Three things I wish for you this new year:
1) That you might enjoy the freedom of living in genuine love;
2) That you might learn what it is like to live with a good conscience; and
3) That you would have true faith through and through.
They may not seem like much at first, but these are the sum total of what I think can keep us on the right path this year, if we will embrace the value of each of these gifts.
You must teach people to have genuine love, as well as a good conscience and true faith. (I Timothy 1:5 CEV)
Genuine love brings a freedom like nothing else. If you have ever been around those who claim to love, but then you find all manner of strings attached to their love, you have experienced love by man's terms or conditions. Genuine love has no strings attached - it gives and gives, without "holding out". This is why God emphasizes his kids coming into the place of realizing the freedom of his love - it sets us free, but it also holds us close. Where we are free, there is a desire to want more of this experience - so we draw closer. Some might think this is a manipulative action on God's part - making use of our freedom to draw us closer - but I think of it as grace's gift to us.
A good conscience is more valuable than we might first think - for conscience is often what guides us in the spur of the moment. We also use our conscience to help us decide on things as "good" or "bad", "right" or "wrong" - especially where it is scripture doesn't fully declare one way or the other on a matter. The use of our conscience is what often keeps us out of the messy stuff of life - like when we listen to the prompting to just stay quiet when we could respond in a curt or angry manner. It is also what helps us to sort out the "voices" we are encouraged to listen to in this life. A good conscience is coupled with genuine love because when these two guide our behavior, our behavior will more closely align with the "right" behavior God desires of his kids.
True faith is our third consideration this morning - not because it is a gift I can bestow upon you, but because it is a gift totally stemming from God himself. You see, the faith to believe is not something we work up within, nor is it something another may "gift" to us in a physical sense. It is a gift of believing in something outside of ourselves - someone, in fact. It is the gift of believing in the power and presence of Christ - the Messiah. True faith is based not on what we come to understand about the Messiah, but on what he brings into our lives by his presence. True faith is different from belief - it is based on truth being resident within. For us to have true faith, we have to welcome "in" the one who brings truth "into" us.
So, I wish you the presence of Jesus, the embrace of his love which brings grace upon grace, and the freedom of living within the direction of his truth. This is my hope for each of us - not to live any longer misguided by our own selfish desires, but to be embraced by the liberty of love. The steps we take this year are dependent upon who we take these steps alongside. The one we choose to walk with determines not only our destination, but the journey along the way. Just sayin!