For The New Year

December 30, 2011

in Pastor's Corner

This new years thing is really a very strange custom we have developed over the last 3000 years or so. What real difference does it make that one year changes into the next? The only difference is the same difference we experience every day. Yesterday was Saturday. Today is Sunday. And if you will, tomorrow is Monday…if the Lord wills!

The ancient Babylonians were wrong about a lot of things; and I would submit to you this practice of resolutions made at the beginning of the year is just one more thing they got wrong.

On the other hand there is an interesting practice that we might want to think about that was practiced by a Prophet of Israel. In fact we sing about it in an old hymn written way back in 1758. The author was a man by the name of Robert Robinson. Here are the words;

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Now I’m sure you will agree that those words have some good and insightful meaning. But notice with me that sometimes we have no idea what we are singing.

And having got the religious experience or the emotional experience from it we just continue on in our ignorance, fully satisfied that at least the writer knew what he was saying.

Look with me once again at the second stanza from
“Come Thou Fount of every Blessing”

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

We come to that part of this old hymn and think to ourselves that this must be a Christmas song or something because there is Scrooge right there in the middle of it!

What in the world does “Here I raise my Ebenezer” mean? What possible help will this give me in my life? Did Pastor Steve stay up too late last night?

Does he have a problem he needs to discuss with the Deacons? Here I raise my Ebenezer indeed!

Well we need first of all to consult the Scriptures to come to some interesting facts about the words to this hymn and to what we might be able to do with the information once we know what it says. And here I will depend on you to take the time to read the story of Samuel and his dealings with Israel. The text is 1 SAMUEL 4:1 – 7:14. Go ahead and read it … you have time!

So Samuel raises a stone of remembrance and calls it “eben – ha – ezer”, which in Hebrew means “stone of help”.

God had finally given the Philistines into the hands of Israel and a stone marker was placed at the border between them. Israel could look at that stone whenever they got nervous about how close the Philistines had come to totally destroying them and remember that it was the Lord God who had delivered them from their hand. It was not their own strength, not their own might, not their own power, but it was God who had delivered them!

Please go back in the text with me to 7:3 where Samuel begins to deal with the real problems in Israel. Here we find the sad facts of the case. Israel in it’s fear of annihilation had sinfully moved out on their own. They no longer served the God that had delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh, they had adopted heathen practices, they had used the Ark of God as a good luck charm,  and they paid an awful price in blood.

Samuel in verse 3 of chapter 7 draws out what the real issues in Israel were and says to them;

1. Return to God with your whole heart.
2. Remove the foreign gods from you.
3. Direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone.
4. Not your strength will save you; He will deliver you.

I think it is safe to say that these four things, if true of us, will keep us on the right path in this next year. Rather than follow the pattern of the world around us this year let’s just simply have it as our goal to realize that our God is committed to us to protect and guide us through all difficulties.

Samuel knew what we have come to realize in our own lives as well. He piled up a bunch of rocks as a visual reminder of God’s faithfulness and provision for Israel. He was saying to Israel in effect, “When you see these rocks piled up here remember that the Lord is our “eben ha ezer” our “stone of help.”

The year is 2012. God is still our guide and protector. Maybe there is a way for you to put up a “eben ha ezer” to remind you this coming year to put your full confidence and trust in God alone.  I hope now the words to “Come thou Fount” have a fuller and deeper meaning.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.