Wednesday, December 23, 2015

a New Years sermon

Philippians 3:8-14 – A New Start for the New Year

We are interrupting the testimony of the Apostle Paul, to hone in on something specific that should be helpful to us as we look forward to the New Year. Notice verse 8…

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions?? If so, you have plenty of company. Researchers have found that about one third of Americans make resolutions each New Year. It’s human nature – when we pass some significant milestone, like a new year, to pause and evaluate how we’re doing. And oftentimes we find areas that need improvement.

The areas people most often resolve to change are fairly consistent: lose weight, exercise, get out of debt, spend more time with family, quit some bad habit like smoking… and without fail, the numbers of folks joining Weight Watchers or gyms skyrocket in January. It’s human nature to WANT TO do better.

It’s ALSO human nature to fail. Most resolutions last about three days to three weeks, and certainly by February, we are right back in the old ruts we had promised ourselves we’d get out of. It doesn’t take long for reality to snuff out what little bit of willpower and enthusiasm we might have had. Research has found that less than 10 % of us succeed in our resolutions.

Why??? Why is it so hard to change???

Because people often set unrealistic goals for themselves. Instead of setting a goal to lose 10 pounds, they determine to lose 100.

OR, they make too many resolutions at once – like eating right, quitting smoking, reading their Bibles every day, spending time in prayer – all very wonderful things – but two or three days into it, they are overwhelmed by the number of changes.

We often fail because we underestimate how difficult it is to change.

And SOME fail in their resolutions because they lack the commitment necessary to follow through. They have developed a pattern of quitting whenever they experience difficulty – and so they have grown to accept - and even EXPECT failure.

All of this has led many to reject New Year’s resolutions altogether. The thinking goes, “Why attempt something that is doomed to fail??? Why pretend that change is possible when you know you will blow it?” To some, resolution-making is a waste of time because it leaves them feeling worse about themselves.

I understand the fear of failure - but at the same time, all of us have areas in our lives that NEED improvement – all of us have things we should do better. And January has been considered the perfect time to make those changes for centuries.

The month was called “January” because the Romans named it after their god Janus – depicted as having two faces – one looking back at the old year with regret, and the other face looking forward to the New Year with hope. The Romans understood that at the start of a new year we can’t help but be hopeful of improvement.

Maybe you look back at 2015 with sadness. Maybe you see failure in the old year. And so now, looking into 2016, you have a desire to do SOME things differently. Today I want to show you from God’s word, How you CAN get a fresh start this New Year. There are three things you need to do according to Paul:

1. First, if you want a new start, then you must forget the things which are behind. Listen to his wisdom in verse 13, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind...” If you hope to change, there are some things in the past that you need to forget. Two things:

You need to forget about your failures. You need to confess them before God and move on. If what you have done is under the blood of Christ – then QUIT obsessing over it. God has promised forgiveness to us on the basis of our union with Christ. And John reminds us that “if we confess our sins, HE is FAITHFUL and JUST to FORGIVE us our sins and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.” Paul said in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” And God told Peter in Acts chapter 10, “what God hath cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” Why??? Because as the psalmist declared in psalm 103, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”

I am not in the least, attempting to diminish the awfulness of sin – but I am here to remind you according to God’s Word, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Don’t let past failures define you. When Paul looked back, he saw a lot of things he was ashamed of. How he had blasphemed the name of Jesus… persecuted the church and opposed the Gospel. BUT he was no longer that man – he had been forgiven. He refused to allow his past failures to define who he was. God no longer saw him that way. And neither does he see YOU that way.

Sometimes it’s good to look back– to remind ourselves of the greatness of God’s grace. It keeps us humble – it makes us thankful. But to dwell on the past is dooming you to repeat it. As I have said before, look at the difference between the windshield and the rear view mirror. The rear view mirror is much smaller, because it is designed for us to briefly glance at – not stare at. Safe driving requires you to focus on what’s in front of you, not what’s going on behind you. And the same came be said of life. If you want to succeed, you’ve GOT to let go of the past.

But past failures are not ALL we need to forget – we need to forget past successes too. In fact, when you read what Paul says in this chapter, he tells us about all the things he left behind… how he would not allow his previous successes to prevent him from being all that God wanted him to be NOW. Past victories can lead us to be satisfied, nostalgic – and virtually useless.

I know a lot of Christians who are virtually useless in the work today, because all they think about is what they did yesterday – how they USE to do this, how they USE to do that – coasting into retirement without regard to the work TODAY. Dead Churches have the tendency of sitting on former accomplishments. Self-satisfied – without desire or burden for the work of the Lord today.

I pray that’s not us. We ought to LEARN from our past, not YEARN for it.

2. Secondly, not only should you forget those things behind you, Focus on the things before you. Focus on the things before you – listen to it again, “straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is alluding to the Olympic athlete who races in competition with others for a prize. He runs with all his might. And as he approaches the finish line, he stretches, or leans forward at the last possible second in order to be the FIRST to cross. At that moment, he’s not thinking about past successes or failures – his entire focus is on winning the race at hand. Two things need to be remembered here:

First, this race demands my whole self, everything I am, everything I have, to serving the Lord right now.  Whenever I talk to folks about ministry, I enjoy hearing about what they’ve done – but I LOVE hearing what they ARE DOING right now.

What are YOU doing, right now??? As Christians, it ought to be our passion to serve the Lord with excellence! Solomon tells us in the book of Ecclesiastes that whatever we put our hands to ought to be done with all our might. We ought NEVER be satisfied with less than our very best when it comes to serving the Lord.

If you are a teacher – then you ought to strive to be the very best. If you are a nursery worker or a youth leader, you ought to devote yourself to that thing. Singing? Giving? Soul-winning? Whatever God puts in your heart to do for Him, do it with all your heart.

Don’t be one of those who skirts by on as little preparation or effort as possible – give yourself to the thing – like an athlete prepares for competition.

Secondly, keep the goal in sight. What IS the goal? Paul explains, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The person who trains for athletic competition doesn’t sacrifice and spend all those hours because he wants to come in Second place. His goal is to WIN. In the Olympics, the three-tiered platform is ever on the athlete’s mind. He wants to be called up to stand above his peers as the judge places the crown on his head.

That was Paul’s goal too. He knew that one day he would stand before the judge of this universe – and he wanted to hear Him say, “well done, good and faithful servant…” It was not the applause of men, but the approval of God he desired. In light of ALL that Jesus had done for HIM, he wanted to give his very best to the Lord.

I’ve heard a lot of well-meaning Christians say, “I don’t care anything about rewards – making it to heaven will be good enough for me.” They don’t realize what they are saying. Serving the Lord with all our might is the greatest way we have of worshipping Him. All the crowns we receive in heaven we’ll cast at his feet as an offering of praise for all that Jesus means to us - as if to say - “I would never have accomplished anything without YOU.” And I for one don’t want to be found empty handed on that day. The ultimate goal for any Christian ought to be honoring the Lord.

So, dear friend, as we stand on the brink of this New Year, ask yourself, “What can I do this year that will help me bring glory and honor to the Lord?”

3. And then finally, not only should we forget those things that are behind and focus on the things that are before, third, we should Fulfill those things that are beyond us. Listen to verse 12, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

Commenting on this passage, M. R. DeHaan said, “Self-satisfaction is the death of progress. Dissatisfaction with past accomplishments is the mother of invention – pity the man who is content with his own progress and feels he has arrived. This is all the more true in the Christian life.

Nothing is as deadly as self-satisfaction. The most boring people I have ever met are those who take up my time telling me what they have done – when they ought to be doing something NOW.”

No one would have found fault with Paul had he reached this place in his life and said, “You know, I think I’m gonna retire…I’ve worked hard. I’ve served the Lord faithfully all these years. I’ve put myself out there. It’s time to do a little something for me.”

But he didn’t say that – instead, he said, “I haven’t attained what I want to attain – I have not reached the place I want to be. I’m not finished yet.”

Paul would not be satisfied until he took his last breath giving his all to Jesus.

Paul did a work that was BEYOND him. Working by day - preaching by night. He suffered just about every hardship a man could endure: starvation, rejection, and controversy. He was stoned, beaten, and left for dead. Demands many and rewards few. The average man would have folded under the weight of obligation. But Paul was empowered by God to do a work that was beyond him – establishing churches all over the Middle East and portions of Europe and Asia. Sold out. Utterly committed.

Listen friend… the Christian life is beyond us. Serving the Lord with perseverance and power is beyond us. As we look at the call of God upon our church to reach souls for Christ, to help family and friends find the life and love of Christ, to change lives and eternal destinies – THAT work is beyond us.

But God is able to do great things through those who are not satisfied. He is able to achieve great things through ordinary people completely surrendered to His will.

Looking back, we are certainly thankful for all the Lord has done. But folks, I refuse to focus on that - I believe God is going to take us places we have not yet been. He is well able to do exceedingly above all that we could ask or think. Will you embrace the challenge of a work that is beyond us in 2016? Will you give more of yourself this year than you have in the past? The Lord can do mighty things through a people unwilling to settle for less.

Do YOU need a fresh start? Three things you need to do:

forget the things that are behind you…focus on the things that are before you…and fulfill the things that are beyond you.

Do you need to make a commitment to the Lord this morning?   Now is your chance to do just that…

Monday, December 21, 2015

a Christmas sermon

Isaiah 9:6 – What’s in a Name?
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Your name – it says a LOT about you.  Those who know it are instantly put in mind of your character and reputation.  

Maybe your name garners respect (“Oh yeah, I remember that guy!”)…or maybe it triggers anger (“Oh yeah, I remember THAT guy!”).  

Whatever the response, we do a lot to protect our names – because, as Solomon said,
A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.”  

Your name, you see, says a lot about WHO you ARE, WHAT you’ve DONE, and the MARK you’ve made on others.
Jesus” – the name which is above every name.  It doesn’t matter where you go – or WHO is gathered – the name of Jesus elicits a response.  For SOME, the name of Jesus means nothing… but to US, THAT name means EVERYTHING.
It puts us in mind of the love of God – that great, sacrificial display of grace toward an unworthy human race – as the precious Son of God was born, suffered, bled, and died in order to redeem man from his sins.
The angel Gabriel told Joseph in Matthew chapter 1, “thou shalt call his name ‘JESUS’ for he shall save his people from their sins.”  The name of Jesus reminds us that we are benefactors of ANOTHER’S righteousness – that we can now stand before a holy God forgiven and free on the basis of HIS merits and not our own.
Did you know that there are over 100 names for Jesus in the NT and that each name reveals some unique aspect of His character?
In Revelation ALONE we find 20 different names of Jesus.
He is called, the Almighty (1:8), the Alpha and Omega 22:13), the Amen (3:14), the Beginning and End (22:13) the Faithful and True Witness (3:14), and the First and Last (1:17).  He is called the Firstborn from the Dead (1:5), the Holy and True (3:7), the King of kings (19:16) and the King of all Ages (15:3).  He is the Lamb (13:8), the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (5:5), and the Lord of lords (19:16).  He is called the Morning Star (22:16) and the Word of God in Revelation 19:13.  And according to chapter 3 and verse 14, He is the Ruler of God’s Creation – and the Judge of all mankind.

Scripture says in Philippians 2:10 that before HIS NAME “every knee shall bow” – for “there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we MUST be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Every book of the Bible, points us to Him.  Every writer provides us with some insight into His character…
Even here, in just ONE VERSE, Isaiah offers 4 different names – four different attributes of His character.  750 years before the Lord was even born – Isaiah wanted us to know how SPECIAL this Baby would be.
This morning, we will examine those four names – in the hopes that, in the very least – we will all join in worship of that name which is above every name.  

But even more importantly, it is my hope that if you have never received Christ as Savior and Lord of your life, that you WILL by the end of this service.
1.  First, Isaiah wanted us to KNOW – His Wisdom.  As the prophet looked into the future, he wanted us to know that this baby born in a Bethlehem cattle stall, would be NO ordinary baby – in fact, He would be the embodiment of heaven’s wisdom.  

So Isaiah pulls back the swaddling clothes surrounding that tender face, and tells us we are beholding the face of Wonderful Counselor!”

Why does a person visit a counselor?  As a pastor, I have spent literally hundreds of hours talking with folks – and usually people seek counsel for one of two reasons – they are either in pain - OR - they need help with a problem.
Those suffering pain often turn to a counselor for comfort.
  • Maybe they had a traumatic childhood experience
  • maybe they’ve made bad decisions
  • maybe they are going through a divorce
  • or suffered the loss of a loved one
  • Maybe their doctor has told them to get their affairs in order because they have a terminal disease
whatever the situation, they are in pain – so they turn to a counselor for comfort… they are hoping for some insight, some word of wisdom that will help them sort through their mess.
Some turn to a counselor for guidance.
  • Maybe they are having marital problems, and they want advice for working through them.
  • Maybe there is some sort of conflict in the family, and they need someone to advise them how to handle the situation.
  • Maybe they sense God dealing with them about some special calling or service and they turn to a counselor who might suggest ideas for navigating those heavy life decisions.
whatever the need, they are looking for guidance.
Both, those in pain and those with problems, look to an outside source, preferably someone with experience, who can bring a sense of normalcy to their lives.

Now, SOME refuse to EVER visit a counselor.
  • Maybe they are too proud to admit they have a need
  • maybe they feel it would be a waste of time or that they can somehow work things out on their own…
  • maybe they are afraid of someone else knowing their business or that a counselor might violate their trust.
For whatever reason, they are not convinced that a PERSON can help them.

The truth of the matter is, human beings can and often DO fail us.  I appreciate the counsel I have received in the past – but even at their very best, humans are limited in the help they can provide.  They can be wrong.  They have a limited perspective or a bias that might skew their judgment.  

While it is certainly a good thing that we can turn to others for advice, there are times in ALL of our lives when we are beyond human aid.
That’s why we need “Wonderful Counselor.”  We can take our problems to Jesus.  As the song says, “No one ever cared for me, Like Jesus.”  He loves us.  His wisdom is perfect.  His guidance and direction are always best.  Even when our world is falling apart, and those we love forsake us – “Wonderful counselor” will never fail us.
I am SO glad, that, when circumstances in my life are dire – when I am distressed, when I am confused, lonely, or broken, that I have a God Who is never too busy, or too far, or at a loss as to what I need.  And He will be there for YOU too.

2.  But not only does Isaiah reveal His Wisdom, he also speaks of His Warfare in the name Mighty God.”
When the children of Israel thought about God – they thought of His POWER – the fact that their God was Invincible, victorious, that nothing or no one could oppose or thwart the purposes of God.  

He is “MIGHTY” – the Hebrew word means “Warrior… or Champion!”  And the word translated “God” is the Hebrew word “El,” which means “Almighty!”  So, Isaiah tells us that Jesus is “the Mighty Almighty!”  Heaven’s Champion! The unconquerable Warrior!
Isaiah wanted us to understand that Jesus didn’t come simply for the purpose of comforting us in our troubles or to make our lives BETTER –NO – the ultimate purpose for His coming was to Conquer Sin – to bring DOWN the wall that separated sinful man from a Holy God – He came to deal a death blow to Satan.  He is the MIGHTY ALMIGHTY, heaven’s Champion, come to wage war with the enemy, and to defeat him.
So amid the daily battles you face, remember He is the MIGHTY ALMIGHTY.  Those addictions you struggle against, those impossibilities you face, those hardships that seem insurmountable – they are nothing to heaven’s champion.  The crooked is made straight by Him.  The vile are made clean by Him.  THIS is His warfare!
As Mary rocked her little baby, and pulled back the swaddling clothes and felt His tiny features – she was looking into the eyes of MIGHTY GOD!
3.  Third, he wanted us to know His Warmth, in the title Everlasting Father.”  In the original it reads, “the Father of Eternity.”

The word “everlasting” comes from a Hebrew word that means “the end of everything.”  And in the Book of Revelation, Jesus is called “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”  He is everlasting!
The term “Father” comes from the Hebrew word “Abba…” the Jewish expression “daddy.”  A term of affection… of Warmth.  So, the two words translated together mean, “forever daddy.
Sadly, the word “fathermay not bring to mind fond memories for some of us.  Maybe for you, the word brings negative thoughts. Maybe you were ABUSED or ABANDONED by your father.  Maybe your dad was there but he was ALOOF – unapproachable, indifferent – hard to be in the same room with him.
Even though our earthly fathers fail in so many ways…  we all know what a good father SHOULD be.  We know that a GOOD father loves his family, sacrifices himself FOR them and does what he can to provide for them and protect them.  A good father gives us a good spiritual example to follow – they are people we want to honor and please.

Maybe you HAD a good father.  But even still → as good as an earthly father CAN BE – they can’t stay with us forever.  They pass away.  Though they care for us even when we are grown and on our own, one day their temporary flesh will give way to death and they will trade THIS life for the next.
But Jesus is “everlasting father.”  Always caring… always protecting… providing, approachable, and encouraging...

His Warmth!
4.  And then finally, after showing us His Wisdom, Warfare, and Warmth, Isaiah THEN shows us His Will, in the name Prince of Peace!”
One of the most beautiful scenes in the Bible comes to us from Luke chapter 2.  The night Jesus was born the Angels of heaven announced his birth to shepherds, saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, PEACE, good will toward men.”  The Prince of Peace had come to give us - peace.

The title “Prince” literally means “Captain.”  And the word “peace” is a very common Hebrew expression still in use today – it is “Shalom.”  A word packed with meaning.  When someone says “Shalom” they are wishing us health, prosperity, and peace.  Another way of saying it is they are wishing “God’s best” upon us.

It’s something that Jews say when greeting – and it’s something they say when departing.  So, whether coming or going, their wish, their singular desire is for “peace.”
How fitting then, that Jesus should be called “the Prince of Shalom.”  He is the Captain of our peace.  It is only through Him that a person can experience TRUE peace.  God’s will is for you to have this peace – peace that comes in two parts:
First, He wants you to have Peace WITH God.
Before sin entered the human experience, man could walk in perfect fellowship with God.  But when man fell into sin, we became the enemies of God.  Sin broke the bond of fellowship with God; we could no longer experience His best – we were separated from Him.  Though God is loving, He could not ignore or overlook man’s violation of His holiness.  The only way peace could be obtained was through the sacrificial death of His Son.  The righteous life and atoning death of Christ, makes peace with God possible.
This is why we must accept Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives – without it, there is no peace WITH God.  Paul said in Romans 5:1 – “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  And in Colossians 1:20 Paul explained, “He made peace through the blood of His cross.”
Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate all the good things that man does.  I appreciate how honest and kind and generous man can be.  There are some really fine folks in this world who do some mighty good things – but without Jesus, even that “good man” will go to hell – because it is only through Jesus, the Prince of Peace, that we can have peace WITH God.
But He didn’t just come to give us peace WITH God… He also came to give us the peace OF God.
When I accepted Christ as my Savior, I received His peace.  I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from or who will take care of me when I am old.  I don’t worry about what will happen when I die.  When I focus on the Lord, there is no circumstance too great, no problem so severe that it can rob me of God’s peace.  Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses ALL understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

How ironic, this One who left the serenity of heaven for the storms of humanity; this One who was rejected, cursed, beaten, and crucified;

He Who suffered such hatred and scorn, would BE the Prince of Peace.  

But you see, that IS the glorious message of the Gospel.  All those curses and beatings and agony of the cross – was intended for me – I deserved that – BUT, our Prince of Peace, the Captain of our Salvation, took our place – so that we might have PEACE.  

THIS is His will … for you.

Isaiah calls us to come, gaze upon the face of that little baby whose birth we celebrate.  Pull back the swaddling clothes and consider “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”  There, in that manger, lay all the Wisdom, Warfare, Warmth, and Will of God!
Do you know Him?  I don’t mean ‘do you know ABOUT him?’ I mean, do you know Him personally?  Does He live in your heart and life?  Do you have His peace?
If suddenly your life came to an abrupt end, would you stand before God forgiven and free of all your guilt and sin?  

Today, if you would like to receive Christ as Savior, we invite you to come to this altar where someone will show you how to be saved.

But for those who ARE saved, I ask - Is Christ the center of your celebration this year?  Maybe, you are a Christian, but you are going to have those in your home this Christmas who do NOT know the Lord, and you want to pray that somehow, someway, God might use you, something said or done in your home, to introduce them to Christ.  If that’s you, why not pray about it right now?

Whatever your need, whether it is to be Saved or to PRAY for the salvation of those you love, we invite you to come.