What will the New Year bring about for you and me? That’s a huge question looming in the minds of many people as we get ready to turn the page on the calendar and begin a brand new year. Many people have thumbed through the pages of the old calendar and have come to the conclusion that it has not been a good year. They are hoping and praying that the new year will be better. They do not necessarily want fireworks to welcome them into each new day or some exotic destination to be the order of the day for the upcoming year, but it sure would be nice to have less heartache, less uncertainty, and more peace and security. They would like to know what?s in store for 2004?
At this time of year, every year, the psychics come out of the woodwork and make their predictions for the new year. You can find predictions about everything under the sun if you will scan the internet or walk through the check-out stand at your local grocery store. I wouldn?t encourage you to waste your time finding out what the psychics foresee in the new year but, because I know some of you have a fascination with the sensational, I have decided to give you my predictions for 2004. Let me make something clear. I?m not a psychic. I?m not into astral projection, paranormal psychology, extraterrestrial communication, and I?ve never seen one UFO. With all of that said I still want to put my predictions out there for those of you who want to know what the future holds. Here we go.
1. Howard Dean will turn down the Democratic Parties nomination to run for President so that he can go into business with Jimmy Dean and market?Howard and Jimmy?s Country Sausage.?
2. Eminem will give up his career as a Grammy Award winning rapper and move to Branson to become the lead dancer in River Dance.
3. All-American Sooner, Tommy Harris, will announce that he is foregoing a lucrative career in the National Football League so that he can sign a long term contract with the world renowned acrobats of Cirque du Soleil.
4. Mike Hays will release a CD and it will debut at #1 on the Billboard Top 100 charts. He will thank his Music Minister for discovering him even though she stopped giving him solos after Lorenzo Dunford arrived at the church.
5. Ross Magness will debut his cooking show,?Ross? Rotisserie Favorites,?on the Food Channel.
6. Madonna, the American seductress who has broken every sexual taboo known to society will write a children?s book. Oops! I guess she?s already done that one. Even the real psychics couldn?t have seen that one coming!
7. Brittany Spears will go on a year-long eating binge and become a runway model for Lane Bryant.
8. Bob Stoops and Phil Aday will discover that they are long lost brothers and Phil will join the coaching staff at OU to take the place of Mike Stoops.
9. Lorenzo Dunford will get a call from Michael Jackson to see if he will fill the rest of Michael?s concert dates while he is incarcerated.
10. I?ve saved the best for last. The final prediction for the year 2004 is Eric Williams and Morgan Mitchell will quit their jobs, hit the doubles tennis circuit, and make it all the way toWimbledonin their rookie season.
As far-fetched as my predictions may sound they aren’t any more crazy than some of the predictions that I have read this past week on the internet. I wouldn?t encourage you to write down any of the predictions I have just given you, but I do want to give you a couple of predictions that you can take to the bank. Are you ready?
I predict that those of us who make the decision to seek the Lord with all of our hearts, each day of 2004, will see God more clearly than we have ever seen Him before. Our opportunities will be understood as gifts of grace from His Sovereign hand. Our challenges and trials will be seen as invitations to trust Him with all of our hearts, even when the evidence points in other directions. Our disappointments will be understood as His appointments, given to shape us and conform us more and more into the image of His Son. Our victories will be celebrated and relished with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Our defeats will be understood as lessons in faith and trust that are meant to draw us to the One who can comfort and restore us. For those who choose to seek the Lord with all of their heart and stay rooted in His Word, your year will be full and filled to overflowing with the presence and peace of Almighty God.
I predict that those of us who want to spend another year playing games with God will spend a year in frustration. We will continue to give God lip service, but we will refuse to serve Him with our lives. We will continue to go to church, but not go to God. We will continue to pat ourselves on the back when good things happen to us and wonder where God has gone when troubles come our way. We will live half-heartedly, dream colorless dreams, and pray powerless prayers. At the end of the year we will look back and realize that we are not where we should be, but it won?t stir us enough to move us to make the sacrifices we need to make to get to where we belong.
For those of you who think I am speaking too harshly I would pray that you would hear not harsh, condemning words, but words to encourage us to take seriously this one life that we have been given to live so that we might take the necessary steps that God is calling us to take.
In the years that I have served as your pastor I have seen a trend that repeats itself over and over again. Let me share with you what I have observed. At the beginning of each year there are many folks who feel compelled to rededicate their lives to the Lord or to make the decision to begin to walk with the Lord for the first time. They sign-up for Bible study, decide in their hearts that they will make every effort to attend worship, and they mean it. There is no question in my mind but that the Lord has stirred their hearts and led them to make these decisions.
Somewhere along the way they hit the wall like a marathon runner at the 20thmile. The ?wall? comes in many shapes and forms. Sometimes it comes in the form of prosperity. They began the year prayerfully considering every decision to be made in their business or work life. They dedicated themselves to living in the labor force in a way that would honor God. A promotion came. Advancement arrived. The business prospered. Somewhere down the road they realized that they had the Midas touch when everything they touched turned to gold. There were appointments to keep, more opportunities than they could keep up with, and time for the study of God?s Word and worship were pushed from their Palm Pilot.
For others the wall comes in the form of hardships. Like the victims of prosperity, these sincere folks decided that they would do life different this year. They began attending a Bible study and even attended Promise Keepers at the unreal time of6:30 amevery Tuesday morning. Then tragedy struck. It wasn?t planned for nor was it expected, but it bullied its way into their lives and the first thought that came to mind was,?Why bother? Why serve God and make all of these sacrifices if it isn?t going to pay any dividends??Suddenly, the time that was once spent in seeking to grow closer to the Lord was spent sleeping in, playing golf on Sunday morning, or tinkering around the yard.
We are so easily sidetracked aren?t we? We are not any different from those who have gone before us my friends. The human heart wanders and strays with no difficulty whatsoever. God has warned, encouraged, and repeated Himself over and over again throughout the ages concerning the waywardness of the human heart and the need to seek Him with all of our hearts. Included in God?s sermon each time are warnings of the consequences for those who allow themselves to stray. Let?s take a look at Deuteronomy 30:8-20 this morning and learn some valuable lessons from those who have gone before us.
8You will again obey the LORD and follow all his commands I am giving you today.9Then the LORD your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers,10 ifyou obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law andturnto the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.11Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.12It 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?”13Nor 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?”14No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.15See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.16For 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.17Butifyour heart turns away and you are not obedient, andifyou are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them,18I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing theJordanto enter and possess.19This 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 live20and 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 30:8-20 NIV)
? If? is a mighty big word in the Bible. The Scriptural promises of Deuteronomy 30 are dependent upon the little word, ?if.? God greatly desires to bless His people. He called them from the mud pits ofEgyptto lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey. He led them through the desert with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night so that they would not get lost. He promised them that He would be their King and that He would reign and rule over them with compassion and lovingkindness?something no human king ever could deliver. God greatly desires to bless His people if… He will bless His people if they will seek Him, if they will serve Him, if they will not be led astray and make something less than God their highest aim.
God speaks to His people in Deuteronomy and tells them that if they will seek and serve Him alone then He will prosper them. They will flourish as they serve Him. On the other hand, if they turn away from Him then they will struggle in all that they set their minds and hands to do. God not only warns them that they will struggle, but He says that if they turn away then they will be destroyed. How many times does destruction have to pass before our eyes before we realize that God is always right, His ways never fail?
A promising young woman sets her sights on being successful and because she makes success her highest aim, she compromises her principles and ends up losing her integrity and character. A middle-aged man who is unhappy in his marriage decides that what he needs is a change of scenery so he begins an affair to liven up his boring life. In the end his wife and kids are shamed and humiliated?and he is all alone. A young girl wants to fit in so badly with the right crowd at school that she is willing to do anything to fit in. In the end she feels used, she?s the topic of conversation in the locker room, and she realizes that instead of fitting in she is an outcast. An entry level employee shows great promise and the manager has his eye on the young guy for a promotion until he finds out that the promising employee has been pilfering funds from the cash register, now he?s without work. How many times do we have to hear these stories before we realize that God?s Word is given to us to teach us the way to life, the way to peace, and how to avoid the path that leads to destruction?
Over and over again in God?s Word we find God sending messengers to remind the people of the waywardness of their hearts so that they won?t walk in the path of destruction. Moses delivered the last warning to the people found in Deuteronomy, but after Moses died the people were not left without a voice speaking for God. In Joshua 24:14-15 we read,
14″Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and inEgypt, and serve the LORD.15But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, thenchoosefor yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”(Joshua 24:14-15 NIV)
I want to join the chorus of voices from the past who have passionately declared the wonders of God and the necessity of clinging to Him moment by moment. I want my small voice to stand alongside the voices of Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Paul, Peter, George Whitefield, Spurgeon, Luther, John Calvin, Billy Graham, Sojourner Truth and all of those who have called God?s people back from apathy, back from rebellion, so that they might serve the Lord all of the days of their life.
Many people today see God as a giant killjoy, a partypooper, who desires nothing more than to steal our fun and keep us from really living it up in life. Nothing could be further from the truth my friend. God counsels us, He teaches us, and He woos and warns us to stay close to Him so that we might not be destroyed. God?s desire is that you and I will cling to Him, cleave to Him, seek Him with all of our hearts, and yearn to know Him better and better, more and more, each and every day. God has taken painstaking steps in order for us to have the tools necessary to walk with Him.
In Deuteronomy 5, God spoke to Moses with passion in His voice concerning the desires of His people. Moses relayed the conversation to the people. Read along with me in Deuteronomy 5:28-33.
28The LORD heard you when you spoke to me and the LORD said to me, “I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good.29Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever! 30″Go, tell them to return to their tents.31But you stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess.”32So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do notturnaside to the right or to the left. I33Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.(Deuteronomy 5:28-33 NIV)
Do you hear the emotion in God?s voice when He says to Moses,?Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!? I want us to notice the two parts of this verse. First, God desires for us to be inclined to fear Him, to revere Him, which leads to a desire to maintain a right relationship with Him. This is an important lesson for us. The guidance that God has provided for us is understood as nothing more than a bunch of rules to those whose hearts are not inclined to the Lord. For those who want to acknowledge the reality of God, but deny His Sovereignty and rightful rule over our lives, then following His guidance is just plain burdensome. On the other hand, for those whose greatest desire in life is to walk with the Lord and know Him intimately, then God?s guidance, God?s Word, is a letter of love written from the hand of the Lover of our souls.
Secondly, after God speaks about the inclination of our hearts, we read, ?so.? So what? God says that if the first aspect of the verse is experienced then the second will follow in stride. God says,?So that it might go well with them and their children forever!? What an incredible promise! What a source of security for you and me! God promises that if we will follow Him then it will go well with us, and for our children. I know that some of you are already questioning that promise because of the phrase,?go well.? What does it mean? Does ?go well? mean that none of our family members will ever get sick? Does it mean that we will move into a bigger house and drive a more expensive car? Does it mean that your company will one day make it to the Fortune 500 list or that you will move from the cash register to management? Does it mean that your kids will never face hardships? ?Go well? doesn?t mean any of those things my friend.
You may wonder how I can arrive at such a conclusion when ?go well? seems very easy to understand. Well, let me tell you how I arrived at my conclusion. Would you say that Jesus? life went well? Scripture teaches that He lived a perfect life. The writer of Hebrews tells us that He was tempted in every way that we are, yet He did not sin?never, not once. Yet, when you measure Jesus by the world?s definition of success?He was a miserable failure. He lived in the hood, not on the hill. Nathanael wondered if anything good could ever come fromNazareth. Turn with me to John 1:45-46 and let me show you what I am talking about.
45Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote– Jesus ofNazareth, the son of Joseph.”46″Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.(John 1:45-46 NIV)
Jesus wasn?t a success according to the world?s definition. He didn?t have a corner office, never had a personalized license tag that read, ?Big Time,? and He was hated by theUnion. They didn?t coronate Him as King, they hung Him on a cross. When He died there was no royal funeral Mass, they laid Him in a borrowed tomb. With all of this in mind we must conclude that Jesus lived well, He lived a life that was pleasing to God. And so it is with you and me. If we will seek the Lord of glory each moment and stay rooted in His Word then we are promised that things will go well for us as well. We will experience the perfect peace of Almighty God regardless of what comes our way. We will be grounded in the grace that will carry us in its everlasting arms. We will know God, we will see His hand at work, and we will experience the fullness that comes from walking with Him.
I can?t tell you the details of what is in store for you and me in 2004, but I can promise you that this will be a year in which things will go well for you if you will seek Him with all of your heart.
At the end of each year many folks decide to make New Year?s resolutions. They want to get rid of some things and see some new things that have been absent from their lives come to be. For those of you who are drawn to the ?out-with-the-old-and-in-the-new? mentality, let me share one final verse with you. I want to give you God?s prescription for emptying and filling your life and mine. Turn with me to 1 Peter 2:1-3 and let?s read together.
1Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.2Like newborn babies, cravepurespiritualmilk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,3now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.(1 Peter 2:1-3 NIV)
This morning I want to invite you to clean out the closets. Get rid of the grudge you?ve been holding onto for far too long. Stop trying to be who those around you want you to be. Discard those envious thoughts about what your friends have and you don?t. Take that bitterness to Good Will and leave it there. Instead of holding on to these things, welcome a new appetite for the Word of God and watch your soul be filled to overflowing.
I want to invite you to make things right with the Lord this morning. If you have never accepted Jesus into your heart as Lord and Savior of your life then won?t you do that this morning? If you know the Lord, but you?ve not been walking with Him then you know that He is calling you this morning to make things right. Won?t you come forward and spend some sweet moments in prayer asking Him to clean out your closets and fill you with a hunger for holiness?