A time to change...

A time to change...

I am an executive pastor of a church in Rochester Minnesota.  Last Saturday and Sunday (December 28 & 29) I preached the following sermon.  I hope you find it helpful...

We are on the verge of a New Year.  For some people celebration of the New Year is a ritual of excessive consumption while ringing in the new and saying goodbye to the past year.  For others, it is a time of reflection followed by a focus on the future.  For still others it is a releasing of our disappointments and discouragements and embracing hope for a better year.

One of the traditions associated with bringing in the New Year is making of resolutions.  This practice goes back over 3,000 years to the ancient Babylonians.  For many of us a new year gives us optimism for a fresh start, a new beginning.

Typical resolutions generally focus on things the world values most…the top resolutions fall into predictable categories. 

  • 47% have to do with self-improvement or education.
  • 38% deal with losing weight.
  • 34% are related to finances.
  • And 31% are about relationships.

Specific resolutions consistently topping the list of popular self-made promises include the following…

  1. Eat healthy and exercise regularly.
  2. Drink less.
  3. Learn something new. 
  4. Quit smoking.
  5. Better work/life balance.
  6. Volunteer more. 
  7. Save money. 
  8. Get organized. 
  9. Read more. 
  10. Finish those around the house “to-do” lists.

Some folks make annual adjustments to a resolution with optimism turning to realism each successive year...

  • Year 1: I will follow my new diet religiously until I get below 200.
  • Year 2: I will try to develop a realistic attitude about my weight.
  • Year 3: I will work out 5 days a week.
  • Year 4: I will work out 3 days a week.
  • Year 5: I will try to drive past a gym at least once a week.

Or this…

  • Year 1: I will not spend my money frivolously.
  • Year 2: I will pay off my bank loan promptly.
  • Year 3: I will pay off my bank loans promptly.
  • Year 4: I will begin making a strong effort to be out of debt by 2011.
  • Year 5: I will be totally out of debt by 2012.
  • Year 6: I will try to pay off the debt interest by 2013.
  • Year 7: I will try to be out of the country by 2014.

Some resolutions are actually quite humorous…

  • I will stop sending Facebook messages and emails to my loved ones when they are in the same room as I am!
  • I will use my treadmill for something other than a place to hang my jacket.
  • I will actually laugh out loud when I type “LOL” to the person I am messaging with.
  • I will take less baths and showers to save water.
  • I will stop blaming the dryer for my clothes not fitting.

Author, innovation consultant, and speaker Stephen Shapiro, with the help of Opinion Corporation of Princeton, New Jersey, offers the following interesting statistics concerning New Year's resolutions:

  • 47% of Americans usually set New Year's resolutions.
  • 17% infrequently set resolutions.
  • 38% never set resolutions.

Of those who make resolutions…

  • 8% are always successful in achieving their resolutions.
  • 19% achieve their resolutions every other year.
  • 49% have infrequent success.
  • 24% (one in four) never succeed and have failed on every resolution every year.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with lofty aspirations or admirable goals.   But most of us over-commit and under-deliver.

But what is the difference between the world’s resolutions and a believer’s resolutions?  A follower of Christ posted the following response…

Well, for starters, our purpose on this earth is totally different. While those in the world discipline themselves for physical gain, we are to discipline ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7–8). While they relegate sobriety to a designated driver, we are to be constantly sober in spirit for the purpose of prayer (1 Peter 4:7). While they pursue the various lusts of this passing age (1 John 2:16–17), we are to pursue holiness, in keeping with our holy calling (1 Thessalonians 4:7). They have a temporal perspective, we are to have an eternal one; they live for their own personal success, we are to live for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31); they conduct themselves however they see fit, we are to love God and keep His commandments (Mark 12:30).  From our allegiance to our attitudes to our actions — we are totally different than the world around us … or at least we’re supposed to be. That’s why Peter calls us “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11) sojourners in this foreign land called earth (cf. Hebrews 11:13).

The Bible does not speak for or against making New Year’s resolutions.  Resolving to live differently is actually a good thing.  Many Christians make New Year’s resolutions to pray more, to read the Bible more, to attend church more…only to fail in these worthwhile endeavors as often as non-spiritual resolutions.

There is no power in a New Year’s resolution in and of itself.  Resolving to do something that will honor God and make you a better person is a good thing.  And it is not without Biblical precedent…

  • In response to a dream Jacob, an OT patriarch, resolved to give a tithe of everything God gave him (Genesis 28:20-22).
  • David, second king of Israel, resolved not to neglect God’s word (Psalm 119:15-16).
  • While in Babylonian captivity, Daniel, the prophet, resolved not to defile himself and committed to live a clean life (Daniel 1:8).

However, resolving to start, change, or stop doing a certain activity has no staying power unless you have the proper motivation for doing so.  The resolution is not the end goal—it must be seen as a means to a greater objective, a loftier goal, a more noble purpose, an honorable intention, an admirable ideal such as…

  • To honor God
  • To grow spiritually
  • To become a more godly person
  • To live more intentionally for Christ
  • To be a better example of a person of faith
  • To set a good example for loved ones
  • To unleash our God-ordained potential
  • To become an individual of integrity and authenticity
  • To build a strong foundation to weather life’s challenges…

The Wise and Foolish Builders (Luke 6:46-49)

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.  But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Living a life focus, significance, and meaning requires a solid foundation.   Scripture reveals to each believer both why he or she exists, and gives guidance for the journey.  A proper Biblical foundation provides the “true north” for every believer.

What resolutions should a Christian make to establish a strong foundation?  What Biblical mandates should a committed follower of Christ resolve to embrace for the coming year?

Each of these mandates are given to believers and represents the responsibilities all believers have as followers of Christ.  They set us apart from the world around us.  They distinguish us as members of God’s kingdom.  They characterize the duties we have as citizens of heaven.  They illustrate the “hills to die on;” the challenges to embrace.   

The personal mandates for every believer include evangelism, love for God and others, worship, spiritual growth, and service.

In 2014, why not resolve to make one, or more, or all of these mandates your commitment and focus?

1.  I resolve to be a witness…EVANGELISM

Giving testimony by word and deed.

Matt 28:19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

1 Peter 3:15-17 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 

  • Share what God is doing in your life…
  • Share the Gospel…
  • Live in bold relief…

2.  I resolve to demonstrate my love for God…THE GREAT COMMAND

Action oriented obedience to God.

Matthew 22:37-40 "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'   This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'   All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

John 14:21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."

“Obedience produces strength; disobedience produces weakness.”

Respond positively to God’s processing…

  • Integrity Checks:  A test God uses to evaluate the heart and consistency of inner convictions with outward actions (temptation, conflict, persecution, values check, follow-through).
  • Obedience Checks:  Circumstances where God calls for obedience even in confusion and apparent contradiction (perseverance, clarity of life-situation, new opportunities, testing submission).
  • Word Checks:  Tests the capacity to hear from God through His Word and apply insights to life situations (personal and ministry guidance, submission, lordship, direction).
  • Faith Challenge:  Tests the willingness to take steps of faith and grow in his or hers capacity to trust God (vocational crossroads, decisions, new directions, lack of growth, plateau).

3.  I resolve to demonstrate my love for others…THE GREAT COMMAND

Action oriented kindness to others.

John 13:34-35 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (15 characteristics – 8 things it is, 7 things it is not) Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

  • Practice random acts of kindness…
  • Act in the best interest of others regardless of their worthiness or response…
  • Make your love unconditional especially regarding your family…

4.  I resolve to honor God…WORSHIP

Reverent devotion and allegiance pledged to God.

Psalm 34:1-3 I will extol (commend) the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.  My soul will boast (assert) in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.   Glorify (venerate, revere) the Lord with me; let us exalt (lift, elevate) his name together.

Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

  • Make worship a daily activity…
  • Begin your prayers with adoration…
  • Make serving others an act of worship to God…they being the beneficiary…

5.  I resolve to grow spiritually…SPIRITUAL GROWTH

A commitment to life-long discipleship.

Colossians 2:6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

  • Mentor someone or seek a mentor…
  • Become a student of the Bible…
  • Make intentional devotions a priority…

6.  I resolve to serve God…SERVICE

A commitment to serve His purposes.

Isaiah 58:6-10 "…loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke…set the oppressed free and break every yoke…share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood…then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

Ephesians 6:7-8 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

  • Do something that will facilitate God’s redemptive purposes in the world…
  • Serve others expecting nothing in return…
  • Find a place of service in your church…
  • Heart of a Warrior II – The Map (finding focus)

These resolutions are not impossible to attain.  We can do all things in Christ who strengthens us when we have the right focus and motivation.

Will this New Year mark the time you made a radical change in your life?   Will you resolve to make the New Year a turning point?

 “The only time you are guaranteed 100% accuracy is when you aim at nothing—you are bound to hit it.”

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