It sounds like an advertising slogan, doesn't it? Some people think that new is better simply because it is new. That is not exactly true, though. We can all think of things we have lost over time by being replaced with the new, and while we would not give up all of the new stuff, we wish we could have held onto some of the things we lost as well. That is part of the message of those silly nostalgia emails that circulate every few years on the internet.
New isn't bad automatically, either. If it were, we would not allow things to change as much or as quickly as they have. God does new stuff too. "Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert." He also does new hearts, a new covenant, a new man, a new creation, and He has promised a new heavens and a new earth, so new isn't automatically bad either.
We are just beginning a new decade in this still new century. We are facing new economic realities, and what appears to be a new political reality as a nation, no longer a free market economy and a capitalist economic system, but something new for us, a socialistic sort of system with new and potentially disquieting economic norms for our culture. These offer us new opportunities, and with them, new fears and new uncertainties. Life appears to be changed, and we are not certain in what ways that change will impact us or if it will be finally a good change or something not so good. All we know is that it is new, that is, that it is different.
In the midst of what appears to be sweeping change, we begin a new year. Some years begin bright with promise. They usually fail to keep that promise in any meaningful way, but we welcome those promising new years. It is the new years that start without much promise that we find less encouraging. But every new year is begun with the same old certainties for the child of God.
The old certainties that cannot be changed by the always shifting, swiftly changing conditions around us. Those certainties include the certainty of the love of God for us, the already-won-for-us forgiveness of sins, the coming soon resurrection to eternal life of body and soul in the new heavens and new earth promised by Christ, and the new life which awaits us, a life beyond sin and death, sickness and sorrow, pain and trouble.
Those old certainties are especially precious in times of outward, worldly change and uncertainty. When things look insecure and unstable and life presents too many opportunities for fear and confusion, the old certainties of the Christian faith are just what the doctor ordered. When the next days or years seem threatening, it is a comfort which cannot be overstated to know the end of the story. I liken it to watching a really good spooky movie. If you know the ending of the movie, you can sit through the most shocking and frightening scenes because you know where it is going. So it is with life, as well.
When you know that you have the victory, the battle is easier to face. When you know where everything is going, the difficulties of the trip are easier to bear. It doesn't mean that the pains of life won't hurt, but that they won't hurt forever, and they will not be without a solace. There is a better day coming, and that better day is going to make this present difficulty worth bearing.
The funny thing about personal experience is that it is really difficult to face with anything like true circumspection. The pain of the moment, or the fear that rises up before us seems so real and so permanent. Even knowing that the pain is temporary and that the fears are largely unreal doesn't make them go away or become significantly less obnoxious. At the moment of the experience of such things, the experience is so overwhelming and present to us that it requires deliberate effort to see past it. I know this by personal experience of my own.
At such times, prayer is a vital aid. I find that I need to call out to God on a regular basis to fill me with strength, resolve, comfort in the light of the promises which I know and which are, nevertheless, driven out of my mind by the frustrations or fears that rise up before me. The present experience is so powerful and real, and the promises are just that, promises. My flesh wants to find its reality more persuasive and hobble me with fears and anxieties and my own short-sighted assessments of what is happening in my life. I daily need to call to mind the promises of God and ask him with great earnestness - I find the word "beseech" appealing in this context - to strengthen me against my fears and frustrations, and to grant me the experience of His comfort.
Even then, some days I do not have that experience, and I find that I must do as Luther described, cling to the naked Word of God and thrust it in the devil's face and tell my flesh that even though I cannot feel it, God's Word is true, His love for me is real and valid and powerful, and I am not without hope, but my God will bring me through, and that I will find that Paul was right when He wrote, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
It is not that the troubles or the anxieties I face are that unique or terrible, either. They are your standard, garden-variety sort of things. It is merely that the present experience of them is so powerful and persuasive to my flesh that I find myself struggling against conditions that I imagine others might consider a blessing. It doesn't matter. The pains and fears are mine, and real to me, just as the pains and fears with which the devil chases and punishes you are yours, and oh-so-real to you. That is one of the things that surprises me, what a weak man I am, and how easily my flesh may be led to quail and tremble and dread, and cause me such difficulty.
I would like to imagine that I am of more heroic stuff — but I am not. I estimate that the battle which rages against each one of us is far more profound than we can sense. It is not merely the battle we can sense and describe, but a part of that cosmic thing between the devil and God, that great spiritual battle, and Satan know exactly where we are weakest and most vulnerable, and he strikes us there. So, besides the battle, we have the sense in ourselves that we ought to be ashamed, and that the things against which we wrestle ought not to disturb us so - and so we are tempted to think that we cannot really be 'all that' in the service of our Lord, either.
And that much, at least, is true. I know that I am not all that much. But I am the child of God, chosen by Him, and beloved. The battle is supposed to be fierce and painful - that is why Jesus called it "the cross", "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." One of the weapons of the battle against us is the perception that it is nothing much, and we ought to be made of sterner stuff. It has been my observation (and that of a number of other, wiser men than myself) that it is not the big things that destroy us, but the little, daily, niggling things that wear us down and trip us up.
But, back to my previous point, I am not of heroic stuff. I am a sinner. That is why I need a Savior. That is also why I rejoice that I have a Savior! He will rescue me and pick me up when I am battling giants, and when I am battling gnats! The battle is His, as is the victory. I am merely one of those chosen to participate in the battle, and in His victory. Hallelujah! So I don't let the seeming silliness of my struggles and anxieties become yet another stumbling block, but I confess my weakness and call on God to rescue, strengthen, and comfort me in my time of need. If I was "all that", I would not need a Savior. But I am not, and I do need Him. Thank God He is there!
That is part of the certainty that greets each Christian in the midst of all that is new, new, new. The New Year is, after all, not all that new. We are using new numbers, of course, but we have each seen 'new years' before. Tomorrow the sun will rise in the same general area of the sky in which it arose today. The same need to eat and dress and stay warm will greet us. Even when the technology changes, as it is wont to do these days, it will only make a difference in how we do the same old things. The nature of people remains the same, and most of the tasks that we pursue will be the same sorts of tasks that we have been doing for years. There is, after all, nothing particularly new: That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun.
I find comfort in the knowledge of my salvation, therefore, because I know I will need it. I know that I will one day die. I have no particular reason to expect it today, or even this coming year, but as I wrestle with the various illnesses and such that will confront me in the coming year, I will have the comfort of knowing that the worst they can do is send me to eternal life with Jesus. Even in the face of the most dreaded enemy of man, death, I have comfort because I have the absolutely certain promise of God that I shall rise from my grave and live with Him in glory. And, if the big one cannot defeat you, the other challenges and threats can only stand as obstacles in some lesser way.
The hard part will be enduring. The enemies of life and faithfulness are going to be hard at work, threatening me - and you - and working very hard to convince us that right is wrong, that bad is good and good is not, that faithfulness is just stubbornness with no real point, and that we need to accommodate, compromise, or simply give up and go along - or despair, or whatever. Our answer must be steadfastness in the Word and continuous prayer for help, for strength, and for endurance.
In other words, even though we are told everything is new, nothing has really changed. God still loves you, your sins are forgiven, and the devil, the world, and our flesh still seek to confuse you and defeat you. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.
That verse reminds us of another one of those old certainties: you are not alone, and we are all in this together - the Church, God's people. God has given each of us to all the rest of us to encourage and assist one another, and pray for each other. On our own and by ourselves, this could become too much to bear, but we have our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us shoulder the load, to remind us of the promises, and to let us know that nothing we are enduring is more or different, finally, than what we ALL are dealing with in this thing we call life.
Admittedly, some of the things we will face will be things we personally have not faced before, but since there is nothing new under the sun, we know someone has faced it - or something very much like it - before. In any case, nothing we will face has not been seen and anticipated by God, and He will make us equal to the tasks and challenges, and He will bring us through, or He will bring us home. Either one is okay, and, frankly, going home at last is the better of the two, if St. Paul can be trusted here, For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;
I would carry the quote further, but I cannot tell which is more necessary, so I will just leave it to Paul to tell us that being with Christ is better than being here - although whichever God chooses is best for the moment. He knows what He is doing, and ever since Jesus died for us, our lives are really about the plan of God more than about what we are making with our lives consciously. So, I will leave it to God to decide, and ask Him to keep the promise that I will be able to endure what He gives me to endure, and seek His strength in life, and His comfort in the midst of the things that get me all shook up, and ask that I may remain faithful to the very end so that I might finally receive that crown of life.
So, happy new year! Happy new decade! Happy new realities, whatever they may be. Let's do them together, in Christ's name and in His blessings, until He decides that it is time to stop and go on to that new and everlasting life in glory. I would like to see great success, and my congregation grow, and prosperity. More, though, I would like to see those around me awakened to life in Jesus Christ by grace through faith, and the Gospel prosper, and those who are my brothers and sisters in Christ strengthened to stand firm in faith. I will let God choose how it works, and simply pray, "Come, Lord Jesus!"
Yours in the Lord,
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