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…