First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes December 29, 2019
Russell Long, Elder
3:1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
5 Therefore put to death
your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.
8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,
Well 2 days from today is the last day of 2019.
One of the nagging things about facing a new year is this business of New Year Resolutions. I heard on the news recently that 45% of those polled made them and of that group a whopping 7% were successful in their endeavor. We all make them or at least feel that we should make them and like the Christmas toys, they are soon broken. An examination of the lists of resolutions made by members of this congregation would no doubt see goals ranging from losing weight to staying with an exercise program to developing more spiritual discipline to being more kind to being a better husband or wife or parent or child.
Have you ever stopped to wonder what is really behind our New Year resolutions? When we clean out the underbrush of this resolution thing, we find our best New Year resolutions are based on spiritual realizations.
The Desire To Be A Better Person
First, resolutions say that deep down we want to be a better person than we are. We want to be more decent, more generous, more spiritual, more fulfilled than we are.
The Realization That We Fall Short
And since we want to be a better person, that means we realize that we fall short of being the kind of person we ought to be and should be and want to be. Even though all of us have private areas of our life known only to us and God, we know we fall short even if others don't know. As I get older, I find the time races by at an alarming speed. At the end of the year I look back and say, “what have I accomplished for the kingdom of God, who have I helped into the kingdom.” And when I see what little I have accomplished; it hurts me to know I have failed to live up to God’s standard for my life. I say with Peter in Luke 5 "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" That sense of unworthiness, of falling short, of being a sinner, welled up in Peter's heart. I believe the Bible teaches that feeling to be universal.
We Don’t Have The Power To Change
Next to these truths that we want to be better than we are, and that we know we fall short of what we ought to be is a third truth: Experience teaches us that we Don’t have the power to change ourselves. After countless resolutions there stands the bitter truth that in ourselves there is not the power to become the person we ought to be and want to be. We need only to read Paul's struggle with himself in Romans 7 to realize this is a universal human situation.
7:15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
7:16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.
7:17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
7:18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.
7:19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
7:20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
7:21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.
7:22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,
7:23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
7:25a Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Becoming Better People
How can you and I become better people in 2020. What can we do to become the fulfilled, moral, spiritual people we desire to be? Are there some plain steps to take that bring more power to the struggle than mere resolutions? I am certainly for resolutions, written or unwritten, but can we find more strength than that?
A study of people in the New Testament reveal some steps to our becoming the person we ought to be.
A Better Person Through A Vision of Christ
The first step: To make lasting changes in our lifestyle, there must be a guiding vision. In Paul's own life, there was the vision of Christ on the Damascus Road. As Paul traveled the known world preaching Jesus and standing before kings, he said, "I was not disobedient to that heavenly vision ..." In Colossians 3:1 we are told, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth".
In Luke 9:62 we read “no man, having put his had to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” When I was young I worked on a farm and in the spring when we plowed, we would pick an object in the distance to focus on and by doing so would plow straight. If we looked back to see how we were doing, we would wander off line. Jesus was saying in Luke that a person who was worthy to be His disciple had to place that same priority on the mission that Jesus was calling him to and to keep focused on Christ so not to wander off course. We’re not to be distracted by thoughts of what we are leaving behind.
Let our resolutions be based upon a vision of Christ on the cross, dying there because of our sin. See Christ on the cross paying the penalty for our sin. If we keep that vision before our eyes, we can find strength.
But let the vision of Christ be not just Christ on the cross, but also of Christ resurrected. Sometimes we put all the emphasis on Jesus' death. But to stop at Jesus' death is to taxi to the end of the runway and stop; it is to mix up the cake and not bake it; it is to cook the meal and not eat it! As Paul says, "If Christ be not risen, then we of all men are most miserable!" But with the resurrection, there is unleashed in this world a mighty spiritual power in the hearts of those who believe that Jesus is the Savior. "To as many as believed gave He the power to become the sons and daughters of God!" The death on the cross takes away the punishment for sin; the resurrection brings into our lives a new power for daily living.
But how can we who believe keep this power giving vision of Christ crucified and risen before our eyes, in our hearts and minds and daily lives? We can practice the presence of Christ through daily prayer, through Bible and devotional reading and through gathered worship and fellowship with other Christians. The first two, prayer and devotional reading, are private and essential. Also, essential and public is your relationship to the church, the fellowship of believers. And sometimes we take the church for granted. Take this church out of your life and imagine what the past year would have been like.
A Better Person Through A Vision of Self
After we establish a fresh vision of Christ, then we are ready to add to this a vision of our self as God intends us to be. Think with me for a moment: Think of yourself, your habits, your lifestyle, your values and goals, your personality as you are. Now vision yourself as having the goals, values, personality that God wants you to have. That's the fulfilled, loving person God wants you to be. That's the person who can make a difference in this world for Christ. Now go further with that vision of you as you ought to be, should be, could be if you kept the vision of Christ before you. Think about the difference it would make at work, in your home, in this church. It is amazing what God is doing with us as we are, broken and rebellious; image what this church would be like and what we would be doing if each of us became the person God wants us to be!
A Better Person Through A Network
There is one other aspect of this new year resolution business I want to touch on. We can become the person we want to be if (1) we keep a vision of Christ before us to motivate us; if (2) we keep a vision of the person we want to be before us; and (3) if we build a network of support to encourage us and help us be accountable to the vision. Now the church family helps us do this in many ways. But we need more.
In the past Our session had a vision of small groups developing within our church body to accomplish this need for spiritual growth support. That is a great idea. We seek out three or four other people, or couples, and begin to meet with them on a regular basis to pray together and discuss spiritual things and how it is going with you spiritually.
It is time to get to the successful carrying out of our resolutions. And it all begins with the vision of Christ in our hearts, in our minds, before our eyes. A vision that leads to confession and faith, to repentance and spiritual growth, to becoming who God wants us to be and who we want to be.
The 1st verse of our 2nd song read:
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art:
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Are we looking to Christ for our vision of who we want to become? Is he calling you today into a more intimate relationship with Him. Heed His call.