NEW YEAR’S 2013 – ARE YOU READY?

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New Year’s Day is the closest thing to being the world’s only truly global public holiday or day of celebration.  It may be celebrated on different months and different days but the new year is celebrated in almost every nation and culture.  Most countries use the Gregorian calendar as their main calendar, and New Year’s Day is observed on the first day of January.

The month of January originally owes its name to the deity Janus, the Roman god of gates, doors, and beginnings.  Janus had two faces, one looking forward and the other looking backward.  January 1 represents the fresh start of a new year after a period of remembrance of the passing year.  In our country we celebrate New Year’s Day with New Year’s resolutions, parades, football games, and fireworks.

2012 has been a very eventful and alarming year in many ways.  It has been a very stressful year for many who have lost jobs or who have lost family members in very traumatic ways. Thoughts of the end of the world have filled the minds of many of us.  Have you given your fears, concerns, regrets, and disappointments from the year 2012 over to God?   Pastor Ray Steadman once told his congregation, “On New Year’s Eve we realize more than at any other time in our lives that we can never go back in time.  We can look and remember, but we cannot retrace a single moment of the year that is past.”

Looking ahead, are we ready to move on into 2013?  As we’ve waited for, and been warned about, the end of the Mayan calendar and the predictions of the end of the world, are we ready for the calendar of events God has revealed to us in the Bible?  According to the Scriptures, the next thing on the world’s  calendar is not the end of the world.  That won’t occur for over a thousand years.  The next thing we need to be ready for is the rapture of Christians.  By “Christians” I mean those who have repented of their sins and have invited Jesus Christ to be their Savior and Lord, and their changed lives bear witness to the fact that their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ is real.  I Thessalonians 4:15-18 and I Corinthians 15:50-53 tell us that all genuine Christians will suddenly disappear.  They will be caught up to meet Jesus Christ in the air and be taken to heaven.  Are you ready for that moment?  If not, you will be left behind, and there will be seven years of Tribulation – the wrath of  God upon the earth.  Please make a New Year’s resolution to come to a personal knowledge of, and commitment to, Jesus Christ.

Dr. Dennis DeHaan shared the following message in the New Year’s Eve Daily Bread brochure in 2004.  16th-century Venetian artist Titian portrayed Prudence as a man with three heads.  One head was of a youth facing the future, another was of a mature man with his eyes on the present, and the third head was that of a wise old man gazing at the past.  Over their heads Titian wrote a Latin phrase that means, “From the example of the past, the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil the future.”

This has not been an easy year to look back on, and the coming year may not be an easy one to look forward to, but we are not alone.  In the Old Testament book of Joshua, chapter 1, after Moses died and God told Joshua to enter the land of Canaan and conquer it, He also gave this promise:  “As I have been with Moses, so I will be with you. . . . Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Let’s dedicate ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ so that we might enter the year 2013 with courage and joyful excitement!

THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT – Philippians 4:10-23

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INTRODUCTION:

A deacon in a church once said to his pastor:  “We Christians are either thermometers or thermostats”.  A thermometer doesn’t change anything around it.  It just tells the temperature.  It’s always going up and down.  But  a thermostat regulates the room or building it is in.  When you turn up the thermostat, the heater comes on and the room gets warmer.

The apostle Paul was a thermostat.   Instead of having spiritual ups and downs as his situation changed, Paul went right on, doing his work and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.  Here in Philippians 4:10-23, Paul gives the reasons for his contentment, and gives the glory to God.

I.  PAUL’S CONTENTMENT (verses 10-13)

In verse 10, the apostle Paul rejoices that the church at Philippi had become concerned about his needs.  He had been praying for them.  Now Paul rejoices at the way God had answered his prayers and provided an opportunity for them to be of service to him while he was in prison at Rome.  Then Paul says in verse 11, “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”  The word “learned” means “learned by experience”  Paul had to go through many difficult experiences in life in order to learn how to be content.  When Paul wrote these words, he was deprived of almost everything – except contentment.

I may have shared this illustration with you before , but it’s so appropriate for this verse.  Leaning on his fence one day, a devout Quaker, who believed in simplicity of life, was watching a new neighbor move in next door.  After all kinds of modern appliances, electronic gadgets, and plush furnishings had been carried into the house, the Quaker called over to his new neighbor and said, “If you are lacking anything, neighbor, let  me know, and I’ll show you how to live  without it.”  That Quaker and the apostle Paul had at least one thing in common – they had learned the secret of contentment.  We may not always be able to choose our circumstances in life, but we can choose our attitude toward them.

The opposite of contentment is dissatisfaction or greed.  I’m sure we’ve all met greedy people, but people aren’t the only ones who are greedy.  An animal that is almost impossible to capture is the ring-tailed monkey of Africa.  But the Zulu people have a method that’s both simple and effective.  It’s based on this little creature’s love for a particular melon that grows on a vine.  The seeds are its favorite food.  Knowing this, the Zulus cut a small hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to put his hand inside to get the delicious morsels.  The little fellow reaches through the hole and grabs as many seeds as he can.  But pulling his clenched fist out of the melon is impossible because now it is larger than the hole.  He will pull and tug and scream and struggle to get free, but it’s no use.  As long as he holds on to his prized seeds, he is trapped by the melon – and the Zulus have captured one more ring-tailed monkey.

All too often we also become the victims of our own selfishness and greed.  Lured by the  attractiveness of material things, we strive to get more and more.  Then one day we realize  that what we have been living for is the cause of our frustration and unhappiness.  Our hand is in the “hole” and we can’t seem to get it out because we won’t let go!

Happy is the person, whether wealthy or poor, whose greatest satisfaction is in the Lord Jesus Christ!  That person can say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”

Paul’s motto is found in verse 13:  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  A father found his little boy one day trying to lift a heavy stone.  The youngster pushed, pulled, and struggled to get the boulder to move.  Then, as he was just about to give up, his dad said, “Son, are you using all your strength?”  “Sure am”, he answered.  “No, you aren’t”, the father responded.  “I’ve been standing here all the time and you haven’t asked me for help!”  How often have we tried to do things without relying on God’s strength?  We use up all our energies, and then, because the task seems impossible, we’re tempted to throw up our hands and give up.  Remember, we are not using all our strength unless we are drawing upon the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in us.

II.  PAUL’S GRATITUDE (verses 14-18)

In verses 10-13, Paul expresses his gratitude to the church at Philippi for their many gifts, especially for their most recent gift.  In verse 15, Paul says “No church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone.”  They showed their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love for the apostle Paul, by giving sacrificially to Paul.  Let me share with you another example of sacrificial giving.  In about 1490, two friends, Albrecht Durer and Franz Knigstein were struggling to become artists.  They were very poor and a lot of training was involved.  So they decided that one would work and support both while the other pursued art classes.  They cast lots and Durer won.  Before leaving, he assured Franz that he would return and help him so that he could develop his talent.  He did come back to keep his promise, but to his surprise, he discovered the enormous price his friend paid.  Hard labor had caused his slender, sensitive fingers to become stiff and twisted.  They would never be able to perform the delicate brush strokes necessary in fine painting.  On one occasion Durer found Franz kneeling, his gnarled hands folded as he prayed for his companion.  Quickly the great artist sketched that scene, and from it he produced his masterpiece, “The Praying Hands”.  The world is richer because of Albrecht Durer, but much credit must also go to his faithful friend.

In verse 18, the apostle Paul thanks the Philippian church for their most recent gift.  He calls it “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”  Thank you notes give us the opportunity to make permanent our feelings of gratitude for our friends or loved ones.  Paul sent a thank you note to the Christians at Philippi.  They were the only church that had supported him financially on his missionary journey, and Paul did more than just say thanks.  He told them specifically what good they had done by helping him.  Thank you notes work both ways.  They help the sender to express appreciation, and they help the receiver to know what he had done to assist.  Does someone you know deserve a note of thanks?

III.  PRAISE TO GOD (verses 19-20)

In verses 19 and 20, Paul gives praise and glory to God, and says, “You met my need, and God is going to meet your every need.”  A needy widow in Chicago lived by the motto:  “The Lord will provide.”  Even when severely tested, Mrs. Hokanson never lost her smile and her deep faith.  Casting all her cares on God, she found that He always took the burden and supplied the needs.

Mrs. Hokanson was the sole support for her mentally retarded son.  Eventually, chronic arthritis confined her to bed.  When a church  youth group went over to Mrs. Hokanson’s house to cheer her up,, they were amazed to discover that she was not depressed.  When she was asked, “What will you and Arthur do?” She gave her usual quiet, confident response, “The Lord will provide.”  When Mrs. Hokanson died, many people wondered what would happen to her son.  But when friends and neighbors went home with Arthur after the funeral, he proudly showed them his collection of stamps.  Instead of tearing the stamps off the envelopes, he had taken and kept over a hundred letters intended for his mother and left them unopened.  Many contained substantial gifts – enough to care for the boy for the rest of his life.

When we cast all our cares on the Lord, we’ll be amazed at the wondrous way He provides! Our needs can never exhaust God’s supply.

God’s promise to provide for our needs covers the little things as well as the big ones.  The same God who helped Elisha retrieve the borrowed axe head in II Kings 6, and who supplied flour and oil for a faithful widow in I Kings 17, will meet all our needs as well, not only the physical needs, but also the emotional, social, and spiritual needs.  We worship a God who is greater than any of our problems.

Have you learned the secret of contentment in your life?  If you are still searching and want answers, please go to my ABOUT PAGE, especially to the section entitled QUESTION.  If you have more questions or want to know more about a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, please leave a comment and I’ll respond to you.  Thank you for your attention, and may God give you the joy and contentment you desire as you respond to Him.

PRESSING ON – Philippians 3:12-16

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INTRODUCTION;

Most of us have probably read biographies – books that tell the story of another person’s life. Maybe we were curious, and hoped to discover what made that person great. In Philippians, chapter 3, the apostle Paul is giving us his own spiritual biography. In verses 1-11 Paul tells us about his past. Here, in verses 12-16, Paul describes his present spiritual journey. He compares it to a race, and he gives us the essentials for winning that race and one day receiving the reward that the Lord Jesus Christ has promised.

I. DISSATISFACTION (verse 12)

The first essential for winning the race is dissatisfaction. In verse 12 the apostle Paul says, “not that I have already attained it, or have become perfect”. Paul is not saying here that he is dissatisfied with Jesus Christ. In verse 8 he talked about “the surpassing value of knowing Christ”. But Paul is dissatisfied with his Christian life. Self-satisfaction is the death of progress. Dissatisfaction with past accomplishments is the mother of invention. Because man was dissatisfied with carrying and lifting loads on his shoulders, he invented the wheel and the lever. Because he was dissatisfied with walking, he invented vehicles to ride in. Many Christians are self-satisfied with their Christian lives because they compare their spiritual progress with that of other Christians, usually with those Christians who are not making as much progress as themselves. But Paul did not compare himself with others. He compared himself with himself and with Jesus Christ! In verse 12 Paul says that he had not arrived at perfection. One mark of spiritual maturity is realizing that we aren’t perfect. The process of becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ is much like riding a bicycle: either you keep moving forward, or you fall down!

II. DEVOTION (verse 13a)

The second essential for winning the race and receiving the prize is devotion. Paul says in verse 13, “but one thing I do”. “One thing” is a phrase that is very important in our Christian lives. “One thing you lack”, said Jesus to the rich young ruler. “One thing is needful”, He said to Martha. “One thing I know”, said the man who received his sight by the power of Jesus Christ. “One thing I have desired of the Lord” said the psalmist. Many Christians are too involved in many things, when the secret of progress in our lives is to concentrate on “one thing”. For example, the cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world. He lives on the plains of Africa, and when he’s hungry he chooses one specific animal in a herd of deer or antelope and goes after it. Ignoring others, this swift cat has been clocked at nearly 70 miles per hour in hot pursuit of its prey until he catches it.

The same kind of determination and single-mindedness has been shown by some people. One of them was a man named Howard Marvin. First, a numbness crept into his fingers. Then weakness progressed quickly through his body. Within hours he was becoming paralyzed. Howard had Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease that causes paralysis and sometimes causes death. He lived, but he was left totally paralyzed. Recalling Howard’s attitude of mind in those months that followed, his son said, “Dad’s one goal was to survive”. When he was told that his best friend had died, he accepted it and put it out of his mind.” He cared very deeply about his friend, but he refused to use up any energy in grieving because he needed every ounce of strength just to get well. Howard Marvin is walking again. Did God do it? Howard would be quick to say “yes”. But without a single-minded, dogged determination, he might still be helpless.

The prize of becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ takes that same kind of devotion. Becoming like Christ is the one thing worth giving up everything else for.

III. FORGETTING THE PAST (verse 13b)

The third essential for running the race and receiving the prize is “forgetting the past”. In verse 13, the apostle Paul says, “forgetting what lies behind”. Sometimes Satan will remind us of our past sins, trying to convince us of our unworthiness to serve Christ. When you are under attack, it’s a good idea to thumb through your Bible and notice the many people who were failures, but who went on to do great things for God. Would the apostle Peter have preached that wonderful sermon on the day of Pentecost, when 3000 people responded to Christ, if Peter was continuing to dwell on his denial of Christ and refused to believe that all had been forgiven and forgotten? Would the apostle Paul have founded churches, written epistles, and traveled across the country if he had allowed the memories of his persecution of Christians to make him feel guilty and discouraged?

When we confess our sins, they are forgiven and God will never mention them again. The choice is ours. We can either brood over our past or “reach forward to what lies ahead”. We can’t change the past, but we can trust in God’s forgiveness and live for the future. The words “reaching forward” picture a runner leaning forward to touch the tape first and win the race. If you watched the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, you saw that happen many times.

IV. DETERMINATION (verse 13b)

The fourth essential for running the race and receiving the prize is “determination”. The apostle Paul says in verse 14, “I press on toward the goal”. The point that Paul is trying to make is that we are not to give up, in spite of obstacles that may cross our paths. The Christian life is like a steeple chase, which is a long foot race that has many hurdles to jump over and many large puddles of water to slosh through. You may have watched that race during the Summer Olympics. Many of the racers fall at least once, but they immediately get up and continue running in spite of the aches and pains because they are determined to run the race to its completion.

A man by the name of Johnson Oatman wrote a song about this verse of Scripture. The first stanza of his song goes like this: “I’m pressing on the upward way, New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day; Still praying as I onward bound, ‘Lord, plant my feet on higher ground’.”

The famous preacher Charles Simeon said that whenever he looked at the portrait of Henry Martyn, these words came to his mind: “Don’t trifle … don’t trifle!” In other words, “Don’t waste your time on unimportant or trivial things”. Martyn had graduated from Cambridge University with honors in both mathematics and the classics, and had the makings of a brilliant career. But he chose to serve the Lord in India. He was almost 25 when he arrived there, and at the age of 31 he died. Yet in those six years he translated the New Testament into three languages – Hindustani, Arabic, and Persian. Only eternity will reveal how much his work meant to other missionaries, and how many people were saved because of it. It is said that Martyn’s picture still hangs in a hall at Cambridge where students go to pray, and that his penetrating gaze still seems to say, “Don’t trifle … don’t trifle!”

V. DISCIPLINE (verses 15 and 16)

The fifth and last essential Paul gives for running the Christian race is “discipline”. This means remembering and obeying the spiritual rules given in the Word of God. It is not enough to run hard and win the race. The runner must also obey the rules. In the Greek Olympic games, the judges were strict about this. Breaking any of the rules disqualified the athlete. He did not lose his citizenship (though he disgraced it), but he did lose his privilege to participate and win a prize.

One of the greatest athletes ever to come out of the Unites States was Jim Thorpe. At the 1912 Olympic games in Stockholm, Sweden, he won the pentathlon and the decathlon, and undoubtedly was the hero of the games. But the next year officials found that Thorpe had played semiprofessional baseball, and therefore had forfeited his amateur standing. This meant that he had to return his gold medals and his trophy, and that his Olympic achievements were erased from the record books. It was a high price to pay for breaking the rules.

One day each Christian will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The Greek word for “judgment seat” is “bema”, the very same word used to describe the place where the Olympic judges gave out the prizes! If we have disciplined ourselves to obey the rules and to follow the example of Christ, we will receive our rewards.

Let’s run our race with joy, just as our Lord Jesus ran His race during His life on earth. Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”