INTRO: Good morning. Last week we set aside our study in the book of Acts and took a look at the Holiday period. We recognize this has been a challenging year and a year of controversy. I’m happy for this year to be winding to a close and I am looking forward to the New Year which I hope—will be somewhat brighter. I do recognize we are not out of the woods yet, so to speak, with this pandemic and dealing with it may require sacrifices on all our parts for months to come.
The time is approaching when we traditionally reflect on what we resolved last year and how we fared in accomplishing those resolutions. We also are looking forward and thinking about what we resolve to accomplish in the coming year of 2021.
When I was growing up, making New Year’s Resolutions was a given for just about everyone I knew. It was a time of beginning again, a time for setting our sights, a time for new hope for a new year.
I do not recall any specific tradition my family had to celebrate the New Year. Nina has told me that she remembered eating hog jowl and black-eyed peas as a symbol of looking for a prosperous year ahead. Today, I’m not sure just how healthy that meal was, but I am sure that setting a plan in place is very much a godly thing and that is what I would like to talk about this morning.
One resolution Christians like to make, and it is a good one, is to read through the Bible over the coming year. I would suggest that if you have done that before, and many of us have, that this time as we launch our reading through the Bible we look for Jesus from cover to cover. Look with me now at Psalms 119:1-6 – “1. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, Who walk in the law of the Lord! 2. Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, Who seek Him with the whole heart! 3. They also do no iniquity; They walk in His ways. 4. You have commanded us To keep Your precepts diligently. 5. Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes! 6. Then I would not be ashamed, when I look into all Your commandments.”
Only one person had a life that truly was perfect and that was Jesus Christ. Jesus is our example and the one we follow. God plans and purposes eternal matters and He made us in His image. We are creatures with the ability to look into the future and imagine and envision. Our task is to use this gift to the glory of God and He will change our life through His Word.
Psalm 119:104-106 tells us; “ Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn and confirmed that I will keep Your righteous judgments.”
I. In the late 1980’s educator Steven Covey wrote a bestselling book entitled, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” It was the result of hundreds of hours of study and observation. Interestingly enough, but not surprisingly, his discoveries of things about life sound a lot like what we read in scripture.
A. Covey wrote that before we can become mature, we must accept that we have the power to choose and that we are ultimately responsible for our choices.
1. Right off I think of Genesis, the third chapter where God allowed Adam and Eve to face the liar and decide whose words they would trust.
2. They were given a choice but did not choose wisely. Think of the consequences of the power to choose!
B. Next, Covey says, “We need to begin with the end in mind.” The point here is that unless Jesus returns in our lifetime, we are all going to die. Every coach knows you do not design a play without a goal in mind. As the scripture in Psalms 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days. That we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
1. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.”
2. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 - “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the fear of the Lord, we persuade men...”
C. As an application for beginning with the end in mind, Covey makes a wise suggestion: “Write your own funeral service.” I know that sounds strange to us and a bit macabre but let’s look at what this means.
1. In other words he says; write down what you would like to have said about your life at your funeral.
2. Why? This helps you to get in touch with what is most important to you. It also helps you realize that whatever you live for now ends up being what you eventually died for.
3. Do we live for what we honestly believe is worth dying for? God gives us the time and opportunity to do just that! He gives us the instruction in His word that shows us how to live for what is truly worth dying for and He gives us strength through His Holy Spirit and the fellowship of other brothers and sisters in Christ to experience just such a life!
D. By the way, it’s not as complex as we might think. As a Christian, I know that living for what is worth dying for, is as simple as walking with the Lord every day. Walking with God in Jesus Christ is worth dying for!
1. Every day we should do this. Live a day that is worth dying for. What could be greater than serving Jesus?
2. Remember, if you serve a brother or sister in His name, you serve the Lord himself! What could be greater than helping someone else get to heaven? If you confess your faith in Jesus Christ and walk with Him, you will do just that!
3. What could be more amazing than to speak to and hear from the creator of the universe? If you read the scriptures and pray you are doing just that!
4. Loving God and loving one another, walking in Christ according to his word, this is the greatest life that you can live, period, bar none, end of story.
E. Sadly many, many people do not approach life in a goal-oriented fashion. They do not consult God’s Word to learn what their duty is. They do not strive to complete their tasks. They do not drive toward the most important goal in life. Instead they are process oriented. Activities are pursued as long as the activities are enjoyable. All activities are tried; with no thought to whether they are honorable or dishonorable. There is no drive to take an activity to completion.
F. Here we are in the last days of the year. 2020 is about to be filed away in the archives of time and history. 2021 is on the horizon. What will we do with the coming year? God gave us 31,536,000 seconds to spend this past year. How did we spend them? Would you die for what you lived for this past year? You gave a year of your life for whatever you did.
1. This year ahead, some of us may not live to see end. If the Lord returns, none of us will. Right now, today, there may be someone here who is not ready to meet the Lord.
2. Maybe you are a Christian, but need to rededicate your life to Jesus Christ and resolve to walk with the Lord according to His word. You’ve been trying to walk life your way and you’ve tasted the fruit of sin and found out that it bites back, hard. Do you hear that? Are you listening to God?
II. For the remainder of this lesson, let me spread out before you God’s plan for your life, your future. It is all written for us to see in God’s Word, the Bible. The Bible tells us plainly in, Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
A. I think about that. God made everything we see and a lot we don’t see. He made us. Genesis 1: 26-28 – “26. Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'' 27. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.''”
B. God lets us know where we come from, and it’s a beautiful beginning! We are designed to be like God. How then are we to proceed? Let’s look at Ephesians 5:1-11 – “Therefore be followers of God as dear children. 2. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. 3. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4. Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7. Therefore do not be partakers with them. 8. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9. (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10. proving what is acceptable to the Lord. 11. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”
C. God made us and calls us to be His children! But every one of us has turned away from Him. Every one of us has sinned and become separated from God by our own choices!
1. Isaiah 53:6 – “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.”
2. Going astray means to wander off. It did not take long for that to happen. In the early pages of Genesis we read at Genesis 6:5-7 – “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.''” I find this one of the saddest statements in scripture.
3. Man, designed to be like God, became so corrupted with evil, that God is grieved with His creation and destroyed the earth in a flood, an event the likes of which we will never see again.
a. Everywhere you go there is evidence of a great flood. I’ve been told that on Signal Mountain in Tennessee there are water marks all over the cliffs.
b. In our west, the dry desert mountains are all clearly water marked with lake beds from ancient flood waters. Fossil evidence of sea creatures are found in many places in the US. We saw these fossils in Carlsbad Caverns when we visited New Mexico.
c. Even geologists make note that no matter where you go on this planet, there is evidence of a lot of water laid material. Fossils of large sea creatures are even found in Antarctica.
4. Isn’t it amazing that the Genesis writer had such knowledge of geology as to suspect a world flood? Or did God do that and reveal it to man? What do you think? I believe God did it, and revealed it, and left us plenty of evidence for it.
D. Peter writes: 2 Peter 3:3-12 – “3. knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4. and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.'' 5. For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, 6. by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 7. But the heavens and the earth which now exist are kept in store by the same word, reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. 8. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 10. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11. -- Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12. looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?”
1. What God created, He tells us that He will also destroy. God will judge all sin. He must if He is holy. He will because He is indeed holy. God’s word says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But how can we fear Him who we do not know or believe in?
2. Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, was sent to show us plainly who God is and to call us to come to God through Him. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is our Savior; He is our Lord! God has appointed a day in which to judge the living and the dead through Jesus, the Christ.
III. It is unbelief and sin that blind the hearts and minds of men and women to God. God said; “I am sorry that I have made them."
A. It is the word of God preached that has power to open those blind eyes to see the light of God’s truth and to come to Jesus Christ in faith and obedience and be saved.
B. Paul told the Corinthians 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 - “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men”
C. And 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 - “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Here comes the year 2021. I suggest we need to face our mortality and it will give us a perspective on what is most important in this life. For many of us seniors who have been sheltered at home because of the pandemic, we have had to think about what we have done with our life, what we will do with the rest of it, and who do we want to spend our time with.
God tells us to be ready to die and face Judgment as we read earlier in, 2 Peter 3:3-12. Peter continues in verses 13-15 – “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation...”
None of us know if we will see tomorrow and in fact it is arrogant to say that we will, James 4:13-16. We are not protected from the consequences of living in this world full of evil, violence, illness, disease and decay—all things will die. God does not protect us from these things and in fact promises us trials and troubles in this life, John 16:33.
But if we are in Christ, Romans 6, He promises to be with us always to help, comfort, talk to us, teach, guide and give us spiritual strength to deal with whatever earthly trials we face, 2 Peter 1:3-4. He promises us “a way out” so we will never have more than we can bear, 1 Corinthians 10:13. God gives us His love, peace, and joy no matter what we face James 1:2-5 and 1 Peter 1:6-9.
God also gives us people to love and to love us. We call these people family. Family is not limited to blood or adoption. Family can also be those we love because we share things in this life together. We enjoy being together and have many deep bonds. God calls us in His love to our church family. He tells us to love and serve one another. Pray for each other, bear each other’s burdens, and spend time together because of our shared love of God, Jesus, and His Word, Acts 2:42-47.
Most of all, our faith in God gives us hope. This is Assurance, NOT wishful thinking! Hebrews 11:1. The hope of an eternal life with God and Jesus when this earthly life ends. 1 Peter 1:3-4. God says to seek and find Him, Jeremiah 29:11-13, to know Him and follow Him while we live this very short time on Earth. That is out purpose, our goal, and reason for living. God loves us and has provided a way we can be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus. We can have a relationship with Him now and eternally.
Again; Romans 10:17 – “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
Jesus said the Word of God is like seed sown in our hearts.
If our hearts are good and honest, that seed grows up and bears much fruit.
If our hearts are hard or shallow or full of worldly cares and worries, the word will not produce its fruit in us.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God?
Do you know Him as your Lord and Savior?
Do you realize that He gave his life for you to pay for your sins through His death?
Jesus thought you were worth dying for.
That’s why He came and why He did what He did.
His death was for your life.
Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 – “"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you...''”.
The first thing the disciples did when the Holy Spirit came on them was to make disciples, baptize them for the remission of sins, and teach them to obey Jesus’ commands.
It’s all there in Acts 2.
Faithful Christians have been doing that ever since.
Perhaps there is someone in the assembly today with the need to be buried with Christ in baptism. If you have never done these things, we urge you to do so today. If anyone has this need or desires the prayers of faithful Christians on their behalf, we encourage them to come forward while we stand and sing.
Reference Sermon: Greg Nance
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