A New Leaf for the New Year

Guest post by the Rev. Matt Garrett.

What am I going to do about my expanding waist line! When am I ever going to start being more patient! When will I learn to keep my house cleaner! Now is the time that so many people are making New Years’ resolutions. They are promising themselves that they will make many important changes in the coming year. They will eat only nutritious foods, they will exercise regularly, they will rise early to pray, they will stop losing their tempers at home or work, they will learn a new language, they will watch less TV, and they will take up some new hobby. Hope burns in our hearts as we believe the changes that our resolutions promise to bring. Sadly, most of these resolutions will fall by the wayside before January even ends.

But a resolution can be a good thing indeed, if it is our response to the Holy Spirit leading us to walk in the Word and follow our Savior. Didn’t the Apostle Paul tell us his resolution when he said “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14).

Forgetting those things which are behind? Like what, Brother Paul? Let’s face it, we all have baggage that weighs us down and interferes as we try to make our way through this life. We have all made mistakes. We all have certain weaknesses and inabilities. We all have some sins in our past or some present struggles with sin that may still plague us with guilt. (We would do well to remember Psalm 103:12 — “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west,”) Perhaps some of us carry a sadness or a past grief that prevents us from fully knowing the joy of the Lord. Most people admit that they missed some great opportunity that would have reaped a great profit in some endeavor, but the opportunity is long gone. Sadly, a few people allow themselves to be distracted with bitterness, hatred, and the desire for revenge, not accepting that it is inevitable that we will all be mistreated and misunderstood at various times. (“Is the servant greater than the master?”) And I better include envy as a typical baggage. Even in ministry we struggle not to envy the other minister whom God seems to bless and use so abundantly, while we may plod along faithfully sowing, but seeing little harvest. And beware of past successes. They can become baggage too, as we try to keep repeating the old methods that “worked” before, as if following God is a science that can be “cook booked.” As a new year dawns, what is limiting you, distracting you, holding you back from fulfilling your potential? What is dimming your hope?

What are we to do with our baggage? What is Paul’s resolution? “To forget those things
which are behind.” You can only forget those things, however, if you also follow Paul’s example in the rest of the verse to “press on toward the prize.”

Did you happen to see any children tearing open Christmas gifts this year? Oh my, how some of them go at a package, simply ripping the paper in every direction, so eager to get inside. St. Paul encourages us to press toward our prize with that same vigor and intensity. What is that prize? It is the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, of course! It is to live like Jesus, to know Jesus, to please the Father like Jesus, and to do the work of the Father that He has planned for our individual talents. And as we do this we will collect a lot of spiritual fruit as by-products along the way. Joy, peace, love, wisdom, and so on will be welling up in us and seeping out to everyone around us. Oh press on, Saints! Press on toward that prize. Nothing else is worthy of your best efforts.

“But Matt, I’ve tried all of this before and failed.” Oh no, who said that? Friend, you’ve missed the whole point of the verse. Didn’t you hear Paul say “Forget what happened before and press on toward the prize?” So don’t bring that old failure up. Just press on with your eyes on Jesus, who personifies the prize. Keep your head up, God’s Word on your lips, a song in your heart, and forgetting what’s behind, press on.

There’s an old hymn that I sang in church as a child. It is about resolutions, that is, it’s about being resolved. The first line is “I am resolved no longer to linger, charmed by the world’s delight. Things that are higher, things that are nobler, these have allured my sight.” May that be our theme in the New Year. And that, my fellow pilgrim, gives great cause for hope.

Matt Garrett is the pastor of Moncure Baptist Church in Moncure, North Carolina.

One More Gift

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Colossians 1:5

Christmas is over. All the gifts have been unwrapped and it’s time to take down the tree until next year. Did you get what you wanted? Maybe those socks Aunt Betty gave you can be returned for something you like. Or maybe you’re stuck with that tangerine-colored scarf and gloves your friend knitted for you. Perhaps you loved all your gifts and just wish there was one more sitting under the tree with your name on it.

I have started a study on “Hope” for this new year. It is amazing how many scriptures speak of hope. God knows that we live in a world of hopelessness and pain visits us every so often. Sometimes it comes in the form of disappointment. Other times it is dressed in robes of excruciating despair. Maybe yours, like an unwanted visitor, just keeps hanging around and never leaves. However it comes, it doesn’t come from Heaven. God is referred to as many things and one of them is the “God of Hope” (Rom. 15:13).

Whether you were happy with your Christmas presents or not, whether you wish you had more or are satisfied, you have one more to look forward to! Colossians 1:5 tells us that one more gift is laid up for us in Heaven. Hope is laid up for us.

Prit and I love to surprise our children. Often, we’ll lay out gifts and watch them open them one by one. After they’re finished, we’ll say, ”There’s one more gift!” It’ll usually be set apart from the others and is the nicest of all. It’s worth it to see the expression on their faces when we hand them the last one. Colossians 1:5, to me, is like the Lord telling us ”There’s one more!” It’s the grand finale. What a beautiful thought that He has one more gift laid up for us in Heaven. HOPE!

I have asked some of our supporting pastors to contribute to our Rehoboth site some thoughts concerning ”Hope for the New Year.” I know you, our readers, are going to be incredibly blessed by their words of wisdom and comfort. Be sure to follow the updates. They’ll be coming soon!

Dana

A Poem for Christmas

Rehoboth Ministries would like to wish all its friends and supporters a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  We remember each and every one of you in our earnest prayers, that you would have a wonderful and safe holiday.

O Bethlehem, O Bethlehem
do you know who lies within
your stoney gates this starry night?
Christ who came to give us light!
Star of Wonder, Star of Light,
who will you gaze upon tonight?
Will it be a newborn babe
sent from the Father, the world to save?
Dana

Mary’s Favor

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:26-28

I have enjoyed reading the Christmas story over and over. An avid fan of history, I always love to study the “story behind the story.” Here we have a passage from Luke, a historian concerned with the accuracy of names, dates, and places. Since Luke was a physician, he would have already been one that was given to details.

In Luke’s gospel, Gabriel came to Mary and declared to her, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” As I meditated on this verse, I began to see that God’s perspective is not always the same as ours. What does it mean to be “highly favored?” One may think of many things when the word “favor” comes to mind. For some it may mean prosperity and good health. For others, favor may mean having a good reputation or respect from others. For us as missionaries, it means being home during the holidays and having special time with our family members.

But Mary’s “favor” would never measure up to the modern-day concept of what we think favor means. For starters, Mary was extremely poor. She didn’t have her baby in a nice, warm home as other Hebrew women were privileged to do. She and her husband, Joseph, couldn’t even get a room in the inn. There was not so much as a midwife to assist her with her birth.

I can only remember too clearly the apprehension that came with giving birth for the first time. Port-au-Prince, Haiti was a long way from home and family members. It was in the middle of Mardi Gras season and the eerie sound of the voudou drums beating incessantly all through the night only added to my fears. At least I was in a hospital surrounded by doctors and nurses, though. Mary had no one to guide her nor family present to cheer her on. With each breathtaking contraction, her faith would strengthen her resolve to draw this child safely from the womb and into her arms.

A strange array of visitors would show up at her “doorstep” to worship the child King afterward. Then, to add to the drama of an already intriguing story, Mary would be forced to quickly gather up her little bundle and flee the little comfort she knew. Following a narrow escape, Herod’s henchmen would fill the streets of Bethlehem with the bloody corpses of children from newborns to two years of age. One can only imagine the terror that must have gripped Mary and her husband’s minds upon receiving this heart-wrenching news.

Then there was the question of Mary becoming pregnant out of wedlock. She would go all through life enduring the side glances, whispers, and sneers of those who knew her. As she and Joseph entered into the temple in Bethlehem to present their newborn child to the Lord, she received a most unusual prophecy. Simeon was a devout man who had received a revelation from the Lord that he would not die until he saw the Christ child. We are told that he spoke a blessing over the young couple stating, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” Next, he blessed Mary with what we would consider a “mixed bag” saying, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” This prophecy would come to fruition later as Mary witnessed the horrific execution of her own son upon a bloody cross. She would watch him helplessly as he gasped for breath, giving final instructions to his disciple John to take her into his home and care for her. A sword would surely pierce her heart and evoke heart-wrenching emotions that she probably never knew existed. The son she had labored to produce in that lonely place many years before would later be treated as a common criminal, enduring the most shameful form of death that society could offer.

So what what Mary’s favor? The answer is found in the sentence that followed Gabriel’s proclamation — “The Lord is with you.” God promises never to leave us or abandon us. In the toughest of times, he promises to be there. This is his favor: He is with us! He always wins no matter what life throws at us.

Tragedy and heartache come in all forms and at the most unexpected times. A pastor friend of ours, turned missionary, was recently driving in Honduras when a large truck coming in his direction veered onto his side of the road and hit his vehicle, killing him instantly. We knew his precious wife, Karen, who had died a few years earlier as cancer ravaged her body. Jeff was one of the first pastors that befriended us after we joined MFI (Ministers Fellowship International) of which he was a member. Our hearts were grieved to learn of his recent departure. And here as we are entering the Christmas season of awe and wonder, we are saddened to think of Jeff and Karen’s sons that are left behind with only memories.

A friend of mine, with whom I have only become reacquainted recently sent me an e-mail asking if I could come visit her. She’s having a difficult time. Brenda lost her daughter just a couple of weeks ago to another tragic car accident. She is now raising her daughter’s two children. Brenda is a Christian, but that doesn’t leave her void of pain. She, too, will enter the Christmas season remembering the daughter she had and is experiencing a “piercing in her own soul.” Like Mary, she is feeling the intense yearning for the child she brought into the world.

Jesus came to a broken and dying world. The angels that announced his grand arrival also announced “peace on earth, good will to men.” Jesus would not bring a trouble-free life, but he would bring peace. Mary’s favor did not mean that she would sail through life without a care in the world. Her life, from beginning to end, knew the full spectrum of emotion, from extreme joy and celebration to the most gut-wrenching sorrow. But Mary’s favor was found in the simple truth that God was with her.

To all those who are mourning this Christmas season, know that God is with you. To those who have experienced incredible loss, God is with you. To those who find no joy in Christmas carols, have no desire to set up the Christmas tree, and wish all the celebrating would just stop, God is with you. Your favor doesn’t derives from your circumstances. Your favor consists of the simple fact that God is with you.

I have one last remark about Mary. Mary was the only person to witness Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ death, Jesus’ resurrection and Jesus’ ascension. She was the only one present at every event. Mary, while knowing the lowest depths where a human soul can venture, also experienced the glory of seeing her son return from the dead as well as watching him return to his Father. Mary’s own death is not recorded for us in history, but we can only guess that the favor she received, after finally entering into her eternal rest, surpassed any of the sorrows that encompassed her while living on this earth. God exists beyond this thin veil of life. There is glory to come, for God is with us!

Nearing the Finish Line

God is always full of surprises! He loves to bless us, and the beauty of it is that he uses his people to do it. All throughout the Scriptures he sought out a person or people to participate with him in bringing forth a miracle. Joseph and Mary were the most ordinary people of their day, yet they were used in the most extraordinary way. They became partakers of divine grace and were the willing vessels used to watch over Jesus until his manhood.

Yes, God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Who would have guessed that the humble offerings of Faith Temple in Alexander City, Alabama would unleash an outflow giving to our schools’ feeding program? Yet their confidence in this project rallied others to give and money started pouring in from the most unlikely sources! We are amazed at the kindness of God’s people.

Proverbs 19:17 says, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.” (NIV) Can you imagine counting out dollar bills into the Lord’s hand? I am awestruck at the idea of lending money to God. Why would God even need to borrow from me? And yet this verse clearly states that the Lord will reward those that lend to Him. How do we lend to Him? By giving to the poor. Here is the certain promise that God will pay us back!

The finish line is in sight. (Drumroll please!) We have rounded the final corner and can see it just ahead!  We now have $19,220! Keep your eyes on that barometer! It is moving up and we hope to reach our goal very soon! If you are an ordinary person wanting to do extraordinary things for God, would you please help us cross the finish line?

God’s Motley Christmas Crew

Prit and I attended a Christmas musical the other night. It was nice to be part of the audience and soak in the beautiful songs for a change instead of being the one to coordinate it all and play the keyboard. The songs had been carefully chosen and done with precision. Everyone knew their parts well and it was obvious that they had practiced them over and over again. Scene after scene went off without a hitch to memorized cues. Although I’ve seen it dozens of times, I never tire of the Christmas story. I love watching all the events unfold as they lead up to the climax of that simple scene where mother, father, and child are gathered together in very humble surroundings, but under the smile of Heaven. I realize that the Lord, like clockwork, brought everything to pass ”in the fullness of time” and with startling precision wove the scenes of history together to give to us what we celebrate every year at this time.

While reflecting upon the Christmas story, I felt the Lord brought a truth to light that I had never really thought about before. The group that huddled around the manger scene that first Christmas night was an interesting one, but different as different could be. They were there by special invitation under the most unusual of circumstances. In fact, supernatural signs were required to get their attention, signs that came from Heaven itself, signs that required them to look upward.

The Magi’s invitation was in the form of a star that guided them to the very spot where the newborn baby was, while the shepherds received a sudden angelic visitation. Angels burst onto the scene to proclaim the Lord’s timely birth, all the while shaking up these poor shepherds who would never, ever be the same again. The Magi were scholars who had invested their lives in purposeful study. It is a common belief that they were most likely from modern-day Iraq. They had given themselves to the study of the Old Testament and had dutifully traced the progression of time, concluding that a spectacular event was due to take place, an event in which they longed to take part. Traveling from “afar,” they made preparations for the long and arduous journey that would take them to Bethlehem.

The shepherds, on the other hand, were most likely unlearned men, capable only of tending sheep. They knew their trade, though, and they did it well. They were guarding their flock in the night season, ever watchful, since this season was the most vulnerable for sheep. Wolves were likely to be nearby, seeking a lamb to devour. Suddenly, the otherwise ordinary, dark sky lit up with the glorious appearance of God’s servants as they made their famous declaration notifying both them and the demonic powers presently ruling that a Savior had now invaded earth. Having been faithful to their own flock, they now were being led forth as God’s flock to a a nearby stable in their own hometown. They were led to hallowed ground to watch a tiny, frail baby usher in a new era.

The Magi and the shepherds represented the rich and the poor, the learned and the simple, those who slept in palaces and those who slept in fields. They, by God’s choice, were among the privileged few to gaze upon the Messiah King. One group bore costly gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) while the others could only offer themselves. Coming from two extremes, they represented a wide spectrum of humanity, as wide as you and me.

“What does any of this have to do with Haiti?” you might be asking. Rehoboth Ministries exists because of the faithful giving of our many supporters. They are as varied as the Kings of the Orient and the shepherds of the field. Some are very wealthy, successful businessmen and women, while others are widows or those laid off from work. All of them, however, have a heart for God and a love for His Kingdom. Like the attendees at Christ’s birth, they responded joyfully to God’s invitation to come alongside myself and Prit, to be willing participants of what Christ is now bringing to birth in Haiti. As the kings and shepherds knelt and worshiped the Christ child, presenting to God all that they had, so our supporters have likewise offered up their gifts and prayers for us as a costly sacrifice. I would like take this opportunity to shout out a special thanks to all these wonderful people who have stood with us in this work and upheld us during some of our darkest hours.

The Hope of Christmastime

I love Christmas. It’s always a special, almost magical time of the year. I believe the decorations people put out on their lawns spring from an expectancy that something new is about to happen. The awe and wonder of what happened in Bethlehem so long ago still awakens one’s consciousness with the promise of the miraculous. Even the anticipation of Santa arriving with gifts from afar reveal a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of man that longs for something (or someone) that exists beyond themselves. The Christmas movies today (of which the greater part center around the coming of Santa) purport a hidden message that somehow someone is going to come and make what’s wrong in the world right again.

As much as I love and appreciate all the holidays, the sense of wonder seems to be unique to the Christmas season. Walking through Charlotte’s airport yesterday, we admired the huge Christmas trees donned with red and white poinsettias arranged in candy cane fashion with red and white stripes circling around the tree. Without trying to sound too theological, could there be a subtle parallel between all the festive preparations and the countdown to Christmas Day with the long-awaited centuries of the Old Testament’s promise of a Messiah finally being revealed through  the ushering in of God’s son ?

Back in Haiti, our singing groups and choirs are busy working on special songs for the Christmas service. I was there for most of their practices and will regret not hearing them sing. I made them promise to sing them all a second time when we return. Their sheepish smiles revealed that they were more than willing to oblige.

It didn’t look like Christmas in Cap-Haitian. There were no decorations up that I could see. No drummer boys. No “Merry Christmas” greetings. No fake snow. Business seemed to be going on as usual with the everyday monotony of people trying to make a few dollars. Just the mere cashing of a check required nothing less than a miracle. The check we sent to be cashed on November 3rd has been promised to be cashed tomorrow. But “tomorrow” has become a term rather empty of meaning for us, and many other families in Haiti wait in hope that “tomorrow” really will come and they will be paid their long, overdue salaries. For them, there will not be an abundance of presents under the tree. For most Haitians, there won’t even be a tree.

Yet, despite all this, the hope that I already sense here (after only having returned last night) is also there among God’s people. On Christmas Eve, they will gather together. They will sing. And they will pray. The story of Jesus’ birth will be reenacted and the Christmas story will be seen through Haitian eyes. Herod’s personal bodyguards in the annual Christmas play will resemble the infamous “Tonton Macoutes” (henchmen) of an earlier repressive regime. They will be carrying toy guns (imitations of submachine guns) as Herod barks out orders to go find this “King” and return with him. Everyone will laugh and howl for several minutes as a very pregnant Mary hobbles onstage. Something about a fellow youth member being “great with child” brings down the house every time until they can finally regain composure and continue with the skit. A baby doll with a built-in battery (representing the baby Jesus) will wail incessantly until someone will finally figure out how to turn off the battery. During the entire skit, the congregation will be laughing, talking, and making jokes while the actors, totally unfazed, proceed to the next scene.

When the service ends, everyone will linger, reluctant to go back to their dark homes where there is no electricity and even less security. The same element of surprise in angels suddenly appearing to shepherds in an open field to proclaim news that Christ has been born will cause them to linger in the atmosphere of wonder. They will drain the last dregs of fellowship together, not unlike the early church, enjoying the joy and laughter that comes from the communion of the saints.  Here, against the backdrop of poverty, they will savor the hope that the miracle of Christ’s birth brings.  One has never truly witnessed the Christmas story until they see it through the eyes of another culture. Jesus burst onto the stage of the world and forever changed history. Whether meeting in a dilapidated building with a leaky roof and a dirt floor or in a beautiful modern building equipped with all the latest hi-tech gadgets, the common thread that binds us together as believers – HOPE –  is felt especially keenly at Christmastime.

Carolina Bound

Well, here we are sitting in the Charlotte-Douglas airport waiting for our last flight home. We left the house this morning and have been traveling all day. Cap-Haitian – Port-au-Prince – Ft. Lauderdale – Charlotte – Fayetteville. We are thanking the Lord for giving us safe travels as well as all the prayers that have gone up for us. It seems like an eternity ago since we huddled together in a circle with our Haitian brethren before the crack of dawn. They prayed for God’s watchfulness over us  and we prayed for them as well. We never take their prayers lightly, knowing that the assurance that they will pray is as sure as the sun rising tomorrow. We left Cap-Haitian in the dark and as I gaze outside at the planes taking off and landing, it is night again. Soon, we’ll be up in the air again making our way to Fayetteville, N.C.!