A New Year’s Eve Song

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:1-7 ESV). At the end of December 1772, an Anglican priest in the poor parish of Olney worked by candlelight on his New Year’s Day sermon. He would preach on the text of 1 Chronicles 17:16-17. That passage was David’s response to God after Nathan informed him that his descendants would be enthroned forever as kings of Israel. David, the once-poor shepherd boy, the man who had repented of adultery and murder, responded to the news by saying, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me thus far?” That pastor was John Newton, and those words struck a deep chord in his heart. In those last days of 1772, Newton found himself running out of empty pages in his journal, a bound book of 300 pages holding 16 years worth of entries. As he came to finish that journal and start another, his mind was drawn to the pages of his past, the story of his life from his days as an unregenerate slave-trader to becoming a child of God. Newton would have remembered when his rebellious spirit got him thrown off numerous ships, publicly flogged, and ousted from His Majesty’s Navy. He would have remembered the shipwrecks and the mutinies, and then the transformation of his heart by the power of the Gospel. As Newton considered those days gone by, he would have asked as David did, “Who am I, O Lord…that you have brought me this far?” As was his habit, Newton set to work composing a hymn to illustrate his New Year’s Day sermon. In that hymn, he would tell his poor congregation of lace-makers and low-paid artisans about the dangers and snares he had faced. He would reflect on the amazing grace that had saved a wretch like him. Those now-famous words of “Amazing Grace,” first sung in the small parish of Olney on New Year’s Day, 1773, lingered in obscurity for many years. The words of “Amazing Grace” would surface again some 80 years later in a book that would change the course of this nation, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” In it, the slave Tom, at his lowest point, sings the words of “Amazing Grace.” But it all began in that dark little study in the waning days of a year gone by, when one man took the time to reflect on God’s goodness to him. This New Year’s Day we’d all do well to pay tribute to Newton by imitating his gratitude to God and his heart for the lost. We would do well also to set aside some time to reflect on what God has done in our lives—how He has delivered us from slavery to sin. And we would do well to consider how we, in this new year, can sing God’s praise with our lips and with our lives. Grace is given to...

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Grace and the New Year

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:9-10 ESV). New Year’s Eve is tomorrow. There are all kinds of traditions practiced to observe the changing of the calendar. In New York the “ball” will drop and thousands of people crowded in Times Square will cheer as fireworks light the sky. In Nashville we have our own tradition. We won’t have a Waterford Crystal ball drop; we will have a musical cleft drop from the tower. Obviously it will be in keeping with the name of “Music City” that provides that theme. There are hundreds of others traditions around the world that will be repeated. All of them have one thing in common. People are celebrating the passing of the old year in favor of the new. Our reading today is a part of a sermon from the Apostle Paul. He makes a bold assertion that he is what he is “by the grace of God.” I recently read a wonderful quote from John Piper that focuses on this grace that transforms: Grace is not only God’s disposition to do good for us when we don’t deserve it. It is an actual power from God that acts and makes good things happen in us and for us. This grace is past and it is future. It is ever cascading over the infinitesimal waterfall of the present from the inexhaustible river of grace coming to us from the future into the ever-increasing reservoir of grace in the past.  It took me a while to really understand what he meant by the “reservoir of grace in the past.” While the future has yet to be revealed, we know with certainty what the past was. Paul reminds us that as he reflects on his past, nothing short of the grace of God could have changed his life. Knowing that God was then capable becomes the reason for his faith that God will be capable in the future. You may be reflecting over the past year with mixed emotions. Perhaps some of it was filled with challenge and failure. Even then the grace of God was working in you for your ultimate good. I remarked recently that I did not want a repeat of 2014. I had two major surgeries that I will not miss if I don’t need to repeat them! But, was not God working in those times just as much as he was working in the birth of our granddaughter, Maggie? One experience was full of challenge, the other full of joy and celebration; and, all of it full of grace. I will celebrate the New Year. However, my hope is that it will merely be a celebration of what God has done and will continue to do because of the grace he has extended in Christ! The reservoir is full. There is no fear that we will not have more than we need for all the tomorrows before...

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A New Thing

Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:16-19 ESV). Someone recently told me they wished that New Year’s was at a different time of the year. I was a bit confused by that since it seems the holiday is simply set by our calendar. After all, the “new” year starts with January 1st. After a little bit of further discussion, they told me that it wasn’t really New Year’s that was in the wrong place, but Christmas. Of course I began to be a “theologian” and agreed that the birth of Jesus was probably in the spring of the year rather than at the end of December. But then we’d need to move Easter, and that simply wouldn’t do; after all, the announcement of spring must be accompanied by Easter celebrations. The resurrection is the real “beginning” after all. And then my head really began to hurt! I was relieved somewhat when they went on to explain that they wanted the holidays further apart simply because it would give them the possibility of more days off from work! Whew… that made it easier! And then I had to start thinking about it differently and deeper. Maybe the significance of a new year is lost on us as we are recovering from our Christmas celebrations. That would be a great tragedy. The birth of Jesus should be a great preamble to the greatest news of all. God began to do a “new thing” when Jesus was born. This was not to be an extension on any of the works He had done previously. There were hints and dimly reflected glimpses of this new work, but no one had ever seen anything like this before. What was once a wilderness filled with danger and death now would have a clear path through it that was safe and secure. What was once an arid desert now would have a river flowing through it to bring life to everyone on that path. All of this began with the birth of Jesus. Placing a celebration of a new year now seems most logical! I know it can feel like you are alone in the wilderness. You may be dealing with circumstances that appear overwhelming. You may feel there is no hope. Doubt and fear wash over you in what feels like everlasting waves seeking to pull you under. Don’t give up! Don’t let your circumstances rob you of your hope and peace. God is at work He is doing something new in you. God is doing something new in us. It began with Jesus and continues by His...

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A Friend

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:12-14 ESV). I recently saw a wonderful quote: “No one can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” I don’t know who wrote it, but it seems to summarize a very important principle especially at this time of the year. We all want to believe that we don’t start over; but we begin again right where we are, making things better in our lives. The common wisdom is that all believers should constantly develop a stronger commitment to do better or at least try harder. The truth is that our lives in Christ simply are not about the things we do or don’t do. I’ve had plenty of time to think through all of the things I’ve done and find the resulting thought disappointing at best. The real satisfaction comes from my knowing that as I fall deeper and deeper in love with Him, He makes my way perfect. My focus changes to the things of heaven and not on all this earthly stuff. If I were to make a New Year resolution, it would be to have a deeper commitment, a deeper love, and a deeper worship for the Lord. The Lord is consistently reminding me that He is more than enough in every area of your life. He is that kind of “friend.” When I go deeper into the background of the verses of our reading today, I am amazed that Jesus knew what was immediately before Him and still went to the cross for us, simply because of His love. Looking into the eyes of these eleven men, one having already left to betray him and another who would do the same before the night was over, he gently reminds them of the importance of loving one another. How tragically we fall short of this simple commandment. It is often inconvenient and troublesome to love someone like that. I find I usually want to love the folks who agree with me and forget those who don’t. Sometimes I treat Jesus the same way. I like the Scripture when it agrees with my way, but dismiss it when it doesn’t. Just a week ago, when Mary and I celebrated our 45th anniversary, I remembered some of those times when we didn’t really agree. Wonder how long we would have been able to have continued walking together if that would have been the criteria for doing so? I don’t have to agree, nor does she; we simply need to be agreeable. After all, this is the real definition of intimacy. Well, perhaps you want a new ending this year. If you’re not a Christian, please know that this could be the best New Year of your life. Your life can be filled with hope and peace. To know what the ending will be is an extra bonus. If you are a Christian and you feel stagnate in your relationship with the Lord, then now is the time to rekindle the love affair with Him. The real ending in our life will be when Jesus says well done my good and faithful servant. That statement will be for someone who took the time to get to know Him, love Him, and truly be His friend. That person will be a friend to others. How about that for...

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New Year’s Traditions

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:16-18 ESV). As we approach the New Year, I am reminded of the many traditions that surround the celebration. Each of them has an interesting thought. Perhaps you have some that have become traditional in your celebration. Here is a brief list of some of those traditions and their “meanings”: Kissing at midnight. We kiss those dearest to us at midnight not only to share a moment of celebration with others, but also to ensure that those affections and ties will continue throughout the next twelve months. To fail to smooch our significant others at that time would be to set the stage for a year of coldness. Nothing Goes Out. Nothing, absolutely nothing, not even garbage is to leave the house on the first day of the year. If you’ve presents to deliver on New Year’s Day, leave them in the car overnight. Don’t so much as shake out a rug or take the empties to the recycle bin. The thought is that the year must begin with something’s being added to the home before anything subtracts from it. Black-Eyes Peas. A tradition common to the southern states of the USA dictates that the eating of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day will attract both general good luck and money in particular to the one doing the dining. Some choose to add other Southern fare to this tradition, but the black-eyed peas are key. Letting the Old Year Out. At midnight, all the doors of a house must be opened to let the old year escape unimpeded. He must leave before the New Year can come in, says popular wisdom, so doors are flung open to assist him in finding his way out. Loud Noise. Make as much noise as possible at midnight. You’re not just celebrating; you’re scaring away evil spirits. According to widespread superstition, evil spirits and the Devil himself hate loud noise. We celebrate by making as much of a din as possible not just as an expression of joy at having a new year at our disposal, but also to make sure the devil and his minions don’t stick around. Of course these are mere fables and superstitions. Yet, there are many people who observe them. I’m afraid I have been guilty of having black-eyed peas for many years! The truth is that none of these or others that surround New Year’s is a means to good fortune. There is only one way to “life.” That is through faith in Christ. Our reading this morning is very clear. As foolish as it may sound to some, the power of God at work in us is through Christ, and that is initiated through faith. This year, examine your faith. Turn your complete attention to Christ. That will make your new year the best...

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Cleaning Up After Christmas

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 ESV). It never goes up as easy as it comes down. And the process of cleaning up after Christmas never seems to hold as much joy as when we pulled out boxes of Christmas decorations a few short weeks ago. The excitement we felt at the beginning of the season is overtaken with dreaded task at hand. Removing the ornaments from the tree, boxing them up, putting them away, and then taking down the tree itself is often not as much a pleasurable experience as putting them up. For a while it seems like an endless task, gathering items from every room and replacing them back into the “Christmas closet” for another year. There are a few items that are a part of our Christmas decorations that never get taken down. I’m not sure why that’s true, but they always stay on display. I began to wonder about other items that might not best be left on display. Most of us have a nativity scene as a part of our Christmas décor. I wonder why we should box up a reminder of the most incredible of miracles. Perhaps there are other things that ought to be reminders of the gift of God in Christ we should leave up. Perhaps as you pack your holiday decorations, you should take time to ask God what He would have you show in your home all year. I am sure there will be one special item which is meant to be displayed year round in your home, too… and in your heart. That certainly is a part of Jesus’ teaching in our reading this morning. We all have been given a gift of life. That gift has turned us into living lights that ought to shine throughout the year, in our homes and in our lives at large. We are the only examples of the character and life of Christ that others may see in the world. H. Spurgeon said, “A man’s life is always more forcible than his speech. When men take stock of him they reckon his deeds as dollars and his words as pennies. If his life and doctrine disagree the mass of onlookers accept his practice and reject his preaching.” There really is no substitute for a good example! Christmas is over for this year, a New Year is about to dawn. What kind of example will you be? Ask God which of the Christmas “decorations” you need to leave up in your life this...

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