“Following Through”

Before we look at “Following Through,” I want to take a quick look back to December 27, 2020; this is a Facebook post I made around 7:30 that night, the time when the Conference would have started if it had happened last year (I posted as well a photo of this room, during Conference from a previous year):

December 27, 2021, if the Good LORD wills…
I’ll be honest, I’ve tried as hard as I can to just not think about it today. But that’s like being asked not to think about polar bears. It’s December 27 and my heart is heavy; it’s supposed to be my favorite day of the year. These coming four days are what I spend the whole year–and especially the holiday season–looking forward to. The Williamsburg Conference is where about a hundred or more of the LORD’s people gather in this room, to meet, read from his Word, be encouraged, and praise with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, to end each year on a high. It’s a recharge, a reconversion, a revival. This ridiculous year has taken away a lot that we enjoy, but when it takes something I feel like I genuinely need, that’s when it gets personal. What are you even supposed to do? The Apostle Paul tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, and Malachi the messenger wrote that those who feared the LORD spake often one to another, and that a book of remembrance was written in Heaven, his dwellingplace, for those who feared the LORD and thought upon his name. I go to Williamsburg from December 27-31 for many reasons: I have made some great friends there, the music is amazing, the morning exhortations are very helpful and uplifting, among many others; but mainly, I go there every year because the LORD and his people are there.
“Soon and very soon…no more crying there, no more dying there…we are going to see the King…Hallelujah!”
Grace and peace be with you all, and love in Jesus who mends broken hearts-

And now the 2021 Williamsburg Conference is about to end; the good LORD willed it after all! He is able to redeem dates in time and he heals the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3).

I’d like as well to share a few “last words” from Conferences past; each of these are from the last exhortation at the Conference in the past few years.

2016 (Casey O): “Jesus is waiting on us, for us, to grow, to be converted, to feed his sheep. Are we waiting on our brothers and sisters and neighbors while we wait for the Kingdom? In anything you do or do not do, abide in him while looking forward; live today.”

2017 (Bryan L): “Throw away our idols and impurities which distract us, and serve the LORD with our whole heart, wholly dedicated to the one true God.

2018 (Jake R): “We can give enough if we give ourselves; we might only have two pennies to toss in, but we can toss them in; quietly give ourselves to God and Jesus; we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”

2019 (Sam T): “To everyone in this room: hold on.”

So here we are: the last day of 2021; Jesus is not ruling the world yet. About an hour from now, we’ll all be gone from here, and in about 13 hours from now, we flip the switch into 2022. We all flip that switch; there is no way out, unless you travel west to a different time zone, then you would get to live in 2021 for an extra hour or two, but even so, 2022 is going to arrive for all of us. It’s almost here. So the question is: what are you going to do about it? 2021 will be completely behind you, never to return again. 2022 is a new start for everyone, and we all get it. But a new year doesn’t bring change by itself; it’s you who has to make a difference; to “follow through.”

I’d like to share the words of a television commercial from a while back; some of you may remember it (Brother John H. showed this to me recently). The ad is by Bauer, a hockey equipment company. It starts by showing an empty hockey arena, with a brand-new sheet of ice, and you hear a voiceover say: “If I give you a clean sheet, what will you write? Will your words be long and graceful, or short and sweet? Will it be poetry, or just plain English? If you have something to say, say it now, for soon, always too soon, my sheet will be filled, and this chapter will end, sure as the next one will begin, with a clean sheet; new authors, and a million possibilities.”

The LORD has been in this place; we have been with the LORD and his people this week. So how do you “follow through”? Do you leave here the same as you were before coming here, like the person James writes about, who sees himself in a mirror and walks away and immediately forgets who he is (James 1:24)? It’s very easy to do that, isn’t it, to just go back to “normal.” Do you tell people at work or school where you have been and what you have done? If you believe that you have been with the LORD and his people, how could you not want to share that?

In the back of our Conference workbooks, for as many years as I can remember, is a page entitled, “Getting The Most Out of the Williamsburg Conference;” #9 says to set one or two spiritual goals for the new year, and write them down in the front of your Bible and revisit them prayerfully throughout the year. Set a few goals for yourself; good goals, worthwhile goals. They’re different for all of us. If you have a blank page in the back of your Bible, that may be a good place to write them. But make sure they’re spiritual goals, and the right goals; some years ago on the last full day of the Conference, I sat on the sofa out in the lobby and set a goal for the coming year, where I said something to the effect of “one year from right now, this is what I want to be going on.” One year later, I revisited that same place and knew I hadn’t accomplished it, but also knew that the goal I set was not very realistic, although it was not a “bad” goal, in fact, it was a very good goal, but I just did not take into account the journey. So naturally I sat in here by myself last night and set the exact same goal for this coming year, but this time, ready to enjoy the ride there as well. Make sure your goals are right. And don’t only set them, set out to do them, and ask the LORD to help you with it; cast your cares on him, for he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Delight in him and he will give you the desires of your heart; commit your way to him, trust in him, and he will make it happen (Psalm 37:4-5). Let him work with you. Follow through with your spiritual goals time and time again, consistently revisiting them, but don’t neglect the reading of God’s Word; what better day than January 1, to begin a new reading plan that will take you through the entire Bible in a year, not as a chore, but to hear the creator and King of the Universe speak to you every single day?

I’d like to turn to a very well-known passage in Scripture (and it’s one of my very favorite verses), about “following through;” turn to 2 Chronicles 7:13-14; this is the LORD speaking to Solomon in a night vision: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

John says that we are God’s children now; here, in the present (1 John 3:2). We need to be humble in personal relationships, but even more in our relationship with God; his ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9); remember who we are in God’s sight; we are all sinners; no one is better than anyone else. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Reading the Bible is important, and God’s words are obviously more important than our words, but he does not want our relationship with him to be one-sided. Seek the LOR while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near (Isaiah 55:6); life is the time to serve the LORD. God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

David wrote, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me (Psalm 66:18).” We all have “wicked” ways in us; no one is perfect. God does not care about what we have done in the past (and none of us are clean and pure as the wind-driven snow); he wants us to turn.

Heaven is his dwelling place (1 Kings 8:39) and his throne (Isaiah 66:1). He is the creator of the universe; he made the sun, moon, stars, planets, and the earth and the sea. He is willing to remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He says, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isaiah 1:18).” He is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy (Jude 24); he will do good for us. Continuing on in Isaiah, “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land (Isaiah 1:19).” The LORD says in Malachi, “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings (Malachi 4:2).” It is written in Psalms that “The LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).” If you follow through with the LORD, the LORD will follow through on his promise to you.

A few closing thoughts here as we wrap up this exhortation, and this conference, and this year:

2021 was a very important year, but 2022 is going to be even MORE important. Do you know why? It’s because that’s the year we’re going to be in. 2021 will be over in less than 13 hours from now; we have a New Year coming up in 13 hours. Don’t let what may have happened this year, good or bad, prevent you from good this year. “Press toward the mark,” says Paul (Philippians 3:14); learning from the past, of course, but not dwelling in it, and do better this year. Because it’s going to be 2022 also means that salvation will be closer than it was in 2021. Look forward to the Kingdom; it’s almost here, and it will be a time worth living for. Eye has not seen not ear heard what God has in store for them that wait for him (Isaiah 64:4). Don’t give up; salvation is nearer today than it has ever been (Romans 13:11). Remember that the LORD is in control; he is well aware of everything going on in the world right now and is not surprised by any of it. He knew what the world would be like today, December 31, 2021, thousands of years ago, and he will not be mocked; he knows the ending of all of this. Above all else, know that he and Jesus love you; we all know the song “Jesus loves me, this I know, cause my Bible told me so.” But it’s so often (at least for me) difficult to make that real; to consider the stars and the seas and know that the one who created them cares about someone like me.

We don’t know what 2022 will bring; hopefully peace and prosperity; when we wish Happy New Year, we say it with hope. But we don’t know. What we do know is that even in a year like 2020 where everything was cancelled, or 2021 where events like Williamsburg were “different,” for lack of a better term, God’s plans are still on; for you, and for me, and I look forward to seeing what the LORD has in store for all of us in 2022. Remember as well that you have survived everything that has ever been thrown at you; the LORD has brought you thru it, and he was the same when we left here in 2019 as he was when the Pandemic started, as he is today, and will be on January 1, 2022, 13 hours from now.

Today is Friday; but Monday is coming, and it’s back to normal for most of us. As I mentioned a few nights ago, this past summer I took a long weekend trip to the Outer Banks; coming home on Sunday night and returning to work the next morning was really lousy; but remember this: the LORD is still just as good on a cold, dark, rainy Monday at the office, as he is here at the Williamsburg Conference, or when you’re sitting on a beach, listening to the roar of the ocean. In the words of a dear Brother who attended Williamsburg for many years, “God is always good: win, lose, or draw.” Whether in failure or success, the LORD reigns supreme.

There’s a hymn we sang earlier this week, from the “Praise the LORD” book:

“Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief and pain;
Leave to your God to order and provide;
In every change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly friend,
Through thorny ways, leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
To guide the future as he has the past
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake,
All now mysterious shall be made clear at last.
Be still, my soul: the tempests shall obey
His voice, who ruled them on creation’s day.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgotten, love’s pure joy restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.”

Thousands of years ago, Joshua told God’s people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you (Joshua 3:5).” The LORD told Habakkuk that what he was about to do to bring judgment on Israel was so incredible that Habakkuk wouldn’t even believe it if it was told him (Habakkuk 1:5); how much good will he do, exceeding abundantly above all you can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20), for his people whom he loves?

You know, in the past, I’ve said that December 27-30 are my four favorite days of every year, but that December 31 was my least favorite day of every year, because it’s the day that the Conference ends. But this year it’s different; sure it’s sad that we all have to leave and go back home and that the holidays and the holy days of Williamsburg are over, but let this instead be the day that you feel empowered to take on the coming year.

I’d like to read the final words of Habakkuk; we have a hymn in our Green Book (someone requested this the other night); I listened to this hymn on repeat last year around this time; it’s Hymn 134: “Although the Fig Tree Shall Not Blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vine; the labor of the olive shall fail and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stall; YET will I rejoice in the LORD; I will joy in the God of my salvation.” The world out there has many “gods (lower case ‘g’),” but they don’t have the God of your Salvation. Whatever happens, you are the LORD’s; don’t ever forget who you belong to.

So let me be the first to say, “Happy New Year,” and yes, it WILL be a very Happy New Year, because we have the God of our Salvation. Grace and peace to all of you in year twenty-twenty two!