.
Faith isn’t magical. Faith is not automatic. Faith is not instant. You have to learn faith. You have to grow in faith. You have to know God intimately if faith is to grow. You will know and experience God primarily in the Word and in prayer and, above all, as you pray your way through God’s Word.
I don’t know how much you were in the Word and what your prayer life was like in 2020. But I believe that if 2021 is to be a better year of more blessing and flourishing for you, in spite of circumstances, it will ONLY happen as you grow closer to God in the Word and through prayer and worship.
My prayer for you in 2021 is to grow strong and wise in Scripture and intimate in prayer, because as you do you will FLOURISH.
THREE: You need more of God’s grace than ever and you need to extend more grace to others than ever before.
Extending the grace of God was part of the original mission statement of Living Word. Living Word exists to extend grace to a broken and searching world.
Our nation, our culture, our community, our families, and churches everywhere are broken—more than ever. More polarized, more hurting, more frustrated, more intense, less trusting, less patient, less loving, less forgiving, less like Jesus than ever!
Now, I fully understand why the world isn’t like Jesus. As a pastor who loves the church of Jesus, it is hard to know why the church isn’t more like Jesus. And while that would include many things, at its core, to be more like Jesus is to have much more grace. It is hard to extend to others what is in short supply in your own life.
But grace is never in short supply in your life. You are always full of God’s grace. It turns out that we are just not living in that grace or experiencing that grace. Therefore, we are not able to offer it to others. So, we offer them something else, which usually harms and not helps.
My prayer for you in 2021 is that you would be full of GRACE first, because then you will FLOURISH, and so will others to whom grace is given.
By the way, then, please be full of truth, full of conviction and passion about what is right, full of energy for justice and righteousness, and full of commitment to seeing God’s kingdom come in our community. But if you are not first full of grace, those other things will get kind of dark and dirty.
FOUR: Find your calling and ministry to serve and make a difference.
Jesus and the entire Bible teaches us that as we serve, as we give, as we do our part in cooperative dependence with the Spirit of God, then good things happen. God has so ordered life that we are all needed for his missional purposes in the world.
2020 made this so hard. 2020 crushed our systems and structures, meetings and ministries, and gatherings and givings to one another. The difficulty of doing so will still linger.
But please know, we need you to be one of the servants of Jesus, using your gifts and resources to make a contribution to the good work he is doing. Many people have told me it feels like they just hit the pause button on service and ministry in 2020. If so, and it is so for so many of us (myself included), we need to hit that pause button one more time to get off pause. In Romans 12:3-8 Paul describes a robust commitment to using your gifts to help others.
Living Word, by the grace and Spirit of God, will build itself back up in love as you join in as one of the ministry partners who help us do that (see Ephesians 4:12-16).
My prayer for you in 2021 is that you find your part in the body, and that with love and persistence, you make a difference in building up the church of Jesus. Because then not only do you FLOURISH, but so does our church.
So, in the Name of Jesus, may you be blessed, run and not grow faint, soar on wings like eagles, live in faith and hope, and serve in love and grace.
Together for the glory of God, and the flourishing of the world he loves,