Monday, December 31, 2012

Want To Do Better In Your New Year's Resolutions?

Does the cartoon on the left illustrate how your New Year's resolutions have worked out over the years? Even so, you shouldn't give up. Indeed, you can find new levels of success in your personal improvement goals by looking at them in a whole new way.

My sermon at Faith Bible Church yesterday was the last in a 5-week series on gifts: God's gifts to us of physical and spiritual life; various other gifts God graces us with (righteousness, the Holy Spirit, the fellowship of the church, trials to prove our faith, etc.); the gifts given by the Magi to Jesus; the gift of Christmas itself (being a careful description of the Bethlehem scene); and yesterday's subject, Our Christmas Gifts to God.

That's the first step in overhauling your ideas about New Year's resolutions. Don't make them a matter of self-improvement, targets that you're aiming at in your own wisdom and planning to keep through your own willpower. Take the 12 Days of Christmas (December 25 until Epiphany) and use them for meditation, prayer, and perhaps discussion with loved ones in order to come up with the changes the Lord most wants you to pursue. And then make those your Christmas gifts to Him.

Now I know some Christians are critical of the practice of making New Year's resolutions.  Some because they believe resolutions reflect more reliance upon one's own willpower than upon God's grace to effect change in one's life. Others dismiss resolutions simply because they've failed so many times in the past and have thus grown weary and jaded.

But making resolutions isn't really optional for the Christian. Think for a moment about the Scripture's use of exhortational verbs like "dedicate," "reckon," "count it," "establish," "consider," "purpose," "consecrate," "prove," "remember," "put aside," and many more. All refer to the prayerful making (and keeping) of resolutions to live godly. So, why not use the Twelve Days to go deeper than usual in one's spiritual analysis in order to better serve the Savior in the year to come?

Yesterday's sermon will be up on the Vital Signs Ministries web site in a few days and I encourage those of you who truly desire a higher grade this year with your resolutions to give it a hearing. But here's a few of the basic points for you to consider until then:

* God is a God of grace and, through the cross of Jesus, He is always ready to forgive sin and failure. And He's ready to empower His disciples  to begin again and again. His mercies are new every morning.

* The Latin word behind resolution (i.e. resolve) means to untie. And an awful lot of our obstacles to spiritual growth involve un-tying the knots of bad thinking and bad habits. To untie these knots, we need patience (and other virtues given by the Holy Spirit), better information (Bible study), higher goals (investments in eternity), and better influences (effective fellowship).

* Resolutions are not enemies.We need to embrace the benefits of spiritual growth -- liberation, peace, joy, greater effectiveness in ministry, and so on. We need to see beyond the work to the prize.

Okay, that's enough for now. Like I said, the whole sermon (involving several Scriptures) will be on the website soon. But in the meantime, go ahead and start asking the Lord to show you what Christmas gifts He most wants from you in 2013.