December 28, 2014

It’s A Brand New Year! Psalm 39:4-6

Another year comes to a close, and a new year begins this week.

Much as we would like to, we can’t go back and change things we did or didn’t do in 2014. But traditionally, the dawning a new year is a time of reflection…a time when we can reflect and, if appropriate, make changes for 2015…

The most important reflections and evaluations for the Christian to make are spiritual in nature.

Psalm 39 gives us some insight along those lines.

4Show me, LORD, my life’s end    and the number of my days;    let me know how fleeting my life is.5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth;    the span of my years is as nothing before you.Everyone is but a breath,    even those who seem secure.6 “Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth    without knowing whose it will finally be.

The New Living Version  translates verses 4 and 5 like this: “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” (Psalm 39:4, 5 -- NLT)

David’s words declare three truths we often simply write off.

One truth is…that life is fleeting. Everything we call “life” in the material world has extreme limits. The few dozen years we get…go zipping past, ever more at warp speed. 

The second truth is…this life is not all there is. Our time on earth is just the ground work -- “the preparation period” for everything we will be and know and encounter in the eternal state. Scripture says, every last human being will experience eternity, either in God‘s eternal realm…or apart from it.

There’s a third truth in Psalm 39. It rests on the first two. Because life is short; because present experience is just the barest beginning of life – therefore—we should stop and evaluate.

We know Christ will evaluate us. He will bring Christians before Him and He will examine…our faithfulness…our growth in Christ…He will inspect the fruit and kingdom impact our lives have had. Doesn’t it make sense that we should regularly do the same? 

Evaluating and making appropriate changes are crucial so we don’t get stalled in our progress. So…what would it be worth to you to set aside a couple of hours, right at the start of this year, to evaluate and lay some plans for your progress in the coming months? What kind of value would it be for you to take what we talk about today and process it? 

We must reject passivity…Passivity runs rampant in American culture and in the Church…We must dump the “I can’t” attitude…We must quit making excuses for not growing in Christ…God has much greater things in mind for us…He wants to work in us and through us all the way to the finish line. 

Let’s begin with a look back and then a brief look forward 

The first question:

1. How’s your heart? (Matthew 12:34; Matthew 6:21; John 4:23) 

When you go for a physical exam, the normal drill is, the doctor will hold a stethoscope to your chest and listen to your heart. If things don’t sound right, the doctor gets out more serious equipment, to allow better analysis of what your heart’s doing. If that does not provide the answers, then it’s on to a specialist for more evaluation. Doctors do that because the heart is right at the center of things physically; if there‘s a problem there, it will, without fail, impact the whole body. 

So how’s your heart…your spiritual heart? Scripture describes the heart as the deepest and truest spiritual part of you. It’s a great reservoir, containing massive amounts of information and feelings. It’s also the control center. Your spiritual heart is composed of your mind and emotions and will. Your heart reveals who and what you really are…down there deep inside…where no one but God ever sees. It’s reasonable that a spiritual check-up begins with a heart exam. 

So…how’s your heart?

When we believe, our spiritual heart is transformed. God is interested in both our conduct and our character…not just our performance…He wants our heart…transformed from that self-centered spiritual heart we all had before He saved us into that new, unselfish, loving heart He gives each of His children. And He wants us to follow through and give Him our hearts without reservation. 

Does He have your heart? How can we know? There are some good ways to tell. I call them “barometers of the heart.” They provide us an accurate reading on our hearts’ health and vitality. 

One barometer is my speech, how I communicate. In Matthew 12:34, Jesus said, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. The operative phrase there is the abundance of the heart. That means, what the heart is full of. My heart is full, so is yours. And we know what they’re full of by what comes out of our mouths. So, when I’m tired, or stressed, or ticked, or in traffic; what comes leaping off my tongue tells the tale of what’s in my heart. When I’m alone with my spouse or family, what comes out is what I’ve been hoarding down there. 

That filling—that abundance—is what’s been occupying my thought life, what I’ve been chewing and meditating on, and saving down in my private thoughts.

So, if we want to know the condition of our heart…take a reading…how do we communicate with people? In the different situations of life? Do people hear us talk a lot about ourselves and our needs and accomplishments? Is lots of our speech gossip? Or do we speak the Truth in love? Do we encourage people spiritually and lead them with the way we speak? What would people around us say about our communication patterns? Are we known for speaking words that hurt or words that heal? 

Another barometer is money. Jesus said, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). Again, Jesus lays His finger on a key Truth about our spiritual hearts. The way we spend, or save, or invest, or freely give…describes what is pulling the strings of our hearts.

Jesus spoke those words when He pressed people to be invested in His kingdom, not just to put away money on earth. You’ve heard the old adage…”money talks.” What’s ours saying? If someone opened up our check register…or if someone got on our computer and opened up our financial records, what would they see there about our hearts? More to the point, what does Christ see as He observes us handling money? 

Does a bunch of our wealth go for things we’d be embarrassed about? Do we spend more than we earn…like the average American? Are we still trying to find that material thing which is going to fill the hole in our hearts? Are we part of the 80% of American Christians who in essence give nothing to Christ’s Kingdom? 

Or are we learning to give more…and give for the right reasons? Are we getting more generous than we’ve ever been before?

A third barometer is worship. Scripture informs us that we are “hard wired” to worship. In other words, we all worship something. By nature, we look outside ourselves for something to which we will gladly and willingly give our interest, our loyalty, allegiance…our devotion. Worship by definition and by right belongs alone to the God of All Glory.

God desires that our expression of worship be His exclusively. He wants worship that comes from the heart. Jesus told the woman at the well, in John 4:23 “true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:23)

What’s the object of our worship? Is it a relationship…or a possession…or the Great I AM…that occupies our hearts?

A fourth heart barometer is love. The things and the people I love paint a picture of my heart. The greatest calling of God on man is to respond to His love by loving Him with everything we are…and to love people in our lives like we love ourselves. 

Jesus’ critique of religious people in His day was they did the right things…they showed up at worship services…they prayed the right prayers…and they gave money…but they did it all without authentic love for God or for people. 

Their hearts weren’t in it. So, beyond ourselves, what are the focal points of our love? Is our love for Jesus Christ constantly more real and growing? Are we committed to noticing people around us and expressing love to them in practical ways? 

The toughest question is the heart question. It requires some significant time to honestly answer before God. How are our hearts? 

Then there is another question…
2. What are our commitments? (Ephesians 5:15-17; Matthew 6:33)

Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

Paul suggests that people of the world live outside the bounds of wisdom. They approach life, they approach all of life’s choices foolishly. But he’s not content to simply observe that; he urges Christians: “don’t let yourself get squeezed into that mold, don‘t fall back into that trap.” 

A lot of people live as if their material life—their possessions, their homes, their wealth—will last forever. They work and buy and relate as if there is no eternity…as if there is no God in heaven…as if there is zero accountability.

But, God’s truth teaches us something very different. And because we know the truth, Paul says, we need to buy up opportunity. He’s not talking earthbound opportunities. He means making spiritual commitments, spiritual investments. Understand that we are here for God’s purposes and priorities. So, we need to invest to get His will done. 

Jesus addressed those priorities in Matthew 6:33 when He said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Jesus says to us…will you stop primarily focusing the aim and direction of your life on things that won’t matter, and get your heart and mind on what will matter? And He spells out what’s of highest value: pursue God’s righteousness. That’s whatever helps us to be transformed into Christ’s image: those are what we must give attention to. Is there rock-solid commitment and conviction in our lives that we are determined to grow in our Christian maturity? Have we made the commitments and taken the steps to be certain that happens? 

Another priority is the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. In other words, we should set our sights on—and employ our resources on—what leads to building and expanding Christ’s Church. 

How do we get a read on our commitments? Scan back through the last couple of months of your calendar. What occupies our evenings and weekends…what consumes our discretionary time. What kind of commitments do we make to entertainment, hobbies, and relaxing? Are our greatest priorities things like making money, expanding our leisure activities, concerning ourselves primarily on preserving our wealth and increasing our leisure? On the flip side, what amount of time do we give to time in the Word and prayer? hospitality with believers and unbelievers?…to building relationships with people who need Christ? 

Beside these commitments, there is another area to consider…

3. What are our daily habits? (Matthew 6:33, 2 Timothy 4:5-7)

Psalm 39 tells us our days are numbered.

People react to that in different ways. Some of us want to live and experience and do and buy and travel and…just squeeze as much as we can into the days we have. 

Others may just want to passively ignore the truth that life is temporal. Passive people live one day at a time…Take life as it comes…Go with the flow…go with whatever feels right at the moment. 

We can get busy with this or that…and suddenly, another year has gone by…and if enough of those years have gone by, we suddenly may find that life itself will go by us in the blink of an eye.

So what are the daily habits that mark our days? What do we do everyday which helps set out the course of our lives? Is Scripture part of our daily regimen? Is time with our Father in reflection and prayer? Is there time in our lives for people who need Christ?

But let’s not limit ourselves to looking back. Let’s look forward to 2015.

A New Year can mean a new start. So, we normally think about things like getting in shape…or, spending less and saving more…or, eating better and getting healthier.

God has candidly and graciously told us how and where we can invest our lives for maximum return. 

Let’s make 2015 a year a spiritual investments.

The first investment you can make this year is: 

1. Invest in knowing God. (Colossians 1:9, 10)

Paul prayed for the Christians in first century churches. He told them often what he prayed for them. That’s the case for the Colossian Christians. Chapter 1:9-10 tells us some of what he prayed: 

“9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,…”

One of the astounding, unique characteristics of NT Christianity is that we have a God Who can be known. Most world religions describe gods who are distant, unknowable, uncaring. Others imagine a supreme being shrouded in great mystery and darkness. But the only real God is very different. He can be known…because He has revealed Himself to us. 

It happened through creation. The Designer left imprints of His character on His designs. Scripture says, “the heavens declare the glory of God.” It says, “the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God.” Beyond creation, God spoke to prophets in words, ideas, dreams and visions. Then He declared Himself in Scripture. We have an inspired and clear, written message which we can read and understand. Then, Hebrews 1 says, God spoke through His Son, Who visited us in human flesh and blood. God repeatedly and powerfully made Himself knowable to people. 

The most beneficial investment you could make this year is to get to know God better.

Knowing God and knowing Christ stands at the heart of our Christian lives. Everything in our spiritual life stands or falls there. We can be really busy and work hard and try to act and look Christian, but everything that is Christian about us centers on this: how well we know God? 

How do we go about investing in knowing God? Let me suggest four ways: 

One is get to know the Truth about Him. The Bible is God’s delivery system for Truth about Himself. When you engage Truth about God in Scripture, you will begin to know Him as He declares Himself to be.

So let me suggest a few of the kinds of things we can do: study some passages which tell us about God’s character. Read great declarations of His character, like we find in the Psalms. Memorize a Psalm…like Psalm 103. Ask Him day by day as we read Scripture to make Himself known. Meditate on the truth of His character and begin counting on it as we encounter life‘s experiences. 

A second concept: study Jesus. Jesus said, if you’ve seen Me you’ve seen the Father. He said, I and the Father are one. Jesus came to earth to show us God in flesh and blood. If we want to know what God is like, we need to take long looks at His Son.

We have four records of Jesus’ incarnation in written form. For the next 12 months, lay out a plan -- first, read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John -- read them several times. Ask Christ to show Himself…His character…His Wisdom…His teaching…His Person…His actions and how He wants to relate to us. When we take some long looks at Jesus, we will get to know Him better. 

Obviously, if we want to know a Person, we need to spend time with Him. We should make this the year we consistently set aside time with God every day. David wrote, One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to meditate in His temple (Psalm 27:4). To dwell in God’s house is another way of describing living fellowship with Him. 

Another  concept is to respond to Him. Here’s what I mean by that. We need to do something whenever God speaks to us and teaches us…from a verse…a sermon…a sudden understanding of a scripture… or a discussion with another committed Christian. The reason I say this is that knowing God isn’t a mind game. God loves to reveal Himself to His people. But He consistently makes Himself known to us for a reason: to transform our character. When God speaks, make some kind of response. We’re not supposed to just take a few notes and stuff them in our Bible…we are called on to…change the way we think based on what God has said…and to repent, when God speaks to us about our sin.

God wants us to commit to steps of obedience. John 14:21 tells us: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.”

God delights to reveal Himself to people who will walk with Him and relate to Him and obey Him. He wants to be known by each of us. Imagine the results, at the end of 2015, if we can say, “I’ve come to know God better.”

 2. So we need not only to invest in knowing God better, but also to invest in our own growth. (Ephesians 4:15, 2 Timothy 3:16, 17)

The Bible describes us at the start of our faith as spiritual infants. But just like with new babies born to us, God’s desire for His children is to grow. That growth process is not automatic. It requires response. Ephesians 4:15 says “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

There are two decisions most of us will have to make if we’re going to grow up spiritually. One is to dump our excuses. We all are wildly creative when it comes to making excuses. We say things like, “I‘m not motivated.” “What happened to me in the past holds me back.” “I’m too busy to do the stuff you need to do to grow”…or even…“I‘m not doing too badly compared to most people.”

Let’s make 2015 the year we jettison those attitudes.

Finally, another way to invest in ourselves is to get God‘s Word into our lives. Our spiritual growth largely depends on our time in and saturation by Scripture. God’s Word changes us, shapes our thinking, transforms our hearts, and changes our lives. 

Another investment we must make is to invest in building Christ’s Church. (Matthew 16:18, Matthew 6:33) 

Jesus said, in Matthew 16:18: "I will build My church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it." We occupy the time frame of earth’s history when Jesus is working to expand the borders of His kingdom and Church by driving back the forces of Hell. The battle for that expansion will continue until He returns. He summons us to join with Him where He’s working to that end. 

There’s no limit to the opportunity, there is no limit to what kind of people He will use. There is only limited availability on the part of His people. 

We read earlier Matthew 6:33 where Jesus says, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be given to you." He was responding to some followers who had gotten their priorities confused. They were thinking about the stuff they needed for everyday life…food, clothing, and shelter. 

Material beings naturally pursue material stuff! But Jesus told them—and He says to us today…that’s not why you’re here. He wants us to have the right priorities and invest ourselves in the things that matter.

Imagine having the great goal of knowing God well…that He would often speak to us, show Himself to us, press closer to us. What a powerful thing to have at the heart of our Christian lives!

Imagine that we invest whatever God puts in our hands in ways to further Christ’s Kingdom and build up His Church. By God’s amazing grace, we must respond as people and as a church which will say “yes” to God.

2015 is not just another year to slip by us. It is the year for us to put forth the effort as never before to intentionally grow in our faith. It doesn’t matter where we’ve been. It’s a new year. Let’s end 2015 with the knowledge that we have put forth the effort to grow spiritually and know Him better.

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