I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
the deeds for which he is to be praised,
according to all the Lord has done for us—
yes, the many good things
he has done for Israel,
according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
He said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will be true to me”;
and so he became their Savior.
In all their distress he too was distressed,
and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old. — Isaiah 63:7-9 (NIV)
God Alone [summary of sermon delivered on Dec 29, 2013 at Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church English Service]
I. God has blessed us in 2013
During the sermon, we separated into small groups and reflected on ideas and phrases from Isaiah 63:7-9 that best spoke to their experience in 2013. We spoke of God’s kindness, compassion, love and mercy in the midst of distress, God’s presence, etc.
We also recognized that God’s goodness was not only provided for us individually and with our immediate families. Today’s scripture reflected a concern for and identification with the nation of Israel. This means that faith is not just a personal or private affair. It is not just between me and God. It includes my participation in a faith community, in Canaan for us. And partaking of a faith community is true for all Christians. God has been watching over Canaan and our English ministry as well as our individual needs.
We then watched some images of Canaan EM in 2013 accompanied by “The Afters” song entitled “Life is Beautiful.”
These are illustrations of God’s goodness, God’s presence, God’s love and mercy to us. They show God’s desire to lift us up and to carry us through life!
II. We often neglect to respond to God’s goodness to us.
Yet, behind the happy pictures and memories are some lies.
In verse 8, God said of his people Israel, ““Surely they are my people, children who will be true to me.” God values faithfulness, honesty, transparency from his people. But notice verse 10….
Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them.
Have we neglected God’s goodness by ignoring God’s church in 2013?
– For every new member who joins us, how many leave us because we don’t invest in building relationships with them?
– For every new middle school youth we gain, how many of our high school students lose their dedication and interest in our faith?
– For every college student we send off, how many return to our church?
– For every young adult who visits us on Sunday, how many have actually stuck with us?
– For every new baby born, dedicated or baptized, how many parents or families became less engaged in our community because of busy-ness?
– For every volunteer request that our pastors and leaders have made, how many completely ignore the emails or texts?
One consequence of neglecting God’s people is a feeling like we’ve reached a “point of diminishing returns.” Despite all the blessings of life, this is also part of our experience at Canaan in 2013.
Why? Perhaps, we are like children who have receive too many gifts for Christmas. Like them, “happiness” is something that experiences diminishing return. Maybe we are too blessed. Has good education, comfortable living made us more self-centered and entitled?
Indeed, Israel’s wealth and success was one of the reasons why they turned away from God and loss that sense of connectedness with him and his people. All “successful Christians” face the danger of living as if our lives belong to ourselves and our blessings were earned by ourselves. God no longer becomes the sole source of our lives.
Will 2014 be a year of diminishing return for Canaan? No!
How can we stay centered on God alone in 2014?
III. Protect that baby!
Each year, one of the scripture passages that is always read on the first Sunday after Christmas is the story of the baby Jesus’ escape TO Egypt:
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” — Matthew 2:13-23 (NIV)
If we want to stay focused on God alone in 2014, let us treat our faith and the Canaan community the same way that Joseph and Mary cared for and protected the baby Jesus. We are experiencing a baby-boom at Canaan, so I’m sure that all our parents of infants can identify with this point. Just as our babies require our attention, care, and protection, so does our faith and our church.
So let us nurture our faith, our church, and the people of our generation in 2014. Doing so will ensure that God’s presence alone is our source of joy and not just the blessings we receive from him.
One small example of how we can protect our faith and Canaan is by repurposing our family celebrations. Because I was raised in a pastor’s family, I rarely had Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations with just my immediate family. Last night, we had our family Christmas celebration three days after Christmas. We have chosen to give up celebrating those holidays just for ourselves. Instead, we entertain others at our home. Families without extended relatives, visitors to our church, international students, indeed, anyone who is on the margins of our faith community.
By making this sacrifice, we remind ourselves of God as priority. He wants us to reach out to others for the sake of the Gospel. By living as if God’s household (or family) comes first, we not only bear witness, but also protect this truth with our actions.
Next year, could we sacrifice Christmas gatherings, ski trips, or vacations just for our own family? Instead, could we celebrate Christmas with newcomers, the lonely, and the marginalized? Maybe we can set up a rotation so that some of us will serve the Lord in this manner. In any case, it is my hope that we will dedicate ourselves to nurturing, protecting our faith and Canaan’s English ministry much more in 2014. Let God alone be our hope and salvation!