Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14
January 3, in the tenth year of the 21st Century.
Happy New Year Covenant on the Corner!
Happy New Year!
And the Second Sunday after Christmas.
The 12 days of Christmas, and a partridge in pear tree.
We take a few days to catch our breath.
Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, we ponder these things in our heart:
What child is this, who laid to rest, On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet While shepherds watch are keeping?
The season after Christmas is a good time.
A time to sing praises to our God.
For God is gracious and a song of praise is fitting.
But where do we go from here?
In this fast-paced world of ours,
Where everything changes in a heartbeat.
Wars and rumors of war.
Fanatical young men strap explosives to their underwear.
Politicians tell us the sky is falling, and play upon our fears for their own unsavory ends.
Megachurch pastors offer the latest spiritual fix while building empires.
Peggy Noonan writes of our current state of affairs:
American “… institutions forgot their mission, they entered the empire of spin. They turned more and more attention, resources and effort to the public perception of their institution, and not to the reality of it.”
Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the porridge is too hot, too cold, and we can’t seem to find “the just right.”
Is there a place to stand?
For you and for me?
That really makes sense?
For courage and faith?
Is there a firm firm foundation, or is everything just pudding?
Scripture offers a resounding Yes!
There is a place to stand.
More than stand, but to live.
And to live well!
The Psalmist wrote:
The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted,
And binds up their wounds.
He covers the heavens with clouds,
Prepares rain for the earth,
Makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the animals their food,
And to the young ravens when they cry.
It begins with a simple idea: It’s all about God!
When I was in seminary, Donna and I were out one Sunday to a church where I was preaching for the day.
I remember referencing a text from 2 Corinthians:
Jesus Christ is not “Yes and No” …
But in him it is always “Yes.”
For in him, every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.”
For this reason, it is through him that we say
The “Amen” to the glory of God.
That Sunday, I preached assurance.
God can be trusted.
God’s love is absolute and final.
Unconditional and irreproachable.
The same today, tomorrow and forever!
I quoted from Karl Barth … a young seminarian needs to lift up a few good quotes now and then from notable theologians.
This week, I went back to Barth, and though I’m not very young any more, I quote Barth with pleasure:
The Gospel, writes Barth “… is not a mixed message of joy and terror, salvation and damnation. …. It does not proclaim in the same breath both good and evil, both help and destruction, both life and death. …. … the final word is never that of warning, of judgment, or punishment, of a barrier erected, of a grave opened. …. …therefore, the first and last word is Yes and not No” (Church Dogmatics, Vol. 2-2, p.13).
At the door of the church after worship,
An elderly gentleman greeted me, grasped my hand firmly with both of his hands.
He looked at me intently, his cheeks wet with tears.
“Will God smile on me some day?”
I no longer recall what I said.
But I’ll never forget the feel of his hands or the poignancy of his question.
I’m sure this man had spent much of his life in church.
Prayers and hymns and sermons weeks after week.
And now, in the twilight of his years, there was only an aching question in his soul, “Will God smile on me someday?”
That moment confirmed the purpose of my ministry: to preach grace, morning, noon and night, in season and out of season.
Amazing grace, the pure, absolute, grace of God … at work in all things for good, for this life, and most assuredly, for the life to come.
The “Yes” of God …
The man at the door, with tears in his eyes - “Will God smile on me some day?”
I made sure that the rest of my life would be devoted to one simple message: the love of God is real, and in Christ Jesus, we see the intent and purpose of God, free and clear!
For God so loved the world!
The Gospel is NOT a mixed message of hope for some and terror for others.
The Gospel is NOT uncertain about the outcome.
The outcome, dear friends, has been settled!
Settled in the heart and mind of God from the moment God became a tailor and sewed clothing for Adam and Eve.
From that moment on, God has been a tailor for all of us.
Good clothing, durable clothing!
Clothing us in the raiment of Christ [Galatians 3:27].
Let there be no doubt in our hearts about the faithfulness of God.
We will fail, but God never fails.
We may be faithless, but God remains faithful.
We will sin, but God’s forgiveness is greater.
We are saved, because of God’s commitment to us!
For his name’s sake, God leads us upon righteous paths.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Why has the church’s message so often been the exact opposite of assurance?
I’ve known hundreds of people throughout the years, in church all of their life, doing good for God, but their soul is sad – they don’t know that God has smiled on them … like the man at the door, there’s an aching question in their soul.
The peace of Christ is missing.
Are you unsure of God’s intentions toward you right now?
Are you doubtful about the end?
If you answer Yes, you’ve been a victim!
A victim of the church’s failure to preach the Gospel.
Some of us heard hellfire sermons when we were young, and it frightened us.
And maybe it wasn’t hellfire we heard.
Maybe just the admonition to be good.
You better watch out,
You better not cry,
Better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
God is coming to town.
He's making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out
Who's naughty and nice.
God is coming to town.
We are invited by Christ to live in a different place.
Forgiveness and mercy.
A new day dawning.
A fresh start, all things made new.
A firm foundation.
Love now, and heaven later – a package deal!
Blessed be the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ,
Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places …
In Christ, we are:
We are holy and blameless.
Forgiven and redeemed.
Destined for adoption as God’s children.
Riches of grace lavished upon us.
Marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit.
Christ has done it all.
Christ has passed the test.
The victory Christ won, Christ won for us.
For you, and for me!
For all the world!
To know Christ DOES make a difference … Christ IS our firm foundation!
Are you with me on this?
I know that are!
Happy New Year, Covenant on the Corner.
Happy New Year!
Amen and Amen!
The final hymn of the day: "How Firm a Foundation"
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”