Tuesday, January 1, 2013

I was asked to do the sermon at Woodman State Jail on December 30th, 2012 and the Lord just seemed to move in powerful ways. Not only did He give me a Word to speak over the ladies in two services but He taught me so much in the process. I wanted to share the sermon with you.
However, I also want to share the special story I ended the sermons with here. A friend, fellow scrapbooker and crafter, spent some time recently in NYC and she is sharing her story of a picture she snapped of a special moment during that trip on her blog. Amy had a wonderful time with all the sights and adventures of New York. But without fail our God also gave her a gift that touched her far more deeply than a few memories she will no doubt later scrapbook.

Here is the sermon, I hope you enjoy it.

We are in that unusual time of year where many people put a lot of focus on the New Year both looking back over the year just past and at the same time looking forward wondering about tomorrow. We begin making plans and often a consistent tradition as an American is that of the “New Year’s Resolutions”.

I have to admit I’ve made a lot of them and I can’t say I’ve ever kept a single one. If I have, only God knows which one(s) it might have been but I sure couldn’t tell you! I can promise you though they are made with the best intentions, they are filled with many things common to us all…But one thing I bet is for sure, in doing so, in making a New Year’s resolution, it seems we have to look back to our “failures”, our “weaknesses”, our “things not done” in order to come up with resolutions for this New Year!

As I often teach in the faith based dorm at Woodman State Jail, when I think about conferring understanding of a lesson, I often begin with a dictionary definition that we can understand so we’re all on the same page…let’s take a look at that definition…..our word for today….”resolution”.

Webster’s defines “resolution” as the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method, procedure, etc.

So in other words, WE have determined upon a course of action.

Unfortunately my observation has been in our culture, by making New Years resolutions it seems we are often saying to ourselves that we did not do something right last year that this year we want to do….something we want to change….something we want to improve on that we feel we failed at in the previous year….some way we just didn’t measure up to some standard, would you say that’s true? And would say you that the standards you are measuring yourself by are the world’s standard’s, your standard’s or God’s standards?

For me, in most of my New Year’s Resolutions I have centered them around either my standards or the world’s standards and, I have harshly condemned myself in many areas of my life!

See if this is true for you – I’ve focused on my health and weight loss resolutions (who can relate?) to areas such as how I treat others, how I have handled conflict, how to manage my anger or tempter, how often I help clean my house or how clean my house is, what ways I’ve managed my finances, how many projects I’m going to finish that I didn’t finish last year and on and on and on.

And then I start looking at what I would call my “Christian-ness”, the amount of time I’ve spent studying or being in God’s Word, praying, focusing on my relationship with Him, serving in my church, attending regular services, tithing, ministering to others and giving more to His work than to my needs or my personal time.

Bottom line, in most of my resolutions and in most of our resolutions I can bet we would agree, we beat ourselves up pretty good, even when it comes to our relationship with our loving and gracious God.

Well, I believe God has something different to say about the matter…….

In fact, Phl 3:13 … (Paul says in his writings to the Philippians) Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, (repeat that to yourself…”forgetting the past”) How many of you can say you can “forget the past and look forward” in your every day thinking….now I’m not talking about those times when you are in bible study and God has you gently going through a recovery from something that needs to be removed and healed, I’m talking about our every day stuff where most of our superficial resolutions come from!

Paul goes on to write … in … Phl 3:14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (NIV) My Holman’s Christian Standard Bible Version says it this way in Phil 3:13-14, 16 Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus And Paul goes on in verse (16) to say, “In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained.

God is asking us to forget our transgressions, our mistakes, our backslides and let Him cover those with your repentance and His sacrifice to move on to the promises He has made you!

Let’s look back into the Old Testament to…Isa 43:18 "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”

Isa 43:19 says “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

Can you see how in our New Year’s resolutions so many that are caught up in the past; they literally become prisoners to the past, so much so that they find it hard to move on from it. Their New Year is focused on the past and what wasn’t or what they think shouldn’t have been there. While others become so immobile or passive, not wanting to go forward, they almost become content in their “comfort zone”, even when that comfort zone is not good for them they will stay there. Still others are so lost -- looking both in the past and in the future so much they miss the present; the blessing of the moments that would be spent with Him if only they allowed it.

I know of some people who live in past blessings, talking about what God used to do, and what it was like years ago, what He did once upon a time in the Bible. I also know people who are only remembering blessings they once recognized and could see and I know this because I can say I have been one of them. I could only see the moves of God in my life from one specific time but often I could not see how He is continuing to move in my life today or trusting that He is when I cannot see it clearly. So I make resolutions to take over my life and manage things for myself forgetting that….

God is a God of the “now”, today His blessings are for us to enjoy and live out. Each and every day we should reach out to God for a new blessing, a new in soaking of His Holy Spirit, to be filled daily, with something new in God.

If we look at Jeremiah 29:11 (a scripture I bet many are familiar with) it reads “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” Plans speak of a future event, not a past event….and not a criticism of past events but just of a future; but hear it clearly….His plans, not ours (known as resolutions) and yet can we hear God’s loving grace?

Nowhere does he talk about the past and focusing on what was. He doesn’t say “I know the plans I had for you if only you had kept this resolution or this promise to me…” He doesn’t say that and He never will because we are covered by His new covenant.

Another favorite verse of mine one might in fact focus on the past but listen to the words carefully and see if you can see God’s determination for you to look forward with hope and anticipation….

Joel 2:25 says “I will restore the years the locust have eaten.” Yes, it talks about events in the past but not without a promise for the future and a promise of restoration! He is stating a fact of history but saying….here’s your future in My Hands.

God isn’t worried about our past!

He’s worried about our today, our acknowledgment of Him and our relationship with Him as well as how we will proceed and what our focus for our today will be. When we accepted Christ, our pasts were washed clean in His sight. So why are we so unable to do the same for ourselves?

Now I know what you’re thinking……what about goals, plans, objectives. What about hearing God’s voice and trying to walk that out. Hey! If you are certain you are hearing God’s voice clearly and you know the plans He has for you then walk them out but don’t make them another “resolution” that won’t be kept. Walk them out with certainty and vitality! Be zealous in your goals and plans as laid out by God!

But what about those of us who aren’t certain that we know His plans for us, our purpose? And those of us who keep taking back the steering wheel from God. Where does this leave us? What will we focus on if not the things that torment us from our past or the plans we can make with our limited resources and our tunnel vision of this reality and this world?

Because if I’ve learned anything --This truly isn’t God’s plan for us! So let’s let God open up to you a whole new beginning where you can step forward; away from the failings, away from the broken dreams, away from the brokenness and sadness and disappointments of yesterday. Are you ready for that?

Mat 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, don’t worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself? Each day has enough trouble of its own.” If we’ve put tomorrow in God’s hands to let Him handle (I know, hard hard hard to do) and we’ve put yesterday in His hands because as His children we can…we now can focus on “seeking first His Kingdom and His righteiousness”….

God’s will for us is first to seek His Kingdom and in doing so aren’t we seeking Him? For is it not through Him that we find His Kingdom and His righteousness?

***I think of a time when I spent hours a day in study and reading the Bible. My time in the Word made it come alive for me and I felt I had all I needed. In fact, I was heard to say “I can do this; I have my God and my Bible, what else do I need?” And I walked that out for months with a confidence I have felt few times since….But soon the world crept in and I spent less and less time in the Word and less and less time reading the Bible and less and less made sense to me and the “aliveness” of His word seemed to fade. Not because He took it from me but because as the world climbs into our hearts, it pushes Him out. For it is His righteousness that truly gives us Him, and in our hearts as He dwells there, we grow in love and relationship with Him.

I can’t tell you the times I’ve missed this lesson and the times I’ve struggled with my relationship with Him but if I would put aside my worldly worries as directed in Matthew 6:33, I might find less battles within myself and more time to just enjoy Him and His presence in my life!

So how do I seek His Kingdom? Do you feel like you know? I’m not sure I knew until I started working on today’s lesson and I think I finally found some places to plant myself for a few minutes….

I think He gives us a firm direction in Philippians 4:8-9

Those in the faith based dorm or have been in J3 (that wonderful place God has planted me to serve in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice) have heard me speak many times on this very scripture and the more I read it, the more application in my life I find. At times I see this scripture as a way to help me view my fellow man and overlook the things I find that cause strife. I’ve used it to teach harmony and peace in the dorm. In fact I’ve taught often on this in the dorm, explaining that if we focus on the things of Philippians 4:8-9, we have little time to focus on the drama and trauma around them.

But yesterday as I read what Paul had written, I began to see something new; God’s direction in finding Him, His Kingdom, His presence and His peace. Let’s read what Paul has been inspired by God to teach us.

Phl 4:8- 9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Is it just me or is Paul describing Jesus?) Let’s go on to (9) Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me (remember, this is Paul talking, not me!), or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

He’s described Jesus and then described what Jesus has taught him (Paul) that he would like to pass on and in doing so has given us a resolution of where to put our energies not just at the beginning of the year but each and every day knowing as we have been taught, that God’s grace is new every day….

So I would leave you with this thought, if you are determined, as we all so often are – to make New Year’s resolutions, I might suggest what I have determined. First, be gentle with yourself as God is gracious and gentle with you. Focus on the scriptures for the areas that need the work God wants to do in you; it’s personal…and for me it starts with….

Mat 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Finally, Leslie, stop focusing on what you do not have but what is right in front of you, the Lord of Lord and King of Kings who invites you into His Kingdom!

And Leslie, focus on Phl 4:8- 9 … whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. In other words, focus on Jesus! And the God of peace will be with you.

It is in these next final passages that God shows His love for us, His desire for our attention to specific areas of our lives and of the world around us. I think if God would come to each of us and write our New Year’s resolutions for us, they would look much like these scriptures.

2Cr 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (And Paul continues to write) Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

Paul isn’t saying to beat yourself up but to recognize where you are weak God can make you strong! Who needs a resolution if your King will step in where and when you need Him and just take over?

What resolution do we need if God’s Grace covers us and He is always at work in our lives except a focus on Him and His Word?

…(2Cr 9:8 And Remember God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. I would challenge you as I challenge myself….to focus not on our past year or a year ahead that we can beat ourselves up over….but to focus on what God is willing and able to do in our lives! Will we let Him? Will we resolve to focus not on what we didn’t accomplish or didn’t do or must do or should do but what God can do and what He longs to do in our lives?

A friend of mine is visiting New York City this week in anticipation of a New Year’s Eve on Time’s Square and she posted a moving picture of a man on his knees, on his folded coat, in front of a nativity scene. His head was bowed and his hands were folded in prayer. She said she sat and watched him for several minutes as she saw the sincerity wash over the man as he give thanks and glory to His King. She was so awe struck she snapped a quick picture because she wanted to remember this moment and the look on his face and she posted it on Facebook to share with us with this caption….“I resolve to filter out the noise this year and listen closer for God's will and direction. I've spent 2012 learning to trust Him. I have a feeling 2013 will not disappoint. Thanks be to God.” – Amy A. -- Please visit her blog at www.sewcialbutterfly.com

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