There are two psalms that I regularly use in my morning devotions. The verses I recite almost daily come from David after the prophet Nathan confronted him regarding Bathsheba. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” (Psalm 51.10-13) These words remind me that, without God’s continual cleansing of my thoughts, words, and deeds, my ministry and life will be ineffective and worthless.
The other one comes from Moses. It reminds me of God’s eternal faithfulness. And, though I closed 2022 with words from this psalm, I will open 2023 with the same verses. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. … A thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. … The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. … So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. … Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90)
This week I started working on our family Christmas letter – I know it’s late, but that’s a different story. There are two fun exercises I do in preparation for writing the letter. First, I scroll through my calendar from the year and jot down events that catch my attention. This is always fun because there is so much from the year that I would not remember otherwise. … The challenge afterwards is in deciphering my notes. Then I read what we sent out the previous year or two … both to get into the mood to write and to jog my memory some more.
Knowing that most of you have never seen our Christmas letter, I should probably tell you that there are some family members who refer to it as unique (while others are not quite so kind). One year I was actually able to include an encrypted invitation for a surprise birthday party for Monica. Some of the paragraphs bring tears, others laughs and smiles as I re-read them. And, particularly of those sent longer ago, there are many question marks as I wonder, “What was I writing about there?”
And, for me, the undergirding message is how, through all of the ups and downs that come with every year, God remains faithful. Though it is always easier for me to see this in the rearview mirror than in the present, his pattern of behavior is consistent. He keeps on “bestowing crowns of beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and garments of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61.3) I thought about this again yesterday as a phone call had me reviewing funeral services from the past 10-15 years. And it will certainly be on my mind as this Friday, Saturday, Sunday mark three anniversaries in my life-story: the death of my mother (2007), my installation at STL (1995), and the death of my father (1991).
Whether everyone realizes it or not, the narrative is the same for all of us who have been baptized into Christ. It starts with us being raised to live a new life (Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6.3-4) and made residents of the Kingdom of God (Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. – John 3.5-6). These two facts assure us that Christ Jesus is with us ALWAYS (Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. – Matthew 28.20) and that we have the same commission as Isaiah of old (The Lord has anointed me – and all of us – to bring good news to the poor … to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound … to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. – Isaiah 61.1-2)
Everlasting to 2023 – or at least, for me 1953 to 2023 – is the story of God’s faithfulness … both in comforting me as I mourn and giving me the garments of praise instead of a faint spirit (Isaiah 61.2-30). I similarly have experienced his faithfulness as I have had the opportunity to “bring good news to the poor and bind up the brokenhearted.” (Isaiah 61.1) “Great is his faithfulness – it is new every morning. The Lord is my portion therefore I will hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.” (Lamentations 3.23-25)
And do you notice how these same promises carry us from 2023 to everlasting? No matter what you may be experiencing right now … or will experience in 2023 … or any year thereafter … his good news remains true. “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3.25-26) I am seeing this to be true in my life, I pray that you do too.