Reflection / Notes / Summary
- Sermon number three at Lewisburg UMC. I was definitely still cutting my teeth at this time.
- This was when I realized that no pastors preach at their own churches on the Sunday after New Year’s Day
- The Sunday after New Years is statistically the lowest attendance Sunday in churches across the USA.
Summary: This sermon is about concreting resolutions and fixing broken areas of your life. Not about choosing off-the-wall lofty goals, but practical goals that are attainable and edifying. It was also about finding your passion in your resolution.
Sermon: New Year’s Revolution!
Introduction – Introduce myself, short intro
Anyways, moving on, I hope you guys and gals had a great Christmas. Can we all stop, take a collective deep breath, and breathe a sigh of relief; this busy holiday season is finally over. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s? Done, done, and done. Actually, to be honest, I really can’t say I stress myself too hard around the holidays yet. I’m still at the point in my life where my to-do list for all major holidays is ‘show up at someone else’s house, enjoy the fruits of their labor, and go home.’
Can I get something off of my chest, though? Maybe it’s a little messed up but I was actually really depressed that we *didn’t* get at least a little bit of snow this year on Christmas. I know I’m weird, and I know I’ll regret saying that when it’s minus fifty and there’s a foot of snow on the ground in May…but there’s something about snow that’s just so…peaceful…on Christmas.
Anyways, lack of ‘white Christmas’ aside, I want to say ‘Happy New Year, and Welcome to 2015.’ What does 2015 have in store for you? Well, if you’re like 45% of America, you made a New Year’s resolution. Let’s play a game. I know we’ve only had one day to go out and do this so far…but can anyone who has a shiny new gym membership hold it proudly in the air… … … OK. Anybody that laughed at that, look around the room at people that didn’t laugh. Now you know who’s got the hookup on guest passes around here.
Before we talk about more about what’s in store for all of us in 2015, I ask that we take a moment and pray: Dear Heavenly Father, God I thank you for the opportunity to be here among Your people today. I pray that you would let me step out of the way and that you would allow the Holy Spirit to guide this teaching, let the words spoken today be not mine, but yours. I pray that whether it’s a person’s first time through these doors, or whether they’ve been coming here their entire lives, they would be moved by You today. It’s in Your Son’s Holy Name I pray, Amen.
Resolutions: Most of us make ‘em. Most of us break ‘em. It’s just the way we are. My batting average is about 0.10 at best. I’ve made one real resolution that I’ve kept in the thirty years I’ve been alive….and that was a resolution to learn to cook. Why do my resolutions usually fail? Why do our resolutions usually fail? Well, we’ll look into that in a bit. What are New Year’s Resolutions, really? They are promises to ourselves that we will do something in order to improve our lives. That’s right ‘I’ will take action to fix something broken with ‘myself.’
Step back for a minute and imagine what a conversation with God about New Years Resolutions would look like.
“Hey, God, I’ve decided that, because it’s a new year, that I am going to start working on myself….I’m going to get my finances in order, I’m going to get healthy, and I’m going to spend more time with my family.”
“Why the sudden change of heart?, why now?”
“Well, it’s January 2015, and it’s time for CHANGE, Baby”
“What about every other time I’ve convicted you about doing those things?”
Church, ‘resolution’ is too small compared to what God wants us to do in our lives. A resolution is a small goal, a snap-shot of something ‘WE’ would like to do to make ‘our’ lives better. What God calls us to do: it’s a revolution. The first point on our outlines: We need a little less RESOLUTION and a little more REVOLUTION. What’s the definition of a resolution? a firm decision to do something. What’s the definition of revolution? a forcible overthrow in favor of a new system. Put that definition in your back pocket, we’ll come back to that in a minute.
Today, our main passage will be out of the book of Ephesians. A little history about Ephesians…the book is an Epistle, which is an older word for ‘letter.’ Paul, one of the major authors in the New Testament, stayed in touch with the early church through letters sent by courier. The letters would take weeks, maybe even months, to get to their location…and once they were there, they’d be read to entire congregations (and we complain about a forty cent stamp or when somebody takes a day to answer an email.) The church as a whole in the city of Ephesus was actually doing pretty good when Paul sent this letter to them…but the city itself was a very Pagan place. A lot of the people of the city still worshipped Pagan gods and, well, a lot of those people did some things that we’re exactly what we would call Christian. One of the purposes of this letter was to remind the people of Ephesus what living for Christ looks like.
If you have your Bibles with you, I’ll ask that we all take a look at Ephesians 4:17-22 together. “17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. 20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Now, there is some pretty deep stuff here. If you are still struggling with faith or you have some major questions about following Jesus, you’re off the hook for a minute. Here’s what followers of Jesus have to realize: resolutions are too small for what God wants for us. We get caught up in the little things and we completely miss the bigger changes we need to make. Our problem? Most of the little things we need to work on are the results of bigger underlying issues.
Here’s a prime example: A few years ago I had a very real struggle with pornography. Was it addiction? I don’t know…if it wasn’t, it was right there on the line of addiction. Well, that year I decided to make “giving up porn” my new year’s resolution and my original solution was ‘Well, I’ll just stop looking at things I shouldn’t look at.’ See, ‘stop looking at it’ – that’s a resolution. Trying to fix a problem by just ‘fixing the problem,’ is like when a dad says “stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” when a two year old falls down and scrapes his knee. Yeah, not helping. Get a band-aid, dad. Make sure your kid’s going to be OK.
It wasn’t until I really humbled myself and prayed for help that I realized it was a heart issue, not a physical issue with pornography itself. I remember praying a very selfish prayer, “God, you know I do this because I’m twenty-something and single. It’s what we do. Tell you what, fix my ‘single’ problem and I’ll fix your ‘porn’ problem.” Yeah, I think we can agree that’s a healthy prayer. I’m also pretty sure God didn’t like my tone of voice, because I didn’t really like his answer: “Maybe there’s a woman out there praying for a guy that doesn’t have a problem with porn.” Ouch.
That’s what it took for me to realize that my problem wasn’t with something on the surface. I had made a resolution to give up pornography, God made it pretty clear that (remember, I told you to pocket those definitions) I needed a revolution, a forcible overthrow in favor of a new system. See, my system was broken. Like the Gentiles in Ephesus, I was pretty ignorant and I had a hardened heart. I chased after the immediate satisfaction. I had issues that stemmed way beyond just fixing what was on the surface.
Church, I think a lot of us struggle with resolutions for this reason: we try to fix symptoms without addressing real problems. It’s like putting a can of fix-a-flat in your tire every morning while completely ignoring the pair of scissors jammed into your sidewall. People don’t get wrapped up in sin and addiction because they want to. People get wrapped up in sin and addiction because we’re all broken. From the time sin was introduced into the world, we have struggled. It’s easy to say “I’m going to stop looking at pornography.” Or “I’m going to stop drinking” or “I’m going to stop overeating.” It’s easy to say that on a daily basis. What is hard is finally admitting: “God, I look at this stuff because I am a broken creature. My heart isn’t whole and I don’t know what to do to mend it. Help me, work with me, let’s go through this together. Show me how to live like your Son.” That’s when change starts to happen.
How do we address these problems? It can be a gradual change or it can be a rapid change….but it has to be just that…a CHANGE. In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about being ‘made new.’ Becoming who God wants us to be is a process. It’s a commitment we make, which brings us to point two; we have to ask God for direction, and TAKE ACTION.
Both of these things are so very important. If we ask God for direction but don’t do anything about the advice He gives us, then we’ll never make the changes we need to make. Look at James 1:5. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” By the way…this is not a ‘God gives us STUFF verse, I’ve heard it used that way before. The first six words here are key: IF ANY OF YOU LACKS WISDOM, God will give it to you…without finding fault. God knows our desires, and God already knows where we need change. We can’t be afraid to bring our deepest needs to the cross. We can’t hide our problems from God, so we should never be afraid to bring our problems to him. We need to ask God for direction, and listen for His response.
Now, when God responds, no matter how He responds…we need to take action in response to God’s answer to us. In James 1:22, the author writes: “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” When God speaks, we need to listen, and we need to act.
A lot of issues I’ve had in my life…I’ve prayed and prayed for an answer, and God will lead me directly to the answer, usually in His word, unfortunately I completely blow it off. Any of us here today guilty of that? You ask God for help in a specific area of your life, the answer is as clear as day, but it’s not an answer that *you* really like so you’ll just pretend you didn’t get an answer, you’ll keep asking, hoping it’s different this time around. You know, we all used to do this, right? Yeah, when we were four years old and wanted a candy bar standing in line at the grocery store. I don’t know about you guys but it never really worked for me then, and it really doesn’t work for me now.
Part of the problem we have is that we compartmentalize our life with God and our lives outside of our relationship with God. We ask for God’s help fixing all of those broken areas of our life, but then we turn around and slam the door on
God, immediately trying to fix things on our own…usually it’s because we don’t like His answer. It’s easy to stay where we’re at. I have a good friend in recovery, and one of their go-to phrases is: “Change isn’t possible until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”
God’s answer: Guess what? It’s always the right answer. He’ll never lead us astray. His answer works, but it usually takes work. It’s important to remember that throughout this life, we never have to face our problems alone. That’s right church, point number three: Remember that WE NEVER DO IT ON OUR OWN!
God has been with us since the beginning of time, and he will be with us through any struggles that we have. Let’s take a look at ancient Israel. For those of you that don’t know the story of Moses I’ll give you some cliff notes to get you up to speed: The people of Israel were held captive in Egypt for four hundred years. The conditions were pretty miserable. God makes a promise to Moses that he will lead God’s people out of Egypt and into the promised land. They end up wandering in the desert for forty years and Moses is getting ready to pass the torch to Joshua, so that Joshua and God’s people can enter the promised land. Now, there are a few details that are worth reading but for the sake of time I’m skipping ahead a bit. Moses is talking to all of Israel, telling them that he’s not going to be with them moving forward. Stop for a minute and think about that. Moses is “the guy.” Everybody has been following him for years, he has a direct connection to God, a really strong connection to God, and all of a sudden he tells you that His journey is over. How lost would you feel? The man who was told by God to lead his people into the Promised Land….is passing the torch? I know I’d be a little petrified. I’d feel abandoned… But…Moses says to the people, in Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or terrified because of them (the people that were currently in the land), for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave or forsake you.”
Church, we never have to tackle our problems on our own. God will be with us through thick and thin. He made the promise to His people when they were about to embark on the scariest journey of their lives. He does the same for us. As we get ready to tackle our problems, He’ll be there with us. He’ll be there to help us, no matter how hard the struggle may be.
One of my biggest struggles in life has been with getting in shape. I’ve been a bigger guy all of my life, in fact, I don’t think at any single point in my life I have been in what I’d call “good” shape. Obviously it’s something I pray for. It’s something I pray about regularly. My problem was that I’d never give the issue over to God. I’d ask Him for help, I’d be convicted about the issue, but then I’d just keep on doing exactly what I had been doing in the past, expecting that pounds would just miraculously melt off with little to no effort on my part. “But God, I prayed about it? That’s good enough, right? You’ll do the rest. Fix me, God”
God is absolutely in the miracle business, but what would He accomplish for His kingdom if I fell asleep tonight in my current state and woke up tomorrow looking like a bodybuilder, one of the most perfect physical specimens to ever walk to face of the earth? Well, I know myself enough to know this: He would create a monster. I’d have an ego the size of a skyscraper, none of my bad habits would have changed, and I’d honestly, probably rely less on God.
See, we make resolutions for things like fitness, money, love…and all of those are GREAT things, but I think we miss the mark because we only try to change things that are symptoms of other issues, without working on the actual issues. In order to have a great 2015 and to make the changes we need to make in our lives better, we have to find the “why” in all of our resolutions. We need to figure out “why” we have the problems we want to fix “why” we want to fix them. This comes from examining our hearts and motives. For years, I’ve made resolutions to get in shape. For years, my “why” I have the problem of being out of shape is: “Because I am.” And the “why” I want to fix the issue is “Because I do.”
We need to make resolutions we’re passionate about. These resolutions aren’t New Year’s Resolutions, but lifetime commitments: That’s your last point. “Make a new resolution that YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT.” Not a NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION, but a NEW RESOLUTION. Here’s how I have redefined my fitness goal. It’s still there, but I’m getting specific, and it doesn’t start on Jan 1st, it’s going to a way of life. Why do I have an issue with fitness? Because I have thirty years of bad habits that I need to break. Why do I want to improve on this? Because I want to be a better example of a Christ-follower for those around me, and I don’t want my ministry and my life cut short because I couldn’t get my act together.
Church, I want nothing but the best for all of us in this room. I think having resolutions is a healthy thing…but we have to make resolutions with a purpose. If there’s no purpose, then there’s no goal, and if there’s no goal, then there’s no passion. If you want my advice: we need to find areas where we are weak, we need to ask God for guidance….we need to ask God to help us work through these areas, and we need to work with God on these issues. Church, God truly does want the best for all of us in 2015, but we need to make sure we also want what’s best for God.
Church, today is the first Sunday of 2015. It can kick off a year of change, or it can be another year of us doing the same old things. If we want to kick this year off right, then let’s make a resolution that honors Him. And, what better way to kick off the year on the right foot than to celebrate what He did for us. On that fateful night some two thousand years ago, Jesus was with his disciples during the Passover feast. During this feast, Jesus took bread, He gave thanks, and He broke it. He told his disciples, “Take and eat, this is my body.” Then, he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying “drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” And they broke bread. Just like the disciples so many years ago, we have the privilege of breaking bread in remembrance of Jesus and the price he paid for us. Church, this communion is an open table. All of us here are worthy of God’s grace and all of us are invited to join. Now, I would like to ask our ushers to come forward.
NOTE: At end, invite everyone back for next week’s series called “New Horizons”