How was your year? Most of us have some fond memories from 2019—and some that we’d be happy to forget. Good or bad, the past is past, and it makes no sense for us to dwell on it. I’ve often said that our Christian walk is not about the past but about the present and the future—a sentiment that Paul expresses in Philippians 3:13-14: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” But, the longer I’ve walked with Christ, the more I’ve come to realize that forgetting the past isn’t always easy—nor is it always desirable. As painful as it is for me to remember some of my past errors, the memory of them helps me to keep on guard against falling into the same kind of traps in the future. And, in many cases, those memories motivate me to try harder in difficult times, so that I can make it through victoriously. This, too, is something Paul talks about, saying, in 1 Corinthians 15:9,10, “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” We must strive to keep a balanced attitude about the past. We have to let go of any feelings of guilt and unworthiness over our past mistakes, but we must not forget past mistakes entirely. Instead, we need to take warning and motivation from them. Mike Tomlin, coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said of his team, “Our windshield is bigger than our rear-view mirror.” His point was that our focus and motivation must remain on what’s ahead of us, but, at the same time, we must keep a cautious eye on what’s behind, in order to navigate safely. Happy New Year!
Jesus didn’t come so we could have a Christmas holiday. Jesus came to win a victory for us, and all His energy was aimed like a laser on achieving this “mission.” This acute awareness of His mission influenced how He spent His time—His every action and decision. In the Gospels we repeatedly see the Lord’s life motto: “I must do the will of him who sent me.” Jesus was born to give His life as a ransom for us…the innocent for the guilty, and we are so grateful He stayed the course! Now, as followers of Christ, our lives parallel the life of Jesus. We also are given a mission—God’s will to accomplish. For the believer, life is not just a random stroll until we get old and die. This morning I was reminded of the importance of life as a mission from Psalm 90:12. Moses, the writer of the Psalm, prayed to the Lord, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” So, in this verse we see Moses as a student, asking God to teach him. We don’t naturally see life as a mission. It’s so easy to live for our own pleasures and agenda rather than for God’s will. But, if we humbly seek the Lord as a student who needs help, we discover God is the best counselor and tutor. And notice, Moses doesn’t pray about finding wisdom in the years of his life; he asks for help in the every day. Since “our days our numbered” we do best to “number our days.” Jesus reminds us that we do not have an inexhaustible supply of days on this earth. God’s Word speaks to me to value each day as a special gift; and with this gift I have the opportunity to “gain a heart of wisdom.” I am not born with wisdom, but I can gain it through my relationship with the One “who has become for us wisdom from God” (I Corinthians 1:30)—the Lord Jesus Christ. So, let Christmas remind you of your mission…to bring glory to God by becoming like Jesus! Then, when you reach the last number of your days, you will look forward, with great joy, to meeting the One who saved you and taught you how to live.
God never asked us to try to figure Him out. If you convince yourself that you will never trust God until you understand Him, you never will know Him. God and His ways are “past finding out” in the sense that you won’t be able to say, “I always know exactly how God is working in my life.” So much of God’s leading in our lives requires each of us to confess, “I don’t understand these circumstances, but, God, I trust You.” In the Christmas story we are introduced to Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist (the forerunner of Jesus). As a priest, Zechariah was chosen by lot to serve in the temple of the Lord during a special time of prayer. While in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and proclaimed that he and his wife would have a son (Zechariah and Elizabeth were barren for many years). All this was too much for Zechariah to process. Rather than just trusting God, he fell back on his logic and asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18). He couldn’t figure it out in his mind, so he allowed his doubts to overshadow his faith. As I read this story, I am grateful for the grace of God to overcome our doubts. Zechariah was disciplined because he did not believe Gabriel’s words. However, his doubt did not end the story. Elizabeth did conceive and give birth to John. Zechariah, who was mute for a season, was enabled to regain his speech right after the baby came. In spite of the lapse of faith on Zechariah’s part, God came through! Zechariah experienced the “joy and delight” of God’s gift of baby John (see Luke 1:14). What I receive from this account in Zechariah’s life is that God is greater than our ability to understand Him. We can learn to trust Him more than our own logic and thoughts. There will be times in life when our walk with God seems “illogical” …when our ability to discern His will is shrouded in fog. However, by God’s grace, we can still trust Him. And even if we falter, He is still able to bring about His will in our lives!
This morning a parent from the school lost her keys, and I joined with others in the search for them (no success yet). Keys are so important! Lately, I have been focusing on the Book of Psalms in my personal devotions. In Psalm 1, God graciously gives us the key that unlocks the rest of the book. The person who reaches out for this key and takes it is described as a blessed person—one who discovers joy, happiness, and success in life. Here it is: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). God’s Word is the key to life! My practice is to read the Bible in the morning for about half an hour (in addition to my teaching and preaching preparation). Lately, the Lord has been helping me to think of Bible reading more as “feeding” than just “reading.” In reading I just need my mind to process information; in feeding I need the Holy Spirit to bring this information to life within me. Feeding on God’s Word means that I pray before I read, asking the Spirit to help me “assimilate” what I read. I want God’s Word to change both my thinking and my actions. Feeding on God’s Word is the process of getting God’s Word into my heart and mind, and then thinking about (meditating on) what He is saying to me. It’s like eating a meal. Once you eat, the food stays within you. Throughout the day, you gain strength from what you ate earlier. The blessed person “meditates day and night” on God’s Word. The word meditate means to “mutter, muse, and speak.” This refers to the conversation we carry on in our mind. Since we all talk to ourselves, why not replace our thoughts with God’s thoughts? Why not trade our carnal, negative, self-consuming thoughts with God’s life-giving thoughts? Be willing to change your mind about Bible reading. Instead of seeing it as an obligation, see “feeding” on God’s Word as a delight…like sitting down to a delicious meal prepared by the Lord himself! Start today. Take the key, enter in, and sit at the Lord’s table.