Sunday, 4 January 2015

Beginning a New Year (2015)

We have now arrived at a new year. 2015 has begun and we do not know what God has planned for it. It is common for people to express good wishes, but that is all that they are. They can only happen if God brings them to pass. Sadly, some people will commence the year afraid and wondering if things will only get worse in 2015. Their fears may seem logical, yet they will only happen if God allows it.

Of course, there is always the possibility of a wrong response to the awareness that what God has planned will happen. The wrong response is that we try to live according to his secret will and not according to his revealed will. We can easily tell if we are focussed on his secret will because we will become fatalistic, which is not a good spiritual outlook. Instead we have to partner our awareness of his secret will with a desire to practice his revealed will. His secret will is not written down anywhere on earth, but his revealed will is stated very clearly in the Bible.

If we could ask God one question, and we decided to ask him what he intended to allow in 2015, he would reply to us in the words of Deuteronomy 29:29: ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.’ In other words, he would say to us that the details of his secret will are none of our business.

Is it hard to discover God’s revealed will? The answer is no, because it is clearly described in the Bible. Yet we must approach it aware that some of its requirements are more important than others. The most important of his requirements is that we trust in the Lord Jesus for our personal salvation. Until we do so, we remain at enmity with God. God invites, indeed commands, us to trust in Jesus right away. Once we have ensured that we trusted in Jesus, we can then consider his other requirements.

God’s revealed will is clear that he wants us to live spiritual lives wherever we are. He does not expect us to be ‘spiritual’ in church and something else in the home and in the world. If we are unspiritual at home and in the world we will be unspiritual in the church as well. The revealed will of God for us in 2015 is summarised in Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2: ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ If we do so, we will have a good 2015.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Praising God in 2015

There are many reasons for praising God. Further, there are many aspects of praise that we can offer. On the first day of another year, I want to mention some details from Psalm 100 that may help us have a fruitful 2015. This well-known psalm, which we have sung hundreds of times, is about praising God.
What were the aspects that the author of Psalm 100 mentions in his statement of praise? In verse 1, we can see that his praise had a global perspective. This is surprising in a sense because when the psalm was composed the kingdom of God was located within the nation of Israel. Yet the psalmist was looking forward to times of universal blessing.
In doing this, he was a good model for us to follow in the year that is beginning today. Why should we have a global perspective? The answer is obvious. We serve a God who is concerned about the nations, who has made many promises about the nations coming to serve him. We can mention two examples. One is the covenant he made with Abraham in which the patriarch was informed that through his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed. The other is the great commission given by Jesus when he told his apostles to go into all the world and make disciples.
How do we participate in the global activities of God? One obvious way is by prayer in which we remind God of his glorious intentions and interact with him in divine energy supplied by the Spirit concerning the spread of the message of his kingdom. One good resolution would be to pray for five countries every day and ask God to bless his church in those places.
A second detail emphasized in the psalm is gathering together with the people of God. In verse 4, the psalmist encourages his fellow believers to attend the worship of God in the temple, and to attend in a spirit of suitable praise. What are acceptable features of such praise? The psalmist mentions several in the psalm and three of them are gladness, gratitude and gathering.
When the monarch of a country is crowned it is a time of national celebration. Sometimes the country then has the opportunity of celebrating significant milestones of the reign, whether with regard to periods of time or by noting significant events that have occurred during it. Yet with regard to those milestones we know that they also indicate that the reign is coming closer to its end. When a king has reigned for fifty years, we know that he will not reign for another fifty.
It is very different with the King we worship today. Jesus, our great Saviour, began to reign two thousand years ago and his reign will never end. The milestones that we pass in the history of his kingdom don’t reduce the number of years in which he will reign in the future. The reality that we rejoice in is that he will reign for ever and ever. Each time we meet, we come to celebrate that great fact. We look back on 2014 and see a year in which Jesus reigned and as we look ahead to 2015 we anticipate a year in which Jesus will reign. Therefore we are glad.
Our worship is also marked by gratitude. There are many reasons why we should be grateful. We have received much from him in his common grace – food and clothing, homes and other features of a comfortable life. We also have his great and precious promises that assure us that he will work all things together for our good. And we have the amazing salvation that he has provided for sinners. Today, having believed in Jesus, we are justified and adopted, we are being sanctified, and we are heading to a better world.
How does Jesus want us to express our gratitude? He wants us to do so together, by gathering together with him and in a corporate way to respond to him with intelligent and warm exuberance. The fact that he wants us to gather together is a sufficient reason for doing so. Not to do so is a snub to Jesus and a failure to grasp an opportunity to gather with others and join them in grateful worship.
The third and final feature we can observe is that as we worship we are surrounded by grace. We can see aspects of God’s grace in verse 5: his goodness, his steadfast love and his faithfulness. In other words, the Lord is completely reliable. No good thing will he withhold from any of his people. He will be good in time and he will be good in eternity. We gather in worship to contemplate the grace of God and to remind ourselves of the wonderful fact that the God of all grace is our God forever.

The description of God’s people as sheep in verse 3 shows us that we are the recipients of his grace. At one time, we were lost sheep heading for destruction. Then we became liberated sheep as the Good Shepherd came and found us as we wandered in the ways of sin. He had to go to some strange places in order to find us, but he did. And then we became led sheep, and that is where we are today if we are Christians, being led to the refreshing pastures. In the future, we will be lavished sheep as Jesus bestows on us an endless and full supply of riches from the storehouse of glory.