Friday, January 5, 2018

The Real Story of 2018

Have you settled into 2018 yet?  We are already 5 days in, but with so much still left to go! 

I always enjoy the articles around this time of year that summarize the big events of the past year and preview the year ahead.  They make us think about how every year brings new stories and new things we’ll be talking about.

So what will be the big stories we will be talking about in 2018?  Well, we of course don’t know the specifics, but if we simply pause to think ahead, we know several things that will happen this year:
  • Some of America’s Winter Olympic athletes will become new household names (February).
  • People will celebrate Britain’s royal wedding (May).
  • The soccer world will be focused on Russia, who will host the World Cup (July).
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    • Moviegoers will be excited about another Star Wars movie, another Jurassic Park movie, and another Marvel movie.
    • Business people will anxiously watch to see which city Amazon will choose for its new second headquarters.
    • Like recent years, we will see more technology advances in things like phones and driverless cars and voice-recognition assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home.
    • We will hear the media talk nonstop about how every government action will affect the upcoming midterm elections for Congress.
    • People will argue about Donald Trump.
    • The sports world will have another year of heros, championships, disappointments, and endless TV debates.

    Those are some of the things people will be talking about in 2018.  They will be the headlines, along with the controversies and scandals and public apologies that we know will happen, we just don’t yet know who or where or what. 

    But from a faith perspective, will those really be the stories of 2018?

    Separating Background From Real

    We’re occasionally distracted by the bright colors and technology of our modern-day media, and we’re tempted to think that whatever-they’re-talking-about-on-TV is what’s most important.  But whenever we stop and remember what life is really all about, we realize that all those newsworthy stories of 2018 will really just be background noise to the real story of the world.  The real story in our temporary, moving-toward-eternity world is a story of sin, salvation, and relationships with God. 

    Just think about how the Bible tells us the story of the world.  So many events have happened in the thousands of years recorded in the Bible, and God could have told us about any of them.  But He didn’t give us a classic World History book, telling us which nations were most powerful or wealthy.  Instead, He gave us a book about men and women of faith, and how they have lived in relationship to God, good or bad.  He gave us a book not just about what the world would think was a great story, but about His story, what He has done and is doing in His world.  That was the important stuff. 

    Around 4BC, for example, Rome was the big story of the world.  The Roman empire’s growth and power have fascinated people ever since.  But in the Bible?  It’s just background.  Luke 2:1-4 tells us that Caesar Augustus was ruling, but Caesar’s census is just the background of what was really going on: God was sending Jesus into the world, and the story of Jesus coming to the world.

    In Luke 3:1-2, Luke again sets the background: Tiberius Caesar is ruling, Pontius Pilate is governor of Judea, Herod and his brothers are ruling in different areas, Annas and Caiaphas are in charge of the Jewish high priesthood.  But Luke gets to the real story at the end of verse 2: God’s word was coming to John the Baptist in the wilderness, and the gospel was about to be proclaimed.  The governing and power stuff is just background to what God was doing.

    In Acts 28:30-32, Paul is in the city of Rome, still the center of the world’s power.  There was so much the Bible could have told us about in Rome!  What was the big news about Caesar?  The Roman Senate?  Palace intrigues or new laws?  The “news stories” aren’t even mentioned, because what God cared about was Paul able to teach the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ, a message that was spreading in Rome.  That was the real story. 

    While the world is watching power and money and celebrity and sports and controversies in 2018, 2 Chronicles 16:9 reminds us what God is watching: “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.”  Heaven isn’t sitting around watching Sportscenter or Entertainment Tonight or Headline News.  God has bigger things in mind.  The books that will be opened on the last day, as described in Revelation 20:12, won’t be magazines or newspapers; they will be the spiritual story of our lives.  God’s ‘real’ stories aren’t always (ever?) in the news headlines, but they are the ones that really matter. 

    Some Real Stories in 2018

    When those Revelation 20:12 books are opened, here are some of the ‘real’ things we will find that happened in 2018, like they do every year:
    • Someone will drift away from God this year.  They will get distracted by the worries of life or the busyness of a job or the passing pleasures of the world.  (How will we handle this as a church family?  Will we reach out to them in love and encouragement?)
    • Someone will make a renewed commitment to God this year.  They will pray more than ever before.  They will study their Bible more than ever before.  They will serve more than ever before.  They will work on getting sin out of their life more than ever.
    • Someone will fall into sin this year.  Satan will slowly get a hold of them, and they will start choosing sin over God.  (How will we handle this as a church family?)
    • Someone will go through a difficult time of loss or struggle, and like Job, David, and many others, their faith and trust in God will be challenged.  Some will respond with great trust and faith, drawing closer to God.  Some will respond with bitterness and anger, moving away from God.
    • Someone will begin a new friendship or relationship that will affect their faith.  Some of those relationships will help make their faith stronger, and some will allow those relationships to pull them farther away from God. 
    • Someone will visit church for the first time in a long time.  What will they find when they visit?  Encouragement?  Kindness?  Sincere faith?  Some will keep going, determined to get God back in His rightful place in their lives.  Others will look for something they don't like, and they'll stop.  
    • Someone will make excuses all year and won’t grow in their faith.  They will move backwards spiritually.
    • Someone will put on Christ in baptism year.  It  will be the greatest moment of their life and their eternity, and all heaven will rejoice (Luke 15:7,10).  They will need a church family to keep encouraging them after they make that commitment.
    • Someone will take a big step of faith they have never taken this year.  They will teach a Bible class, or invite someone to church, or not be ashamed of their faith at work, or help their family be more faithful. 
    We know those things will happen, because they happen every year.  What we don’t know is whose names will be next to each of those categories.  Where will my name be?  It depends on my choices.

    The Story We Want to Live in 2018

    Let’s make 2018 a year of renewed commitment.  The world will be distracted by lots of things, but God will be watching our faith.  Let’s make sure we keep background stuff in the background, and emphasize the real, eternal issues.  I want the real story of my year – amidst all the joys and frustrations that life will bring – to be a story of growth, greater commitment, a closer walk with God, and helping others walk closer to God as well.

    What do you want to be able to say about your faith when we reach the end of another holiday season?   What do you want the Revelation 20:12 books to say about your next 12 months?  If we will begin taking the steps, God is always ready to strengthen us and help us.

    2018 is going to be a special year for someone’s faith.  Why not me?  

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