Resolutions, it seems, are made to be broken. Some folks poke fun at this reality by proposing New Year’s vows that are—shall we say—attainable. Here are a few from social media:
Wave to fellow motorists at stoplights.
Sign up for a marathon. Don’t run it.
Get lost without any help from Siri.
Unfriend everyone who posts their workout regimen.
The concept of a fresh start can be serious business, however. The exiled people of Judah desperately needed one. Just over two decades into their seventy-year captivity, God brought encouragement to them through the prophet Ezekiel, promising, “I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob” (39:25).
But the nation first needed to return to the basics—the instructions God had given to Moses eight hundred years earlier. This included observing a feast at the new year. For the ancient Jewish people, that began in early spring (45:18). A major purpose of their festivals was to remind them of God’s character and His expectations. God told their leaders, “Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right” (v. 9) and insisted on honesty (v. 10).
The lesson applies to us too. Our faith must be put into practice or it’s worthless (James 2:17). In this new year, as God provides what we need, may we live out our faith by returning to the basics: “Love the
“Never trust anyone over thirty,” said young environmentalist Jack Weinberg in 1964. His comment stereotyped an entire generation—something Weinberg later regretted. Looking back he said, “Something I said off the top of my head . . . became completely distorted and misunderstood.”
Have you heard disparaging comments aimed at millennials? Or vice versa? Ill thoughts directed from one generation toward another can cut both ways. Surely there’s a better way.
Although he was an excellent king, Hezekiah showed a lack of concern for another generation. When as a young man Hezekiah was struck with a terminal illness (2 Kings 20:1), he cried out to God for his life (vv. 2–3). God gave him fifteen more years (v. 6).
But when Hezekiah received the terrible news that his children would one day be taken captive, the royal tears were conspicuously absent (vv. 16–18). He thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” (v. 19). It may have been that Hezekiah didn’t apply the passion he had for his own wellbeing to the next generation.
God calls us to a love that dares to cross the lines dividing us. The older generation needs the fresh idealism and creativity of the younger, who in turn can benefit from the wisdom and experience of their predecessors. This is no time for snarky memes and slogans but for thoughtful exchange of ideas. We’re in this together.
A decade ago they didn’t know the name of Jesus. Hidden in the mountains of Mindanao in the Philippines, the Banwaon people had little contact with the outside world. A trip for supplies could take two days, requiring an arduous hike over rugged terrain. The world took no notice of them.
Then a mission group reached out, shuttling people in and out of the region via helicopter. This gained the Banwaon access to needed supplies, crucial medical help, and an awareness of the larger world. It also introduced them to Jesus. Now, instead of singing to the spirits, they chant their traditional tribal songs with new words that praise the one true God. Mission aviation established the critical link.
When Jesus returned to His heavenly Father, He gave His disciples these instructions: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). That command still stands.
Unreached people groups aren’t limited to exotic locales we haven’t heard of. Often they live right with us. Reaching the Banwaon people took creativity and resourcefulness, and it inspires us to find creative ways to overcome the barriers in our communities. That might include an “inaccessible” group you haven’t even considered—someone right in your neighborhood. How might God use you as a critical link?
Leisa wanted a way to redeem the season. So many of the autumn decorations she saw seemed to celebrate death, sometimes in gruesome and macabre ways.
Determined to counter the darkness in some small way, Leisa began to write things she was grateful for with a permanent marker on a large pumpkin. “Sunshine” was the first item. Soon visitors were adding to her list. Some entries were whimsical: “doodling,” for instance. Others were practical: “a warm house”; “a working car.” Still others were poignant, like the name of a departed loved one. A chain of gratitude began to wind its way around the pumpkin.
Psalm 104 offers a litany of praise to God for things we easily overlook. “[God] makes springs pour water into the ravines,” sang the poet (v. 10). “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate” (v. 14). Even the night is seen as good and fitting. “You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl” (v. 20). But then, “The sun rises. . . . People go out to their work, to their labor until evening” (vv. 22–23). For all these things, the psalmist concluded, “I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (v. 33).
In a world that doesn’t know how to deal with death, even the smallest offering of praise to our Creator can become a shining contrast of hope.
In the early nineteenth century, Thomas Carlyle gave a manuscript to philosopher John Stuart Mill to review. Whether accidentally or intentionally, the manuscript got tossed into a fire. It was Carlyle’s only copy. Undaunted, he set to work rewriting the lost chapters. Mere flames couldn’t stop the story, which remained intact in his mind. Out of great loss, Carlyle produced his monumental work The French Revolution.
In the waning days of ancient Judah’s decadent kingdom, God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you” (Jeremiah 36:2). The message revealed God’s tender heart, calling on His people to repent in order to avoid imminent invasion (v. 3).
Jeremiah did as he was told. The scroll soon found its way to Judah’s king Jehoiakim, who methodically shredded it and threw it into the fire (vv. 23–25). The king’s act of arson only made matters worse. God told Jeremiah to write another scroll with the same message. He said, “[Jehoiakim] will have no one to sit on the throne of David; his body will be thrown out and exposed to the heat by day and the frost by night” (v. 30).
It’s possible to burn the words of God by tossing a book into a fire. Possible, but utterly futile. The Word behind the words endures forever.
In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving tells of Ichabod Crane, a schoolteacher who seeks to marry a beautiful young woman named Katrina. Key to the story is a headless horseman who haunts the colonial countryside. One night Ichabod encounters a ghostly apparition on horseback and flees the region in terror. It’s clear to the reader that this “horseman” is actually a rival suitor for Katrina, who then marries her.
Ichabod is a name first seen in the Bible, and it too has a gloomy backstory. While at war with the Philistines, Israel carried the sacred ark of the covenant into battle. Bad move. Israel’s army was routed and the ark captured. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of the high priest Eli, were killed (1 Samuel 4:17). Eli too would die (v. 18). When the pregnant wife of Phinehas heard the news, “she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains” (v. 19). With her last words she named her son Ichabod (literally, “no glory”). “The glory has departed from Israel,” she gasped (v. 22).
Thankfully, God was unfolding a much larger story. His glory would ultimately be revealed in Jesus, who said of His followers, “I have given them the glory that you [the Father] gave me” (John 17:22).
No one knows where the ark is today, but no matter. Ichabod has fled. Through Jesus, God has given us His very glory!
Friday was market day in the rural town in Ghana where I grew up. After all these years, I still recall one particular vendor. Her fingers and toes eroded by Hansen’s disease (leprosy), she would crouch on her mat and scoop her produce with a hollowed-out gourd. Some avoided her. My mother made it a point to buy from her regularly. I saw her only on market days. Then she would disappear outside the town.
In the time of the ancient Israelites, diseases like leprosy meant living “outside the camp.” It was a forlorn existence. Israelite law said of such people, “They must live alone” (Leviticus 13:45–46). Outside the camp was also where the carcasses of the sacrificial bulls were burned (Leviticus 4:12). Outside the camp was not where you wanted to be.
This harsh reality breathes life into the statement about Jesus in Hebrews 13: “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (v. 13). Jesus was crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem, a significant point when we study the Hebrew sacrificial system.
We want to be popular, to be honored, to live comfortable lives. But God calls us to go “outside the camp”—where the disgrace is. That’s where we’ll find the vendor with Hansen’s disease. That’s where we’ll find people the world has rejected. That’s where we’ll find Jesus.
Sam’s father had to flee for his life during a military coup. With the sudden loss of income, the family could no longer afford the crucial medicine that kept Sam’s brother alive. Seething at God, Sam thought, What have we done to deserve this?
A follower of Jesus heard about the family’s troubles. Finding he had enough money to cover the medicine, he bought a supply and took it to them. The life-saving gift from a stranger had a profound impact. “This Sunday, we will go to this man’s church,” his mother declared. Sam’s anger began to subside. And eventually, one by one, each member of the family would put their faith in Jesus.
When James wrote about the necessity of a lifestyle of integrity accompanying a profession of faith in Christ, he singled out the need to care for others. “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food,” James wrote. “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (2:16–17).
Our actions demonstrate the genuineness of our faith. Significantly, those actions can influence the faith-choices of others. In Sam’s case, he became a pastor and church-planter. Eventually he would call the man who helped his family “Papa Mapes.” He now knew him as his spiritual father—the one who showed them the love of Jesus.
When Conner and Sarah Smith moved five miles up the road, their cat S’mores expressed his displeasure by running away. One day Sarah saw a current photo of their old farmhouse on social media. There was S’mores in the picture!
Happily the Smiths went to retrieve him. S’mores ran away again. Guess where he went. This time, the family that had purchased their house agreed to keep S’mores too. The Smiths couldn’t stop the inevitable; S’mores would always return “home.”
Nehemiah served in a prestigious position in the king’s court in Susa, but his heart was elsewhere. He had just heard news of the sad condition of “the city where my ancestors are buried” (Nehemiah 2:3). And so he prayed, e had H“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, . . . ‘if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name’ ” (1:8–9).
Home is where the heart is, they say. In Nehemiah’s case, longing for home was more than being tied to the land. It was communion with God that he most desired. Jerusalem was “the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.”
The dissatisfaction we sense deep down is actually a longing for God. We’re yearning to be home with Him.