January 1, 2017


The past is past.  Sounds simple.  But putting time into perspective is really anything but simple.  What is past to us at this very instance, was still future to us a mere moment ago.  And the present?   The present is merely an illusion, for the border between past and future is like an ever-moving two-dimensional line.  But I won't bore you by getting into a scientific treatise.  The point I am trying to make is that the past is over.  It is gone.  We may lament some events in it, and regret some choices that we made.  But it is something we cannot go back and change.  That line I just spoke of continues to move forward at a pace set by God.  It does not move backwards except in sci-fi movies.  And yet we often continue to re-visit it in our memories, hoping that the next time that we do, it will be different, even though deep down in our spirits, we know that it won't be.

But what we can still change is the future.  Every year on New Year's Day many people resolve to do just that.  They make New Year's resolutions, sometimes with very good intentions, sometimes half-heartedly, but still wishing that they can maybe make good on them.  Yes, they failed last year, and the year before; but this year is a fresh start, and this year they are going to do it, whatever "it happens to be.  And this applies not just to individuals, but to organizations as well, from churches to governments.  But in all likelihood, what are the chances that this year will really be different?

The Bible says there is only one way to really change your life.  There is only one way to truly make the past the past.  There is only one way to have real hope for the future.   It involves looking past our immediate resolutions and goals.  It involves looking past time itself, and looking into eternity, where time no longer exists.  It involves looking deep into our spirits, where the real change needs to take place.

In our Gospel reading (John 3:1-8), Nicodemus, a very knowledgeable and devout religious leader, had a difficult time trying to grasp what Jesus was telling him.  Born again?  "How can someone be born when they are old?" But if we are not born of the Spirit, we are locked into repetitive patterns of the flesh.  The apostle Paul explained it this way.  He said, "For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing."  (Romans 7:19).  That is why when we make New Year's resolutions without the Spirit, even if they sound really good, and we try really hard, by February we have usually failed miserably.  But if we are truly born of the Spirit, and growing in the Spirit, we have an inner strength that is beyond the flesh. 

So are you 'born of the Spirit'?  Have you repented of your sins, and truly want to turn from them, and begin a new life in Christ?  Have you asked Jesus to be your Savior, to free you from the flesh and give you the new birth he told Nicodemus about?  Are you trusting in Him alone, and not your own merit or strength?  Are you willing to follow Jesus as your Lord, to adhere to His Word, and listen to the voice of His Holy Spirit?  If so, then you already know that you have the power within you to make 2017 your best year yet.  Because the Bible says that, "Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!"  (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Yes the old life really will be gone - and the past truly the past!  And a new life will have begun¦ 

But even Christians sometimes regress. We fall back into old habits, old sins, and we suffer for it.  But the Lord is patient, and He is forgiving.  If we confess our shortcomings to Him and pray for a time of refreshing (Acts 3:19), he will enable us to truly make a fresh start.

Maybe there is someone in your life that you are at odds with, for whatever personal reasons.  Jesus said, "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift."  (Matthew 5:23-24). 

Maybe you aren't sure if you are on the right path.  Proverbs 3:6 says, "Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take."  But then, of course, you must be willing to follow the path the Lord points you to!

What about personal resolutions?  Losing weight, managing money better, finding a new job, even overcoming illness or grief?  I know we have some personal success stories among us, and I am willing to bet that a good deal of prayer, faith, listening to the Holy Spirit and applying God's Word, lead to those successes.  But what if even then you seem to have trouble accomplishing your goal?  There is one more thing that God looks at, that perhaps you haven't considered¦  Motive.  What is the motive behind your resolution or goal?   Not what you tell people your motive is, but the motive deep down in your heart - the one God alone sees.  Do you want to lose weight so you can be healthier, and so you can better serve the Lord at home, at church, and at your job?  Or do you just want to look better?   Or worse yet, make someone else envious, or outdo someone else with a similar goal?  Motive is important to God.  If you want your prayers answered and God's blessings on your resolutions, then your motives need to be in line with God's will.

Even as a church, do we want to bring new people into the church because we want more money in the offering plate? Or because we want to share the love of God, and the joy found only through Jesus Christ, with them?  

Every goal and resolution should be centered around love for God and love for others.  If that is the primary motive, the root of our goal or resolution, then you can be rest assured that God will bless it, that He will give you the strength to carry it out, and even that He will make circumstances fall into place for you!

So let's all get our motives and our prayers in line with God's Word, His Will, and His Spirit - and make 2017 our best year ever, both as individuals, and as a church family.  Amen.