Psalm 90: A Psalm For The End Of The Year

Psalm 90 is a perfect psalm for the end of the year. For one thing, this psalm includes the word “year” more than any other psalm. In the Hebrew text of Psalm 90, the word translated as “year” (shena) appears seven times. But, apart from the frequency of the word “year” in Psalm 90, its themes speak to us as we wrap up another calendar year.

It begins by noting that God has been our home “through all the generations,” from year to year to year (90:1). Even “before the mountains were born,” God is God (90:2). God is always there for us.

Though we can make a big deal out of the change of years, from God’s perspective, “a thousand years are as a passing day” (90:4). This fact reminds us of God’s unmatched majesty. It also suggests that all the hype surrounding New Year doesn’t really matter in the long run. What will really be different, other than the number of the year?

Psalm 90 acknowledges the difficulties of life: “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away” (90:10). Now that could sound pretty depressing. But, the fact that the Bible doesn’t “make nice” commends to us its truthfulness. Yes, indeed, even when life is fine for us, others are suffering. We may have plenty to eat, but millions throughout the world are without food today. And we might feel as if we’re going to live forever, but, in fact, our days are numbered.

Does this mean we should feel depressed and discouraged? Hardly. Verse 12 offers this prayer to the Lord: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” How does acknowledging the brevity of life help us to be wise? Well, for one thing, when we realize that we have only so many hours on earth, we’ll be eager to use them well, rather than frittering them away with empty activities. Accepting the limits of our lives will help us to use well every minute God gives us.

Psalm 90 underscores the fact that fulfillment in life isn’t a matter of how much we have or how much we accomplish. Rather, what gives life purpose and meaning is a living relationship with the living God: “Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives” (90:14). I can’t think of a better thought with which to end the year and begin a new one. If we live each day in the satisfaction of God’s love, we will be empowered to live for Him, to love Him through serving our neighbors. We won’t fret about the passing of the years, but will accept the gift of each day as a new opportunity for love and service.

For Your Reflection: As you come to the end of the year, what thoughts do you have about 2019? Have you lived this year to the fullest? In what areas of life do you need more of God’s wisdom? Are you open to being satisfied each day with God’s unfailing love for you? (MARK D. ROBERTS)

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Advent Week 4: Repentance And Renewal

During Advent we honor the descendants of the House of David, a royal line of nobles and cads who point the way to the Messiah. King David himself is a fascinating mix of courage and cowardice. He
slew the giant warrior Goliath with a single slingshot when he was still a boy, but as king he succumbs to corrupt and immoral desires with deadly consequences. His later sorrow and repentance are well documented in the Book of Psalms.

Poor David—he was doing so well for a while, uniting Israel and making it mighty—but then he lets power go to his head. He sees the beautiful Bathsheba and decides he wants her for his own, even though he knows she is the wife of Uriah, one of his most dedicated soldiers. When he learns that Bathsheba is pregnant with his child, David tries to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba so that Uriah will think the baby to come is his. But Uriah, who is preparing for battle, refuses to be with his wife. David decides his only recourse is to have Uriah killed during the battle by one of his henchmen. It is a sordid tale in which the cover-up is worse than the crime.

Why, when he could have had any young maiden he wanted, did David choose someone who was off limits? How could he betray someone who served him so loyally? Perhaps 19th-century historian and moralist Lord Acton offers the best explanation: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

In a time when we moderns are sickened by waste and greed on Wall Street, David’s arrogance seems all too familiar. No matter how much some of us have, we want more—and worse yet, we think we deserve more. How does one get off this treadmill of selfishness and one-upmanship?

Psalm 36 outlines David’s problem: Sinners close their eyes to God and “live with the delusion their guilt will not be known and hated.” But in reality, sinners live in misery: “My frame aches because of my sin” is the lament in Psalm 38. The solution offered—one that John the Baptist and Jesus affirm centuries later—is to repent and turn one’s heart and mind to God. The descriptions of David’s anguish and guilt are reassuring. Guilt is a sign that one still has a conscience— a connection with God that, though frayed, is not completely severed.

Advent is a good time for each of us to examine our own consciences and ask ourselves, What gnaws at me? Which of my actions do I know to be dishonest, hurtful, or demeaning to others? What can I do to restore my relationship with God and others?

For more soul-searching questions and faith-filled answers, read the Book of Psalms.

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Advent Week 3: Mary’s Impossible Dream

Mary, who awaited the birth of Jesus some 2,000 years ago just as we do this Advent, lived an impossible dream. Imagine how young Mary—probably no more than 15 or 16 years old—must have felt upon receiving the news that the
impossible was about to take place within her, that she would give birth to the Savior. How could she tell her betrothed, Joseph? What would her family think? Who would believe her?

“Do not be afraid, Mary,” the angel says to her. “Nothing will be impossible with God”. We know the rest of the story. The impossible was indeed made possible, not only at the birth of Jesus, but in the many miracles He performed, and most of all at His Resurrection. If God could accomplish all this, imagine what God can do in your own life. Advent is the season for imagining what is possible, for dreaming new dreams, for hoping beyond hope. But it is also the season when hope can be hardest to find, dreams hardest to believe. Expenses may loom at a time when resources are scarce. Separation, grief, loneliness, and depression are no strangers to the season. Hope may be in short supply during this time. We need Mary’s inspiring example of courage and trust in the face of uncertainty more than ever.

Mary can’t guarantee us a smooth ride, however. Look at her own difficult journey: first, she had to travel to Bethlehem late in her pregnancy (Luke 2:1–6). Have you ever tried riding a donkey? Now imagine doing so nine month’s pregnant! Later, she had to flee to Egypt with Joseph and the Baby when their lives were in danger (Matthew 2:13–23). Nor can Mary promise us a season free of anxiety and worry. Imagine how she must have worried about what was ahead for her beloved Child as His messianic destiny was revealed to her, first by shepherds who left her pondering the news in her heart (Luke 2:16–19), then at the Temple by the prophet Simeon, who spoke to her of the sorrowful times ahead: “A sword will pierce your soul too” (Luke 2:22–35).

What Mary can offer us is a remarkable and inspiring example of courage in the face of adversity, patience in the face of uncertainty, and hope beyond hope that the impossible is indeed possible. Mary stood with her Son as He was crucified (John 19:25–27); she stood with His fearful followers who huddled after His death (Acts 1:13–14). She knew that the story wasn’t over yet. And she was right.

Our story isn’t finished, either, no matter what challenges or wounds burden us this season. All things remain possible with God. This is the miracle of Advent. Like Mary, we too can live the impossible dream.

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Advent, Week 2 – Out In The Wilderness

Something big was about to happen, but then John the Baptist had been expecting something unusual. He had heard stories about the time before he was born, how he had come onto the scene long after his parents thought children would be part of their lives.

Both his mother Elizabeth and his father Zechariah, a priest, had received messengers—though his father did not at first believe what was happening—who made surprising promises that John would take after the prophet Elijah.

John “grew and became strong in spirit,” and in time he embraced his calling to be a prophet with a passion and headed out to the wilderness. He even looked the part. With his camel’s hair clothes, leather belt, and a diet of locusts and wild honey, he was the spitting image of Elijah. And he had a prophet’s message: to call people back to God. “Repent,” he said—let your heart be changed, turn your life around—“for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Go down into the waters of baptism and come up a new person. Know you are forgiven.

Then came the moment John’s whole life had been heading toward. He realized one was “coming after me” who was “more powerful than I.” He even started denying he was the prophet he acted so much like. I’m not Elijah, or the Messiah, he said. The real Messiah was on his way. John didn’t recognize Jesus at first when He showed up at the Jordan River to be baptized. But when Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens opened and God’s presence came down like the Spirit of God that had swept over the waters at the creation of the world. And if anyone there needed any further persuading, a voice from above was heard to say, “This is My Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

John had completed his work. He had made straight the paths for the way of the Lord.

It’s Advent. Jesus is near. With the rest of the people of God you are out in the wilderness waiting for Him to appear. How can you make straight the paths of your own life? Be open to a change of heart, to letting yourself be turned in a new direction. To what new roles—perhaps unexpected ones—does your life, like John’s, point? Could it be to bring some forgiveness and peace to yourself, your family, your friends, your coworkers, the world?

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Advent Reflection 2018 – Week 1

Few statements carry as much emotion as the one that titles this piece, especially for those who have almost given up after years of disappointment and false hopes.

So we can imagine the response of one couple, the biblical Abraham and Sarah, who against all odds not only become pregnant, but models of faith in the process.

It’s both a cliché and an understatement to say that God is a God of surprises, but it’s true. Theologian and novelist Frederick Buechner goes further and says that while we easily see tragedy of the stories of Scripture, we must also see their comedy, when, as he says, “What shouldn’t happen, what couldn’t possibly happen . . . happens!”— like the resurrection, like the ne’er-do-well son welcomed home again, like the birth of Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac, whose name means “Son of Laughter.” Advent should leave our faces streaked with tears of laughter at ourselves for thinking we had figured God out!

But Abraham and Sarah are Advent pillars not only because grace broke into their lives, but also because they trusted the God who made the promise. Paul considers Abraham to be our father in faith not because of any qualifying deeds, but because he trusted that the promises of God would be fulfilled. We find God in surprising moments of grace, and we also find God in the experiences that call for patient waiting and trust.

Waiting is not the strong suit of many of us in our hurry-up culture. Everything is urgent. Hope is foreign to people who expect quick relief, cures, and solutions. We struggle to guard Advent jealously because popular culture short-circuits this season of hope: We are tempted to go directly to celebrating Christmas without getting in touch with the part of ourselves that is longing, hoping, and trusting. Waiting is also difficult because we’re forced to admit that we are not in control—God is. A friend who recently became pregnant experienced an awed helplessness as the natural process advanced within her body. Her husband also could only wait with her, loving and supporting her and their unborn child, but unable to accelerate the process.

For all their drama, the words “Honey, we’re pregnant,” uttered by a tear-streaked, wrinkle-faced 90-year-old Sarah to wobbly, unbelieving Abraham, or by an amazed, teenaged Mary to an equally confounded Joseph, indicate not the joy of birth—not quite yet—but the amazing surprise of love, and the beginning of a season of waiting, when God-is-with-us.

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The Secret To Spiritual Growth

We all want to experience spiritual growth and success. Sadly, we all know people who have been spiritual failures in life. Perhaps we regard ourselves that way. Some have grown in leaps and bounds spiritually, while others have not grown at all. Some have done great things for God and His Kingdom, while others have done nothing.

You might say, “Well, Christianity just didn’t work for me!” Listen, Christianity is not a product that works for some and not for others. Plain and simple: Christianity is Christ. He can and will work in any life that is truly dedicated to Him. G. K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It’s been found difficult and not tried.”

Why do some succeed spiritually, while others fail? The short answer: Because they choose to. They want it, so they go for it. Others don’t really want it, so they don’t go for it.

You might protest, “That sounds like you think living the Christian life is human effort.” I am not saying that. Scripture clearly says that it is not by works of righteousness that we have done, but by His mercy He has saved us (see Titus 3:5). But clearly there are some things that only God can do, and some things that only you can do.

Paul reminds us that we are to work out our own salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). That does not say that you should work for your own salvation but work out your salvation. Another translation says to “carry to the goal and fully complete with self distrust.” The following verse explains it: “For it is God who works in you both to will and do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). We need to work out what God has worked in. God enables us to do this, but we must also apply ourselves.

Let me say it again, there are some things only God can do, and some things only I can do. Only God can save a person. Only God can forgive and forget our sins. Only God can change the human heart. But at the same time, only I can believe. Only I can repent. Only I can follow. God will not do those things for me, as He has given me a free will to choose. (GREG LAURIE)

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Christmas Musical 2018 : I AM KING

King Herod, the main character of this drama, was the chosen king for the Roman territory called the Land of the Jews in 37BC.  During his time as king, something amazing happened.  Towards the end of King Herod’s life Jesus, the Son of God, stepped out of eternity and entered into human history.  Jesus was born – right there and right then, born in Herod’s realm and during his time.

Can you imagine what King Herod must have been thinking, or how he must have felt?  King Herod, who was king, and who wants to remain as king, is now feeling threatened by a Baby who would one day grow up to be King of kings.

What about you? Who is king in your life?

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Who Am I To You?

“But who do you say that I am?”

Jesus asked this question of the disciples in the district of Caesarea Philippi. This
is a beautiful place in the wooded foothills of Mount Hermon. Its significance reaches back to Alexander the Great who established a temple to honor the Greek god of nature, Pan. Later it became a Roman imperial city, an administrative center, renamed to honor Caesar Augustus.

Jesus traveled all the way north from Galilee, to the very edge of Israel, to an historic place that represented creation, pagan idolatry, and political power and only then asked His questions. “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?”

The options haven’t changed much over the years. Some say John the Baptist – an edgy religious teacher, a spiritual revolutionary – others say Elijah – a miracle worker who channels the power of God – still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets – one who speaks on God’s behalf to challenge both the people and their leaders. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t disagree with any of that. But the real question is the one that follows.

“But who do you say that I am?” Now He gets personal. Standing there, so close to the earthly power centers of pagan religion, emperor devotion, and political power, Jesus draws His line in the sand. He asks His disciples, and He asks us, “Who am I, to you?”

We only hear Peter’s response. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” You, not Caesar, are the chosen One, the Anointed One, the Savior, and Lord of all. You are the Son of the living God, not the ancient gods of nature who were so quick to bless earthly power, to welcome Caesars into their pantheon of divinity. Peter got it right. Jesus quickly affirms Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.”

Today Jesus asks us, “Who is Jesus, to us?” Is He a spiritual sideshow or Lord of our lives? Is He a magician, a miracle worker, good only for our entertainment or perhaps our rescue? Or is He the living embodiment of God, the One who reveals God’s will for all of life?

Martin Luther taught that our god is anything we look to for status, identity, and security. Who will it be? Caesar or Jesus? The gods of culture or the God of Creation? Who am I, to you?

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