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Mapping Out the New Year

Where do you want to go in 2021? You can decide!

We are poised at the beginning of the New Year. As we navigate the future, some will choose a different route than you took in 2020. Others will stay on the same road traveled, perhaps for decades, following the same old ways that have failed in the past. Some will deliberately choose a selfish course while others will make a new commitment to God’s best.

After my time in the 101st Airborne, I was a mapmaker for the Army Corps of Engineers. An accurate map has often meant the difference between life and death, escape and capture, rescue and loss.

My father’s B–17 in WW–II was on night training across the USA. Somehow, both compass and radio failed. There they were, roaring across the sky in a huge bomber (the B–17 was nicknamed “Flying Fortress”) and their only contact with the real world was gravity. Fuel was running low; their lives were in the balance.

By chance (unless you believed, as the crew did, that God was flying with their Christian tail gunner, my Dad), one of the pilots saw a familiar pattern of lights from a previous assignment. They found the runway and landed safely!

If you don’t know where you are or where you’re going, it can be fatal—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially.

The paper roadmap has gone the way of the dinosaur! Today’s maps are digital and don’t provoke  the notorious map–folding problem. They save time, expense and frustration. They can also save lives.

Moment of Truth: If we aim at nothing, we are sure to hit it. What does God want me to aim for in 2021?

PERSONAL SPIRITUALITY

Spiritual age should reflect ‘growth’

Hebrews 5 says longevity equals maturity (“By this time you ought to be teachers …”)

My father worked as a social worker in an Ohio children’s home. There were four siblings there, including one age 12. Hermie was a pathetic kid. Though almost a teen, his parents had babied him all his life. They carried him, fed him, dressed him, did everything for him. Hermie could hardly do anything for himself.

When he came to the children’s home, he was required to do everything for himself. But he had not matured as you would expect from a kid that age.

Some of his efforts were hilarious, if you were an insensitive 15–year–old, like I was. Occasionally his big sister would try to help him, but the staff required him to take care of himself, in age–appropriate ways, for his own good. I remember him crying like a baby because he had to do things for himself that others used to do. Looking back, it was sad, and maturing out of it must have been painful for the poor lad.

Hermie reminds me of Hebrews 5:12, the longer we are Christians, the more mature we should be. It’s really that simple.

Christian maturity is demonstrated by intake of solid food, not just milk. And one result of mature Christianity is having a godly sense of right and wrong. It is developed and matured by practicing right versus wrong. Our measuring stick has to be the Bible. This process can be explained by the expression, “Right living according to God’s Word.”

NEXT Time: What does Hebrews 5 mean by ‘Milk’ and ‘Solid Food’?

What Jesus offers

“Hail the heaven born prince of peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild he lays his Glory by, born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth. Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.”

Jesus offers Peace

The Christ of Christmas is ‘Prince of Peace.’ There is no true, lasting peace without the Prince of Peace. Christ offers true, inner peace that results in outer peace, if we are willing to give up our own agendas and follow Him.

Jesus offers Righteousness

Christ is ‘Sun’ of Righteousness. One definition of righteousness is “Right living according to God’s Word.” Human history is full of mankind’s attempts to live right, without God’s help. There is no right living apart from God’s right living, revealed in the Book. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

It’s not enough to “do the best you can.” Only the right living that Christ brought can make things right with God. Have you been frustrated by your own efforts at right living? Christ brought help, which starts with a life that follows the Word of God, word–for–word, line–by–line, lesson–by–lesson.

Jesus offers Light and life

“Light and life to all He brings.” “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Contrary to what many of us “good” Christians have displayed by our lives, a life of faith and service to Christ should be the most joyful, exciting life ever.

The really dull, boring, unpleasant Christian life is the one that dabbles just enough with Christ to miss out on both sides of excitement. We have enough of Christ to spoil the pleasure and excitement of sin (thank goodness). But we also don’t have enough of Christ to get the great benefits of peace, joy and contentment that a serious commitment to faith offers. Christ is Light and Life to anyone willing to dedicate his or her life completely to worshiping and serving Jesus Christ.

Jesus offers Healing (“Risen with healing in His wings”)

From physical to emotional to mental to financial to social to spiritual healing, Christ is the source of all true, lasting healing in the human condition. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 NIV).

No person is truly whole, whatever he or she may look like on the outside, until Christ’s “Whole Person” healing has been applied to body, soul, spirit, mind and relationships.

Jesus offers Victory over death

“Mild he lays his Glory by, born that man no more may die.

            Born to raise the sons of earth. Born to give them second birth.”

The victory Christ won over death—on the cross and out of the empty tomb—is our victory too. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11 NIV).

Any person who trusts Jesus Christ as Savior has received not only victory over death but a new life that transcends mere earthly life and all the problems even the best life can have. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). By dying with Christ, we live; Christ’s life can be lived out in us as we give ourselves to Him.

The quiet, understated entry of God into human existence and into human history is the single most important happening (along with His death and resurrection). If He had not come, we cannot even speculate about what the world would be like today. Humankind had already proved, long before Jesus came, that we could only cause the destruction of society. And if He had not come, that destruction was a sure and unavoidable threat.

Ralph Stockman said, “The hinge of history is on the door of a Bethlehem stable.” He meant that the world was like a swinging door, it could go either direction—good, or bad. And history was hanging on what happened in Bethlehem. Jesus was born, and history swung to the good.

Look at two old-fashioned words that we find in this Christmas Carol. The words Wesley used did not seem strange to singers back then. But even though we don’t use these words in everyday language anymore, their meaning is still relevant to our lives.

The first word in this song jumps out at you: “Hark!” This word means PAY ATTENTION, or LISTEN! “Hark!” is a word you would shout in order to grab everyone’s attention. The song could start with the words: HEY, YOU! But that wouldn’t be as poetic. Jesus often said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” It does no good for God to speak if we will not listen.

The message of salvation has been proclaimed: Jesus has come. Salvation is yours if you will accept it. The first thing we need to do is accentuated by that one word: “Hark!” Are you listening to Christ today?

The second archaic word is “Hail!” which means to acclaim, salute, acknowledge. The carol says: “Hail the heaven born prince of peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!” To Hail is to give the Worship that is due to the One who brings us Peace and Righteousness, Light and Life, Healing, and Eternal Salvation.

Who Jesus is

“Christ by highest heaven adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of the virgin’s womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail, the incarnate deity.
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.”

This carol teaches Christ’s deity – divinity

“Christ by highest heaven adored” is the divine Son of God, God the Son. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

He is Everlasting Lord, the second member of the Trinity. God showed His love (He didn’t just talk about it) by coming to earth to live as we do, to experience rejection and shame beyond anything we have ever known, but He didn’t relinquish His divine nature, He remained fully God–among–men.

This carol teaches Christ’s virgin birth

This carol proclaims He is “Offspring of the virgin’s womb.” The Bible is not vague about this: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

If we reject this claim of the Bible, then everything else is up for grabs too

This carol teaches Christ’s incarnation (He came in the flesh)

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail, the incarnate deity.” “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

This was a real, true–to–life human birth of a true–to–life, flesh–and–blood human baby. Mary was exhausted, wracked by pain (It was her first child, remember), disheveled, probably bleeding, when the birth was over. Don’t romanticize the real earthly birth of Christ—He came in the flesh, with everything that means. Human birth is neither easy nor pretty . . . and all the pain and struggle and physical punishment applied to Mary, just like it did to pretty much every other human mother!

This carol teaches Christ’s humanity

“Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.” “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).

He lived here for 33–years, as much a man as any of us. He suffered what we suffer, He struggled with the things that plague us. He knows exactly what we go through, with one exception; He has no guilt, no remorse, no regrets. The Bible tells us He remained sinless.

Next Time: from “How Jesus came” and “Who Jesus is” to “What Jesus offers”