Auld Lang Syne

If December 26th is Boxing Day, I’d vote December 27th as New Sweater Day. The malls were jammed today with masses of people either returning gifts or bargain shopping – don’t ask me how I know. And a whole slew of them, myself included, were wearing a new sweater that they received as a gift for Christmas.

Christmas is all about newness. Much of the emphasis is on new stuff – and that’s fun. But the newness of Christmas is based on the brand new baby named Jesus, new on that first Noel, that brought new life to any who would receive it.

We celebrate that newness on the last week of the calendar year and conclude our celebration with another new: the new year! Some of us spend time assessing the last year: what we accomplished, where we succeeded and failed, and make resolutions to improve ourselves or our lot in the coming year. We look ahead to better days.

Our pastor announced a new sermon series to bring in the new year. It’s a series on the book of Revelations. To be honest, I have avoided deep study of Revelations, as some of my deepest fears have stemmed from that book and it’s depictions detailing God’s outpoured wrath in the Great Tribulation. Gulp. Yikes.

Revelations also brings up all sorts of end-time doctrinal issues. Asked if he were a pre-millennialist or a post-millennialist, a friend of mine described himself as a Laundryalist, saying it’ll all come out in the wash.

I’d probably land in that camp too.

Last Sunday opened my eyes to something else new, and it’s a new way of understanding Revelations. My pastor referenced Revelation 21:5 as the crux of the book.

Revelations 21:5
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”

Of course!! Why have I never seen that before? Revelations isn’t a book of the end times. It’s a book of new beginnings! The Re God – the God of again and again – doesn’t just repeat: He renews!

Lamentations 3:22-23                                    The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

The Bible is exploding with newness! There’s the first day and the first man in Genesis 1:5 & 27. There’s the New Covenant, and mention of the New Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth, when Jesus comes again. And there’s the new man, promised to us through the Holy Spirit. It begins with new birth.

John 3:3                                                                 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

New birth results in a new creation.

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

As a new creation, I’m being renewed to my original design.

Colossians 3:10
And have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—

I see this image in Genesis 1:27.

Genesis 1:27                                                               God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

It’s so easy for me to lose focus on this fact: the newness of God does not end at my rebirth. The newness of God awaits me – further – at what is the end of this Age.

So as I approach the end of another year, my eyes look not back, but forward to the newness of God in a new year.

Philippians 1:3                                       Brethren, I do not regard myself having laid hold of it yet, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to that which lies ahead. 

After all, it’s just the beginning.

Happy New Year!!

Lamentations 3:24
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”

Pray for the nation!
http://www.prayingtwobytwo.com

We Three Kings

I can’t wait ‘til Christmas!

How many times have you said that or felt that way? “I can’t wait” is a term we use to signify that we await something anxiously: I can’t wait until that movie comes out! I can’t wait until this week is over! I can’t wait to see you!

But waiting is the signature of our walk by faith.

Psalm 130:5-6

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His Word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning, indeed more than the watchmen for the morning.

Psalm 27:14

Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.

Psalm 33:20

Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.

Just about everybody I query on this subject reports that they hate waiting. Yet the word, “wait” appears in the Bible 162 times: 27 of those are in the book of Psalms, as the Psalmist cries out to God in distress, and 14 are in the book of Job. Dear old Job. His experience of waiting we would all vote to do without.

As I’ve been studying James over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a ribbon running there of endurance in the face of trials. Endurance is lasting – through difficulty – without giving way. And according to James, the ability to last is produced through the testing of our faith.

James 1:3

…knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

The testing of our faith produces endurance. Our church produces something this time of year that requires endurance – it produces a monumental Christmas pageant, over two hours of staged fun that culminates in a live nativity, complete with camels, sheep, flying angels, and three kings coming to worship the Christ Child.

Those three kings had to endure quite a journey to follow the star and find that Child. Kings figure prominently in the Bible, beginning in Genesis 10, with Nimrod setting up his kingdom in the land of Shinar, which is modern-day Iraq. Six out of the 66 books of the Bible are devoted to the subject of earthly kings: 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles. With that much space devoted to the kings of Israel, there must be much to glean from their study.

And in studying them, I find that lasting was not their long suit. So here’s a little Bible study on kings. It’s a long blog – I encourage you to endure.

The kings themselves did not last, with the kings of both Israel and Judah ultimately being led away to Assyria (wherein we find Shinar!) in chains. Their kingdoms did not last, according to Scripture, because the kings – and in turn those they ruled – did not last. Many of them started strong, but petered out. Three in particular come to mind:

Solomon

Solomon was the wisest man on earth. He wrote 1005 proverbs of wisdom. Solomon built the temple, sacrificed to God extravagantly, and his father, King David, prayed for him that his heart would be and remain pure. Solomon did not last.

1 Kings 11:4

For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.

He started strong, but didn’t last.

Asa

Solomon’s great-grandson Asa started strong. Asa didn’t last either:

I Kings 15:11, 14

Asa did what was right in the sight of the Lord, like David his father…. 14 But the high places were not taken away, nevertheless the heart of Asa was wholly devoted to the Lord all his days.

Asa reigned 41 years in Judah. He followed the Lord and led the people in following the Lord. He cleansed the land of idolatry and removed his grandmother, the queen mother, from the throne because of her blatant idolatry. Asa defeated a million man army from Ethiopia with half that number because he called on the Lord and trusted Him for deliverance.

But in the 36th year of his reign, when neighboring Israel attacked him, he paid the king of Aram to come and protect him from Israel. And he paid him with the silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the Lord. He then imprisoned the prophet who called him out on this, and oppressed others of his own people. In the 39th year of his reign, he became severely diseased in his feet, but he sought the help of the physicians instead of the Lord. (You can find this in 2 Chronicles 16).

Joash

Asa’s great-grandson Joash started strong too. Joash’s aunt and her husband, Jehoiada the priest, hid the infant Joash from his own grandmother when she murdered all his siblings in order to claim the throne. Jehoiada then led the people in a coup, giving 7-year-old Joash his rightful place on the throne.

2 Chronicles 24:2 

Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. 

But Joash did not last.

2 Chronicles 24:17, 18 

But after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and bowed down to the king, and the king listened to them. They abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols; so wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for their guilt.

Jehoiada’s son prophesied against them for this, and look what that got him:

2 Chronicles 24:21-22 

So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord. 22 Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which his father Jehoiada had shown him, but he murdered his son. And as he died he said, “May the Lord see and avenge!”

Do you find this trend disturbing? Because I sure do! What causes someone to fall away after a lifetime of following the Lord? Why would anyone lay aside a lifetime investment in God’s kingdom, and then throw it away at the end?

The answer is found in Scripture.

1. We get tired of waiting. And then we give up hope.

Proverbs 29:18 

Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.

2. The world is enticing.

And we start to let it bleed into our field of vision. And then our desires. And then our values. And then we are tempted.

i John 2:15

Love not the world nor the things that in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

I Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond that you are able, but with the temptation, will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

3. We get soft around the thought life.

2 Corinthians 10:5 

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

4. Our hearts become weak due to distress or discouragement.

King David gave us a great example of this, and models what our response needs to be in times of deep discouragement or distress.

I Samuel 30:6  

Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

James 5:8

You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

5. We grow weary.

Weariness is tiredness or fatigue – it’s defined as a reluctance to experience any more. Enough already! I’m done!

We want to see our desires and goals realized, our prayers answered soon. And when we have to wait for sometimes years, and we still don’t see any change, we grow weary. When we grow weary physically, we tend to stop. And we do the same thing in the face of spiritual weariness.

Galatians 6:9 

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

6. We leave our first love.

Revelation 2:4 

I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

I don’t leave my first love on the honeymoon. Or the first anniversary. It takes time to get there. It takes monotony or disappointment, or grass that appears greener on the other side of the fence.

7. We love our own lives.

Revelation 12:11

And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.

There’s a song we sing about overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony – but it leaves out perhaps the most crucial element in overcoming:

John 12:25

He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.

My life is not my own now anyway. I’m His.

1 Corinthians 6:20

For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

We aren’t designed to grow weary, to be tired and discouraged, to let our affections wander from the One we love the most. We are made to overcome.

I John 5:4-5 

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

So what’s the secret of endurance?

Hebrews 12:2-3 

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

I think its safe to say that Jesus did not enjoy the cross. But He endured it for the joy that was set before Him – it was still out there. It was the joy to come.

Job saw it.

James 5:10 -11  

As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.

Job waited for it. And the waiting was greatly rewarded. Just like the three kings following the star. They endured – and they found Jesus. Our endurance will find the same.

Revelation 22:20 

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come, Lord Jesus!

I can’t wait!

 

Luke 21:19 

By your endurance you will gain your lives.

 

Pray for the nation!!

www.prayingtwobytwo.com