New Lives for a New Year When You Face Uncertainty

Almost all of us know the words. 'Have for a long time,
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.
And again,
In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
David sang the Psalm, the shepherd who'd become a king. Jesus spoke the promise, the manger-child who'd become the Savior. Both of them knew something all of us know, too. And with these words they took on this familiar, terrible truth. There is something worse than bad news. Sometimes, way worse. We call it uncertainty! The fancy philosophers call it the pain-of-unknowing. Whatever you call it, all of us, no matter what our age, have felt it. From the kid in school who's waiting in the chair while the teacher hands back the now-graded tests, to the elder saint called to the phone to get the doctor's lab results. From the single parent who can't see how the bills will get paid this month to the worker on the way to the personnel office when there are rumors of job cuts in store. Uncertainty produces all manner of physical, emotional and spiritual responses. I'll bet you can locate yours. Pit of your stomach. Innards. Tight neck or shoulders. Need I go on? Some of our responses are deeper and more dangerous. Doubt, in ourselves, our friends and family, even in our God. Resentment. Anger. Despair. A self-fulfilling sense of defeat. Even self-destruction, sometimes in slow motion (alcohol, tobacco, drugs… with or without prescription… gambling, infidelity, you name it), sometimes all at once. (We quit our relationships, pull the plug at work, even literally take our lives.)

Good Lord in Heaven, give us something to hold onto when we live our lives not knowing how it'll all turn out! 'Turns out he already has. A Table prepared. A Place in the Place-of-Many-Mansions. For those who believe, or dare to this very day, there are words to be spoken, square in the face of not-knowing. Only know God the Father through Jesus the Son, and all other knowing or not-knowing takes care of itself.

Look what the Psalm says. God's gonna upstage all that troubles, challenges and assails us, right to its face. That table he's preparing, he's setting it in plain view and clear defiance of our enemies! In part, it's how he reveals just who's in charge in this old world. And the one to come, too. It's a relief and a reminder. Our life is not just in our hands, or the hands of others, it's in God's hands.

Are you uncertain today? About something, anything? In your life? Our church life? In the news? Does it feel a little overwhelming, or alot? 'Like your hope for a way-through-it is keen, but your sense there's-no-way-out's a killer? Well then picture this. It's Thursday, Holy Thursday, with an ungodly Friday comin' on fast. Jesus with the twelve. Well, eleven now. (One's already left the Light at the table for the Dark outside the door.) They all know there's trouble ahead. How will it all come out? What will happen to the Master? Will there be legions of angels in their future, or just the legions of Rome or the Temple Guard? What will happen to them? What will happen to the mission and the miracles they have seen and touched in the company of Jesus? What was up with that foot-washing thing just a few minutes before? How could Peter, their strongest, possibly deny him, as the Master was saying? If he could do that, what hope was there the rest could stay strong? If you wanna know if God knows about uncertainty, if Jesus ever sat in the midst of it, here's the scene to see.

And here are the words to hear. "Don't let your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house: many rooms. Were it not so, would I've told you I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I'll come again and will take you to myself. Where I am, you'll be. You know! Thomas said, "Lord, we don't know where, don't know the way. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. Know me, and you know and see the Father." Wow. And it's all said, knowing the arresters are on the way. 'Knowing the judges are gathering. Literally, here's the table, set in plain view, right under the enemy's nose. This kind of promise, this kind of calm, this kind of confidence extends to anyone who believes, who pulls up a place at his table…ever. It's yours and it's mine. This kind of certainty overcomes every uncertainty! But there's more.

God's still got a place and a task for you in the midst of your troubles, anxieties and adversaries. That's what the anointing, the blessing's all about. How many times have you spoken the 23rd Psalm in your life? How many times, wondered about that oil on your head? What's that about? It's all about the confidence that there's a place for you. And a purpose. Even when all kinds of stuff seems to squeeze both right out of you.

One of the toughest parts of not knowing how things are all going to turn out is losing your sense in the place of things. The feeling of, "What's the use?" Or, "Is there any use for me?" Have you ever felt like that, or know someone who has? Maybe you've got that feeling sitting here, or wish you could help somebody else you know who's going through this. Good news! There's a word from the Lord! "Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over." We don't know for sure just when David first wrote and sang these words, but the valley of the shadow part (we spoke of last week) makes it pretty clear, these were tough times. Uncertain times. Maybe first felt as a youth, going up against Goliath, slingshot in hand. Or later when King Saul's after him and he's running for his life. Or after he's had his time with Bathsheba and done-in poor Uriah, her husband, and has been found out. Maybe it's when his first child dies, or when Absalom, his third, rebels or lies dead. Any or all would be enough to make you wonder, "Has God still got a purpose, a plan, a place for me when I cannot see the way?" And somehow, God speaks to him and he sees, 'As a king is anointed to his throne, so God has still got a calling for me.'" It will be enough. 'More than enough!

Friends, I may or may not know your story today. But I do know what to say about your place and your purpose. God has prepared both for you. And still offers them. They are what lie ahead for you. You can trust that word as surely and securely as David, and all you need do is sing the Psalm to know it's so. Why, maybe that's what came to Peter, sometime after the rooster crowed and the third, "I don't know him, this Jesus," rolled off his lips. He got it! And he still got to be what God-in-Christ wanted him to become, "The Rock, the foundation stone for the building of the church." Our uncertainty doesn't cancel God's certainty. Or his resolve to use us as he will. That's a promise worth remembering in times when we ask, "What's the use; what's my place?" There's a cup in your future, so long as the Lord is in your heart!

God let's us see what lies before us and helps us look at what's comin' up behind us. Of that we needn't be uncertain at all. With God in his Christ, no hiding is in store. I am struck by the truth the cross is on a hill. We can see it coming. And we can see it in its awesome awfulness. We can see the garden where he rises too. Green stands out in a dry, brown land. And Christ leaves us for the last time from the side of the mountain. And the promise he puts in plain view is this. "Yes, there will be crosses for you. There was one for me, too. Hard times and deep hurt are not uncertain or unforeseen. But it's just as certain, they are not the end. Come by my Way, live in my Truth, and you will share in my Life. The promise of the Psalm is the promise of the Son, to 'dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.'"

Why, even what's behind us and comin' on fast will be transformed in faith. You know that message on the side view mirror. "Objects are closer than they appear." That's our life story isn't it? Our past has a way of catching up. Our sins, personal, and what the world piles on, have a way of pursuing us. Often, we haven't the courage to look back for fear of what we'll see. But God has a way of transforming it all in Jesus Christ. 'Turns out, in the shadow of the cross, for those who stand beneath it's saving forgiveness, something's happened. We can sing with the psalm now, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." What a difference! What a promise! What a certainty in uncertain times!

Not sure what's next these days? Take heart in Jesus Christ. God's gonna upstage every enemy and adversary. Our place and our purpose are secure in his hands. And because we know what lies ahead, there's no need to fear what follows from behind. Trust in this, and the New Year becomes a New Day and a sure eternity.

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