My One Word for 2017

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to do this again. Last year, my word was Restoration and although in some areas the restoration process has started, I didn’t leave 2016 feeling completely restored.

Taking a brief look at last year’s post, activity-wise, I mentioned I wanted to do more outside the house and try to organise something different once a month. Well, nine out of twelve ain’t bad. Some particular highlights were the Stuart Townend concert in April, my meeting with Damon Hill in June, the first-ever ChristianityWorks conference in October (shared between ChristianityWorks and GNBA), and my Christmas present to Mum – a trip to York in December for the carol concert at Yorkminster.

When it came to community, I was finding it difficult at my church with the size of its congregation. I did celebrate their move to new premises, but left halfway through the year to try a smaller church. This is a better fit for me – much easier to figure out who’s who, and where they are. Meeting new people and opening up to them can be hard. I want to be known and respected, even though I haven’t been there long enough to earn their respect, but I’m grateful for their patience and the way they’ve welcomed me.

I also touched on exercise, but I’m not back into a good exercise routine yet. I did join a gym, but the pain I sometimes experience meant I was having to finish early, which didn’t work well with taxies etc. I’m still working on this.

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So that’s why I was unsure about a word for 2017, but I prayed God would show me if He wanted me to have one. At church on Sunday, I got my word. And it is?

Shelter

During the worship, my friend felt God was saying we were a shelter for many. 2017 would be a year of shifting sand for people, but our dependence on God and His Word could be an anchor for them.

Can you picture it – people coming to us because they see Jesus living in us? “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:3). This was a challenge, and made me see the importance of staying strong in God. Who wants to come to a crumbling shelter? I’m thankful that in Christ all things hold together, but I need to take responsibility too. As Paul says to the church at Colosse: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6).

I’m a shelter for God (a place where He lives through His Spirit), I’m a shelter for others, and God is a shelter for me. “He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17).

Familiar and Comfortable

Did you have a good Christmas? Before spending most of the day with my parents, I walked across the road for a family service led by a couple of friends. They talked about how Jesus came into the world as the light of the world, and one sentence stayed with me from the sermon. “We’re comfortable moving around in darkness when we’re in familiar places.” I think I liked it because that was a picture of the start of my Christian life.

When I first came to know Jesus, I wasn’t particularly miserable. My gran had died that year, so I was feeling down about that, but otherwise, I was doing very nicely, thank you very much. Then suddenly, sitting in a church, I heard a verse I didn’t know was in the Bible: “Envy rots the bones”, and I was confronted with my own sin. I knew for the first time that hell was real, I was on my way there and I couldn’t fix myself.

Nobody could have told me that. In fact, I’m glad the moment came in church and not through personal confrontation because if someone had said: “You need Jesus,” I probably would have bitten their head off. I didn’t see myself as being in need. Life was familiar and it was comfortable, but without Jesus, it amounted to nothing, and I was heading in the wrong direction. Sometimes people criticise preachers for talking about the fire of hell, but I was glad of it that night in 1999, because the Holy Spirit used it to shake me out of my complacency and prompt me to reach out to God.

When I heard God say in my heart: “Come because I love you,” I had no concept of the effect it would have on my life – how it would change my priorities and open my eyes to the needs of others. I don’t regret saying yes to God. I’m glad that as I live for Him, Jesus does what I couldn’t do and takes away my sin. Because of Him, I can look forward to an eternity not in hell, but in heaven where there are no more tears, and sin and suffering will be gone forever.

Zealous

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts He found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves He said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for Your house will consume me’” (John 2:13-17).

A thought came to me, as I wondered how I would finish an Advent series with these verses. Paul says to the church at Corinth: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). If Jesus was that fired-up about goings-on in a building where worship-rituals were performed, how much more zealous will He be for us – the people He loves and wants to spend time with!

Are you a follower of Jesus? Then you’re His temple. He’s up there in heaven, pleading with God for you. By believing in Him, you became a part of His Father’s household, so you can be sure He’s absolutely committed to you.

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I have a Saviour who’s been proclaimed by angels; born in Bethlehem; Creator and Nurturer of everything; deity; Everlasting Father; glorious, Holy Spirit-filled, God-with-us Immanuel; Jesus; King; Lord; Messiah; Nazarene; one with the Father; peace-giving; quiet; righteous; servant-hearted; timeless; unparalleled; victorious; the Word; my yesterday, today and forever zealous God! So many reasons to celebrate Him this Christmas.

Yesterday, Today and Forever

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8), but that doesn’t mean much unless you know who He is. We’ve already seen that God and Jesus are one. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3), so anything we read about Jesus can also be attributed to God and vice versa. “Christ Himself is our peace”, says Paul. “God is love”, says John.

If God is love, then surely those two words (God and love) are interchangeable. Here’s part of 1 Corinthians 13 in my own words, replacing ‘Love’ with Jesus or God:
God is patient, God is kind. He’s not envious or boastful. He’s not proud or rude, or self-seeking (if God had sought adulation, He would have made us robots incapable of feeling anything else). Jesus isn’t irritable and keeps no record of wrongs. He doesn’t delight in evil, but He’s happy about the truth. God always keeps us safe, gives us His trust, is constantly hopeful and never tires of us. God never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

That’s who my Lord is, and He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. If I snap at a parent I’m supposed to honour, God is still patient. If I’ve harboured an unkind thought, God’s still kind. When I’m struggling, His peace is still available to me. If I feel like throwing in the towel, God’s not about to give up. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13).

I think I’m glad I serve a God who doesn’t change.

The Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This was read every Christmas at my primary school, and my child’s mind couldn’t wrap around it. I never knew this Word was a person. The person called the Word, who was with God in the beginning and who was God, His name was Jesus. I never understood that, even though John explains it a few verses later. “The Word became a human and lived among us” (John 1:14). That’s the very thing Christmas celebrates: Jesus coming from heaven to earth.

But that’s not all; here are three other things the Word does:

  • He creates. “By the Word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth” (Psalm 33:6).
  • He controls. “The Son is … sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).
  • He cleans. “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
  • I’ve got Jesus to thank that I’m even in His church, being made holy before God. I’m so glad He came.

    Victorious

    “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:35, 37).

    In all these things. Jesus has won a resounding victory!

  • He’s defeated death. “’O death, where is your victory? Where is your power to hurt?’ Death’s power to hurt is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. But we thank God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
  • He’s triumphed over trouble. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
  • He dominates darkness. “The prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over Me” (John 14:30).
  • Evil will ultimately be subject to Jesus. Doesn’t that leave a bit more room for hope?

    Unparalleled

    “Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and told the nation’s leaders and the elders: ‘You are questioning us today about a kind deed in which a crippled man was healed. But there is something we must tell you and everyone else in Israel. This man is standing here completely well because of the power of Jesus Christ from Nazareth. You put Jesus to death on a cross, but God raised Him to life. He is the stone that you builders thought was worthless, and now He is the most important stone of all. Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone.’ The officials were amazed to see how brave Peter and John were, and they knew that these two apostles were only ordinary men and not well educated. The officials were certain that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:8-13).

    When you repeat Jesus’ statement that no one comes to the Father except through Him, people don’t like it. I suppose they think you’re arrogant, saying you’re right and they’re wrong, but Peter would go along with you. “His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone”, Peter said of Jesus, and he wasn’t speaking on his own. He wasn’t just an opinionated so-and-so; he was filled with the Holy Spirit. When the leaders saw his courage, they knew Peter had kept company with Jesus.

    Jesus truly is unique. No one else can save us, and with His Spirit living in us, we can have an unction we’ve never had before. Earlier this month I mentioned the fruit of the Spirit, including gentleness. Thanks to Him, we can bring a message without hostility or hate. “Something from the Spirit can be seen in each person, for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). I want the words I speak or write about Jesus to be for the good of those who hear them.

    Timeless

    “Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’

    “Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM’” (John 8:57-58). Jesus was around before Abraham existed – before the world was even created.

    A favourite songwriter of mine is Michael Card and in one of his songs, “The Final Word”, he tells us: “Eternity stepped into time.” The awesome thing is that one day, we’ll do it the other way round. We who were once constrained by time will step into eternity. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Time loses its importance when I understand things from a heavenly perspective. “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). Every earthly institution will be done away with. There’ll be nothing left except those things which are eternal.

    Have you thought about where you’ll spend eternity? Because Jesus spoke about everyone rising from their graves – some to eternal condemnation and others to eternal life (John 5:28-29). Eternal life is knowing God, and knowing Jesus whom God has sent (John 17:3). If you believe Jesus is the Son of God, that life is yours, and you’ll spend not only time but the whole of eternity with Him.

    Servant

    Have you ever felt like something was beneath you? I remember volunteering with an organisation once, and all they gave me to do was rip the edges off pieces of scrap paper. To this day I still don’t understand why I was there, but Jesus clearly understood His purpose here on earth. “If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. And if you want to be first, you must be everyone’s slave. The Son of Man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give His life to rescue many people” (Mark 10:43-45) or, as another version puts it: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

    Surely, that must have been a temptation for Jesus – to feel like this was beneath Him. He left the glory He had with God in heaven and came down here, to serve us. He taught; healed diseases; even washed people’s dirty feet, and it was after this that He said: “No servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:16-17). In other words, Jesus has served, so it’s up to Christians to do the same; we shouldn’t expect to get out of it. Jesus is our Master. Doesn’t any athlete strive to follow what their coach tells them? If you’re looking for true greatness, it may well involve humbling yourself, and being willing to start at the bottom.

    Righteous One

    In “Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes”, there’s a great section about hungering and thirsting after righteousness and what righteousness actually is. The author, Kenneth E. Bailey, makes the point that righteousness isn’t a quest for perfection; it’s not just adhering to the Law, but it’s treating others the way God’s always treated His people – with kindness and compassion.

    The ultimate Righteous One is Jesus, and His ultimate act of kindness and compassion happened on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem. “Father, forgive them,” He said of those crucifying Him, and you don’t get kinder than that. Jesus took the punishment we deserved so we wouldn’t have to, and you can’t get more compassionate than that. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).