New Year 2006
Posted on 01/01/2006 by Rev. Benjamin R. Faust D.D.
Good morning, and welcome to 2006!
I hope all of you had a good year, and are further along on the road toward greatness than you were at the beginning of 2005. If not, today is the perfect day to start moving in the right direction!
I want to express my thanks to Joshua and Christian for their awesome work last week while my wife and I were out of town. Joshua led the Christmas Eve service, and Christian led the Christmas service. Thank you to both of you, and God bless you for your work!
Everyone can click-touch the pulpit for a notecard. Please hold all questions or comments until after the message and time of ministry.
You know, every day is a brand new day and offers us the opportunity for a brand new start, for we know that God's mercies are new every morning. But there's just something about a brand new year that motivates us to make some necessary changes.
Most of us have made "New Year's Resolutions", and most of us have let them fizzle out a few days or weeks later. But wouldn't it be awesome if we could grab hold of something that would give us the power and motivation for permanent change? Wouldn't it be great if in January of 2007 we could say we're further along on the road to greatness than we were today? Wouldn't it be amazing if we could look back to today and see that we have become a better person, and have achieved worthwhile goals, and achieved things that really matter?
Indeed, those of us who could afford to do so would pay millions for something that could so transform our lives. But what I'm going to share with you today can't be bought with money. All the wealth in the universe could not purchase it.
But before we go any further, let's pray.
Lord Jesus, thank you that all of us here have made it through 2005! Many of us have not had the most wonderful year of our lives, but we realize that we don't grow through the easy times, and the harder the road we must travel, the more glorious is what's yet to come.
Teach us this morning. Give us bread from heaven, as you breathe your Holy Spirit upon each one of us. We know that you ARE The Truth, and outside of you there is no Truth. So may our eyes be upon you this morning, as we draw strength and life from your Word, made alive in our hearts by your Holy Spirit.
And we pray these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.
You know, the key to motivation has been sought after by philosophers, great leaders, and common folk for millenia. Good motivational speakers make millions of dollars. If there were a pill which would produce motivation and persistence, people would mortgage their homes to buy it.
Motivation and persistence have been the driving forces behind every great breakthrough in history. Freedom has been won, technologies have advanced, and great civilizations have forever engraved their legacies upon the stone tablets of time because they looked neither to the left nor the right, but fixed their gaze upon the prize and let nothing stand in their way.
Then there's us. Average people like you and me. Perhaps you're not average, but I've had my share of lazy days, and lazy years. I've had my share of forgotten dreams and abandoned goals. I've broken my share of New Year's resolutions.
Maybe you have it "all together", but I find that I need a bit of help. And I think you probably do too.
In studying those who achieve great things, there is indeed a greatness within them that cannot be adequately put into words. There is a solidity, a strength of character, a singleness of mind, and a strength of focus. These are things that set the average person apart from those who achieve great things.
Some of us might be surrounded by circumstances that seem to make it impossible to move forward, but we must remember that some of the greatest successes came from some the most desperate situations.
Some of us might feel limited by a lack of education or natural skill, but we should recall the great men and women many of whom were unschooled and may have even lived with mental or physical disabilities.
We tend to put people like this on a pedestal. They just seem to have God-like qualities we all wish we had.
They stay focused on a goal and see it through.
They are neither swayed by opinion nor daunted by opposition.
They know where they are going and they stay the course.
They are solid and dependable.
They are true to their word.
When when we say they have God-like qualities, that's exactly what they have.
You see, they were created in the image and likeness of God. Just like you.
They contain the seeds of greatness. Just like you.
They have a clear purpose. Just like you.
They have a strong calling. Just like you.
They posess what's needed to take hold of the power to overcome all odds. Just like you.
It's been said that the difference between winners and losers is the winners don't quit. They both go through the same struggles. They both encounter hardship, loss, and obsticles. They both get tired and feel like quitting. The winner simply gives that extra bit of effort while the loser falls often times only milimeters short.
Did you know that you were created with a mind which can be trained to focus on a goal until it is achieved?
Did you know that you were created with the seeds of greatness within you, a purpose that is stronger than death, and a man or woman of strength and integrity who is waiting to rise up within you and make great things happen?
Then what is the problem? If we are made in the image of God and have endless potential within us, why do we fall short so often?
It is because of this one thing, summed up in Romans 5:12: "By one man, sin entered into the world; and by sin, death passed upon all people, for all have sinned."
The word "wicked" comes from the same root as the word "wicker", and it means "twisted". We were made in the image and likeness of God himself, a perfect, holy, and unfailing God, and yet we are very imperfect, too often unholy, and we all fail. It is because the entire human race was infected with compromise thousands of years ago, and compromising the truth of who God is, who he created us to be, and how he created us to live, is what causes most pain and failure in life.
And this is the source of our failures. We have identified the enemy. But it's not us. Rather, it is the nature of sin within us which causes us to be a twisted image of our perfect God.
The apostle Paul sums it up well in Romans chapter seven, beginning with the 14th verse:
"We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.
"As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
"For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
"So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"
How often I have shared this frustration, as the part of me twisted by depravity and sin wars against the part of me which yearns to become a better person, to move forward toward a noble goal, and to make a difference in the world around me.
Let's read a little more:
"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
In a sentence, Paul echoes both despair and hope. He proclaims that he is a wretched man, who cannot do the good he knows he should do. Then he, knowing he is unable to make lasting change for the better in himself, exclaims, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
Let's read on:
"So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
"For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
"And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit."
Here, Paul is making a very crucial point which is echoed throughout Scripture, and that is that the righteousness of God is found in those who do not live by their sinful nature, but instead follow after and live according to the Spirit of God.
He goes on to say:
"Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
"The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
"You, however, are not controlled by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.
"But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you."
We look for life which will give us the motivation and hope to keep on going, and we look for the peace that comes from having no fear and knowing we are in right standing with God, in intimate fellowship with the lover of our souls.
Paul says, "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God."
We cannot please God if we live to satisfy our sinful nature, seeking our desires and fulfillment above all else. And, ironically, if we live to please ourselves, we will find that our desires are always out of reach, and we always feel unfulfilled and empty.
And yet there is hope. He concludes by saying, "But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you."
That life which God's Spirit gives us is power. Power to overcome obstacles. Power to overcome addictions. Power to become a better person. Power to change the world around us. Power to really make a difference.
We read in Philippians 2:13, "It is God who works in you to will and to do that which pleases him." It is the Spirit of God who produces the desire, the will, to do good, and it is the Spirit of God who gives us the power to act upon those good desires.
We must understand something, and this is a point you will want to ponder and really take to heart, because it can change your entire outlook on life and on God:
What pleases God? Things that do us good please God. Things that truly make us happy please God. Things that satisfy our souls and make us feel fulfilled please God. Things that give us a sense of purpose and belonging please God.
And what displeases God? Things that do us harm displease God. Things that give us temporary happiness but later bring us lasting pain displease God. Things that leave us dissatisfied and unfulfilled displease God. Things that leave us empty and lonely and steal our sense of purpose displease God.
And who really knows what things are good for us and which things do us harm better than the one who created us?
Do you want to know something that might shock you? God gets the most pleasure out of one thing: Seeing you radiantly happy, and full of life and peace. And God gets the most heartache and is most displeased by seeing you unhappy, and without peace and joy.
We already read that the sinful nature brings death. "Sin is pleasant for a season, but in the end it brings death." God created you, and he knows how you tick. He not only knows what will make you truly happy, but it is also his passion and burning desire to see you find that happiness, freedom, and fulfillment.
And he has already made a way.
Not a way to never fail, but a way to always ultimately succeed.
Not a way to never feel pain, but a way to always emerge from the valley with even more joy than before.
Not a way to never experience hardships, but a way to always come out stronger than before.
Romans 8:28 tells us, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose."
And my final point is this: You move toward that upon which you focus, and you become like those with whom you have intimate fellowship.
That's a truth that we should write down and put somewhere we will see it often, and I'll say it again:
You move toward that upon which you focus, and you become like those with whom you have intimate fellowship.
Do you truly believe that the same God who burns with desire to see you filled to overflowing with radiant joy and purpose, who desires to see you succeed at every good thing you set your hand to do, and who yearns to see you overcome obsticles, shatter chains of addiction, and rejoice in the victory over everything that rises up against you, do you really and truly believe that he would leave you without the means to do all this and more?
It's worth saying again: You move toward that upon which you focus, and you become like those with whom you have intimate fellowship.
Within the character of God lies everything we need to develop the character of a winner within ourselves. And to those of us who have been born into his family, his Spirit lives inside us.
The problem is that we don't live by this truth, that you move toward that upon which you focus, and you become like those with whom you have intimate fellowship.
We focus upon our own needs and desires, and so they grow and evolve. We focus upon our own problems, and so they often become much larger in our eyes than they really are.
And we have constant intimate fellowship with ourselves, specifically with our fallen selves, and so we become like we already are, changing bit by bit based upon our thoughts, our circumstances, and the influence of the people in our lives.
Then we wonder why we feel stuck. The reason we feel stuck is because we have not learned how to walk spiritually -- walk in the Spirit -- while we know quite well how to walk carnally -- walk in the flesh.
If you grab hold of nothing else in your life, grab hold of God and his Spirit, for within him is all the motivation and direction you will ever need.
If you focus on nothing else in your life, focus on the Word of God, which is living and which will forever change those who embrace it, for within God's written Word is God himself. As the first chapter of John tells us, "In the beginning was the (written) Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... and the Word became flesh and lived among us."
And if you have an intimate relationship with no one else, seek after an intimate relationship with Jesus as though your next breath depends upon it, for as you become more like Jesus, you will find more of the power, wisdom, and grace to become all that you were created to be.
Grab hold of him, and don't let him go. Focus upon his character, his goodness, his mercy, his strength, his forgiveness, his holiness, his righteousness, his patience, his persistence, and his love, and you will find that the longer you focus upon who he is and have intimate fellowship with him, the more you become the person you were always meant to be, and your life will become more fulfilling, filled with peace, and overflowing with joy, than you could have ever dared to imagine.
I would like to leave you with this:
Remember that you simply cannot do it on your own.
You need Jesus and the gift of his life, his blood which he shed to wash away your sins, paying the just price for everything you've ever done to separate yourself from God.
And you need other Christians to stand beside you, praying for you, encouraging you, and walking together with you toward a common goal, the goal of pleasing God in all we do, thereby taking hold of everything our hearts truly desire.
I ask the ministry team to stand accross the front now. These are people no different from you or me. We're all in the same boat, so to speak. We all live on the same earth, and face basically the same struggles. But when we join together, take hands, fight together on our knees, and walk boldly forward in the footsteps of Jesus, there is nothing that can stand in our way.
And now I will ask you a question:
Are you satisfied with where you are in life? Or do you long for something more?
Are you the person who is moving steadily forward, who is constantly becoming more like Jesus, and bearing increasingly the image and likeness of God? Or do you feel as though you are not really moving like you should?
Today can be the day you change your life's direction.
Today can be the day you leave the old you behind and start becoming the you that you were created to be.
Today can be the day you start learning how to walk in the Spirit instead of in the flesh.
Today can be the day you make that declaration that your life, your heart, and your soul belong to Jesus, and he will be the most intimate relationship you have.
If you're ready for change, come forward.
If you want to move forward in your life, come forward.
If you want to have a deeper relationship with God, come forward.
If you want to begin a relationship with Jesus, come forward.
There's nothing magical about coming to the altar, but there's nothing life-changing about staying in your seat. It's the act of proclaiming to yourself and to others that you're ready for the direction God wants to take you, and it's the act of joining together in prayer with other believers, that can change the direction of your life today.
Regardless of our spiritual condition, I believe we could all respond to this call, as we make that declaration that today is a brand new day in a brand new year, and 2006 will be our year of growth and change.
If you're ready for 2006 to be your year of growth and change, come forward now.
Please stay around for our time of fellowship next door after this time of ministry and declaration.