I asked our Thursday morning group today “What is the most unusual experience that you have had on New Year’s Eve?”
Donald said “Times Square New York, and I don’t even know why I was there”. Ralph mumbled something that indicated excessive drinking. Beth simply smiled. I asked Sherry about her experience when she was living in Key West. “Well, I never really was into drinking.”
I was in Rome (Italia) on New Year’s Eve 1971. After a dinner of pasta and red wine, I didn’t make it to midnight, and fell asleep in my hotel room. Suddenly I awoke to explosions outside my hotel room! It was the sound of crashing glass and ceramics. I opened the window and looked out. There were people standing on their balconies throwing plates, bowls, and glasses onto the streets. The cacophony was overwhelming! The next morning, I walked out of the hotel lobby and there was not one square inch of pavement visible! Broken dishes and glassware completely cover the street! Later that day I saw on the television that three people were in the hospital because of being hit by flying dishes and glass shards!
Photo: Lukas, Moselle, Arielle, Laura & Michael Rome May 2018
I ask the hotel owner what had happened. He told me it was an old Roman custom to throw out the dishes from the past year and begin the new year with new dishes. “What an odd but appropriate custom,” I though. When I was in Rome in 2018, I told that story to our driver Luca as we ate lunch. He said they don’t do that anymore.
Later I remember this Roman New Year’s Eve experience when I read a letter from a guy named Paul to his friends in Ephesus.
With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:17-24
As I read these words, I could see my neighbors in Rome throwing out their old dinnerware, and getting ready to use the new. That is what has happened in my life. I have been slowly getting rid of the old, and replacing it with the new. It is what happens when we come into a relationship with Christ. The Bible says that:
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
In the Greek language, the phrase “new creature” is kainos kstisis, which according to my dictionary means “a new previously unseen biological creation that comes from God.” When we are connected to God through His Holy Spirit, this transformation is not only possible, but probable. And, it is a joint effort.
Paul goes on in his letter to encourage his friends in Ephesus give attention to becoming the kainos ktisis by focusing on some aspects of their behavior: Not lie but tell the truth; Not steal but work hard and be a giver; Don’t use abusive language to tear people down, but say things that will build them up; Don’t be involved in sexual immorality, but do what pleases the Lord; and finally, don’t fill yourself with wine and get drunk, but fill yourself with the Holy Spirit.
Sherry commented that doing all of these things will actually make her feel better and be better for those around her. These were not to her legalistic rules to try to please God, but good things that will be beneficial to her and allow her life to be much more pleasant. We all agreed.
Ralph mentioned that this thing called “change” is a natural part of the Christian Life. Beth told us that for many years she was unaware of how her behavior was negatively affecting many around her. Now suddenly God has shown her, and she is having to curb her comments and stop stepping on the toes of those around her. I agreed that for many years I was insensitive to how my comments and tone of voice affect the very sensitive wife God has given me.
Here was the important part: The Bible tells us that God is the one who will give us the desire to change, and the power to do it.
Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:12-12
Notice it doesn't say "work hard for your salvation" but rather work hard to show the results of what God has done.
This is what separates Christianity from every world religion.
Where Religion is a system of behavior modification to gain favor and approval from “the gods”, Christianity says that there is nothing you can do to gain anymore favor from God- His love for you is overwhelming. If you have love for Him, then you will want to do the things that please Him. When it comes to shucking our natural habitual ways that are self-serving and often self-destructive, we will be faced with ultimate failure. These changes are often impossible on our own. But God is working with us, and slowly He shows us where He wants to “toss off the old and put on the new”. It’s the citizens of Rome in 1971 tossing the old dishes into the street and bringing out the new dishware for 1972.
Bob said that when he began to read the Bible, it was only then that he realized God’s desires for his life. The Bible for him is God’s source of guidance in how to be a good husband, good father, good worker, and good neighbor.
Sherry added that meeting with us on Thursday morning was her opportunity to understand the Bible better, and know God and his ways better.
Donald said that reading the Word and spending time meditating on it and hearing from the Holy Spirit was often the catalyst for change in his life.
Beth told us it was during her worship time at church or along at home where she really experienced the presence of God, and grew in her desire to please Him with her life.
Steve said that when he told others about his faith in Christ, that in itself cause him to be a better witness in his behavior with others.
I told them of my experience being coerced into helping with first graders in Children’s Church at Hope Chapel Maui, and how serving those kids changed my life. I told them about the first time I went with a friend to the hospital to pray for a guy that was really sick- how that deeply affected me. Serving the hundreds of Miskito children in Honduras and Nicaragua these past three decades has been more spiritually beneficial to me that to any of them!
Then Ralph mentioned how our week of fasting and prayer that we did before Christmas caused him to realize things about God and about himself that he never knew before.
As we finished, I realized that we had covered seven disciplines that if we apply them do result in spiritual growth and greater spiritual fruit in our lives.
1) Reading the Word of God;
2) Gathering with our brothers and sisters and discussing the things of God;
3) Spending time alone with the Holy Spirit meditating on the Word of God;
4) Joining our church community to worship of Lord together, and taking time when we are along to adore Him;
5) Being an active witness of our faith in Christ through our words and care for those around us;
6) Actively serving one another, helping those who have needs, sharing the material things that God has given us to use for His purposes;
7) Earnestly seeking God through times of fasting and prayers for our course in this life.
Are you with me?
Stand on the balcony of your life with me this New Year’s Eve. Pick up those chipped, marred, old dishes that you have been using. Glance at those spotless, perfectly formed new dishes that are plied on your table, awaiting the new season. With reckless abandon, throw with all your joy and unrestrained energy those old dishes out into the street, reveling in the crashing sound of the shattering ceramics. Throw them out, one by one. Get rid of them all. Watch and enjoy as your neighbors do the same, knowing that the street cleaners will take care of all the broken pieces tomorrow. Now turn to that new stack of dishes and get ready for the new season.
Allow God to make you into that new creation.
Happy New Year!