A Cry for Justice

“Most of my life was spent living as a privileged person in an unjust society. Last time I did nothing to help change. At 76, I am not about to repeat the mistake. This time I march. I shout. I scream.” Robin Binckles, author, historian, columnist.

The words above penned by Robin Binkles above capture much of our collective sentiment towards the current political situation in South Africa.  Following the news this morning my heart again is heavy – not because of the nationwide protests, but because of the blatant presidential corruption and political injustice which provokes the marches. My heart breaks for the poor and the vulnerable in our nation who keep on suffering because of this persistent corruption and prevailing apathy.  God save us!

Over the last few weeks I have become increasingly aware of the suffering within our beautiful nation, more specifically the poverty within Cape Town.  As the info-graphic below could explain, privileged people are not commonly confronted with the pervasiveness of poverty, because that is how our social tapestry is woven. We generally work, live and move within our own economic spheres. One can only appreciate the impact of poverty when one crosses over into the world of the poor – even if it is only 5km away.

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Mapping diversity in Cape Town – obtained from 2011 SA National Census data (STATS SA online report available at http://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=7678)

Looking at this map one can’t ignore the fact that 25 years after Apartheid was abolished a city like Cape Town still lives in racial segregation – primarily due to economic inequality cultivated by a racist regime: according to the latest figures from Statistics SA the average annual household income for white South Africans are still five times more than that of black households.[1] We are still segregated by the sins of our past.

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Secondly, we might be unaware of the suffering and poverty around us because our generation is fixated on fun.  People preoccupied with pleasure train themselves to preserve happiness by overlooking pain.  Suffering steals our serenity, so we have mastered mindless indifference – we have become blinded to the surrounding suffering.  Indeed, ignorance is bliss.

What does justice demand in this unjust society?

Essentially, Biblical justice demands three things:[2] firstly, that each person is created in the image of God[3] and therefore all people should be treated equal[4], allowing for equal opportunity.  In this case, the abolishment of Apartheid was a celebration of justice in South Africa, but as the map above shows, economic equality is not a reality and therefore justice has not yet been established.  Secondly, Biblical justice calls for special care of the vulnerable in society – those most severely affected by fallen creation (the “orphan, the widow and the foreigner”[5]). This “care” for the weak and poor requires charity to provide in needs[6], but also necessitates advocacy to call for an end injustice[7] and intervention and liberation to free from oppression[8]. Thirdly, justice demands a generous sharing of livelihood with those in need[9]. The motive for this neighborly kindness is rooted in compassion – the compelling love that emanates from a deep sense of identification with another suffering individual.[10]

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God frequently dismissed corporate worship whenever social justice was not practiced in Israel.[11]  The care for the weak, poor and marginalized is essential for a living relationship with God because God personally identifies with the lowly, weak and oppressed.[12]

Injustice and oppression in society therefore require deliberate social intervention programs to ensure justice for the weak and the marginalized.[13] Since injustice is the result of the inherent corruption of man (i.e. sin), true and lasting social reformation requires the renewal of the human heart. And that is exactly what the gospel of justification by grace does, as Yale theologian Miroslav Volf discovered when he reflected while walked through the dispirited inner city of Baltimore.

“Could the hope for inner cities lie in part in the retrieval of the doctrine of justification by grace? How could the dead streets receive life from a dead doctrine? Imagine that you have no job, no money; you live cut off from the rest of society in a world ruled by poverty and violence; you are pre-judged for the color of your skin—and you have no hope that any of this will change.

Around you is a society governed by the iron law of achievement. Its gilded goods are flaunted before your eyes on TV screens, and in a thousand ways society tells you every day that you are worthless because you have no achievement… But the gospel tells us that we are not defined by outside forces. It tells us that we count; even more, that we are loved unconditionally and infinitely, irrespective of anything you have achieved or failed to achieve. Imagine now this gospel not simply proclaimed, but embodied in a community. Justified by sheer grace, the community seeks to “justify” by grace those declared “unjust” by a society’s implacable law of achievement…. A dead doctrine? Hardly!”[14]

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Thus the Biblical justice happens when God’s Kingdom manifests to liberate individuals and a community at large from the corruption of sin[15] resulting in societal regeneration and reconciliation as he “make(s) all things new.”[16]

What does justice for the poor demand from me?

It is important to note that Biblical justice demands the care for the poor, weak and marginalized not primarily from the state or the temple, but from the neighbors. This is evident in the legislated Year of Jubilee[17] and its principled application in the early church.[18]  Jesus made that exact point with his parables of the Good Samaritan[19] and the King’s rewards to the righteous.[20] Yes God does command justice in the judicial system and government[21] but primarily God expects it from his people to ensure justice for their neighbors.

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The overwhelming need and violence within our country is intimidating, but justice simply asks “how shall you love your neighbor as yourself.”[22] So how could you respond?

Firstly, open your eyes and your heart to see the need and meet the needy. It is often lamented that the biggest accusation against the church in the West is not that we don’t care for the poor, but rather that we do not know the poor. And this is certainly true for our economically divided society. We honestly do not see the needs of the needy nor do we hear their cries, therefore we don’t feel or respond.  Therefore, make a friend who is vulnerable and poor – and listen in order to hear and understand their struggle.  Don’t give from a distance – build a lasting relationship first.

Secondly, don’t be pacified by the enormity of the need out there. “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them.”[23]  Do what you can, share what you have.  But “do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.”[23]  Work towards dignifying a person and his or her legacy by empowering him or her out of oppression. And remember, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”[24]

Lastly, don’t become cynical, thinking that this is the way it will always be on earth.  The Gospel truly changes societies and nations for the good – not just secure people for eternity. For that reason trust in God as you keep on praying “let Your Kingdom come, let Your will be done! On earth as it is in heaven!”[25] Imagine what could your city look like when the Kingdom of God manifests, and pray for that! Strive to let heaven invade earth.

Like Robin Binkles I must admit that most of my life was spent living as a privileged person in an unjust society… [and] I did nothing to help change… [but] I am not about to repeat the mistake.”  So Lord, let your Kingdom come! In me and through me.

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[1] Pitjeng, R., 28 January 2017, Stats SA: Black households continue to be excluded from the economy, Eye Witness News online: Johannesburg. Available at http://ewn.co.za/2017/01/28/stats-sa-black-households-continue-to-be-excluded-from-the-economy. Last viewed 18 March 2017.

[2] Keller, T. 2012, What is Biblical Justice? Relevant Magazine, 23 August.

[3] Genesis 1:27; cf Acts 17:29.

[4] Exodus 22:1; cf James 2:1.

[5] Deuteronomy 10:18.

[6] Deuteronomy 14:19, 24:19-20; James 1:27.

[7] Isaiah 1:17; Proverbs 31:8-9.

[8] Psalm 82:3-4.

[9] Deuteronomy 15:1-14; 1 John 3:17-19.

[10] Luke 10:26-37; cf 1 Corinthians 13:3.

[11] Amos 5:23-24; Isaiah 58:1-14; Micah 6:8; Matthew 23:23.

[12] Matthew 25:34-40.

[13] e.g. Acts 6:1-6.

[14] Volf, M. 1997. Shopkeeper’s Gold, The Christian Century, 12 November, p. 1045.

[15] Psalm 76:9; Romans 8:20-22; 3:23.

[16]1 Corinthians 5:17-20; Revelations 21:5; cf Colossians 1:20.

[17] Deuteronomy 15:1-14.

[18] Acts 4:34-35.

[19] Luke 10:26-37.

[20] Matthew 25:34-40.

[21] Proverbs 16:11-14.

[22] Matthew 22:39.

[23] Proverbs 3:25, Deuteronomy 15:4-5; cf. 1 John 3:17-18.

[24] Matthew 25:40.

[25] Matthew 6:10.

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​Going somewhere?

This post by guest author Joanne Eksteen

In the last couple of weeks we have looked at couple intimacy. After hearing yet another story from a couple that felt that their intimate life is in shambles I wondered about what they really wanted? I got the sense she wanted him to say that he loves and wants her desperately and that he wanted her to say that he is everything that she has ever wanted and more. Instead there they sat saying: “he said/she said”. 
I must be honest in situations like this my own heart often aches for the couple but I also find myself wanting to scream: “what do you want?” It is therefore this question I pose to you as we reach the end of our journey of intimacy. 

If you were miraculously touched by an angel in the middle of the night and didn’t realise that a miracle had happened (i.e. you marriage/intimate life was ‘perfect’) the next morning when you woke, what would be different? How would it be? What would others notice in your behaviour that would tell them something had happened? What would your children see? What would the fly on the wall in your bedroom see? How would you speak to each other? What would your non-verbal communication be like? How would you love each other? How would you romance one another? How and how often would you have sex? Please be specific in the detail in answering these questions. 

Many of us are stuck in problem-focussed arenas. We simply fight to survive. The truth is we are not slaves and should be dreaming of more than survival. The questions posed above are not rhetorical. Please ask/answer everyone in detail. Facilitators please pay careful attention to the body language and non-verbal communication of each member while answering these questions. In most you will see emotion as they are forced to break negative brain schemas and thinking patterns. Please comment on the emotion. As people move towards more solution-focussed thinking they often begin to smile and become more relaxed. You can comment on this and ask them why they are smiling. Please reinforce this. The exercise is frustrating for most and they will continue to drift towards problem-talk using words like but/won’t/can’t. Kindly stop them and ask the question again. They must answer strictly to the point. Remember a miracle has happened and there are no limits with miracles. 

You may want to break into small groups for this. Please choose the groups wisely.  Please explore romance in more depth if possible (to continue next week). 

5 Truths On Spiritual Growth

Too often the idea of spiritual growth is presented so disconnect from real life.  Not so in the Bible!

The Colossian church struggled with sensuality[i]  in a city renowned for its perversion.  Paul, writing from a Roman prison, was encouraging the Colossian church to grow in godliness amidst the immoral climate of the city in which they themselves once walked.[ii]  From within the congregation there were two theories as to who one overcomes these worldly lusts.  The first group argued that one inhibit and control the bodily desires through rigorous regulations and rituals (asceticism), and the second group reasoned that one cannot and need not overcome it – one simply needs to allow the earthly flesh to go its course since it has not importance or influence on your renewed spirit (Gnosticism).  Paul renounced the foolishness of both these arguments, stating that no bodily denial or imprisonment has power to overcome sinful urges[iii]  and that God will certainly judge sinfulness, so don’t fall back into that life.[iv] The answer is to deliberately grow in holiness and renounce sensuality. [v]

Although the whole letter to the Colossians leaves us with profoundly practical truths about spiritual growth, these three verses contain very helpful truths on Spiritual growth.

“To [the saints] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I labor, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1:27-29)

  1. Spiritual growth does not earn favor with God

 

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The gentiles in the Colossian church were saved and blessed with the indwelling Spirit of Christ because “God [has] chosen” them, because God “has qualified (them) to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).  God loved and favored these gentile Christians in spite of their struggle with sensuality.  Later, as he encourages them to grow in godliness, he reminds them that – even before they grow spiritually – they are already “God’s chosen, holy and beloved” (3:12).

This is true for you too: you have already been made “accepted in the beloved” [vi] regardless of their lack or level of spiritual growth.  No amount of spiritual growth or weakness will increase or decrease God’s loving favor on your life.  You are loved and favored because God had chosen you and qualified you.

  1. Spiritual growth has a clear goal

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Paul’s ambition for the struggling Colossian church was clear: to “present everyone mature in Christ” (1:28). In the sister-letter Ephesians Paul phrased this truth bolder to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (4:13). Every member ought to grow up into the image of Christ himself.  For that we have been predestined[vii]; and that is the purpose of our times in the presence of the Lord[viii].    Although Paul never used the word disciple in his writings, we are not surprised that he chooses another word conveying this truth as the overarching goal of the Christian life[ix].  So according to Paul, spiritual growth has a clear goal: the imitation of Christ himself: to emulate his lifestyle and represent his character.

This demystifies spiritual growth completely.  The goal of Spiritual growth is a person – to emulate and resemble Jesus Christ himself.  And this is a life-long process to “grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”. [x]

  1. Spiritual growth requires deliberate effort

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Paul did not assume that spiritual growth happens automatically, but rather through his “proclaim(ation)… warning… teaching… wisdom… labor… struggle(s)… energy” (1:28-29).  Spiritual growth requires deliberate effort – as everything else in life.  Later in this letter Paul instructs these Colossians to overcome their weaknesses to sensual temptations by deliberate actions: “set your heart on things above” (3:1), “set your mind on things above” (3:2), “put to death what is sensual” (3:5), “put off anger…” (3:8) and “put on… compassion” etc (3:12-14).   Peter likewise instructs the Roman church to “make every effort to add to your faith courage…” etc.[xi]  We grow as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”.[xii]

Real spiritual growth does not happen automatically.  It is not reserved for a select few.  It does not come by means of some special revelation nor academic learning alone, but by “exercising yourself in godliness” [xiii] – by deliberate acts of spiritual disciplines as we seek to know God, his will and seek to emulate him in a community of believers.

  1. Spiritual growth is God’s work

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Christian spiritual growth is not another selfish self-help practice aimed to “be a better you!”  Spiritual growth happens by means of God’s renewal.  Even Paul’s labors are accredited to God’s as he works “with all his energy that he powerfully works” (1:29).  Even as he encourages the churches to “work out your salvation” he qualifies that “it is God who works in you, giving the desire and ability to fulfill his will.” [xiv]

Spiritual growth is God’s work.  We will do good to remind ourselves that when we were dead in our sin, God made us alive.  God revives and continues to renew us into the image of His Son.  And therefore every time “we behold him, we are being transformed into the image of his Son”[xv] – God does the work of renewal; we need to present ourselves to him and his grace.

  1. Spiritual growth is teamwork

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Spiritual growth is not a solo mission.  God works through others to shape, encourage and renew us.  Paul boldly asserted his role in the renewal and regeneration of the Colossian congregation by means of his prayers (1:9-12), preaching, admonishing and teaching (1:28-29) and instructions (3:1-14, etc).  Elsewhere he encourages the church to follow his example in life and godliness as a means of spiritual growth,[xvi] “to encourage one another and build one another up” [xvii] and in another place he mentions that his spiritual warfare on their behalf enhances their growth in godliness. [xviii]  We grow up within caring and loving relationships.

Spiritual growth is teamwork; ironically our concern and effort for another’s spiritual growth makes us grow in godliness.  Therefore we ought to always consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together.” [xix] In other words, the express reason for our assembly is to deliberately edify and encourage others to excel in godliness and good works.  We grow because of other Christians’ input.

Thus, Paul teaches spiritual growth is the quest to know and represent Jesus Christ our Savior, in response to God’s loving favor and powerful enablement, by means of deliberate effort within a community of believers.  It is something we desire, we respond to, we assist in and we celebrate, and something which only reaches its climax “we he appears”. [xx]

So, how have you grown? What’s next for you? And who is helping you?

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[i] Colossians 2:22-23

[ii] Colossians 3:5-7

[iii] Colossians 2:23

[iv] Colossians 3:5-6

[v] Colossians 3:1-17

[vi] Ephesians 1:6

[vii] Romans 8:28

[viii] 2 Corinthians 3:18

[ix] 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; Ephesians 5:1-2; 1 Corinthians 11:1; cf Philippians 4:9

[x] 2 Peter 3:18

[xi] 2 Peter 1:5-8

[xii] Philippians 2:12

[xiii] 1 Timothy 4:7

[xiv] Philippians 2:12-13

[xv] 2 Corinthians 3:18

[xvi] Philippians 4:9-121

[xvii] Thessalonians 5:11

[xviii] 2 Corinthians 10:1-6

[xix] Hebrews 10:24

[xx] 1 John 3:2

All Things New 2 – A New You!

God promises a new you.  The story of the Bible from beginning to end reveals God’s engagement with humanity to renew mankind in a very personal and profound way.  Throughout the Scriptures we read the promises and provision for receiving “a new heart”, “a new name [or identity]”, “a new creation”[i], collectively being “a new nation” inheriting “a new heaven and a new earth”.[ii]  Therefore we are encouraged to “be renewed in strength”, be renewed in spirit of your mind” and holistically “be transformed”[iii] by God’s grace; for “His mercies… are new every morning”[iv].

What God had purposed and promised in Christ is a complete transformation of your being; in short: A NEW YOU!  Not a superficial MAKE-OVER that focuses on outward appearance or behavioral modification but true transformation of your nature, character and destination.  And this is good news!  God had always in mind to forgive and remove the sins that cause decay and destruction.  Often the concept of sin is perceived as fuzzy and very “religious” – as though it is something wholly removed from the “real” world.  But the truth is that “sin” simply means “failure”, “shortcoming” or “imperfection”.  So God’s plan for our renewal and regeneration is to remove the cause and result of our inherent imperfections, shortcoming and failures. His plan is to remove all separation, suffering and sadness as he “make[s] all things new”.[v]

This process starts with being “born again”, a renewal of the spirit or heart – a core change of the person.[vi]  In Jesus’s substitutionary death he exchanged our sinful nature for his righteousness [vii]  – by this we are declared just before God and naturally long for goodness.

A new confidence: freed from your past

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When God makes you new he restores your confidence before himself and the world.   One good illustration of this was when Joshua, who was high priest in Jerusalem around 500 BC, stood ashamed before the Lord with Satan accursing him (Zechariah 3:1-7).  The reason for the shame and accusation was “filthy garments”.  Joshua was in a predicament: he was the high priest, mediator and intercessor between God and man, but now his “garments [were] filthy”.   He was a man who has served God for a long time, has been appointed by God and honored by men.  But now after having served as an example of holiness and godliness for many years.  Yet this godly man no longer had confidence to minister before God and men because he felt ashamed about his sins or failures – which God knew, and possibly some people (“filthy garments” and “iniquity”).  So he lost his confidence as high priest.  Yet the Lord did not lose confidence in his servant Joshua, and moved powerfully to restore Joshua to serve the church powerfully.  Firstly the Lord quieted the voice of accusation to clear his conscience, and then instructed the change of clothes to remove his shame before God and people.  This is powerful illustration that our righteousness and holiness is graciously imparted by God, not from our goodness.  But then the Lord also reaffirmed Joshua’s office and ministry of high priest by issuing him a “new turban” – he had renewed confidence to not only stand before God with a clear conscience, but the Lord affirmed him in his authority and ministry.  After his failure Joshua felt guilty, ashamed and disqualified.  Yet his meeting with the Lord delivered him from the accusations, guilt and sense of disqualification.  The Lord removed his shame and restored his confidence before him and people.  Likewise we are encouraged “Don’t lose your confidence – it has great reward”.[viii]

A new identity: free from your failure

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“A man is valued by what others say of him.” [ix]  How true!  Your self-view or reflective identity is shaped by how people relate to you – what they say to and of you, and how they treat or respond to you.   And in an imperfect society with broken people the identity derived from others is often hurtful and shameful.

However, our identities are mostly derived from how people experience us; we are named by our habitual behavior – whether good or bad.  We know people as either a sweetheart or brute, a workaholic or drunkard, a pervert or servant, a thief or a giver, a peacemaker or a fox; the list of labels go on and on.  Our habits shape characters which shape our identity.  But when God renews your nature he gives you “a new name”, a new identity.[x]  He not only renews your heart or your confidence, but also your character and identity.

One such example is Jacob.  His life was characterized by deceit and betrayal, and wherever he went he left a trail of broken relationship and angry people.  In fact, his name means “deceiver”, “liar”, “schemer”.  After cheating his brother out of his inheritance he fled for his life (Genesis 32ff).  But that night Jacob was met by the Lord who made a covenant of protection and prosperity.  Yet Jacob did not change deeply.  Yes, he was prospered by God in spite of being cheated for years, but Jacob’s relationships in his home and with his family was characterized by deceit, suspicion, manipulation – all lies.  Years after fleeing his father’s home Jacob again fled the home of his father-in-law.  By this time the Lord had prospered him tremendously, but he did not have peace.  He could not remain with his in-laws because of the damage of deceit.  Yet he could not return home to his own land which he cheated from his brother Esau, fearing the wrath of this skilled hunter.

As Jacob was nearing his home country the fear was mounting and Jacob did what he always did: he cowardly schemed to appease his brother.  But Jacob’s reality was screaming too loudly; the destruction of his character flaw was undeniable.  Jacob no longer wanted to be a known as a deceiver.  So that night Jacob went across the river to meet the Lord (Genesis 32:24-28).  He wrestled with the Lord all night, and would not let him go until the Lord changed his identity and his walk.  He persisted until he was truly a new man.  Jacob, “the deceiver”, was transformed into Israel, “prince of God”.  Jacob got a new name, a new identity.  His walk literally changed so that everyone who saw him could see that something happened, and that Jacob was a new person.  But also his legacy changed that night – his descendants are not known as Jacobites or “deceivers”, but rather Israelites or “princes of God”.  God made Jacob a new man with a new identity and new legacy.

A new you

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Both Joshua the high priest and Jacob’s life examples are reserved in Scripture for our encouragement: God is on a mission to redeem lives, so that in Him we are not slaves of our past or slaves of our passions.

Joshua’s story reminds us that even when we fail and Satan accuses us we need not hide in shame.  The Lord forgives and restores us so we can confidently continue to serve and represent him to the world.  Failure does not imply finished.  Our confidence before the Lord and the world comes as a gift from the Lord, not our performance.  Does the memory of your failure fil your with guilt and shame?  Stand before the Lord in humility, and see how he stills your conscience, cleanses your heart and restores your confidence.  Your life is not over; “his mercies are new every morning”![xi]

Jacob’s story reminds is that is never too late to redeem your identity, your walk or your legacy.  The Lord makes all things new!  Does your life reveal cycles of destruction from a character weakness? Do you feel embarrassed by your habitual flaw?  Cross over to the Lord; come alone. Don’t let go until he blesses you; wrestle with him until he changes your walk, until he redeems your identity, until he renews your legacy. See how he makes you new!

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[i] Scripture references in order Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26; Revelations 2:17; 3:12; 1 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:9-10;

[ii] Revelations 21:1

[iii] Isaiah 40:31; Ephesians 4:22-24; Romans 12:2

[iv] Lamentations 3:22-23

[v] Revelations 21:5

[vi] John 3:5; Ezekiel 36:26

[vii] 2 Peter 1:4; 1 Corinthians 5:21

[viii] Hebrews 10:35

[ix] Proverbs 27:21

[x] Revelations 2:17; 3:12

[xi] Lamentations 3:22-23

All Things New 1 – A new beginning

“Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:1-5)

It is quite fitting that we celebrate New Year’s Day.  In its nature these celebrations rejoice in the faithfulness of God who has preserved us another year, so we can exclaim “Thus far the Lord has brought us!” (I Samuel 7:12).  But more so it is a celebration of a fresh start, a clean slate, an unwritten book yet to be penned.  There is the anticipation of the unknown, the mystery of the unpredictable – what does this year hold for us?  How will things be at the end of this year?  How will it change me?

A Fresh Start

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It is necessary that we start this year with the reminder that our God is the God of a fresh start.  He is the God of the second chance who never grows tired of his children but is always “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4).  Jeremiah wrote “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23).  New mercies every day.  He is the One who lures the distant sinner closer by saying “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18).  Indeed, our God is the God who wishes to put the past behind with the promise of a clean slate for a fresh start!  His invitation is clear: “forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead… press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14).

A New Beginning

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Our God is the God of New Beginnings.  He is all-wise, all-mighty, and all-sufficient. Therefore over every situation we can confidently declare “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37; cf Jeremiah 32:27).  He is the One who promised “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 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.” (Isaiah 43:18-19).  Our God springs life-giving water in a lifeless wilderness and creates a mighty army from dried bones (Ezekiel 37:1ff).  Nothing is ever too far gone or too hard for him. He has the power and the wisdom to redeem the hopeless or to make something out of nothing.  Even death does not mark the end since He himself rose from the dead and poured his resurrection spirit into our hearts (Romans 8:11).  He is the reason we hope and don’t despair, the reason we confidently wait and smile in the face of impossible odds.  Where there seems to be a dead end our God opens “a door of hope” (Hosea 2:15).  Our God reconciles the divided, rejuvenates the fatigued, restores the broken, and revives the dead.  He is the God of new beginnings!  With him life goes on, forever.

New Things

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Our God is the God of New Things. He is called Creator, the Beginning, and the Bright Morning Star announcing the coming new day.  He is the God of new inventions, new solutions, new answers, a new way of life.  As with the birth of a baby, new beginnings always starts with cries of pain and tears of desperation. These cries are not from a place of despair but in hopeful anticipation – joyful change is on the way.  As the birth a baby represents the promise of new life, a clean slate and new potential, so every oppressive or painful situation holds the promise of this newness of life. And when God is at work in these painful circumstances he promises that it is certainly not in vain (Isaiah 66:8-9).  This pattern we see repeated in the Scriptures.

The slaves cried out in Egypt – God’s answer for deliverance and a new way of life was in the birth of baby Moses; he embodied their answered prayer.  Years later, in their promised land, time and again the oppressed Israelites cried out to God for deliverance, his answer was the judges Gideon, Sampson, Jephthah, Deborah.  In a similar way the Bible talks of Samuel, David, Jeremiah, John the Baptist and, yes, Jesus our Redeemer.  God’s plan for new things, new life, enters our world during painful times through a person whom he empowers.  In a similar way, you are God’s answer for new things this year.

Your New Year

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“Don’t Look Back” by Erik Johansson

This is a New Year.  The old is gone – it cannot be redone and it cannot be undone.  But it is a good time to turn the page and start with a clean slate.  Our God is the God of the Fresh Start.  He is the God of the Fresh Start in whom we can find peace for a plagued conscience and forgiveness for a life wasted.  Don’t despair – life is not over until he calls us home.  Come reason with him; unburden yourself and find new mercies for this New Year.  His steadfast love never ceases!  What do you want to close the book on this year?

He is the God of the New Beginning, who creates a garden in the wasteland, an army out of dead bones and makes a way where there seems to be no way.  Nothing is ever too hopeless for him to redeem. As long as your heart pumps he has good plans for you – plans of a glorious future.  He heals bleeding hearts, mends shattered dreams and restores broken relationships.  He truly makes all things new!  What can he do for you and in you this year?

He is the God of New Things, the all-wise, all-mighty creator of all things who knows the end from the beginning.  The Bible records how in the past he gave inspiration and plans for deliverance and warfare, for health, healing and sanitation, for designs and building of the ark, the tabernacle and temple, for arts, poetry and music, economic planning, supernatural providential sustenance and wise governance.    What can he do though you this year?
Sunrise3 - Mountaineers

Happy New Year! Make this one count for eternity.