If We Never Meet Again

NYE_guide

When we reach the end of the year our thoughts move in two directions at once.  We look ahead with great anticipation to what the coming year may have in store for us.  We typically do so with optimism and hope that the new year will be better than the last one.  At the same time, we look back over what transpired in the year just concluding.  We may do so with nostalgia because of the good times we experienced or the good things that occurred.  Or, we might do so with sorrow or remorse because of some painful experience we had or some regrettable action we took during the course of the year.

This dichotomy of emotions is present even in our end-of-year celebrations.  Many New Year’s Eve gatherings end with the song, “Auld Lang Syne,” which calls to mind days long since passed.  Presumably the memory of those days is good, but even so this song tends to evoke feelings of sadness.  This may be because we instinctively understand that the past is gone and can never be duplicated.  Perhaps we’re made a little sad by this song because the fragile nature of life is so apparent to us.  We know that at any moment we may have made our last memory with a loved one.

Without becoming morbid about it, the ending of one year and the promise of a new one should make us stop and reflect for a moment.  What if this year, just concluding, is the last one we will experience in life?  If we knew that this would be the last time we would see our friends and families, might we do anything differently?  Might we take just a little more time with an aged parent or relation?  Might we show more patience with a child or teen ager?  Would we say, “I love you,” one more time to a wife or husband, son or daughter, or brother or sister in Christ?  Would we say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” to someone we’ve hurt, and really mean it?  Perhaps we would.

Those who are Christians have hope beyond this life that puts the frailty of life into perspective.  We know that it is appointed for us to die and after this comes judgment (Heb. 9:27).  We know that once we pass over from life to death there no longer remains any opportunity to change our eternal destiny.  As the rich man discovered in Lk. 16:19-31, we know that once we die our soul’s destiny is settled forever, whether for good or for bad.  This is why it is so important to obey the gospel by being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38).

The urgency of the gospel is that when the Lord returns, He will do so to deal out retribution to those who do not know God, and to those who do not obey the gospel (2 Th. 1:6-8).  If we had an early warning system that could alert us just before the Lord returned, we might wait until just before He came to obey the gospel, but the Lord said no one knows when He is coming again (Mt. 24:36).  In the same way that we do not know if today is the last day of our life, we do not know if today is the last day the earth will stand.

The truth is that we may never meet again on this side of death.  This being the case, I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without making the plea to be saved.  The love of God, and the fear of eternal condemnation, compels me to urge each one to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Jn. 8:24), to turn away from sin (Lk. 13:3), to confess your faith in Christ (Mt. 10:32), to be immersed in water in order to be saved (Mk. 16:16), and to live faithfully until death (Rev. 2:10).

If we never meet again, I want you to know that I loved you enough to tell you the truth about your soul’s salvation.

If we never meet again this side of heaven, I hope to meet you there!

Joy to the World

Jesus-Picture-King-On-The-Throne-In-Heaven

There are many songs which mark this season of the year.  Some of them are from a completely secular point of view, and they describe the many aspects of the holiday season.  Most of us enjoy these songs, such as “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” or “Silver Bells.”

Other songs of the season come from a purely religious perspective, as they convey the story of the birth of our Lord.  Many of us enjoy these songs as well.  Some of them stir strong feelings in our hearts, such as “Silent Night,” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”  At the same time, however, some of us are often uncomfortable with these songs.  Our discomfort is not because they promote some falsehood about our Lord, although some, like “Little Drummer Boy,” are completely fanciful in content.  Our discomfort with these religious Christmas songs is due to the fact that they only tell the beginning of the story, and leave out the power of who Jesus is.

One of my favorite songs of the season is “Joy to the World.”  The words are by Isaac Watts and the music is by Handel, which is a rich pedigree in religious music.  (I have to confess, however, that my appreciation of this song is due in large part to a rendition of it done by Mannheim Steamroller some years ago.)  Like many religious songs of the season, this song evokes in most minds only the baby in the manger.  We know this because virtually no one sings “Joy to the World” at any other time than December.  One wonders if this is the only time of year that the world feels any joy about the Lord Jesus Christ.

In point of fact, only the first stanza of “Joy to the World” specifically relates to the birth of Jesus.  Each of the succeeding three stanzas extols the reign of the Lord, and with a decidedly millennial perspective at that.  If we are concerned at all about the truthfulness of our songs, perhaps this is one whose words are better left unsung at any time of the year.

The larger question, however, remains.  What is it about Jesus that should bring joy to the world?  Many will argue, in the spirit of the season, that it is His birth that brings joy to the world.  There is no doubt that joy was expressed at the Lord’s birth.  In Lk. 2:10 the angel told the shepherds that he had “good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”  But this is just the beginning of the story.  If Jesus is left in the manger, there is no joy at all, because another angel prophesied that “He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).  The baby in the manger could not, and did not, accomplish this.

As God intended it from before the beginning of time, the joy which Jesus brings to the world is that He would be the perfect sacrifice for all the sins of the world, and that through Him mankind could be reconciled to God.  In Eph. 1:7 Paul said, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.”

When the gospel was preached for the very first time, as recorded by Luke in Acts 2, the apostles did not preach the birth of Jesus.  They did not preach the baby in the manger.  Instead, they preached the crucified, resurrected Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:36).  At no time thereafter did any apostle, or preacher, or elder of the church preach joy to the world in the form of baby Jesus.  Their preaching was always “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).  Ultimately, joy to the world can only be found in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ who now reigns over His kingdom.  On the basis of this truth we may sing joy to the world each and every day.

If Every Day Were Like Christmas

photo

In 1966 Elvis Presley recorded a song entitled, “If Every Day Was Like Christmas.”  The grammatical errors in the title notwithstanding, it was a modest success, reaching #2 on the Billboard list for Christmas songs that year.  This beautiful and moving song conveys the wish that the spirit of Christmas could be present all the year round.  It plays on the imagery of the season and the goodwill and love that is generally present during this time of year.  The conclusion of the song says, “If every day could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world this would be!”  Most people, whether they are Elvis fans or not, would agree that the spirit of this time of year is a wonderful thing to behold.

Interestingly, for many of us the most endearing aspect of this season is not the receiving of gifts.  We actually appreciate the kindness, and generosity, and genuine love that pervade this season.  Even in the crush of Christmas shopping and preparing for family gatherings, people tend to try a little more to be patient and courteous to one another.  We are happy to wish perfect strangers a “Merry Christmas” as we pass them on the street or in the mall.  Ill-tempered and ill-mannered and evil people are still around, and still make their impact on society, but most of us try to be a little bit nicer at this time of year.

Another aspect of this season that is pleasant for many of us is that more people pay attention to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ than at any other time of the year.  They do so in overt ways, such as nativity scenes, bumper stickers proclaiming that He’s the reason for the season, and in special religious assemblies.  They also do so in more subtle ways by showing a more Christ-like spirit in their dealings with one another.  For believers it is always pleasing to see the Lord being honored, even if only briefly and, perhaps only superficially.

However, if we were to frame this wish in a truly biblical and solely spiritual context, what would it mean if every day were like Christmas?  First and perhaps foremost of all, if every day were like Christmas the whole world would focus its attention on our Savior and Lord, and would offer Him the homage that He deserves.  Every day we would proclaim that Jesus is the reason for what we are doing.  Every knee would truly bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11).

If every day were like Christmas, everyone would treat each other with kindness, courtesy, and generosity.  We would be gracious and forgiving to one another, and would not do anything to anyone that we would not want done to ourselves.  We would truly live the golden rule every day (Mt. 7:12).

If every day were like Christmas, we would not forsake the assembly on the Lord’s Day (Heb. 10:23-25).  We would never miss an opportunity to acknowledge the great gift that God gave in sending His Son to be the sacrifice for our sins.  We would make a special effort every Lord’s Day to be in the worship assembly.

If every day were like Christmas, we would never cease to offer songs of praise to God the Father for the wonderful blessings we have in Christ (Heb. 13:15).  We would never cease to offer prayers to God (1 Th. 5:17).  And, we would be generous in giving of our means for the work of the church (2 Cor. 8:3-5).

In short, if every day were like Christmas, all of us would be fully engaged in putting God first in our lives, and in living in obedience to His will.  No one would hesitate to publicly express his or her devotion to God.  All people would shamelessly proclaim and live their love for the Lord.  If I could have one wish this Christmas season, this would be my wish, and my prayer.

How Great Thou Art!

Image converted using ifftoany

One of the most beautiful Christian hymns of all time is “How Great Thou Art.”  The words reflect the awe that comes from observing the majesty of God’s creation, and from recognizing the gracious gift of His Son as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind.  The author of this great hymn felt the same reverence for God that David expressed in Psa. 8:3, 4 when he said, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?”

The last stanza of this great song says, “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!  Then I shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!”  The chorus adds the exclamation point to this song of praise.  “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee; how great Thou art, how great Thou art!”  These moving words are enhanced by the soaring musical score which has been applied to them.  One cannot sing this wonderful hymn without his heart being stirred.

Obviously in the time of David looking up at the starry sky at night just naturally led one to exclaim the greatness of God.  There was no question in David’s mind where all the majesty of the universe originated.  He knew it came from the hand of God.  In 1886, when Carl Boberg penned the words to “How Great Thou Art,” most people still had the same reaction as David when they observed the physical realm in which they lived.  They knew and acknowledged that it came from God, and they were moved to extol His name for having created it.

In the years since “How Great Thou Art” was written a fundamental shift in attitude has taken place.  The world has become less favorably inclined toward God.  Modern science has played a large role in this transformation, although the secular philosophy of humanism has played an equally important role in turning society away from God.  The result is that many people today no longer think of God as the originator of life.  They are inclined either to not think about our origins, or to accept the idea that we evolved from lower forms of life.  Society, like a ship without a rudder, has drifted aimlessly toward the chaos and degradation that is now prevalent.

The fact that many now ignore the greatness of God and the majesty of His creation does not change who He is, or what He has done for us.  Even if the whole world chooses to deny Him, He is still the one and only, true and living God, who made heaven and earth and all that is in them.  Even if the whole world denies Him, He is still the one who will pass judgment at the end of time on all who have ever lived on the earth.

When we see the beauty of the earth and when we ponder the complexities of nature and the abundance of life-sustaining elements that are present only on this place in the entire universe, we must exclaim, “My God, how great thou art!”  When we consider the gift of His Son, by whose blood we are saved from our sins, we must exclaim, “My God, how great thou art!”  No other response is sufficient.

God does not need our affirmation of His greatness in order to be great, but how can we refuse to give it?  We are compelled by all that He is and by all that He has done to affirm the truth that there is no other God but Him.  We are compelled by all that He is and by all that He has done to always proclaim, “How Great Thou Art!”

In Remembrance

crucifixion

Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 dawned bright, clear, and beautiful over the island of Oahu in the U.S. territory of Hawaii.  The ships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet lay at anchor in Pearl Harbor.  Although there had been rumors of impending war with the empire of Japan, the United States was still at peace and many of our soldiers, sailors and marines were ashore on liberty that Sunday morning.  A little before 8:00 a.m. local time, the peace and quiet of that Sunday morning was shattered as Japanese planes began to attack Pearl harbor and its surrounding bases.  When the attack ended some 90 minutes later, over 2,400 Americans were dead and nearly 1,200 were wounded, and the U.S. Seventh Fleet and Army Air Corps bases were in shambles.

The next day President Franklin Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war against Japan.  He called December 7, 1941 a date that would live in infamy.  “Remember Pearl Harbor” became the rallying cry for the rest of the war, and for years thereafter school children were instructed about this terrible event so they would never forget it.  The battleship U.S.S. Arizona, which was sunk with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives, was left in its resting place as a perpetual memorial to those who died that day.  Each year on the anniversary of the sneak attack ceremonies are held to commemorate those who lost their lives.

The value of remembering important historical events is so that we may learn from them and, in the case of Pearl Harbor, never again be caught unprepared by an enemy.  The necessity for remembering such events is seen in the fact that our collective memory is so short.  The generation that experienced Pearl Harbor has no trouble remembering it, but now, some 73 years after the events of that day, most Americans have little awareness of it.  As tragic as this is, there is a more important event that we must always remember.

That event took place nearly 2,000 years ago at a place just outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem.  On that terrible day the one and only Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, was crucified by Roman soldiers at the instigation of the leaders of the Jews.  This was according to God’s eternal purpose, of course, but it is no less a tragedy because God intended it to happen.  It is a tragedy because the sinless Son of God died to pay a debt He did not owe.  He willingly died in order to pay for our sins, so that we might have the opportunity to receive eternal life.  Without His sacrifice, we would have no hope of reaching heaven.

Before He made this sacrifice, the Lord instructed His apostles to do something so that every generation of Christians would always remember what He had done for them.  That memorial is the Lord’s Supper, which the early Christians observed every first day of the week (Acts 20:7).  When Paul wrote to correct the abuses of this memorial that were then prevalent in the church in Corinth, he reminded them that the Lord commanded that this meal be eaten “in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24, 25).  When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26), and we keep in memory the terrible price that was paid to free us from our sins.

We often lament the fact that many today do not remember the sacrifices of those who died on December 7, 1941.  How much more so should we lament those who do not keep in remembrance the sacrifice of Christ on the cross that sets us free from the consequences of our sins?  May we always keep His sacrifice in remembrance by observing the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day.  Let us never forget.