As the last remaining hours of 2013 draw to a close, it seemed appropriate for me to write my last blog of the year.
How are you spending these last remaining hours of 2013? For some, it’s a time to party and celebrate….ushering out a year some may be glad to see go … and celebrating with optimism that the incoming year will be better than the departing one. For some, the celebration may involve too much drinking and dealing with regrets the next morning. For others, New Year’s Eve may be a time to gather with friends and family just to enjoy the time together. There will be others who prefer a quiet evening at home, watching TV and trying to stay awake until the midnight hour. And some, like myself, will op to go to bed early and let the New Year usher in unaccompanied by their presence!
If the forecast holds true, over a million (yes, a million!) people will crowd into Times Square in New York, or as close as they can get to it, to watch the big “ball” descend, precisely timed to reach bottom as the clocks strikes midnight — pushing out the old year, and ushering in the new! Somehow, packed tightly like sardines in a huge crowd of strangers just to watch a ball drop slowly to the ground doesn’t appeal to me. I much prefer a quiet evening at home, but maybe that’s just my advancing age showing!
For many people New Year’s eve and New Year’s Day can be a time of reflection. (That’s more my speed!) Today, as reminders assaulted my mind that this was the last day of the year, two words or concepts kept coming to mind that seemed very appropriate for the day — Remembering and Forgetting. Actually, God has instructed us in his Word to do both.
Many times in the Old Testament God called his people to remember all the mighty things he had done for them.
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” (Deut 5:15 NIV)
When the Israelites were preparing to enter the land of Canaan which the Lord had promised to give them, and they were facing strong opposition from its occupants, God commanded them remember how he had protected them in the past:
“‘These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?’ But do
not be afraid of them; remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh
and to all Egypt. You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous
signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the LORD
your God brought you out.” (Deut 7:17-19 NIV)
One of my favorite passages in the Old Testament on the importance of remembering God’s faithfulness is in Joshua, when God in a dramatic demonstration of his power and provision, caused the waters of the flooded Jordan River to rise up “in a heap” upstream allowing God’s people to cross over on dry ground. Then God instructed Joshua to select 12 men, one from each tribe, to pick up twelve stones from the river bed, and bring them over to the other side of the river. Later Joshua would set up the stones as a memorial of God’s faithfulness. In the future when their children would ask, “What do these stones mean?” they were to be told the story of how God had miraculously parted the water so his people could safely cross over. The stones were a lasting memorial and reminder of God’s faithful provision.
There are so many wonderful accounts in the Old Testament of God’s powerful and timely provision and/or deliverance of his people — and God instructed his people –Remember these times. Let them be a faith builder in your life. Share them with your children as a demonstration of a faithful God. God wants us to build personal “memorials” in our lives of the times he has demonstrated his faithfulness, to encourage us to trust him in future times of difficulty and testing. We need to look back and “remember” his faithfulness, his love, his care, and his provision. As he was faithful in the past, he will be faithful in the present and the future.
God also tells his people to remember the times when his people have not been faithful to him, and God has had to bring discipline and correction. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul charged the Corinthians believers to “remember” the failures of God’s people in the Old Testament. I Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 6 states:
“Now these things took place as an examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” Verse 11 states clearly, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction.” So…. remember and learn from the positive demonstration of God’s faithfulness. Remember and learn from the negative choices and behavior of God’s people, and avoid the painful consequences of disobedience and the hindrances to our ongoing growth toward maturity in Christ.
Just as the New Year is a very appropriate time to remember and profit, it is also a time to forget. It is a time to let the past be the past….to learn and grow from our mistakes and failures, to confess and repent of attitudes and actions that were not pleasing to the Lord or that hindered our growth in grace and truth. The apostle Paul gives us some very helpful advice and challenge in Philippians 3:13-14:
“…But one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize o the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
This verse becomes even more impactful when we read it in it context. Paul has very succinctly stated in verses 7-11 the value of knowing, really knowing Jesus Christ in a progressively, deeper and more intimate way. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all tings and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Paul goes on to say in vs 10, that his driving goal in life is to know, to really know in an ever increasing and deeper way, the Lord Jesus and to experience the power of his resurrection in his life and being willing to enter into his sufferings…becoming like Christ in his death.” (Suggest you read these verses in Amplified Bible for fuller clarification.)
Wow! Now that’s a worthy and desirable goal for us for 2014!
For a number of years now, I have tried to structure some extra time with the Lord on New Year’s Day and use it to look back over the past year, meditating and recording in a journal the events of the year — remembering God’s faithfulness, recalling his guidance and provision, meditating on what he has been teaching me, and seeking his direction for the new year. (What a blockbuster year 2013 has been for me with the final publication of my book — “If I Tell You I’m Gay, Will You Still Love Me?”!) But it’s also a time of acknowledging my failures, my missed opportunities, my lack of boldness to speak his name and times of missed opportunities to witness for him. And there were the times when I have become discouraged and struggled with truly trusting God for the day or for the future. It can be discouraging to realize how far short I still am of my goal, like the apostle Paul, of progressively growing in my “knowing” of Jesus and valuing him more than anything else in life.
That’s where the forgetting can be a positive action. Verse 12 of Philippians states it so well:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. ” And again vs 13b – 14 … “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for e prize of the upward cal of God in Christ Jesus.
So…. New Year’s is a time of letting the failures and shortcomings of 2013 be learning experiences, but not stumbling blocks or hindrances to our continued growth toward the goal of knowing and increasing in our understanding of God’s calling on our lives. And New Year’s is a time of recording and remembering the many times of God’s faithfulness to us this past year, and letting him use those as building blocks to increase our confidence and rest in him for whatever his plans are for us in this New Year.
My blog verse, 2 Peter 3:18, seems an appropriate and challenging verse to push us forward into 2014:
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”