At the Close of the Year

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“One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Tomorrow is the first day of a new year.  Resolutions will be made (and broken within two weeks).  We’ll stock up on salads and blow the dust off the treadmill.  Maybe we’ll crack open Genesis 1 in our determination to read the Bible every day (until we get to Leviticus).  But all that is for tomorrow.

Today is the last day of the old year and while all our efforts for change will launch in the next 24 hours, there is significance to this day too.  I always like to sweep and mop my floors thoroughly on December 31st.  My mom used to say, “We don’t want to walk into the new year on last year’s dirt.”  I think that’s good advice for more than just my house.  That’s good advice for life.

As the year comes to a close, I think it’s good to sweep out the dirt of the past 365 days.  Did you make any mistakes this year?  Me too.  We should keep the wisdom we gained from those mistakes, but let’s sweep out the guilt and shame.  Did you sin at all?  You and I both know we did.  Let’s confess it, receive God’s grace and walk into the new year in freedom. Did someone hurt you this year?  Forgive them and leave it here in the old year. It’s a gift to them and to yourself.  Maybe things just didn’t turn out like you expected.  Let’s toss those unmet expectations and look toward the new year with hope in God.

Our family made a big move this year and a lot of old stuff didn’t come with us.  Today is a good day to unpack some stuff before you move into a fresh new year.  Like resentment and bad attitudes and anger and jealously – you really don’t want to bring those with you, do you?  Let’s put them in the box with old prejudices, bitterness, laziness (ouch, my toes), and selfishness and toss them all in the burn pile.

The new year awaits us with an open calendar and a fresh perspective and all our hopes for God’s good blessings.  But we don’t want to walk in the new year with all the sins and mistakes and hurts of the old year.  Oswald Chambers wisely advises, “Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.”  Tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, let’s leave the past in the past and start the new year with hope and peace and joy.  May the Lord bless you richly in the coming year.

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The Nativity

“They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16).

When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star and the angel above the stable and we add the animals and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.
The truth is, Satan is part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.
As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

Immanuel – God with Us

 

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“They will call Him Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

One of the most beautiful hymns of Christmas is Emmanuel, Emmanuel:

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called Emmanuel.
God with us, revealed in us,
His name is called Emmanuel.[1]

In our modern, New Testament mind the idea of “Immanuel – God with us” is a great comfort as we endure the struggles of life in this fallen world.  To know that God is with us means we are assured of His presence and help.  I am so grateful that God was with us through this difficult year that we experienced.  His presence gave me strength day-by-day and bolstered my faith.

But to truly understand the name and its significance, we have to go back to the Bible.  But don’t stop in Matthew, go back even farther to the book of Exodus, to the most incredible statement by God: “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:9).  In the ancient near east, the pagan gods of the time did not dwell with human beings.  No, the “gods” were far too important to be bothered with mortals and their petty lives.  But the God who created and sustained and ruled over all things wanted to dwell with His people.  So He gave them instructions to build Him a sanctuary where He could be present with them.  When the structure was built, the Lord came and took up residence in the place.  The same was true of the temple Solomon built for the Lord in Jerusalem to replace the tabernacle.  When the temple was completed, and the ark of the covenant was put in place in the Holy of Holies, “the cloud [of the Lord’s presence] filled the temple of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11).  And the Lord dwelled among His people there.

Until.  Until their idolatry and sin became unbearable.  Until God said, “Enough.”  Approximately four hundred years after He filled the temple, the Lord withdrew His presence.  The prophet Ezekiel records the terrible sight of the cloud drawing up and away from the Holy of Holies and from the temple and from Jerusalem and the nation of Judah.  God was no longer with His people.  Shortly afterward the people were taken into exile and the temple was destroyed.  And though it was rebuilt when the exiles returned to Jerusalem, the Lord’s presence did not return to the second temple.

Until. Until the angel visited a carpenter, betrothed to a young woman and proclaimed the return of Immanuel.  Joseph would instinctively know what this name meant – God with us.     God came to once again dwell among men – this time in the humblest way – as a human baby born to peasant parents and laid in a feeding trough for animals.  The name “Immanuel” recalls the glorious presence of God in the midst of His people.  But not only in the temple.  No, this time Immanuel would walk among them, eat with them, touch them with human hands – and die for them.  God had been absent and silent for hundreds of years, but now He had returned to His people.

Immanuel was the promise of God’s presence.  And He is still present with His people today.  He is present in the Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer.  He is present in our worship.  He is present when we pray.  He is present when we rustle the pages of the Bible.  He is present when we reach out to touch a suffering soul with His love.  He is present in holy, divine moments and in the everyday events of our lives.  Because He is Immanuel, He is always present. Because He is God with us, we are never alone.

[1] Emmanuel, Emmanuel was written by Bob McGee in 1976 and published by C.A. Music.

A Snowflake in an Avalanche

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“O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you” (Daniel 9:8).

I quote a lot of people, but I never thought I would quote Voltaire, the French Enlightenment philosopher who was an outspoken critic of Christianity, but I ran across one of his quotes and thought it was very powerful. “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” Stop and think about that for a moment. An avalanche can be traced back to millions of harmless, individual snowflakes that come together to create a massive wall of white with destructive power. But who would lay the blame on a single, lacy snowflake?
That thought brings two things to mind. As Christians we look around in shock at the world that has turned from acceptance to hatred for the church. We shake our heads at the lack of morals of this country and the laws that declare wrong as right and right as wrong. And we look in disbelief at “churches” who have embraced and celebrate sin, putting a religious stamp of approval on what God has declared unnatural and ungodly. I’ve witnessed an incredible amount of moral deterioration in just my lifetime. And we sit, like frogs in a steaming stewpot wondering, “What happened? How did we get to this point?” We got here by ignoring the snowflakes. The church turned a blind eye to the first signs of compromise. We didn’t want to raise a fuss. It’s such a little thing, we shouldn’t make a big deal over it. We need to pick our battles. We have to be culturally relevant. We don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. One wink at sin, one shrug of our religious shoulders – then another and another and another. And here we are in a sin-saturated nation with no voice to say otherwise.
The truth is, we are each individually responsible for the state of the nation. We overlooked the snowflakes of compromise in our own lives long before they started swirling in the culture. We turned the disciplines of holy living – Bible study, prayer, service, faithfulness to the church– into suggestions for living your best life. We made the church one option among many in our busy, over-scheduled lives. We decided purity wasn’t as important as entertainment and freedom in Christ meant no restrictions. The snowflakes eventually caused an avalanche that pushed us over the edge and away from God.
But the same principle can turn it all around. What if you and I decided, as individuals to turn our hearts back to God, to return to the disciplines of holy living and the priority of righteousness? What if we spent time in Bible study and prayer every day? What if we determined to make purity and faithfulness the rule rather than the exception? What if we followed the Spirit without compromise? What if we purged the sin from our homes and our lives? What if the church turned back to God in repentance and godly sorrow? What if we taught the Scriptures rather than cultural, feel-good-about-myself messages? What if we decided that our kids needed the church more than they needed sports? What if we recognized that we’re supposed to be different than the culture around us? What if we accepted the responsibility for the state of our nation? What if we cried out to God for revival? What if every person who claims the name of Christ told just one lost person about Jesus? What if – one believer at a time, one church at a time – we created an avalanche of godliness and holiness that could push us back to God?
If one snowflake can be part of a wall of destruction, then one believer can be part of a wall of restoration. I believe it’s possible. I also I believe it is necessary. I believe our nation is in a precarious position, so near the edge of a very steep cliff. We are in danger of falling into a dark abyss from which we might never recover. The time for personal godliness is now. The time for the church to repent is now. We must walk back the compromises we’ve made – in our lives and in the church – while there is still time. A single snowflake is not the problem, but it is part of the problem. A single committed believer is not the whole solution, but you and I can be part of the solution. On our own we have little influence or power, but together with God, we can change this nation. We must – before it’s too late.

The Burden-Bearer

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When my son was little and we went somewhere that required a lot of walking, his little legs would tire very quickly.  He would slow down and stumble and cry.  That’s when his Daddy would pick him up and set him on top of his shoulders and carry him home.  The burden of his weight rested on his Dad’s shoulders.  Thankfully he didn’t weigh much then, but the idea of carrying another’s burden has its roots in Israel’s ancient worship traditions.

When God gave Moses instructions for the priests, He said, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel . . . Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders before the Lord” (Exodus 28:9,12).  Aaron, the high priest, would enter the holy of holies at the appointed time to make atonement for the sins of the children of Israel.  He would come before God with the names of each of the twelve sons of Jacob, the family tribes of the nation, engraved on the stones that made up part of his ritual garb.  He would literally bear the weight of the names of the sons of Israel while symbolically bearing the weight of their sin on his shoulders.

At Calvary Jesus bore the weight of every sin you and I have ever committed.  But it wasn’t a symbolic act like the priest bearing the names of the sons of Israel, and it wasn’t a gentle weight like my son perched on his Daddy’s shoulders.  The weight of all the sins of humanity – including your sin and mine – was a real, crushing burden heaped on the Son of God.

My husband bore the weight of our son because he loved him.  Jesus bore the weight of your sin because he loves you.  There came a point, though, when our little boy became too big of a burden for his Daddy to carry.  Here’s the good news: you will never be too big of a burden for Jesus.  Your sins will never out-weigh His love for you.  You can rest on this promise Beloved, Jesus will carry you – all the way home.