New Births & New Beginnings

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On January 25, 1969, I experienced the miracle of the new birth when I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life.

If you’ve never been born again, the experience Jesus described to the religious leader Nicodemus in John 3:1-8, you’re really missing out—not just in this life, but in eternity as well. There’s no other way to become a “new creation,” where “old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

However, lately I’ve been meeting lots of people who’ve already experienced the new birth, yet now they need something else: a new beginning.

You’ve probably met these folks too. They tell you something like, “I got saved back in 1995, and everything changed.” However, the more you get to know these well-meaning believers, the more apparent it becomes that something’s drastically missing. Maybe Jesus forgave their sins and stamped their ticket to heaven many years ago, but now they seem stuck in a dreary, unappealing religiosity.

Other religious folks eagerly tell you about the day they got “filled with the Holy Ghost.” But although that may have been a glorious day, now you can’t help but wonder if their filling with the Holy Ghost somehow leaked over the years. The love, joy, peace, and other fruit that’s evidence of being filled with the Spirit is nowhere to be found in their life anymore (see Galatians 5:22-23). Perhaps it’s time for a Holy Spirit “refill.”

I’m not trying to be mean. But these observations are unmistakable and troubling.

The reality is that we all need new beginnings at various points in our lives. The Bible is filled with stories of mighty heroes of the faith who needed a fresh start at one point or another:

  • Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 when everything changed for them at the birth of their child Isaac (Genesis 21:5, 17:17).
  • Jacob experienced a new beginning when he saw a ladder reaching to an open heaven (Genesis 28:10-22), and then his life was transformed even more when he wrestled all night with God (Genesis 32:24-32).
  • Joseph suddenly went from the prison to the palace and became the Prime Minister over all of Egypt (Genesis 41:14).
  • Moses’ life was radically changed at age 80 when God spoke to him from the burning bush in the backside of the desert (Exodus 3:1-22).
  • Gideon was living in fear and self-preservation right before the Angel of the Lord appeared and commissioned him as a “mighty man of valor” to defeat the Midianites (Judges 6:11:24).
  • David desperately needed a new beginning after his adultery and murder were exposed (2 Samuel 12, Psalm 51).
  • Elijah was weary, depressed, and practically suicidal before God gave him a new purpose in life: mentoring the next generation (1 Kings 19:1-21).
  • Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road would surely be considered a new birth. But he later experienced several new beginnings too: when Barnabas got him involved in the church at Antioch (Acts 11:25-26) and when the Holy Spirit commissioned him and Barnabas to plant churches across the Roman Empire (Acts 13:1-4).

This is just a small sampling of the Bible’s stories about people who experienced a new beginning. If the Lord was willing to give these people a fresh start, don’t you think He’s able to give YOU one as well?

In the Gospels, Jesus triggered new beginnings everywhere He went. The list includes the woman at the well (John 4:1-30), the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-11), Lazarus raised from the dead (John 11:1-44), Jesus’ discouraged disciples receiving new hope after cowering behind locked doors in the wake of His cross (John 20:19-23)—and many more.

Do you see the message here? Even though I’m thrilled if you’ve experienced the new birth, it may be time for a new beginning as well. The good news is that God gladly offers to provide one when we ask Him (Isaiah 42:9, 43:19).

That means you don’t need to live a purposeless life or remain stuck in quicksand. Nor do you have to flounder in a sea of frustration and hopelessness.

But let me be clear: New beginnings aren’t always easy and pain-free. You could be required to make a geographical relocation and leave friends and loved ones behind (Genesis 12:1-4). You may need to wrestle with God until your hip is out of joint, or He could totally reroute your life by speaking to you from a burning bush.

You shouldn’t t be surprised if you have to strip off some graveclothes, as happened with Lazarus (John 11:44). And don’t forget about Elijah if your new beginning starts in a cloud of depression while you’re having a “personal retreat” in a dark, damp cave.

Finally, let me ask: Has God already given you some instructions for launching your new beginning? If so, this is no time to procrastinate or be bound by fear.

You see… the best way to get a fresh start is to get started!  Even if you don’t know where the path will lead, today you could take a step of faith that dramatically impacts your future.

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A Reboot at Age 80

Best is yet

Not long ago, my computer froze up. As I always do in such cases, I called the IT Department in desperation.

“Have you tried rebooting?” they immediately asked.

Doesn’t it seem like that’s always the first solution when your computer—or your life—gets stuck? You have to reboot in order to function properly again.

That got me thinking about my life these days. While many things are going great, in other ways I’m sure I could use a reboot.

But I couldn’t help wondering: Is a reboot even possible at my advanced age?

Fortunately, the Bible answers that question. Some of its great heroes were even older than me when God rebooted their life and gave them greater fulfillment and impact than ever before.

One of these leaders was Moses. He spent the first 40 years of his life growing up in the lap of luxury in Pharaoh’s palace. But after killing an Egyptian one day, he ended up fleeing to the backside of the desert, where he spent the next 40 years herding sheep.

By the time he reached 80, Moses had an uneventful, unexciting life. He was stuck in the wilderness, both literally and metaphorically.

Little did he know that everything was about to change…

In Exodus 3 the Lord suddenly appeared in the midst of a burning bush. This started out as a mere novelty but turned out to be an encounter that would transform Moses’ life forever. His mundane, ordinary existence was rebooted into something extraordinary and world-changing.

Although I’m not 80 yet, I can see it from here. I think I might be ready for my burning bush, and perhaps you are as well.

I encourage you to read Exodus 3 for yourself, but here are a few observations that might spark your own burning-bush experience:

  1. We all need fresh fire from time to time. Moses’ experience ignited new passion and vision in his life. But notice that this reboot was based on a supernatural experience, not just something Moses gained from reading a self-help book.
  2. God wants us to be on-fire for Him, yet without burning up. Moses was startled that the bush seemed to have an inexhaustible energy source (vs. 2-3). We live in the most burnt-out generation in history, desperately needing the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to fill our lives with new energy as we learn to abide in Christ (John 15:1-5).
  3. God knows our name and where to find us. After 40 years, it’s likely that most of Moses’ friends and family back in Egypt had lost track of him. But the Lord knew exactly where he was and what he was doing. In fact, his 40 years of taking care of sheep was Moses’ God-ordained training ground to prepare him for a much bigger task ahead.
  4. When God calls, we must make ourselves available. After hearing the Lord call out from within the bush, “Moses, Moses!,” the immediate reply was, “Here I am” (v. 4). We’re never going to experience much of a reboot unless we’re ready to listen to God’s call and be available for the new mission He has for us.
  5. If our new assignment is truly from God, it will almost surely be overwhelming.  The Lord told Moses he was being sent to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, where they had been in slavery for more than 400 years. What a daunting, seemingly impossible, task! Moses asked, just as we surely would, “Who am I…?” (v. 11). It took some convincing, but eventually Moses recognized that God was capable of giving him success in this incredible new venture.
  6. No reboot is complete without a new revelation of the nature of God.  We will never complete our mission unless we’ve had a genuine encounter with the living God. The Lord told Moses He was “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (v. 6). But that fact wasn’t good enough for Moses, nor will it be for us. Why? Because a reboot can’t be based on secondhand faith or a spiritual legacy from our ancestors. Instead, the Lord revealed Himself as the present-tense God, with a most unusual name: “I AM WHO I AM” (v. 14).

If you find yourself in need of a reboot today, it must start with a vital question: Do you have a present-tense relationship with God, or just memories of past experiences?  If you’re going to BE who He has called you to be, you must know He’s with you now as your great “I AM.”

Even if find yourself stuck today, hanging out in the wilderness for months or years, God is the one who can give you…

  • Fresh fire—supernatural enablement that will keep you from burning out.
  • A new and exciting mission—but one you can only accomplish with His help.

Someday you’ll look back, as Moses eventually could do, and you’ll realize that God had a sovereign purpose in every experience He’s brought you through. Every step of the way, He was preparing and equipping you for such a time as this.

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Bitter or Better? Here’s How to Turn Things Around

Recently I was stunned by two observations while attending a reunion of old friends I hadn’t seen in many years.

The first observation was that virtually everyone had dealt with some kind of crisis or loss since I’d last seen them. A few had gone through a health crisis, such as a heart attack or kidney failure. Others were grieving over lost loved ones or reversals in their career. And several had experienced the pain of divorce or difficulties with their children.

This first observation was a great reminder that we ALL “go through stuff” in life. No one is exempt. Your trials may be different from mine, but we’re all in the same boat in many of the tough experiences in life.

However, the second observation was just as eye-opening: While everyone had gone through adversity of one kind or another, their reactions and outcomes were entirely different. Put succinctly, adversity had caused some of these friends to become BITTER, while others had clearly become BETTER.

This same principle is seen in nature, where fire causes completely different outcomes in the elements it touches. When wood  is placed in the fire, it turns to ashes. However, when gold is placed in the fire, it is refined into purer gold (Job 23:10). The fire doesn’t determine the outcome, but simply reveals the character of what it touches.

Of course, people aren’t inanimate objects like wood or gold. We’ve been given freewill, the power to choose our attitudes and responses to the events we face in life. Because of their choices and their character, two people can experience exactly the same kind of trauma, with totally different outcomes.

I’m intrigued by how God turned things around for many Bible heroes who experienced hardships or losses. Job…Joseph…Naomi…David and many others could be cited.

Naomi recognized that her losses had made her bitter, and she even wanted her friends to call her by the new name, “Bitter” (Ruth 1:20). I admire Naomi in this, because few people are that self-aware or that honest about their condition. Bitter people seldom seem to realize their malady.

It is also very encouraging that Naomi’s friends were determined to see the best in her, and they never called her by the very unflattering label she had chosen for herself. Instead, they continued to call her Naomi, which means sweet or pleasant.

I hope you have friends like that. There is no greater asset if you need to make the journey from bitter to better.

Fortunately, by the end of Naomi’s story, both her heart  and her circumstances had changed in a positive way. Although she admittedly had been bitter at certain points in her journey through life, she didn’t stay that way.

Isn’t it great to know that bitter people—whether Naomi or you and I—can move on toward better attitudes  and better days?  No matter what we’ve gone through or are going through today, we can entrust our lives to the Lord. No matter how hard our hearts have become, we can ask Him to soften them so we don’t remain captives to bitterness.

Even though many Bible characters experienced a joyful new beginning when they got unstuck from their bitterness, others never learned the keys of going from bitter to better. For example, Esau is cited as a tragic example of someone who never recovered from the “root of bitterness” that had become entrenched in his heart (Hebrews 12:14-17).

I hope you haven’t allowed life’s traumas and losses to make you hardhearted, cynical, or bitter. But if you have, there’s still time for a turnaround. The poison of bitterness can be replaced by its antidote—grace and forgiveness.

So drop the excuses for your bad attitudes. If you’ll let Him, God stands ready to give you a heart transplant, and that will transform your circumstances too.

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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Starting Over…at Any Age

I’ve been thinking a lot about the book of Ruth lately and the subject of “starting over.” The story describes two women, one old and one young, and both of them needed a new beginning.

Naomi and Ruth had experienced traumatic losses when their husbands died, and sometimes traumas like that can leave people “stuck” and emotionally paralyzed.

But Naomi makes a radical decision—she will return to Bethlehem, the place she and her husband originally lived before a famine led them to relocate to Moab. Ruth made a radical decision too—she would accompany her mother-in-law Naomi back to Bethlehem.

One of the intriguing things about this story is that Naomi received a fresh start by returning to her roots, but Ruth received a fresh start by going somewhere she had never been before.

I encourage you to take a moment and ask yourself what kind of new beginning you need today, whether in your health, your finances, your family, or perhaps even your relationship with God.

The next question is whether your fresh start will come from returning to your roots or through taking a bold new venture to do something you’ve never done before. Are you willing to listen to God’s instructions on this?

After Naomi lost her husband and sons, she would have thought you’re crazy to suggest that the rest of her life could truly be the best of her life—but it was. Not just for Naomi, but for Ruth as well.

Read the story for yourself sometime. You’re never too old or too young to get a fresh start.

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It’s All About Trajectory

“How are you doing today?” That’s the question I’ve often asked people over the years.

But I’ve concluded that this is probably the wrong question. I’m thinking of trying out a new query for the people I encounter:

“How’s your TRAJECTORY today?”

This is a much better question, isn’t it? Although I hope you’re having a good day, it’s much more important that the overall trajectory of your life is upward.

Perhaps your finances aren’t great  today, but hopefully they are better  than they used to be. You may not be in perfect  health, but I pray you’re keeping those New Year’s Resolutions to make your health better  than last year.

And the real  question about your marriage or your relationships with your kids is not how they’re doing right now. Instead, the question is whether you are sowing positive seeds today for a better trajectory tomorrow.

Not to get political, but I certainly wish Congress could pass a law to improve the President’s State of the Union addresses. Let’s get rid of all the campaigning, platitudes, and promises, focusing instead on one key question:

What is our national TRAJECTORY?

Perhaps we could even change the name of this speech to “The Trajectory  of the Union Address.” What do you think?

A Trajectory of the Union speech would have to give an explanation for the current trajectory of the nation’s economy, national debt, defense, and moral and spiritual climate. And to borrow a word from the Green Movement, we must ask whether the current trajectory is SUSTAINABLE.

For example, is it sustainable  for the United States to continue borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends? Try that with your own  budget sometime, and see how long you can keep it up.

How long has it been since you’ve applied the sustainability question to the various facets of your life? Maybe it’s time to ask whether your employer’s cash flow is on a sustainable path. Or perhaps you have to face the question of whether your church is on an upward trajectory, stuck on a plateau, or declining—with everyone just getting old and dying off.

Trajectory is a Biblical concept, after all. The pathway of a righteous person is supposed to shine “ever brighter” (Proverbs 4:18). As we grow in our relationship with the Lord, our trajectory should be a transformation from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). And since our destiny is to become like Jesus, we should show evidence of becoming more like Him every day (Romans 8:29, 1 John 3:2-3, 2 Peter 1:5-8).

Perhaps you’ve experienced times of failure in the past, but you can’t allow that to determine your trajectory today. And no matter how things are going at the moment, remember that you are called “UPWARD”  (Philippians 3:13-14).

If you’re not happy with your life’s trajectory today, there’s good news. We serve the God of resurrection and new beginnings. He can take a tailspin and turn it around.

But the trajectory question is a reality check. You can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results.

 

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