Sunday, December 28, 2008

Facing the New Year

Phil. 3:12-14
"If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

There is an old story about a happy little boy who went out into the field wearing a baseball cap. In one hand he carried a baseball, In the other, a baseball bat. His face bore a look of tremendous confidence.

Cocking his bat, he tossed the ball into the air, saying, "I’m the greatest batter in the world!" Then he swung and missed. "Strike one," he said.
He picked up the ball, examined it, and threw it into the air again. As he swung, he repeated, "I’m the greatest batter in the world." Once again he missed. "Strike two," he said.

This time, he stopped to examine his bat to make sure there wasn’t a hole in it. Then he picked up the ball, adjusted his cap, and tossed the ball into the air for the third time. He repeated again, "I’m the greatest batter in the world," and swung with all his might. He missed for the third straight time. "Wow" he cried, "What a pitcher. I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!"

Today is the last Sunday of 2008, and as we look back over the last 12 months, I’m not sure whether most of us would be considered pitchers or batters. One thing for sure, at times we have all struck out. I guess it’s good to be able to start over afresh. Boys and girls will be back in school. Young people will head off to college. Most of us have recovered from the holiday season and are well into doing our jobs and the activities of the new year.

What do you anticipate for this year? Are you full of enthusiasm, looking forward eagerly to what each day will bring? Or are you filled with dread, worried that 2009 will be worse than 2008 for you?

Like the little boy with the bat, may I suggest that your attitude, your frame of mind, your reaction to its events will largely determine whether it is a year of victory or a year of defeat. The Apostle Paul was never one to let circumstances conquer him. Rather, with the help of God, he was determined to win the victor’s crown.

Listen as his attitude, dedication, determination shine through in these words found in Philippians 3:12-14."I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

With Paul’s words fresh in our minds, here are some suggestions to help us be all that we can be in 2009.

1. Think About The VALUE OF TIME

How do we value ONE YEAR? Ask a student who failed a grade.
How do we value ONE MONTH? Ask a Mother whose baby arrived prematurely.
How do we value ONE WEEK? Editor’s of weekly newspapers know.
How do we value ONE HOUR? Ask someone who lies terminally ill waiting for a loved one who is late.
How do we value ONE MINUTE? Ask someone who missed a plane, a train, a very important engagement that would never be rescheduled.
How do we value ONE SECOND? Ask an Olympic Medalist, someone who just missed having an accident, or saying good-by to someone you know you will never see again.

Of course we know that time is a human invention. I’m convinced that God doesn’t wear a wristwatch, or use a calendar. The Bible says, "With God a day is as a 1,000 years, and 1,000 years as a day."

God deals with eternity, and therefore time is not an important factor with Him. But time is important to us because we live in a limited time frame. We begin with infancy, then go on to adolescence, adulthood, middle-age, old age, and to everything that follows. We measure life in segments of time.

Now, what makes something valuable? Oftentimes it is scarcity. If there is a scarcity, then that product quickly escalates in value. If something is rare, it is usually valuable. But if we have a lot of it, it loses its value.

Now, the same is true with time. Young people feel that they have plenty of time, therefore time loses its value, and they aren’t too concerned about wasting or squandering it. On the other hand, as we get up in years a bit, we begin to realize that our time is becoming rare and therefore more valuable. Those of us over 50 tend to look at those under 20 and say, "Don’t squander time, because it’s very valuable."

They reply, "No, it’s not. We have lots of time. So we can waste it any way we want." The wider the age gap, the wider the generation gap - because of the different values that we place on time.
The Bible often speaks of the brevity of life. It compares life to the weaver’s shuttle rapidly going back and forth - to the shadows of summer that quickly disappear - to grass which grows up, dies, and then is burned. No wonder the Psalmist asks God, "What is man that you are mindful of him?"

Statisticians tells us that the average life span is now around 75 years. If you’re under 30 then you think that is a long time. If you’re around my age, you’re beginning to realize that’s not really very long at all. That means that if I live only 75 years then I only have 9 years to go. Now that is a sobering thought!

I came across some interesting statistics a few years ago. Someone went to the trouble to research what people do with their time, and came up with these results:

If we live to be 75, most of us will have spent 3 solid years, 24 hours a day, acquiring an education - grade school, high school and college. We’ll have spent 7 years eating, 24 hours a day, - some more, some less, obviously. We’ll have spent 14 years, day and night, working. We’ll have spent 5 years riding in automobiles or airplanes. We’ll have spent 5 years talking with each other - again some more and some less. We’ll have spent 1 year sick or recovering from sickness. And get this, we’ll have spent 24 years of our life sleeping! We’ll have spent 3 years reading books, magazines and newspapers. And 12 years amusing ourselves - watching TV, going to the movies, fishing, etc.

That totals up to 75 years. That is what the researchers say, on the average, most of us will have done with our lives.

As I looked at these statistics I began thinking, suppose you spent every Sunday of your life, for 75 years - through infancy, childhood, adulthood, old age - in God’s house worshiping during the morning worship service. How much time would you have spent worshiping God? Figure it out - the answer is less than 5 1/2 months. Let’s double that if you attend Sunday School. You’ve never missed Sunday School in all your life. That makes it 11 months.

Think about that - 5 years in an automobile and just 11 months in church and Sunday School! Twelve years amusing ourselves in front of a TV and just 11 months in Church and Sunday School. That is just if you always attended Sunday School and church and never missed!"

That tells us a little bit about the brevity of time. It also tells us something about our priorities in life.

The Bible also teaches us that life is uncertain.

Time is like a valuable commodity in a very precious and delicate vessel. It might break at any moment and we might lose it all. We have this moment. The past is gone, We don’t know anything about the future, but we have this moment. That is all we really have. Because of the uncertainty of life, the Bible says, "Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation." The writer of Hebrews says, "When you hear the name of the Lord, don’t harden your hearts."

Because life is uncertain we must take advantage of the time we have.

2. Don't dwell in THE PAST

We are special beings in that God has given us the ability to remember. Your memory may be your friend or your enemy. When you remember, hopefully you’ll remember some very pleasant things about this past year, but chances are that you’ll also remember some negative things. In fact, sometimes we dwell upon the negative and begin to feel sorry for ourselves.

Maybe this past year was a time of great transitions in your life - the kids grew up and married and left home and you’re now trying to deal with the empty nest syndrome.

Maybe your job came to an end and you’re having a tough time making ends meet.

Maybe a loved one died and you’re trying to deal with the lingering grief and loneliness you feel.

Maybe it was a time when sin got a real hold in your life, and you now feel the burden and guilt of that sin. You see, those things can cripple us and hold us in bondage to the past.

That is why Paul said, "I forget about what lies behind." Paul had a lot that was behind him. Paul had a very shaky past. He persecuted the church. He used his authority to kill Christians. By his own admission he said, "I am chief of sinners."

He could have walked around all his life with this tremendous burden of guilt crippling him and he would never have become the great apostle we know and love today. But Paul said, "…forgetting what is behind…" In other words, "God, I commit it to you. I seek your forgiveness for all the sins of the past, and I look forward to what lies ahead. Right now I’m going to live today the best I can."

I believe that is good advice for us as well. The only thing we can do about the past is to ask God's forgiveness for the sins that we committed. We can’t forget some things about our past, but it is better for our souls, if we remember when God’s grace was applied to our hearts. When Satan brings up our past, we just point him to the blood of Jesus.

3. We need to establish a PRIORITY IN OUR LIVES

Finally, I think that we need to establish a priority in our lives. Paul says it this way, "This one thing I do." Paul obviously did more than one thing. He made tents. He preached sermons and established churches. He healed the sick. He wrote books. He did a lot of different things. But he said, "The top priority in my life is to press on toward the goal for the prize for which God has called me."

Each day draw nearer to God, spending time with Him in prayer and seeking His guidance for your life through reading His Word. It was Jesus who said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be added unto you."

I am amazed how many Christians do not have their priority’s in order. We seem to find time for everything but what God wants. There are so many distractions these days that if we are not careful we place God low on our list of priority’s.

Some seem to say, "God understands that I have a busy life and it’s okay if I don’t have time for Him as much as I should. After all He loves me!"

What did Jesus say again? "Seek ye first"! What? "Seek ye FIRST my kingdom!" (emphasis mine). That does not mean that it’s okay if we put God low on our list of priority’s!

It means God MUST come FIRST! Even before family! Before money! Before pleasure!

I tried to think what God wants on my priority list for Him. Here is the list I came up with.

1. To love Him first and foremost! To love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind!
2. To love my family like He would.
2. To love others as much like Him as I can!
3. To keep my heart and soul ready for His soon return.

I want to tell you about a story I read the other day that showed me about priorities. Jim Cymbala preaches at a church in the slums of New York - The Brooklyn Tabernacle. He tells the following story:

“It was Easter Sunday and I was so tired at the end of the day that I just went to the edge of the platform, pulled down my tie and sat down and draped my feet over the edge. It was a wonderful service with many people coming forward. The counselors were talking with these people. As I was sitting there I looked up the middle aisle, and there in about the third row was a man who looked about fifty, disheveled, filthy. He looked up at me rather sheepishly, as if saying, "Could I talk to you?"

We have homeless people coming in all the time, asking for money or whatever. So as I sat there, I said to myself, though I am ashamed of it: "What a way to end a Sunday. I’ve had such a good time, preaching and ministering, and here’s a fellow probably wanting some money for more wine." He walked up. When he got within about five feet of me, I smelled a horrible smell like I’d never smelled in my life. It was so awful that when he got close, I would inhale by looking away, and then I’d talk to him, and then look away to inhale, because I couldn’t inhale facing him. I asked him, "What’s your name?"


"How long have you been on the street?"

"Six years."

"How old are you?"

"Thirty-two." He looked fifty- hair matted; front teeth missing; wino; eyes slightly glazed. "Where did you sleep last night, David?"

"Abandoned truck."

I keep in my back pocket a money clip that also holds some credit cards. I fumbled to pick one out thinking; I’ll give him some money. I won’t even get a volunteer. They are all busy talking with others. Usually we don’t give money to people. We take them to get something to eat. I took the money out.

David pushed his finger in front of me. He said, "I don’t want your money. I want this Jesus, the One you were talking about, because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street."

I completely forgot about David, and I started to weep for myself. I was going to give a couple of dollars to someone God had sent to me. See how easy it is? I could make the excuse I was tired. There is no excuse. I was not seeing him the way God sees him. I was not feeling what God feels. But oh, did that change! David just stood there. He didn’t know what was happening.

I pleaded with God, "God, forgive me! Forgive me! Please forgive me. I am so sorry to represent You this way. I’m so sorry. Here I am with my message and my points, and You send somebody and I am not ready for it. Oh, God!" Something came over me. Suddenly I started to weep deeper, and David began to weep. He fell against my chest as I was sitting there. He fell against my white shirt and tie, and I put my arms around him, and there we wept on each other. The smell of His person became a beautiful aroma. Here is what I thought the Lord made real to me: If you don’t love this smell, I can’t use you, because this is why I called you where you are. This is what you are about. You are about this smell.

Christ changed David’s life. He started memorizing portions of Scripture that were incredible. We got him a place to live. We hired him in the church to do maintenance, and we got his teeth fixed. He was a handsome man when he came out of the hospital. They detoxed him in 6 days. He spent that Thanksgiving at my house. He also spent Christmas at my house. When we were exchanging presents, he pulled out a little thing and he said, "This is for you." It was a little white hanky. It was the only thing he could afford. A year later David got up and talked about his conversion to Christ. The minute he took the mic and began to speak, I said, "The man is a preacher." This past Easter we ordained David. He is an associate minister of a church over in New Jersey. And I was so close to saying, "Here, take this; I’m a busy preacher." We can get so full of ourselves.”


As we face the new year I have to ask myself this question. What kind of life will I live this year? I may not be here this time next year, but if I am, will the Lord be satisfied with me?