God's Promises for a New Year

In the tradition where I grew up we spent New Year’s Eve at church. Sometimes it would start early in the evening with a pot-luck meal together. Often there might be games or other activities. It was a time of fun and fellowship for the whole church family. As we got closer to midnight we would move into the church sanctuary for a worship service. There was singing and usually special music from someone in the congregation. But an important part of the evening was the sharing of testimonies and Bible verses, God’s promises. People would get up and share about how God had helped them in the past year. Or, perhaps they would share a spiritual lesson they had learned. It was a time to “bless the Lord and exalt his name.” Mixed in with the testimony time was the reading of Scriptures from the “Promise Box.” A Promise Box was a little container with small cards inside. On each card there was a Bible verse, a promise from God. People would take a card and read it out loud to the congregation. It was a declaration of God’s goodness towards his people, his promise to never leave or forsake us. I’ve discovered that people who take the promises of God seriously have a seriously joyful and contagious faith. They believe that God is for them and not against them. They believe that God has a plan and purpose for their life. They believe that no weapon formed against them shall prosper and that when they give to God the windows of heaven open and blessings flows out. They believe that God has given us everything we need for life and godly living. They believe that Jesus came to give them life and life more abundantly. New Year’s Eve was an exciting time. I got to stay up late and spend the evening with friends and family. But as I get older what I remember most is the sense of spiritual vitality that filled our church. There was a great sense of expectation, that God was at work and that we could enjoy him. In a cynical world it’s hard to value anyone’s promises. But God is faithful and cannot deny himself. So as we prepare to go into a New Year, why not take some time and meditate on the promises of God. “For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” ascends to God for his glory.” (2 Cor. 1:20) Put your trust in God for the year ahead. His promises have never failed yet.

The Best Gift

The kids wanted to know what Dad wanted for Christmas. Dad suggested that they get him a gift that the whole family could get something out of. So they did. They bought Dad a new wallet. It’s Christmas Eve and around the world there will be the giving of gifts. Some people will be running out today to get that last-minute gift. Others are excited to share their perfect gift that has been in the planning for some time. There’s a whole host of what I call single modifier gifts. There’s the cheap gift, guilt gift, easy gift, big gift, home-made gift, early gift – you get the idea. Sometimes we even have extra items wrapped just in case we forgot to get a gift for someone who pops by with a gift for us. That would be the ‘gift for a gift’ gift. But the best kind of gift is the grace gift. The gift we receive just because someone wanted to give it. We didn’t earn it; we didn’t expect it and we most certainly could never repay it. All we can do is take it and enjoy. This is the kind of gift that God gave us in Jesus. The gift of eternal life through Jesus is something we could never earn nor ever repay. God simply wanted us to have it. It’s so amazing that Paul calls it an indescribable gift: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15) It’s so generous and overwhelming that we’ll never come to completely understand it. Most importantly, it was exactly what we needed. This Christmas, as you sit surrounded by various gifts – don’t forget to give thanks for the gift of salvation. It’s the gift that goes on giving. Have a wonderful Christ-filled Christmas.

Waiting for His Appearing

Christmas, we are told, is a time for peace and joy; a time to celebrate and enjoy the blessings of God. But that’s only part of the Christmas story. We like to pick and choose our Bible verses looking for words to bring comfort. If we take the time to read the whole account of Jesus’ birth there are also some unpleasant parts. In the gospels we discover that the first Christmas also included sorrow and pain. If we keep reading long enough we come to this verse in Matthew: A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning,Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. (2:18) While the Wise Men usually appear in our nativity scenes we tend to leave out Herod and his henchmen. However there is no avoiding it, in the midst of our lovely Christmas story there is a horrible massacre of children; the suffering and pain of innocents. This isn’t supposed to happen when the Messiah comes. We don’t like stories that cause us discomfort. That’s why it is so difficult to watch the news of 132 children killed in Pakistan yesterday. Taliban terrorist attacked a school and walked the hallways shooting children at random. It’s hard to imagine the pain and suffering so many families are feeling today. It’s so senseless and makes us so angry. How does this happen? When will it ever end? This is the season of Advent. Advent is about preparing for the coming of Christ. And he did come, as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. Scripture tells us that he will come again. As believers, we long for his second coming, when his Kingdom will come in its fullness. Until then, evil, sickness and death remain with us. We cannot deny that. But sorrow and grief do not have the final word. With his first coming Jesus defeated the power of sin and death on the cross. His resurrection is proof that victory is guaranteed. But we live in ‘this present age’ – between his first and second appearing. We are waiting for “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13) At his second appearing he will put away evil forever. While we wait we must not lose heart. We will mourn with those who mourn this Christmas season. We will pray for the comfort of the Holy Spirit. And we will pray ‘maranatha’ – come quickly Lord Jesus.

A Great Light

It was a hot summer night and the kids couldn’t sleep. Not only was it hot and humid but the mosquitoes were out in full force. Mom, Sandy McIntosh, finally had enough of the kids complaining about the heat and the mosquitoes. She couldn’t do much about the temperature but she could provide relief from the pesky bugs. She got up and without turning on any lights went to the kitchen and grabbed a can of insect repellant. She went to the kids’ room and sprayed them; then sprayed the whole room for good measure. In the morning, in the light of day, she discovered to her horror that she had covered her kids, the bedding and the room walls with blue spray paint. She is quoted as saying, “It did smell kind of funny.” Problems happen when we don’t see clearly, when we operate in the dark. The coming of Jesus, his advent, is compared to the dawning of a new day. One of my favorite Christmas verses is Isaiah 9:2, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Author C.S. Lewis builds on this verse when he writes: I believe in Christ like I believe in the sun – not because I can see it, but by it I can see everything else. If we don’t know Jesus then everything else in life is simply in the dark. His coming, his birth, was the beginning of something new. Because of his birth we have the opportunity to see God, to know him and to understand him better. And because of that, we can see everything else.  

There Will Be Hardships Too

I’ve been doing my devotions from 2 Timothy for several weeks now. It’s a short book full of relevant and encouraging information for all believers but especially those involved in some kind of ministry. I’ve been using John Stott’s commentary on the book as I go along and it’s been an insightful time. I’m learning a lot. Here’s one of my take-a-ways: While the Christian life is full of joy and wonder there will be hardships too. Yep, the Christian life isn’t going to be lived out in a rose garden. I’ve always known this but Paul pulls no punches in telling Timothy that we will face many challenges. Jesus made it clear to his disciples when he said, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) No hedging that statement. So why are we still surprised when trouble appears? We tend to convince ourselves that being followers of Jesus means we never have a rough day, no trouble can touch us. Or, that because we had a rough day we must have done something wrong, something sinful. Both conclusions are flawed. Hardships and troubles will come for many reasons and most of them have nothing to do with us personally. We just find ourselves in the midst of them. The question we have to ask ourselves as believers is not “Why did this happen?” but rather, “How with God’s grace will I respond to it?” It’s an opportunity to rest and trust in Jesus. It’s a chance to grow spiritually and demonstrate how being a believer makes a difference. Jesus does seem to promise us that there will be trouble. However, the rest of the verse goes like this, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Isn’t that encouraging? Yes, there will be trouble but Jesus has overcome all of it. That’s why we can face the challenges of today and tomorrow – Jesus has overcome. In the realm of things that really matter and make a difference Christ is victorious. So we take our hope from this, one day at a time. That’s enough to keep on going.