Posts Tagged With: New Year’s Day

2021 In Review: God Is In Control; I Am Not

2021 is coming to a close. Perhaps you are making New Year’s resolutions. I usually joke about them. On December 30, 2009, my Facebook status announced, “26 hours to accomplish the resolutions I made last New Year’s Day. I give up.” Another year, I made a New Year’s resolution to complete writing a book and have it published by the end of the year. It still has not happened. The best-laid plans of mice, men, and Michael often go awry. Often, the unexpected interrupts everything we planned to do.

Photo from https://pxhere.com/en/photo/745052. Creative Commons.

Nowadays, I usually just tell people that my New Year’s resolution is to avoid making New Year’s resolutions. That way, I can fail and succeed at the same time.

However, like most people, I usually approach the New Year with some hopes and goals, even if I do not call them “resolutions.” It seems like a good time to look back at the past year, see where you have been, and decide in which direction you want your life to go. We can always choose a time for self-reflection, to seek God’s direction for the future. For most people, January 1 seems like a good time to do this.

Many have not seen our hopes for 2021 fulfilled. We thought this would be the year that the COVID-19 pandemic would end so that life could return to normal. Many people thought the vaccines would end the pandemic. Instead, we are seeing record-breaking numbers of new cases emerge. Thank God, fewer people are dying, but people are still getting sick. Local and state governments are still issuing mask mandates. Nobody expected the omicron variant. Despite people’s best efforts, widespread availability of vaccines, and government mandates, the pandemic continues. There are some things that human ingenuity cannot control.

As 2020 ended, Darkened Glass Reflections was enjoying new records for the number of visits each month. Some time in mid-2020, I read a blog post or article that said that it might be worthwhile to collect ad revenue on a blog when it starts getting a few thousand “hits” per month. DGR started accumulating over 1000 hits every month in mid-2020, and the numbers kept growing. I expected this blog to continue to grow throughout the year, perhaps reaching that “next level.” All I had to do was keep writing, do what I could to share and promote the blog, and expect it to continue to grow.

Then life got in the way—or, should I say, death. I can usually find time to write during most of the year, with only a brief slowdown during the summer. My wife and I usually travel to Missouri, where we visit with my son and his family. For about two weeks, I focus on my family and do not have time to write. The weeks before and after do not allow much time for blogging either. Some years, I re-post favorite older articles for a month instead of writing new material.

However, this year, life did not return to “normal” after our July road trip. My son planned to bring the family to Florida to visit my mother shortly after our visit. However, as COVID numbers spiked in her area, she urged them not to come. So instead, they visited us in New York (my son’s first visit to New York since before his wedding, and the first visit for his wife and children). During that visit, Mom became ill and was rushed to the hospital. Kidney problems and other long-term issues had taken their toll on her.

So, between July and mid-November, my wife and I were either traveling to Missouri (once) or Florida (three times), hosting family from out of state, or preparing for one of those visits.

Despite every effort, Mom passed away in November, approximately 24 hours after beginning home hospice care.

Needless to say, this did not affect only my writing. Pretty much every aspect of my life (as well as the lives of my wife, siblings, their spouses, and other family members) was turned upside down. I mention the blog mainly because it was one “measurable” part of my life that suffered.

Perhaps the big lesson from 2021 is that many things are beyond our control. We like to think we can solve our problems. Sometimes, we cannot. Humanity is powerless to stop a microscopic organism from causing havoc on our world. We are all essentially powerless over life and death. We are barely able to maintain control over how we manage our time. Life and problems—some mere annoyances, some life-altering crises—affect us all.

So, if 2021 has taught me anything, it is that we are not in control. However, God is. Perhaps, if I must make a 2022 New Year’s resolution, it is to let God be God and trust Him in all things. I cannot control the circumstances life will throw at me. I can only choose to be obedient to Him and allow Him to decide what “success” looks like.

It may not be a measurable goal like “publish one book,” “lose 20 pounds,” or “exercise for one hour three times each week.” However, this open-ended commitment is the only one any of us can truly make. Circumstances may force us to change our plans day by day, but we can always choose to remain faithful to God.

What lessons have you learned about God and life in 2021 that will shape 2022? Please share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Christian Life, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanking God on New Year’s Day

Twelve months ago today, I published an article entitled “2020: A Year of Vision.” Think of all the things we did not expect at that time! Even though there were minor rumblings in the media about a new coronavirus, few people anticipated how it would disrupt our lives and set the tone for the year. I usually quip about New Year’s resolutions (I often resolve to make no New Year’s resolutions, thereby ensuring success and failure at the same time), but this year I feel sorry for those who seriously resolved to work out regularly at the gym.

An Irish shillelagh. Too bad we cannot really use it to teach 2020 a lesson! Photo by Schurdl, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

As a result of the chaos, negativity reigned in popular culture and social media throughout 2020. Many people responded to the world with a new breed of sarcastic humor about current events and daily life. I recently saw a meme on Facebook that read, “On New Year’s Eve, an old Irish tradition is to open the door at midnight and let the Old Year out and the New Year in. I think 2020 deserves to have all the doors, windows, and garage door to be open.” I proposed taking it a wee bit further: I should have bought a shillelagh (an Irish walking stick that can also be used as a club) at a local Irish gift shop so I could mercilessly beat 2020 as it left. Let’s make sure 2021 sees this so that it knows we mean business!

However, on a serious note, the Bible offers a better defense against negativity, hopelessness, depression, and despair.

“{In} everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, New American Standard Bible).

Image from YouVersion Bible app.

We do not give thanks for all things but in all things. 2020 brought sorrow, frustration, and even anguish to many. As of December 31, 2020, over 350,000 Americans have died as a direct result of COVID-19. Many others died of “normal” causes this year; perhaps some of those may have survived if the healthcare system was not strained. (My last two uncles died this year of non-COVID-related medical conditions.) Businesses closed their doors for government-mandated shutdowns, never to reopen, and their employees are unemployed.

It was a difficult year, but if we look for positive things, we can find them. There is a slogan in some 12-Step programs that says, “Look for the good.” If we look for it, we will find it. Here are a few examples from my own life:

  • Readership of Darkened Glass Reflections continued to grow. This blog experienced almost a 65% growth in the number of page views over the previous year, and its five biggest months ever took place during the second half of 2020. The “Year of Vision” revealed that I should take a closer look at my writing ministry and ask God where He would like to lead it.
  • My wife and I fared well financially. Since I work for a publishing company, I was able to work full-time from home and earn my full salary while we had lower expenses. I spent a lot less money on gas, car maintenance, and other expenses that accumulate while driving to and from work every day.
  • We are healthy. My wife and I both had minor cases of COVID-19 early in the pandemic but recovered fully. While we continue to respectfully follow social-distancing guidelines and take other reasonable safety precautions, we do not live in fear.
  • We survived the initial shutdown in March and a two-week self-quarantine period after visiting Missouri in August without killing each other. Apparently, our marriage is strong enough to withstand such challenges and equips us to face crises together.
  • Jesus Christ is still King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Savior of my soul.
  • Finally, we were blessed with grandchild #4. Leo was born in May and continues to bring joy to the family and everybody else who knows him.

I share these testimonies while fully aware that some people were less fortunate. Some friends lost jobs. Others faced other hardships. Most found something positive amid the mayhem. However, most people have something to thank God for in 2020. We can find ourselves focusing so much on the negative things that we forget the good things God has done for and in us.

Photo from PxHere.

Yes, there were hard times in 2020. Problems will not disappear overnight merely because we replaced our wall calendars. The virus is still spreading. America is still deeply divided sociopolitically (probably more so than ever). Questions regarding race and justice that emerged after George Floyd’s death remain unresolved. Perhaps 2021 will bring an end to the pandemic and we can improve in the other areas. However, whatever the year may bring, let us look for the good. Let us thank God for the good things that happen in our lives and the lessons and hidden blessings that come with hardship, and let us share them with those who need a word of hope and encouragement.

Happy New Year! Let’s look forward to good things in 2021.

What can you thank God for as we begin a new year? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Current events, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

2020: A Year of Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained,
But happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18, NASB).

“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision” (Helen Keller).

A few years ago, several people I knew posted “a word for the year” on Facebook. I doubt there was anything significant to most of the words. I think some of them used a Facebook app that randomly assigned a word and explanation to people’s pages. A few of my friends tried it several times, getting multiple results.

Other people actually thought of their own word for the year. They chose a word that summarized what they wanted to pursue in the coming 12 months or a trait or ideal they wanted to guide their decisions. It bore personal meaning for them. Some of those people were still talking about that word several weeks and months later.

“2020” just begs us to call it “A Year of Vision.” In optometry, 20/20 is the standard for normal healthy vision. It means that objects 20 feet away from you appear as clearly to you as they should. 20/50 vision means such objects look about as clear as something that is 50 feet away. Just for the record, my eyesight in my left eye is worse than 20/50, and my right eye is much weaker. My optometrist is very surprised that I can function as an editor with such bad eyesight, even when wearing glasses.

Of course, I am not talking about eyesight when I speak of a Year of Vision. I am speaking more metaphorically about other things we might associate with vision: foresight; passion; direction. A person with vision is someone who sees where he wants to go in life and has a desire and plan to get there.

I have often joked about New Year’s resolutions. I usually tell people that my New Year’s resolution is to make no New Year’s resolutions, so I can succeed and fail at the same time. The average New Year’s resolution lasts about 17 days. So, if you are serious about working out at the gym, wait until January 18. By then, most of the people who resolved to work out will have quit, and you can get on the treadmill or exercise bike without delay.

All joking aside, New Year’s resolutions are not all bad. There is never any harm in trying to make a commitment to make better choices, overcome bad habits, or develop healthy habits. However, perhaps you want something more. Maybe, as you are reading this and beginning a new year, you sense that God is calling you to something greater than the usual New Year’s resolutions in 2020. Perhaps He is calling you to bring your hopes, dreams, and visions to Him, align them with His vision for your life, and allow His wisdom to guide you in 2020 and beyond.

Vision provides guidance. It sets you on a path and points you toward a destination. It provides the inspiration and goal which can define any resolutions you choose to make.

King Solomon. Painting by Simeon Solomon (1840-1905). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Frequently, “vision” in the Old Testament refers to prophetic visions or dreams. The English Standard Version (the translation I usually quote) emphasizes this sense in Proverbs 29:18. Throughout the Old Testament, men of God received divine guidance through trances or dreams. A good example of this is King Solomon. In 1 Kings 3:5-14, the young king had established his throne and went to Gibeon, at that time one of the most prominent places to worship the Lord. During his visit, God visited him in a dream and made a bold offer with no apparent strings attached: “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon’s response showed remarkable maturity. He already had a sense of vision in his life. He knew his purpose. His prayer was driven by that purpose:

“And Solomon said, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?’” (1 Kings 3:6-9, ESV).

Solomon’s mission and vision was to effectively govern God’s great people. That guided his prayer. As God observed, Solomon could have been inclined to pray for riches, long life, honor, or the death of his enemies. However, Solomon wanted to be a successful king. For that, he needed wisdom, and God gave it.

The prayer for wisdom is one that God always wants to answer:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5, ESV).

Solomon had his own personal sense of vision, one which was consistent with God’s will. God then spoke to him in a dream. God also speaks to us in His Word, the Bible. He always offers wisdom to His people. Are we willing to accept His wisdom to guide us in our pursuit of the goals and dreams He has instilled in our hearts?

As we begin 2020, the Year of Vision, consider these questions:

  • What is God calling you to do in the coming year?
  • Is He calling you to do something differently?
  • What desires has He placed on your heart?

You may feel a certain compulsion or desire to pursue a dream or calling. Could it be from God? Can it be devoted to His service?

As you consider these thoughts, you should be able to recognize the vision God has for your life.

Having recognized the vision, seek God’s wisdom. Twelve Step programs offer some necessary insight into prayer. Step 11 states that the recovering addict “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God…, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Pray daily for God’s wisdom regarding that vision. Ask Him to reveal His will to you day by day and to give you the power to carry it out. That power includes the courage to do what is right and to persevere when it would be easy to quit.

A New Year is ahead of us. As 2019 ends, I feel some relief and satisfaction in some significant accomplishments. Yet, I do not want to merely coast through the coming year. There is still room to grow. I have dreams and goals to pursue. Perhaps you do too. Let us each commit to making 2020 a year of vision that will allow us to pursue greater goals and dreams in the years to come.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Blood and the Name of Jesus

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:21).

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25).

juan_de_roelas_-_adoration_of_the_name_of_jesus_-_wga19648

“Adoration of the Name of Jesus,” by Juan de las Roelas (ca. 1604) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

January 1 is a day of new beginnings. In western culture, we begin a new year. On the traditional church calendar, it is the eighth day of Christmas, celebrating yet another new beginning in salvation history.

On the eighth day since the birth of Jesus, we commemorate the circumcision of Christ, at which time He was formally given the name “Jesus.” On the eighth day, Jewish boys would be circumcised (Leviticus 12:3), and it is during this ceremony that the baby received his name. One can essentially say that Jesus shed His “first blood” at that time. James Keifer writes:

On January 1st, we celebrate the Circumcision of Christ. Since we are more squeamish than our ancestors, modern calendars often list it as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, but the other emphasis is the older. Every Jewish boy was circumcised (and formally named) on the eighth day of his life, and so, one week after Christmas, we celebrate the occasion when Our Lord first shed His blood for us. It is a fit close for a week of martyrs, and reminds us that to suffer for Christ is to suffer with Him.

Since commercialism tends to silence the spiritual aspects of Christmas, few of us give serious thought to all twelve days. Therefore, January 1 becomes a secular holiday and we overlook the message of Christ’s circumcision. As He receives “the name that is above all names,” He sheds His blood for the first time: a foreshadowing of the fulfillment of His mission to save us from our sins and of His eventual glorification:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

Instead of clinging to His divine majesty, Jesus took on human flesh, lived a life that was in many ways quite ordinary, so that he could live, suffer, and die as one of us. This is the essence of His entire incarnation and of the Gospel.

Many Christians will speak of the power of the name of Jesus, and others will speak of the power of His blood. Here, at the beginning of His earthly life, the two are united. At the end of His life, He shed His blood completely for the forgiveness of our sins, and in the last days we will all kneel before Him because He has the name that is above all names.

This post copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Resolving to Follow Christ in the New Year

The_Holy_Bible

As I write, the year 2017 is approaching its end. Many people are writing down their New Year’s resolutions. Although I usually quip that my New Year’s resolution is to avoid making New Year’s resolutions, I must admit that there is some value to this tradition. Many of us can think of ways we would like to improve our lives. Maybe we want to eat healthier, exercise regularly, get control of our finances, quit a bad habit, etc. We can make positive changes anytime, but somehow it seems convenient to make major life changes while replacing the calendars that are hanging on our walls.

Have you made New Year’s resolutions? If so, where does God fit into them? How does Jesus affect your resolutions. Resolutions are great. Seeking to be a better person in 2018 than you were in 2017 is wonderful. We should all resolve to live better, be healthier, and improve where necessary. But if Jesus is not the Lord of your resolutions, do you truly confess Him as Lord of your life?

Perhaps a great place to start would be by devoting 2018 to re-evaluate who Jesus is
in your life. Far too many of us try to mold Jesus into our own image. To some, He is the all-American Jesus. To others, He is the Republican conservative Jesus. Others think of Jesus as the great social-activist liberal. Some view Jesus as the perfect boyfriend, or their “best bud.” He might be your motivational life coach. The list goes on. Some of these images of Jesus have an element of truth, but often that becomes exaggerated to the point of ignoring some key aspects of His nature. Others are simply wrong, projecting our own self-image onto Him, creating a god after our image, in our likeness. Let us devote 2018 to seek to know Jesus as He has revealed Himself in Scripture, not as we wish He would be.

Our view of Jesus will affect every aspect of our faith in Him. It will affect how we live our lives, what kinds of decisions we make, and how we pray. My mother has at times referred to what she might call “Monty Hall Christianity,” after the host of a game show entitled “Let’s Make a Deal.” Such people treat their faith as an opportunity to bargain with God: “If You do what I want, then I will follow You. If not, I will do my own thing.”

Perhaps we may see an element of that thinking in Jacob’s prayer, after God appeared to him in the vision of a ladder leading to heaven:

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you” (Genesis 28:20–22).

Notice the wording: “If God will” do this, “then the Lord shall be my God” and I will serve Him. Thank God for His grace, since so many of us pray like this. God answered that prayer, and Jacob’s faith grew. However, it contrasts with the perspective of Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego:

If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery
furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17–18).

In other words, “We know God can protect us and do what we want. But even if He does not give in to our demands, we will continue to worship Him. Case closed!”

Many of us treat God like He is our cosmic butler or servant. We expect Him to fulfill our wishes, give us what we want, and make us feel good about ourselves. We want Him to justify our choices (even when they conflict with the Bible) and bless our goals and plans.

Biblical discipleship recognizes that Jesus Christ is Lord: not butler, boyfriend, bargaining agent, etc. The true disciple of Jesus does not pray, “My will be done,” but instead “Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10; 26:39, 42). The true disciple does not make his plans and then demand that God bless them; instead, he asks God to reveal His will and give wisdom, strength, and direction to accomplish it.

When faced with the opportunity to pray for prosperity or an easy life, the true disciple prays like King Solomon. Solomon could have requested wealth, long life, or the death of his enemies, but he asked God, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people” (I Kings 3:9).

When the early Christians faced threats and persecution, they did not ask God to change the leaders of their government or to make their lives easy. They prayed for the boldness to continue doing what Jesus had told them to do (Acts 4:23–31).

Before we write down our New Year’s resolutions, let us ask God to give us His wisdom:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without
reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5–8).

That is a prayer God is always willing to answer. Instead of making our plans and asking God to bless them, we should ask God to reveal His plans to us.

As we begin the New Year, we have several choices ahead of us. We can continue living as we did in 2017, and will get the same results. We can write out New Year’s resolutions, telling God what we want to do in 2018 and demanding that He bless that, whether it is His will or not. Or, we can begin each day by praying “Thy will be done,” and asking God to give us the wisdom, integrity, and perseverance to seek His will and to fill us anew with the Holy Spirit to guide us throughout the day.

May 2018 be a year when we come to more clearly discern God’s will for our lives.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Christian Life, Holidays, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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