This is the update of a sermon that I wrote and preached 10 years ago while a pastor in Paisley. I posted it on Sermoncentral.com and it has been consistently one of the top rated New Year’s sermons, so I thought it could do with updating and sharing.
Well it’s that time of year again when in a fit of optimism many of us make great promises to ourselves about what we are going to do in the New Year that we usually abandon about the second week in January.
Let’s be honest now.
How may of you kept to the diet?
How many of you actually kept going to the gym past February?
So I am not the only one, am I?
Well this year I am determined its going to be different.
I have made a couple of New Years resolutions I know I will be able to keep for the whole of 2012.
Are you ready?
Here they are,
I have decided to eat more and exercise less.
I have decided to spend at least an extra half an hour a day with my feet.
Now I might well be able to keep those kind of resolutions but they wouldn’t make a great deal of difference to my life, except perhaps to increase my waist size by several inches.
In contrast I want to talk to you about some resolutions, some commitments which I guarantee will make a radical difference in my life and your life if you follow through on them.
In fact, what I want to do is to offer to you a way of starting the New Year which could significantly change your life.
Here is what I want to suggest to you: if you will make four commitments that God in His Word encourages you to make I guarantee you that the start of 2012 could become one of the most significant events in your life.
New Year instead of being simply about having a few days off, if you will follow God’s advice, could become a way for you the gate way to have a better life. I want to challenge you to make 4 new commitments for this New Year.
Here they are
1: COMMIT YOURSELF TO FORGET YOUR FAILURES
I feel sorry for Andy Murray, he is the most successful tennis player the UK has ever produced and yet what we remember at the end of another year is not his many successes but his failures, his failure to win a grand slam, his failure to win Wimbledon.
Over 2000yrs ago one the first Christian leaders, Paul gave this advice “Forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” Phil 3:13-14 That advice from God’s Word has stood the test of time. I don’t know of any more relevant and practical advice for us at the start of 2012. God is saying here that you do not have to live your life imprisoned by your past.
But let’s be honest it is not just Andy Murray who is going to enter this new year remembering his failure of last year.
All of us have failed in some way in our lives over the last year.
Probably we won’t see our failures recorded for history on tv and the newspapers but they are recorded in our hearts and minds. For many of us our failures are painful memories.
Maybe for you it is a memory of how you failed in a relationship. You made the wrong decisions, said and did the wrong things and the relationship ended.
Some of you who are parents probably know that you failed your children in some way, many of us are aware that we have failed our parents and it’s more than likely that many of us know that most of all we have failed ourselves in some ways.
What God’s Word is saying is that we must not allow ourselves to be bogged down by our past failures. That we have not dwell on our past so that it stops us moving forward into the future that God has for us.
I think that the start of New Year is a good time for you to rise to that challenge. To say to yourself I am going to, with help of God, forget my past. I am going to stop torturing myself about what I did or didn’t do. This New Year is a good time to stop being chained to your past failures. God is saying here in His Word that he doesn’t want you to go through your life branding yourself as a failure.
A big part of why Christ died on the Cross died so that he could unleash God’s forgiveness into our lives. When we become Christians on purpose that forgiveness becomes a reality in our lives. What perhaps some of us need to realise is that when we have received Christ’s forgiveness it allows us to forgive ourselves and forget our failures.
I wonder if you need to do that?
Do you need to accept Jesus’ forgiveness and then forgive yourself?
2: COMMIT YOURSELF TO GIVE UP YOUR GRUDGES
I want you to listen to these words from the book of Colossians because in them you’ll hear the second challenge I believe God wants you to rise to if you want to make 2012 a significant turning point in your life .
“Bear with each other and forgive each other whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” Col 3:13
Did you catch that challenge?
God in those words is challenging you directly and personally to give up your grudges. That is what he means when he says forgive each other whatever grievances you may have against one another.
What’s a grudge? ….. A grudge is a deep ongoing resentment that we cultivate in our hearts against someone else.
A grudge is an unforgiving spirit that leads to unforgiving attitudes and unforgiving actions.
Now I know you know what I am talking about.
Harbouring a grudge is about nursing a dislike for someone.
What you need to know is that grudges are dangerous because they are destructive.
Grudges destroy marriages.
Grudges break up families.
Grudges ruin friendships.
Grudges split churches.
Let’s be honest enough to admit that one of the scandals of the Church is the grudges that Christians hold against one another.
Let’s be clear about something, if you know you are holding a grudge against someone then God has something to say to you. He says “give it up.”
I want to remind you that grudges are not just destructive they are also self-destructive. When you hold a grudge against someone you will hurt yourself as much and perhaps more than you will hurt the person you are holding it against.
A few years ago there was a tragic example of just how destructive grudges are. The story emerged on to the tv news like this. A man was killed by a parcel bomb and then a couple committed suicide a week later. It turned out that the couple who had committed suicide had sent the bomb because of a grudge that the man had against his intended victim that stretched all the way back to school. Ultimately that man’s grudge destroyed not just the life of the man he held it against but his own life too.
Make no mistake about it, if you keep harbouring a grudge then it will eventually destroy you, if not physically, certainly emotionally and spiritually. It will make you a bitter and twisted person. The book of Job in chap 21 describes people who “Have no happiness at all, they live and die with bitter hearts.”
Do you really want that to be your epitaph?
Do you remember that parable that Jesus told about the servant who was forgiven a huge debt by the king and then refused to forgive someone else a tiny amount? Jesus said his unforgiving spirit landed him in prison. Max Luxcado makes this interesting comment in one his books. He says, “Unforgiving servants always end up in prison. Prisons of anger guilt and depression.you in His word “don’t sentence yourself to prison.” Set yourself free. Give up your grudges “forgive each other whatever grievances you may have against one another.”
I hope you can see that according to God’s Word the way to give up a grudge is to forgive a grievance.
We need to be really clear about what God is saying here.
He isn’t asking you to ignore whatever the person has done to you.
He isn’t asking you to pretend it did happen.
He doesn’t ask you to condone it, to pretend it didn’t matter. What God asks you to do is to forgive the grievance. That means to acknowledge how wrong and painful what was done to you was but to decide to forgive person who did the wrong to you.
I am absolutely certain that there are people hearing this who need to give up their grudges and forgive the grievance they have against someone else.
Some of you need to forgive the grievance you have against your parents for what they did or didn’t do.
Some of you need to forgive your children for the same reason.
Some of you need to forgive a partner for emotional or physical abuse.
Some of you need to give up the grudge you have against someone at work because of the way they have treated you.
Some of you need to give up the grudge that stems from an argument you had with someone.
Some of you probably need to give up grudges you have against other people in the congregation you belong to.
God says that that deep-seated resentment you have against that person has to go. What better time to make that difficult decision to forgive than the start of a new year?
Now don’t tell God you can’t forgive, because what you really mean when you say that is that you won’t forgive.
If Christ can forgive you your sin despite it involving the pain of the cross then surely you can give up your grievance whatever the cost?
The question is will you do it?
3: COMMIT YOURSELF TO RESTORE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
Every time I turn on my computer a little windows pops up that asks if I want to run a check to see if my programmes are all working properly.
God in his word issues a very similar invitation. It is the invitation not to check to see if our computer software is working properly to but check whether our personal relationships are working properly. Here is how the Lord issues that challenge in “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” Romans 12:18
The important phrase there is, “as far as it depends on you.” God by using that phrase is personally challenging each one of us to do all we can to restore our relationships. The Lord wants you to do everything you can to restore any relationships that have gone wrong in your life.
Some relationships might have gone wrong in your life because of what other people have done and they might well not want that relationship restored. God recognises that. That is why he starts by saying “If its possible”
But let’s be honest some of our relationships have gone wrong because of what we have done haven’t they?
When God’s word says here “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” it is saying if you have caused a rift in a relationship then you have a responsibility to do everything you can to restore it. That everything includes the one thing we all probably find most difficult, asking for forgiveness.
Am I the only person who finds it hardest to say “I am sorry” to the people I am closest too?
I wonder how many marriages are not all they should be or could be simply because someone won’t say “I was wrong, I am sorry, will you forgive me”
I am certain that some of us who are married need to ask forgiveness for “ harsh words and cutting remarks” that have really wounded our partners over the years.
Maybe God is saying to some of you that this change of year is the right time to restore that relationships you ruined by going and sincerely saying that you are sorry for those angry words or those selfish and unthoughtful actions.
Keith Drury is a brilliant writer from the Wesleyan Church and in one of his books he touches on this whole subject of restoring relationships when talking about restitution. This is what he says “restitution deals with more than property. It is also going back and making things right for hurtful things I’ve said or done. It’s far easier for me to tell you some story than to tell you of the difficult and painful times I’ve had to ask my wife, my boys, my boss, friends and secretary to forgive me. Restitution is asking forgiveness for harsh words, quick tongue, or cutting remarks. It is asking forgiveness from a brother you hurt, a mother you caused heartache to, or a former spouse which you maligned. Restitution is confessing and seeking forgiveness from an old business partner, neighbour, or roommate. It is admitting my past errors in relationships and humbly seeking forgiveness from the one I’ve hurt. And it’s harder to make personal restitution than property restitution.”
Make no mistake it will be hard to do but one of the most significant things that you can do to mark the New Year is not set off a firework but to admit your past errors in relationships and humbly seek forgiveness from the one you have hurt.
Will you rise to that challenge and make a commitment to restore your broken relationships in this new year ?
4: COMMIT YOURSELF TO TURN YOUR BACK ON YOUR TRANSGRESSIONS.
I read a book about the American Civil War last year because apparently one of the leading confederate generals was called General Pettigrew. I didn’t find out much about my name sake but one of most interesting things I did discover was that after the war was over and the slaves had been set free many slaves decided to stay with their former master and continue to do what they were told. They were set free but they chose to live as slaves.
I found that interesting because the New Testament says that is exactly how many Christian choose to live. Christ died to set them free, the Holy Spirit has given them the power to be free, but just like those former slaves they still choose to obey their old master, sin. Listen to these words from Romans “Do not let sin control the way you live, do not give in to its lustful desires … we are no longer slaves to sin” Romans 6:2
That is the last challenge that I believe if you will rise to meet will make this New Year truly significant for you. When God says “Do not let sin control the way you live, do not give in to its lustful desires.” He is issuing the challenge to turn your back on your transgressions.
In one the churches I was the pastor of the photocopier broke down so often I was on first name terms with the engineer. Almost every time he came he would say “Same old fault” He explained that each model of photo-copier usually has a particular way of going wrong that happens time and time again.
That is a principle that is as true inthe spiritual world as it is in the electronic world. Christians of previous generations used to talk about something called “besetting sins.” What they meant by besetting sins were particular sins that a particular Christian was prone to doing time and time again.
For most of us when we are saved we give up certain sins easily but there are other things that we know are wrong that we really battle with. Those are our besetting sins. Many of us end up choosing to give into our besetting sins and so end up living double lives.
I get a magazine called Leadership Journal and about 10yrs ago there was an article by an anonymous pastor that described his battle with his besetting sin, pornography. How he gave into time after time and then was overcome with guilt. Maybe that is how you lived over the last year, constantly defeated by the same old sin.
About 20 years ago I was at a wedding when I saw a man with a huge growth on his neck. You couldn’t avoid seeing it, it was so large. I remember overhearing someone that knew him saying, “He won’t do anything about it he has just learned to live with it”
That sums up too many Christians attitude to their besetting sin. They won’t do anything about it and they learn to live with it.
I have to ask you is your spiritual life crippled because you have learned to live with a besetting sin?
Do you have a quick temper that you constantly give into?
Or a caustic tongue that loves to assassinate other people’s characters or wound their feelings?
Have you learned to live with that critical judgmental attitude you know is wrong?
Is there a sexual sin that you keep on giving in to?
Have you been going too far with your boyfriend or girl friend?
Have you been secretly logging on to pornography sites on the Internet time and time again?
God here in his word challenges you to turn your back on that sin whatever it is. To stop letting it control the way you live. To stop giving in to it. He wants you to stop obeying your old master.
Let’s be clear about this: Jesus death broke the power of sin, the holy spirit can give us the power to resist sin and all of that means that you don’t have to go into this new year still being defeated by the same old sin. You can have the victory over it. God says you are no longer a slave to sin so don’t live like one or act like one. If you will ask for God’s forgiveness for your sin and his power to resist that sin then this millennium can be for you not just a new era in history but a new era in your spiritual life. Don’t miss that opportunity.
It all boils down to this: Will this New Year be just a calendar changing event for you or are you willing to rise to these challenges from God’s word and make these commitments and so make it a life changing event?
Are you willing to make these 4 commitments for 2012?
Will you commit yourself to forget your failures?
Will you commit yourself to give up your grudges?
Will you commit yourself to restore your relationships?
Will you commit yourself to turning your back on your transgressions?
This New Year will really be something to celebrate if you’ll make forgiveness the heart of what it’s all about for you.
Have the courage right here today
To forgive yourself and “forget the past”
To forgive others who have hurt you “and forgive whatever grievances you have”
To ask for forgiveness from those you have hurt and “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”
To ask for God’s forgiveness and no longer be a slave to sin