Starting Again...

(This is the text of my first sermon of 2016, given to a small gathering at the Redland campground on Sunday, January 3, 2016, at about 9:00 a.m.)

Would you join me in Prayer, Please?

Father God, Great and Gracious and Holy God, YOUR Kingdom come, YOUR will be Done, Father, Here among us and in our world, as it is in heaven.

We thank you, Father God, for your provision of this day, and this New Year, and this opportunity to gather together in fellowship and worship of you, and we ask your blessing upon our gathering and the presence of you Holy Spirit among us.

Father, please use me to speak your truth, and to build up the body of your church, to your greater Glory.

It is in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Well, here we are on the third day of a new year… on our calendar, anyway. 

A lot of us use this time of year to make resolutions and attempts to kind of “start over” on some aspects of our lives.  Even us old folks… 

As C.S. Lewis said:  “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

However, for many years, my only New Year’s resolution has been not make New Year’s resolutions and I can’t even manage to keep that one, obviously.

But, I’m pretty good at this starting over thing, not because of any virtue of my own, but by virtue of God’s grace.   As the Apostle Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians:

… we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” -- 2 Corinthians 4:16 (all scripture quotations from the New International Version [NIV])

And to the Romans, he wrote:

2 Do not conform 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. (Romans 12:2)

When I was preparing this little talk, I was looking at what some other smart people, besides Paul and Brother Lewis, had to say about this starting over and renewal business and I ran across this story of a man who came home from work at his usual time… about six in the evening. 

He comes in the door and says “Honey, I’m home” and “honey”, who’s not had a very good day, begins to absolutely unload all over him. 

After more than an hour and a half of complaints about what went wrong with her day when her co-workers had failed her and how their kids had messed things up she start’s in on and how he’s let her down and begins to get really wound up.

Finally he just throws up his hands and says: 

“Honey, I can see you’ve had a really rough day, and mine hasn’t been a whole lot better… why don’t we try to just start over on a better evening?  How ‘bout I just go out and come back in and we can start over?

Now, “Honey” looks a little startled by this idea, but she says, “Yeah… well, OK”.

The guy gets up and goes out to the porch, shutting the door behind him, then comes back in and says, “Honey, I’m home!”

She yells:  “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? IT’S ALMOST EIGHT!”

See, starting over and renewing our minds usually takes more than just making resolutions or going in or out of a doorway or a turning a page on a calendar, and sometimes it seems that the more years you’ve seen come and go, the harder it is to even believe in starting over or renewal.

“9What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” – that’s Ecclesiastes 1:9, which is usually attributed to one of the wisest men that ever lived.

Resolutions made and failed are not new…

Cynicism is not new…

Discouragement is not new… and happens to even the wisest of men.

That nasty little voice in your head that says, “It’s no use, it’s all down-hill from here on out…”? That’s not new either, and even the wisest of men and women will hear it whispering to them at one time or another.

But, some of us have an answer to that old liar, don’t we? 

We can start over, anytime we want, and we can remember the one who’s renewal is as sure as the dawning of a new day or a new year.

Paul said in his letter to the Philippians:

4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”  -- Philippians 1:3-6 (NIV)

For more than a quarter of a century now, I’ve started out ‘most all my days with some sort of inspirational reading, and for most of those twenty-five plus years, those readings have included Christian “devotionals” and scripture.  For the last several years, my devotionals have been exclusively Christian readings and Scriptures, and have been conducted as a shared practice with my precious wife, who is herself a great source of insight and wisdom in these matters.

Now, I’m not saying that to style myself, or her, as some sort of spiritually advanced being or as a kind of “humble-brag”, as the young-uns call it. 

In, fact, the reason I developed this habit is precisely the opposite… I had to learn to do it  because I’m a kind of spiritually-retarded individual… 

I began doing it as part of my efforts to recover from a seemingly hopeless condition of mind, body and spirit known as alcoholism and addiction. 

All of the Elders and mentors in the 12-step program that lead me back to the foot of the Cross of Jesus Christ recommended this habit as an essential part of getting and staying clean and sober, and they were right, as far as I’m concerned, anyway.

It’s also something recommended by most every Pastor and Christian Saint who I read or heard from… at least the ones that I’d like to emulate in my life, and scripture is full of examples of God’s people and Christ Himself deliberately setting aside special time for prayer and meditation, on a regular and even daily basis, sometimes even multiple times every day, as Daniel did. (see Daniel 6:10b).

As I said, I did it, at first, because I HAD to do it… I had to remind myself of a better way, every day, or find my self slipping back into being that same-old selfish and self-centered… dirty word… that I was before I was granted the gift of desperation.

That’s right… my desperation… my resolution to find another way… a better way… to live…  was what kept me from dying by my own hand, or from the bottle.  It was a gift from God, a gift of His Grace. 

So, I wanted tell you, in case you were looking for a really good New Year’s resolution, that this discipline of starting… and ending, too… my days with prayer, and meditation and scripture has been an amazingly powerful way of renewing my mind and my spirit and strengthening my walk with my Lord.

It reminds me that I can start over, anytime that I want too, or need too, and it’s meant that MY “honey” --- who’s NOT the one in the joke – MY “honey” doesn’t have to yell at me to get my attention, not nearly as much as she used to, anyway, although, come to think of it, I’M the one that’s at home now when SHE comes in from work. 

Another other reason I brought it up, besides the prompting of the Holy Spirit, is that in this last week or so, my devotionals have been absolutely filled with suggestions and meditations on how to make the New Year a better one in terms of our spiritual heath and with suggestions for Scripturally-based programs and disciplines… nothing really new “under the sun”, but good and timely suggestions.  There were several different suggestions, sometimes even different suggestions from the same sources.  They were different, but not in conflict… I think all of them would help one grow in Christian maturity and result in a closer walk with the Lord.

They all had something else in common, too.  They all led me to think about what MY priority should be for every day of the New Year and all the days of whatever remains of my life.

Some of you have heard my testimony about the last couple of years of my life… The bottom line of my experience and what I’ve learned from His grace and many, many mercies to me is that His priorities for my life are the most important things.

By His grace, I now have several Doctors in my resurrected life who tell me that I should resolve not to eat so much, and do a better job of monitoring my blood pressure and make sure that I’m taking all my different pills at the right times, and those are all good things that I’m going to try to do better with, but my first and greatest resolve is to make God’s priorities my priorities. 

Matthew and Mark record the Christ’s answer when asked about God’s priorities, Matthew reports it this way:

35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ 37 Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” – Matthew 22:35-40

And the Apostle John recorded the Christ’s eleventh commandment:

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

I think it’s wise to resolve to love better, first and foremost, as Paul told the church at Ephesus:   

“15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is”. -- Ephesians 5:15-17

The Lord’s will is to love Him and the people around me more and better… so, what’s the program for the New Year or the new day?

Again an apostle tells us the answer… and he tells us we’re fully equipped to begin and to complete our closer walk with our God, for whom another name is Love (1 John 4:8).  

Most of you have probably heard of the so-called “Roman Road” to salvation, which is Paul’s description of God’s plan of salvation in the epistle to the Romans.

In the first chapter of Peter’s second letter to the churches, he outlines what I think of as “Peter’s Road to God”, who is Love.  Starting in Verse three, he writes:

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. 4 Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. --  2 Peter 1:1-8

Peter says we have, or we can have, everything we need to make our resolution to Love more and better a reality – if we have faith as a foundation and starting point.

One of the best definitions of faith I ever saw was this: 

“Faith is confidence in the character of God.”

I can and have built a foundation of confidence in God’s character thru the study of His word and thru communication and conversation in prayer and thanksgiving and because of the awesome touch of His spirit, which is a gift of His Grace and our spiritual baptism. 

I still waver sometimes, as I walk this road of sanctification and holiness, but He is always faithful, so I keep traveling the road, and gaining goodness, another gift of grace, and knowledge of his Word and His will and His character, creating even stronger faith, making it easier to control my reactions to my many temptations, and to persevere, to keep on marching, or at least trudging, along this road. 

He’s taken away any hate that was in me, and is growing a true affection for the lost and the found, the ones that don’t know “the way” and the ones that do.  It’s a little bit of Him, a little bit of godliness, and I want more.  I want my affection for you to shine like a light reflected into a dark place and grow brighter and brighter as I grow closer and closer to the Light of the world, my Lord Jesus Christ, who is Love.

Let’s walk this road into the New Year together, in mutual affection and growing Love, which is to say, growing closer to God. 

And if you haven’t gone thru that door yet, the one door that leads to God the Father, that one way, which is acceptance of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, let’s talk about that… it’s the loving thing for me to do, won’t you give me and yourself a chance?

Thank you for the chance to start the first Sunday of the New Year in such a wonderful way.  I know that no matter what this New Year brings us, three things will survive it, still shining brightly… Faith… Hope… and Love, and that the greatest of those is Love.  

 

 

Scriptural citations and quotes:

16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. -- 2 Corinthians 4:16 (NIV**)

2 Do not conform 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. -- Romans 12:2 (NIV)

9What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. -- Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. -- Philippians 1:3-6 (NIV)

10…Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. – Daniel 6:10b

35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ 37 Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” – Matthew 22:35-40

 “28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’  29 ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  31 The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’  32 ‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’  34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.” – Mark 12:28-34

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

“15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is”. -- Ephesians 5:15-17 (NIV)

8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. -- 1 John 4:8

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. --  2 Peter 1:3-8 (NIV)