2021 in Review, & Looking Forward
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. 20 The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, 21 the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.” – Isaiah 43:18-21
I’m sure there’s plenty in this past year we’d like to forget (sorry for reminding you!): January protests, Afghanistan withdrawal tragedies, border crises, illnesses and warnings of more variants, supply chain issues, inflation, crime surges, ideological battles, and the loss of loved ones. We have been so blessed in our nation in so many ways, that even thinking on these more recent things seems like an alternate reality! Yet we must keep in mind several key Biblical truths that should ground us during these times:
1. We are all alike under sin (Romans 6:23), 2. God does not owe us anything based upon our behavior, but that we owe Him our very lives (Matthew 18:23-35), 3. The escalation of outward evil is a reflection of what is already on the heart; that man has simply abandoned God, and He has turned them over to the destructiveness of their own sin! (Romans 1:20-25)
No, these things should not surprise us, considering what we know of our own hearts, but we should tremble with reverent awe that by God-directed heart-change, we should be delivered from it ourselves! Somehow God sees fit to keep His servants on earth, living by faith and demonstrating to the world that there is a way out of the sinful madness!
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16).
It is precisely in how we stand out from the world that we are best able to live out our divine calling as His “ambassadors, making His appeal of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20) until that day that He calls us home! The image is that of “snatching sticks from the fire” (Jude 1:23) before they are burned up. Though God Himself does the miraculous work of heart transformation (Philippians 2:13), amazingly He chooses to do this through the simple means of person to person interactions!
Our message from God may sound increasingly strange (1 Corinthians 1:23-25), but He is able to fully turn those whom He has called to salvation! Those first indications of this, of God’s new economy, disclosed in the Isaiah 43 passage above, must have sounded both mysterious, and like a breath of fresh air. How would He do this? The mystery disclosed (Colossians 2:2), was found in the submission of the Son of God, put to death on the cross, and raised to life and glory! The Isaiah 43 passage indicates that much of God’s creation is giving Him glory, even as He provides for His people, His “chosen”, but that the goal in that is that would proclaim His praise! We were made, and set apart, to praise Him!
To what degree? For what end? We are given the answer twice in God’s Old Testament promises: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9, Habakkuk 2:14) The purpose is to put aside the false or fleeting promises of the world, for the seeking after God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Jeremiah 29:13, Mark 12:30), and when we do that, we not only find with joy that our wills align with His, but we are also witnesses to the world of His Blessed Design! The promises of Peace, Joy, and Love CAN be delivered, HIS way!
The strangeness and the difficulty of this is precisely in how we are to do this by faith: to operate not on what is seen right now, but on what is promised. We discover Him to be true as we obey with limited visibility, and God is most pleased by those who demonstrate the greatest trust through the most difficult of circumstances.
Our recent candlelight service was a visual portrayal of this truth: The individual candles coming together in the midst of darkness illuminates the purity of witness our Master desires! He hasn’t made us to be individual floodlights, but rather that which repels the darkest night as we gather in faithfulness. We can most effectively proclaim His praise most brightly at this time, precisely because it has become even darker. Let us thank God for these increased opportunities for doing just that in this new year!