The day of decision is quickly approaching for many Americans. New Year’s Day is the one day, out of the 365 days of the year, when the most decisions are made by more Americans than any other day of the year. The decisions are categorically lumped together into what has come to be known as “New Year’s resolutions.” There are all kinds of decisions being made ranging from quitting drinking or smoking, losing weight, spending more time at home with one’s family, taking on a new challenge, overcoming an old challenge, improving one’s golf game, controlling anger, becoming a more pleasant person to be around, getting serious with the Lord, having better attendance in church and Sunday school, cutting down on credit card debt, saving money, and the list goes on and on…
I was wondering what specific resolutions were being made this year so I searched the Internet and found more than 100 articles on “New Year’s Resolutions.” Two high school students, Scott Hertzberg and Brandon Trumble wrote an article about an interview they did with 53 of their classmates. They asked their classmates about their New Year’s resolutions and here is what they found. Many of the resolutions were typical answers like straight A’s and better homework grades. Some people however had many different resolutions. The more common resolutions were
* Get a girlfriend.
* Get an “A” in any of Mrs. Wrigley’s math classes.
* Get good grades.
* Not cuss as much.
* Do all the things I want to do.
* Play basketball better.
* Have fun.
* Be less violent.
* Do my homework.
* Not to change.
* Play more computer games.
A college student who has resolved to change some things in his life for the upcoming year wrote the following:
* Stop letting fear make my decisions for me.
* Get a job.
* Get a car.
* Get an apartment.
* Draw more.
* Be able to run for 20 minutes without cardiac arrest.
* Do more, think less.
* Get out more.
* Start to understand cooking.
* Pick a sport and get good at it.
* Learn to skate.
A seventy-nine year-old man wrote a long list of his resolutions for the upcoming year. His list is far too long to list here, but I’ve pulled a few of the more interesting items which he has resolved to do.
* Love more.
* Keep ALL confidences.
* Stop eating candies, chocolate, cakes etc.
* Maintain my current healthy vital signs. Rest pulse 58 B/P 100/60.
* Surf better.
* File documents immediately in order to find them easier when my boss asks for them
* Improve my French.
* Laugh more.
* Most important, continue to bike ten miles a day.
* Quit smoking (sure).
* Hold a new born infant in my arms to feel the wonder.
* Take the risks I have been so frightened of…Maybe it’s not too late.
* Break 98 in a round of golf (even if it’s only on a par 3 – smile)
* Enjoy every moment of life to the best of my ability.
* Not get any more cats.
* Keep looking at the future with interest and enthusiasm
* To not make any more New Years Resolutions!!
You can see from the resolutions I have shared with you that people are wanting to make some changes in their life for the upcoming year. The three people range in age from high school students to a seventy-nine year-old man, but each and every one are wanting to add and take away some things from their lives in the future. Is there anyone here this morning who can relate? I am convinced that each and every one of us sees things in our lives that need to be changed – either add things we are not doing or take away things that we know are not good for us. The real problem comes into play when we consider that the vast majority of people who make New Year’s resolutions admit that they really have no hope of seeing the change come to pass.
With all of the plans being made and all of the hope already lost, where does that leave us? Do we simply plunge deeper into despair realizing that we can’t even make simple changes in our life? Do we forget resolutions altogether and “eat, drink, and be miserable for tomorrow we die?” What do we do? I hope that you will not do any of the above. I hope this morning we can come to see that God does desire real change for each of our lives, but that we are starting from the wrong premise, we are making many wrong assumptions. Real change does not happen when we plan our destiny, but instead, real change comes about when we hear God’s voice calling us to live out the destiny He desires for us. Do you see the difference? We can make all kinds of plans, but if the plans are not from the heart of God, or if we simply have “made up our mind to do this or that,” then our efforts will be futile and fruitless. On the other hand, if we will discern what God is calling us to, and then have the courage to trust Him in leading us into that destiny, then our future will be more than bright!
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. Say a person has a very hot temper with their children. On New Year’s Eve he sits down to write his list of resolutions and at the top of the list he writes, “Don’t fly into a fit of rage with the kids.” Now that is a good resolution for anyone who flies off the handle with their kids. It is a good resolution, more than that, it is a godly resolution. The key is, does this man hear the voice of God calling him to control his rage with his kids or does he simply feel the need to be less angry because he is seeing the ill effects it is having on his family? If the man simply wants to stop being so angry because he sees it is causing his family harm, he doesn’t have a prayer of ever getting a handle on his anger. If he hears God calling him to parent in a more godly way, and then he is willing to trust God to empower him to do so, then the man and his kids will see a new man come about in the new year.
We can’t decide to make changes because of crisis in our lives because then the changes will never last. We must allow God to make changes in us as we trust Him to empower us to see lasting change take place.
This morning I want us to take a long hard look at what I am talking about because I don’t want any of us to make plans that will prove to be a curse on our lives. I want us to be able to embrace the plan of God for our lives and, in turn, live lives that will be a blessing to those around us.
One of the most challenging and inspiring of all the characters in God’s Word which we can look to for encouragement concerning our focus for today is Moses. Many of you know the story of Moses, but just to retrace our steps for a moment you need to know that Moses, even though he was a Hebrew, spent the first forty years of his life living in Egypt. Moses was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter who had adopted him. He was raised in the lap of luxury, but when he saw a Hebrew being mistreated by an Egyptian he intervened and killed the Egyptian. The next day two Hebrews were fighting when Moses came upon them. Moses said, “Why are you hitting your companion?” One of the men said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Pharaoh heard about it and was planning to kill Moses, so Moses fled to Midian.
Moses Plan Failed
The plans of Moses had failed. Moses thought he was capable of being a leader for his people. Why shouldn’t he feel that way, he was brought up in Pharaoh’s house, the leader of the nation. Acts 7:22 tells us, “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” Moses, after forty years of preparing to be a leader had become aggressive in applying what he had learned and he had failed miserably. At the first sign of failure, Moses quit. He threw in the towel. He cried out, “Calf rope chicken.” He waved the white flag of surrender. He quit!
Moses fled to Midian where he married a woman named Zipporah and took a job working for his father-in-law taking care of his herd of sheep. Moses saw Midian as a place where the pressure would no longer be present and where he could pass the hours by taking care of a few head of sheep. He would be able to live peacefully for the rest of his life. That was enough for him. He had made all of the New Year’s resolutions that he could stand for one lifetime so he settled for peace and quiet for the rest of his life.
One day, forty years later, God appeared to Moses from a burning bush and called Moses to be a leader to the Hebrew slaves back in Egypt. Moses had already been down that road. He had tried his hand at leadership and it hadn’t worked. Exactly the point! Moses had tried his hand, but now the hand of God was moving upon Moses to use him as a leader to free the slaves. There was a choice that had to be made and Moses wasn’t exactly going to make it with enthusiasm. He tried every excuse he could find to avoid the call of God upon his life, but to no avail. God answered Moses’ every question and eventually Moses went to Pharaoh and the slaves were freed.
Do you see the difference in what was going on in the life of Moses? Moses had been living under the influence of Pharaoh for forty years. He had reaped the benefits of being the grandson of Pharaoh. He was educated with the finest of educators. He learned leadership by living in the house of the leader of the nation. Yet, even with all of these assets, Moses was a miserable failure when he tried to exert his authority as a leader. When frustration and fear set in, Moses fled.
When God came to Moses and said, “Get up, it’s time to go.” Moses was caught off guard because he had given up being a leader long ago. I’m thankful Moses was willing to trust God and then to pursue God’s plan for his life.
My friend, don’t give up pursuing God’s purposes for you simply because you have failed in the past. You can see the character defect or the failed business plan or the failed relationships littered all over your past, but this could be the day when God is calling you and saying, “Get up, it’s time to go!” Today may be the day of decision for you.
Do you know what is interesting about the life of Moses? When he was old and getting ready to die, Moses stood before the people and said, “Today is your day of decision – will you choose God’s plan for you or will you pursue your own plans?” Take a look at Deuteronomy 30 and you will see what I am talking about.
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. 15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:11-20 NIV)
“Life” or “Death.” Which Will You Choose?
I set before you today “life” and “death” – choose life! It was the day of decision for the Hebrews who were fixing to move into the land God had promised them. They could choose life and experience a long and prosperous history in the land God would give them, or they could choose death, their own plans, and be destroyed. Which will you choose?
It was only right for Moses to pass on the wisdom he had gained from walking with God. Moses had been presented the option of choosing between “life” and “death” back in Midian when God confronted him with His plan for Moses as the leader of the Hebrew slaves. Moses could have chosen to stay in Midian, but it would have been the death of him.
I want to look at two very distinct contrasts which are given to us in the passage of Scripture from Deuteronomy 30. When Moses addressed the people he told them, 15 “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” The two contrasts that we are going to look at are set forth here in this verse. Life and death. Prosperity and destruction.
First, let’s take a look at life and prosperity. You need to know this morning that God desires life for you. God desires that you and I choose life as we begin this new year. No matter what has happened in your past, no matter how often you have chosen death in the past, no matter how often you have rejected life in your former days – God desires for you to choose life this morning and every morning from here on out. You do not have to choose death for yourself or for those around you – you can choose life. God gave Moses that option, God gave the Hebrews the option, and we have been given the option as well. Moses told the Hebrews,
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. 15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess… 19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:11-16; 19-20 NIV)
How do you and I choose life? How do we make decisions, commitments, and New Year’s resolutions that will be a blessing to us and those around us? Good question. According to God’s Word we can choose life by choosing the Lord. We choose life by loving the Lord our God. We choose life by walking in His ways. We choose life by keeping His commands, decrees, and laws.
Choosing life doesn’t sound too difficult, but it does pose a very real problem for the people of our day. We have forgotten the ways of God. We have confused our wishes with His will. We do not know how to walk in His ways. We don’t know how to love Him. What many people believe are the “ways of the Lord” are nothing more than their best thinking. They’ve confused their wills with His will. Even in a day like ours where there are many claiming to have the “Truth” and where there seems to be a different god for every day of the week, there is still the opportunity for those who will seek God to find Him. God spoke to the people of Jeremiah’s day and said, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV) It is imperative for you and me to seek Almighty God — our life depends on it! During Amos’ day the Lord spoke to the people and said, “This is what the LORD says to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live;” (Amos 5:4 NIV)
How can we seek God? God has given us His Word and His Spirit which will reveal the heart of God and His purposes for our life. God’s Spirit will teach us how to love God. God’s Word will teach us how to walk with Him, how to live in fellowship with Him. God’s Word and the Holy Spirit will lead us into paths of righteousness, showing us how to walk in God’s ways. God has given us the tools necessary for us to seek Him with all of our heart and thus allow Him to make the changes He desires in our life.
Choose Life Together
There is an added element which doesn’t come through quite as obvious – God gave the people the option of choosing life while they were in the context of community. We need to choose life together, my friend. For us to come to Christ, no one can do that for us, but for us to continue to pursue the heart of God – we can not do that alone! We need each other in seeking the heart of God and following Him in obedience. This can be a resolution that can resolve the frustrations, failures, and fears of our life and fill us with a firm faith that God is all-powerful and able to sustain us for all of our days.
There is a promise that goes along with the command to seek after God. God says in verse 16, “For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” Did you hear that? “You will live and increase and God will bless you in the land!” I desire to live and increase, my friend! The applications from this passage for the community and the individual are incredible. If we will choose life then we will live long in this land God has given us. It will be a blessing to all and we shall increase. On a personal level, if you will choose life you will live long in this home and prosper. Your home will be a place of peace for all who live there instead of a war zone. Your home will see increase, addition rather than subtraction, take place. God’s promises are good, my friend!
Why Would Anyone Choose “Death?”
Secondly, we need to know that we can choose death. Moses said, “I set before you life and death – choose life.” Moses encouraged the people to choose life, but the fact of the matter was that many would choose death. This seems odd to us. Why in the world would anyone choose death? There is no question that everyone here this morning would desire prosperity and life for themselves and their family. Could there be one person who would choose to destroy their own life and the lives of those around them if they had a choice? No, not one. If that is the case, and I believe it is, then why do we see so much death and destruction? Why do we see so many people destroying themselves and those around them? Good question. I honestly do not believe we see these things taking place because we intentionally design our own demise, but rather because we don’t know how to live.
I have met with many young couples who have come to me wanting to get married. I always ask them, “Why, with so many divorces and so much unhappiness would you choose such a future for yourselves?” They always say, “Because we love each other and we think we can make it work.” I will guarantee you that no couple who has ever married has ever said, “Well preacher, what we are wanting to do is to go ahead and get married since we love each other. We understand that after the new wears off and the honeymoon is over we’ll start fighting like cats and dogs and eventually go through a nasty divorce where our kids will be hurt and our families will hate will one another.” No couple has ever said that. All couples want to be married and stay married or they would never enter into such a holy commitment before Almighty God. The reason couples divorce is not because they don’t want to be married, but rather it is because they don’t know how to stay married. They do not realize the purpose for which God created marriage and therefore they end up destroying the most holy and blessed gift God has given to them. People do not know how to stay married and neither do most people know how to truly live.
One summer, when I went with a group of kids from our church to Kids Across America, I heard a story about a young kid who decided that he wanted to commit suicide. He went on and on about wanting to die until one day his counselor said, “Come on, let’s go. If you want to die I’ll help you die.” The counselor took the kid up on the side of the mountain where there was a visitor’s cabin with a balcony hanging out over the edge of the mountain. The counselor said, “If you want to die then I’ll help you kill yourself. I’ll hold you by your ankles out over the balcony and drop you on your head so that it will kill you.” The kid reluctantly said, “OK” even though the counselor could see that he was quickly changing his mind. The counselor took the boy by the ankles and held him out over the edge of the balcony when all of a sudden the kid yelled, “Stop! I don’t want to die.” The counselor pulled him back in and sat him down. The kid’s heart was racing like an Indy race car and the counselor said, “Listen, I know you don’t want to die. That’s not the problem. The problem is that you don’t know how to live.”
Death By Default
Moses said, “I set before you life and death.” If we don’t know how to choose life, then we choose death by matter of default. We choose death when we dismiss God’s will for our life. We choose death when we desire nothing more than getting what we want when we want it, regardless of what God wants for our life. We choose death when we say that God’s will takes precedence over all else, but then live like God doesn’t even exist. Don’t choose death.
Moses spelled out quite clearly what choosing death meant to the Hebrews. In verse 17 Moses says, 17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. (Deuteronomy 30:17-18 NIV)
“If your heart turns away. If you are not obedient. If you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them.” Those three aspects of choosing death are still in operation today, my friend. I want to ask you today, “Where is your heart?” Is your heart beating with the heart of God? Is what is important to the Lord of greatest importance to you? Are your passions directed toward your past-times, your hobbies, your pleasures, yourself? Have you made a god out of something that you find great pleasure in, but is not God? Have you been drawn away by friends who are not committed to serving Jesus as King of their life? Have you chosen death by default?
My friend, my prayer for you this day is that you will choose life. Take the steps necessary to choose life. Love the Lord with all of your heart, but equally as important, follow Him with all of your life. Seek to live walking in the Spirit of God, allowing Him to direct you and lead you through your every decision. Study God’s Word so that it will shed light upon your path. If you were going to go on a journey that you had never experienced before you would want a map to show you how to arrive at your destination. I promise you that you would study that map like your life depended on it, because it would! You are on the greatest journey of all – the journey of life, aiming to arrive before the throne of Almighty God. Study your map! I pray that today you will ask Jesus to come into your life and show you the way home – today really is the day of decision!
Britton Christian Church
January 1, 2012