Posts Tagged With: New Year’s Day

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 being 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: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

New Year’s Day: A Time for Change?

This post is an updated version of an article I wrote on December 31, 2009.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1-2).

These two passages are among the recommended readings for today from the Book of Common Prayer. These verses seem quite appropriate for an evening when the world focuses on transition.

Revelation 21 speaks of a time of transition in the cosmos. The world as we know it is superseded—perhaps overthrown—by the eternal millennial reign of Christ. Granted, that is a much more drastic transition than the one we celebrate tonight. For me, New Year’s Day is a day to change calendars; in the days to come, I look forward to remembering to write the correct year on checks. But, except for the last digit of the date, there is little substantial difference between December 31, 2016 and January 1, 2017.

However, we tend to make a big deal about New Year’s Day. People are willing to stand out in the freezing cold in Times Square (in a crushing throng, with little access to restrooms or other comforts) just to watch a glittering ball drop. Every media outlet seems to have its “year in review” presentation. There will be a big change when Christ returns, but many of us seek to make a big deal when the clock strikes midnight tonight.

The greatest hope for real change on New Year’s Day is something that can become so trite, I have virtually given up on it: New Year’s resolutions. The change of calendars reminds us to reflect on our lives, see which direction we have been heading in, and change the course of our life where necessary. Personally, I have stopped making New Year’s resolutions. They simply become a reason for self-criticism by December 31. I cannot think of a New Year’s resolution that I have successfully accomplished. The closest I have come has been those years when I resolved not to make any New Year’s resolutions.

However, all the hype about New Year’s Day has forced me to look back at the last year. As a writer, it has been a year of revived output. This post will be my 50th post of 2016. While I follow some blogs whose writers post one or more articles per day, I consider 50 to be a great accomplishment. A few years ago, my output had declined to a point where I posted only eight articles in a three-year period. Near the end of last year, though, I noticed that one of my posts (an article that I did not consider particularly significant when I wrote it) was generating a lot of “hits” several years after it was published. Writers need to recognize that we are privileged to see our work bear fruit over time. We make our best effort to write a good story/article/essay; we publish it; then, it is up to the readers whether they will take it in. On the Internet, those hits may come later.

This is a lesson for all of us in the Christian life, particularly those in ministry. Sometimes, we are tempted to “play God” and try to control the outcome. Our job is to be faithful and give God our time, talents and treasures. It is His job to decide whether it is used to bring people to salvation, or to encourage new believers, etc. The fact that people from 81 different countries visited my blog this year is encouraging. When I see a country where Christians are a small minority (or even persecuted) on that list, I take a few minutes to pray for the reader. God knows who he or she is.

I will not say that I will make a “New Year’s Resolution.” I have some goals for this blog, for other writing projects (including a book or two), and for other areas of my life (exercise more, eat better, manage my finances better—all the usual stuff). However, these are all things I have thought about throughout the year, and will have to actively pursue in the future. Most people blow their New Year’s resolutions by the end of January, and then repeat them the following year. However, if one makes realistic goals, re-assesses them throughout the year, and is willing to improve and grow regardless of the month, progress is attainable.

Lasting change only comes when we make a daily commitment to it. Speaking of the hope of Christ’s return, St. John wrote, “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). January 1, 2017 will arrive about two hours after I post this online, and will dissolve into history 24 hours later. The hope of eternity with Christ lasts forever, and provides a lasting incentive for real transformation in our lives. I hope and trust that, as I yield my life more to His Lordship, He will mold me to be the man he wants me to be.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

New Year’s Day sermon

Now in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall also have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. It will be to you a day for blowing trumpets” (Numbers 28:1-2, NASB).

The ancient Israelites had two calendars: a religious calendar and a secular one. This seventh month, on the religious calendar, was the first month from a secular standpoint and, thus, made this feast the Jewish New Year. Today, we refer to it as Rosh Hoshanah, which literally means “Head [or beginning] of the Year.”

There are some similarities between an American New Year’s Day celebration and Rosh Hoshanah. Many get January 1 off from work (primarily because most revelers are in no shape to work, after the antics of the previous evening). And, many people blow noisemakers at midnight instead of the ram’s-horn trumpet (“shofar” in Hebrew) that is still used in Jewish synagogues.

However, the similarities generally end there. Too many people treat the New Year as an excuse to get drunk and carouse. However, the new year provides special spiritual opportunities. The trumpet of Rosh Hoshanah gives us glimpses into God’s plan for Christians at the New Year. The ancient Israelites used the shofar for a number of reasons. Some of those functions are quite meaningful to consider as we enter a New Year.

One is confession and repentance. Joel 2:15 says, “Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly,” and the following verses indicate that all God’s people were to plead for God’s forgiveness. Earlier in the same chapter, God says, “Even now…return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Many people make New Year’s resolutions. Christians should take every opportunity to look at our lives and discern if there are any areas where God desires change in us. The new year is certainly a good time to set spiritual goals for yourself, and to examine yourself and see if there are any sinful habits from which to seek deliverance.

The trumpet was used to call people to war. Throughout the Old Testament, armies blew trumpets to signal the beginning of a battle (e.g., Judges 7:19). As Christians, we are engaged in spiritual warfare against Satan and his demons. We should commit ourselves anew at this time to battling Satan as he assaults us with temptations to sin and despair. We should also commit ourselves to engaging in spiritual warfare for the sake of our families, our communities, our nation, and our world. Let us each declare war against the forces of wickedness (see Eph. 6:12) in every area of our lives and world.

The trumpet is a symbol of divine judgment. In Revelation 8, seven angels were given trumpets with which to herald judgment. Throughout the Bible, trumpets were used to warn people of coming danger (see 1 Corinthians 14:8; Ezekiel 33:5). Have you ever considered the thought that every new day brings us one day closer to the return of Christ? Every new year is one less year before Jesus Christ returns; one less year before we stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Let us take that seriously. At this time, how much have you done to spread the Gospel? How many people have heard from you the good news of everlasting life? Are you trying to prepare people to stand before the judgment seat?

Sadly, many Christians argue about when Christ will return, while ignoring the fact that millions, who are on Earth now, will die before that time. They do not have another seven or 700 years to make up their minds. Let us each evaluate our lives and see what we can do to spread the Gospel in this new year.

In a related sense, the trumpets also call us to look forward to the return of our Lord. “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31; see also 1 Corinthians 15:52, 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

New Year’s Day is not just a time to change calendars. It is a time to look back and consider what we have done with the year God has given us. It is a time to look ahead, to make the necessary changes that will redeem the time God has given us. It is a time to remember where our lives have taken us so far, and to prepare for what God is offering us in our future.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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