VISTAS, TIME AND THE NEW YEAR

Mountains – Oceans.  Some people love the ocean more than they do mountains.  I admit that I like to look at the ocean on occasion, but I love mountains!  Specifically, I love my mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina.  What I truly enjoy is getting to an overlook or valley and then marveling at the vista splayed out around me.

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Great Smoky Mountains – vista from Cades Cove, Tennessee

I hasten to add that I am an equal opportunity mountain lover.  We have been privileged to see a number of mountains in our country, and I have loved every minute of it!

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Colorado “shelf road” and mountain vista.

When I stand looking out at the grandeur of the mountains and contemplate the forces that created them, my soul sings to the Creator God, my heavenly Father, in praise and worship.

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Yosemite National Park, Half Dome and surrounding vista.

What does this have to do with the new year?  A great deal. 

We are temporal, mortal, and our days are limited.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

Psalm 103:15-16

In fact, the Bible affirmatively states that all we have is this moment, and even it is a gift from God.  James, the half-brother of Jesus, says it like this:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”– yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

James 4:13-16

He advises us that we are not to think that we will be here on this earth forever, rather we are to make plans according to the will of our Father.  So, it is good for us to look back at the vista of 2016 and see how we did on that directive.  Use the beginning of this new year to consider the condition of our relationship with our God so we can more effectively grow in 2017.

  • When were we close to God;
  • When did we do His will;
  • When did we say “I will” when He prompted us to say something to an individual;
  • When did we learn from His Word;
  • When did we testify to others of His great mercy and grace,
  • Now, you add your own points to consider, as each of us will have different things to ponder.

The year 2016 is in the record books.  It is over and there is nothing we can do to change what was said, done, or experienced.  The stuff we planned to do, but didn’t, will not get done in 2016, it is over.  The relationships we intended to nurture, but didn’t, will not be stronger today because of anything we did in 2016, it is over.

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Clock in the DAR Library, Washington, D.C.

As Scripture points out, the only time we have is today.  We don’t even have any guarantee that we will see much of 2017 other than the moment we are in right now.

So, take the time to consider your life.  Renew your dedication to focus on the Lord God Almighty rather than on the temporal things of this world.  Those things that you were going to do in 2016 but then neglected — now is the time to get them accomplished.  

Write the letter, send the card, make the phone call, give the hug, encourage the fainthearted, reach out to those who are hurting.  

Whatever you need to do, do it in the name of our Lord and Savior.  Don’t wait until 2018 — now is the time to do that which our God has asked us to do.

Remember how the Lord blessed and protected you in 2016, how He secured your salvation through Christ our Lord, and how the Holy Spirit worked in your life during the year, and praise Him for it.

Then, as you look ahead to 2017, praise Him for what He is going to do in and through you as you rely on His strength, power, wisdom and love.

The great hymn “How Great Thou Art” details much and can provide a springboard for your praise to our God.  Here is the hymn sung on the Concordia Publishing House album Hymns for all Saints, Adoration, Praise, Comfort.  Daily, let your heart and soul sing out in praise to our gracious heavenly Father. You might even want to add your voice to that song!

 

Father, thank You for being with us throughout our life as You lead and guide Your children in Your will.  Thank You for sending Your Son to be our Redeemer and thank You for providing Your Spirit to indwell and empower us we grow into the likeness of Your Son.  As we look to the new year, may we always remember that You are the only living Almighty God and may we sing praises to You in all that we do.

FROM VARIETY COMES UNITY

There are times when I look out the window into our backyard and I am amazed at the creativity of our God.  The variety of birds that come to the bird feeder and to the birdbath is wonderful, and it just comprises a miniscule sampling of the birds that He created for His world.

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Backyard bird looking for worms!

 

Some are so graceful and fast that our eyes cannot take in their flight unless it is captured in slow motion.

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Precious hummingbird approaching the feeder.

 

Others blend in with the surroundings, but they always seem to appreciate the shelter from the snow!

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Little bird taking cover from snow under the bird feeder “awning”!

The cardinal is young and is not yet fully colored, but he will be a brilliant eye-catcher when he is older!

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Young cardinal looking around the side of the feeder.

 

Some are dusty colored and demure in their plumage, but they create such beautiful music with their cooing and rustling feathers when they take wing!

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Mourning dove at the bird bath.

 

Some are bright in their coloration, and they shine in the sunlight.

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Yellow goldfinch standing brightly on a stem.

 

Each kind of bird brings his own beauty, sound, and sight to the yard.  The variety of colors and of sounds from the numerous birds, both visible and hidden in the trees, brings to my mind the description that God gives of His people and His church.

 

By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’

Isaiah 45:23

 

“so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:10-11

 

In the book of Revelation, John records the vision that he had of the end times, of the church and of the activities in heaven.  In chapter 5 at verses 9 and 10 we read:

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”  [Emphasis mine]

 

Then, to top it off, that same chapter states in verse 13:

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”  [Emphasis mine]

 

Imagine the sound as millions of voices join in the same song of praise.

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The choir and symphony ready for the music to begin at the Schermerhorn concert hall in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

Even now, I get chills when a choir powerfully sings of God’s grace and His love.   I cannot imagine the glorious euphony that will be raised when all of us are praising God through song, even those whose voices on earth sounded more like a “caw” than a “chirp”!

 

Scripture clearly states that through Christ’s blood and his sacrifice, He ransomed us as a people for God, and this group of people is comprised of Christians from around the world, encompassing “every tribe and language and people and nation”.    This means that we will worship in different ways and we will sound different in our language, but the meaning will be the same – our God and our Savior will be praised, adored and glorified.

 

Some may worship in grand and glorious cathedrals.

 

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Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

 

Others may worship in a wood frame church in the mountains.

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Wooden church in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.

 

Just as the creatures in nature are not clones of each other, we are not going to look alike.  Just as each creature has its own unique sound/language, we do not all have the same language.  But if the God who is worshiped in each of these places is the God of the Scripture, the God who sent His Son to save His people from their sins, all of these folks will join together in one glorious song of praise to the King of Kings, now and for all eternity.

So, why wait until heaven? 

Start now – praising the Lord for His glorious creation.  Praising the Lord for His wondrous works to the children of men.  Praising the Lord for His sovereignty and providence.  Praising the Lord for His grace and mercy towards his people through salvation from their sins.  Praising the Lord in song or by making a joyful noise.  Praising the Lord in your heart and in your soul, as you remember all His kindnesses and mercies showered upon you each moment of every day.

 

David put it quite succinctly, repeating the imperative throughout the Book of Psalms:

Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 106:1

 

Father, I thank You for your grace, mercy and love as is evident in your creation that is all around us.  i thank You for your Spirit that dwells in each believer in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I praise your holy name for all the gifts and benefits bestowed upon me through no merit of my own, especially salvation through Jesus Christ.  I thank You and praise You now, and forever more.

 

How firm a foundation …!

Reverend Franklin Graham stated, in an article for the National Day of Prayer,

“I believe our nation is in trouble today, probably more than I’ve seen in my lifetime. We are contending with issues that are causing the very foundation of our country to crumble. Our moral and spiritual roots are eroding, the economy is misleading, family life is disintegrating, and political forces are at unprecedented odds. There seem to be very few leaders who will take a stand for God and for His Word.”  http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org/how_to_pray_for_america

 

Foundations are important. Without a firm foundation, the whole structure falls, whether it is a building, home, career, church or country.

 

Most of us have experienced the lack of a foundation. The easiest to recall may be the first time you went to the beach and have stood, ankle deep, in the ocean. As wave upon wave rolled through your legs and over your feet and ankles, you can feel the sand shift under you. Soon, if you stood there long enough, you will be knee deep in sand because the water has “rearranged” the “ground” upon which you based your stance, and there was nothing secure underneath you.

 

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Boy standing in ocean as waves move the sand under his feet.

 

In what is known as the “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus Christ talks about the need for a foundation as he spoke to his disciples and the people gathered around him. In Matthew 7:24-27 [NIV] he provided the following parable where He particularly was speaking about those who hear his words but do not intend to follow His teaching:

 

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

 

Clearly, Jesus’ parable has a multitude of lessons encapsulated in these four verses. But the focus here is on “foundation”. What is the foundation that the wise man used for his house? What foundation is secure so that the house did not collapse even during difficult times?

 

Scripture states that this Rock is Jesus Christ Himself. In Isaiah 28:16, the writer states that there is a rock provided for us to build this house upon, and that rock is Christ. He is laid for a foundation, and other foundation can no man lay. The church is built upon this Rock, and every believer is secure on this Foundation.  I Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20.

 

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Rocks forming the foundation of the porch at cabin in Cades Cove, Tennessee.

 

The foolish builders in Jesus’ parable based their hope upon anything but Christ, and you can rest assured that such unsecured foundation will certainly fail them on a stormy day. This picture of rocks as a foundation for the front porch was taken at the Oliver Cabin in Cades Cove, Tennessee.  While the porch has been sturdy with this “rocky” foundation for a very long time, such foundation for your life will yield no true comfort and satisfaction for times of trouble in this life or at the time of death and future judgment. (There is more information about Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains National Park that can be found at the Parks’ website, at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/cadescove.htm.)

 

This dilemma was described eloquently in Job 27:8 [KJV]:

For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he may gain [much], if God takes away his life?

 

Job continues to compare the foolish builder’s hope with the spider’s web.

Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web. They lean on the web, but it gives way; they cling to it but it does not hold.

Job 8:14-15. [NIV]

 

Clearly, having the right foundation is of paramount import. Indeed, it has eternal consequences.

 

The Psalmist says:

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Psalm 33:12 [ESV]

 

The writer of Psalms 11 then asks this question:

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Psalms 11:3 [ESV]

 

The answer, Beloved, is to pray … to look to the Lord who is the only foundation that will stand, no matter what happens. When things look bleak, Scripture tells us that God is not hindered by the leaders of men, see Proverbs 21:1 [ESV]:

 

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

 

Even the king, who is the most powerful person in the kingdom, is subject to the sovereign will of Almighty God, whether he recognizes it or not! The Lord turns the king’s heart however He desires.

 

Are you going through difficulties now? Have you in the past? In the unlikely event that the answers to these two questions are “no”, in all likelihood you will have difficulties in the future. But you do not have to be terrified or dismayed.

 

Are you concerned about our country and the course it seems to be traveling?  Pray.

 

Read the Word and pray that the country will return to the foundation upon which it was founded. Pray that God will be allowed to return to the school, the governmental body, the court. Pray that God will shower His grace upon our country and that we would repent of our arrogance and insistence that we would ignore His Word and His Son.

 

God rescued Israel when they prayed to him and repented of their sin … let us do so now and pray that He will not depart from our land.

 

Beloved, pray and then trust Him and praise His Name even when things are hard … the Lord will be blessed and you will be glorifying Him in all things.

 

                                                

Father, I know that You are sovereign and that no leader rises to power but for You allowing him/her to do so. I know Scripture says that You can turn the leaders’ hearts because they are like a stream of water in your Hand. Lord I pray for our country, for our leaders and for our people. Prick our hearts that we would turn to You and not trust in our own power. You gave us this land; may we be stewards of it as we rely on You to guide our course.