New Year and New Purpose

Lamentations 3:21-23 (NKJV) 21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

We are approaching the end of one year and the beginning of another. I like to point out at this time that the division of time was God’s idea.

Genesis 1:14 (NKJV) 14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years;

Like most of you, my 2017 was a year of both good things and bad. For me, I think I will wave goodbye to this year grateful that it is over. Maybe 2017 was a year you will remember with fondness. Maybe you will remember it as one of the worst of your life. Either way it is over! You cannot get it back and you will not relive it.

Having said that, 2018 is a blank page from our perspective. We have no real idea what is coming. The only person who knows exactly what 2018 holds is the Lord. He knows what challenges you will face this year. He knows the blessings he has in store for you. He knows the potential you carry into 2018. The question is will you and I hear his voice and obey him. If we do, we will have a very successful 2018.

That brings us to the question I always ask this time of year. “Father, what is your purpose for 2018 in my life? What do you want to accomplish in the world in 2018? What is my part in that and how can I accomplish it?”

Some 30 years ago I began praying for a theme that would describe what I felt God was saying to me for the current year. When I was the local pastor of our church, that theme often became a guiding principle for us. Now that I am engaged in traveling ministry, I believe it is the message he wants me to carry those I am called to encounter this year.

Last year God led me to the first scripture quoted in this post. Let me share a quick review because it is relevant to what I believe God has called me to share in the coming year. Lamentations was written by the prophet Jerimiah. It is, as the title suggests, a book containing the grief that Jerimiah feels over the behavior that has resulted in the current condition of Israel. In this chapter, the prophet lists all the terrible things he sees and feels because of Israel’s disobedience to God.

In verse 21 he remembers something that gives him hope. He remembers that they have not been consumed and why. God’s compassion never fails, and his mercy has saved Israel. He goes on to say that God’s mercy is new every morning and his faithfulness is very great.

As I read this chapter I saw our day. Because I have had the privilege of traveling to many places I think I see the world from a different perspective than most Americans. If you watch the news you see that the world is in a very difficult place. However, the news makes things appear both worse and better than they really are.

I have seen firsthand what is happening. It is very bad. There is suffering everywhere, much of it extreme. There is tension within nations and between nations. The last war on American soil was the American Civil War. I have been in places where the memories of war are much more current, and the fear of war is there every day. We have hunger and poverty in the USA but as I have often said to our church, many people in the world aspire to what we call poverty. The United States will is not immune. We know that violence has already touched our shores and if things do not change it will get worse.

All of that may make me sound like a “gloom and doom” preacher. I am not. On the contrary I have also seen reasons for great hope. God is moving in the midst of all that is happening. It is in times like these that great moves of God begin. I see that happening in the world today. The great needs has created an atmosphere where people want answers. Those answers come from God, his Word and the moving of his spirit in the earth. The church of Jesus Christ is the only vehicle for those answers to come. That puts us in a very important and potentially powerful place.

Let me go back to Jerimiah. His world was much worse than ours. His people were in captivity. His nation was divided. There was no natural hope for him or his people. It is in the middle of this sorry state that Jerimiah remembers that the nation, though divided and scattered, still exists. I have good news for you. You are still here! You are still saved. God has not abandoned our world. The reason we know this is the same as it was in Jerimiah’s day. His mercy and compassion have not failed.

Compassion and Mercy are elements of the love of God. Compassion causes God to see our true condition. Hebrews 4:14 tells us that we have a high priest in Jesus who is “easily touched with the feelings of our infirmities.” Jesus never sinned but he understood the human condition and was moved by it.

That is a good description of God’s compassion. He knows what we are going through and he knows why. He knows how much of it is our fault and how much is not. He knows both our sin and our obedience. He is touched by all of it. Unfortunately, his compassion is not all we need. He is a just God. He knows our sin. Jerimiah understands that there is another aspect of God’s love we need.

Jerimiah finds hope in God’s mercy. God’s mercy causes him to withhold what we deserve. His mercy flows from his sovereignty. He chooses to give it. For their actions, Israel should have been destroyed. They were not. God was not done with them yet. He does not give them what they deserve he gives them mercy.

This is a part of the Gospel that we sometimes do not remember. Mankind had rebelled against God. Sin had become our nature. We did not seek God. Even Israel did not seek God. God sought out a man, Abraham, with whom he could make covenant. God chose to withhold what was deserved and because of his compassion offered mercy in the form of a covenant. Abraham received that mercy by faith.

You have received mercy if you are born again. You deserved eternal separation from God. God sent Jesus to make it possible for you to “not get” what you deserved. We can never forget that nothing we have in Christ is deserved.

When we forget mercy we always misunderstand the final aspect of God’s available to us. That is grace. Where mercy is not getting what we do deserve, grace is getting what we do not deserve. Grace without an understanding of mercy will make us feel that we are entitled to what God has given. Grace in the light of mercy causes us to remember what Paul did in Romans.

Romans 6:1-2 (NKJV) 1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

As I close for today, let me bring this back to the New Year we face. You had failures last year. You probably had successes as well. That was last year. You are still here. God’s compassion is still at work. His mercy is new for 2018. You did not get all you deserved. Do not take that for granted.

We have his mercy. It was new this morning and there is a whole new batch ready for 2018. Do not live settling for his mercy in 2018. In our appreciation of mercy let us expect his grace. That is something else entirely. Grace is when we receive what we do not deserve. Mercy is powerful and necessary. It must produce the right attitudes in us or Grace cannot work. When grace begins to work, life can get very interesting indeed.

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