MESSAGE DELIVERED: JANUARY 1, 2017
Well, beloved, here we stand, at the very dawning of a brand new year. And I can’t think of a better way to begin that new year than by gathering together like this for corporate worship and praise of our great God and Savior.
But I want to remind you that today is also known as “low Sunday”, an event that occurs twice each year. It refers to the Sunday immediately after Easter Sunday, and the one after Christmas, and that is where we are right now.
After all the hustle and bustle, the mad rush to get everything ready for the holiday…all the preparation and anticipation…today it’s all over. The presents are all opened, the wonderful meal eaten, and no we have “just another Sunday”, even though it’s the very first Sunday of the year.
So I think it’s always a good idea at times like this to go back to the book of James, the man who was a half-brother of Jesus. Of all the writers of scripture, James and his brother Jude were the ones that were arguably the men who knew Jesus best, having spent some 30 years with Him.
They had lived with Him, shared a home and daily meals. They went to school together, played and probably fought together as brothers always have. James was the one who, at the height of Jesus’ ministry, had become convinced that He had ‘lost His mind’, and tried to take Him, by force if necessary, back to Capernaum, to protect Him from Himself. (You can read about that in the 12th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.)
So before we charge head-long into this new year, let’s take a few minutes to look at what James is trying to point out here for us. He is saying that TIME IS SHORT, and we need to be making the most of whatever time we have left, by allowing Almighty God to lead us through it.
And we need to remember how quickly time passes, and the older I get, the truer that becomes. The beginning of a new year is a great time to look backwards, before looking ahead. I remember as a kid in school, when the grading periods were divided into 6-week segments, and how those 6 weeks seemed to drag on forever. Now those same 6 weeks seem to go by in a flash, in the blink of an eye!
I mean, it seems like just a little while ago, when everybody was all in a dither about that “Y2K” problem, and were convinced that all the computers in the world were going to crash and send us back to the stone-age. Remember how worried we all were on New Year’s Eve, 1999? And then remember how nothing happened?
Well, here we are again, and now we’ve got a whole new set of problems to worry about. The wars in the Middle East have dragged out longer than any conflict we’ve ever been involved in, and seem to be on the verge of blowing up again. There are several small nations with nuclear capabilities being led by men who seem willing to start Armageddon just to make a point.
Our economy is in the toilet and we have elected a man as President who we have no idea how he will behave once he takes that office. But we need to step back for a bit, and take time to reflect on just how short our time on earth is, and how quickly time passes…and above all, what will happen to us when our allotted time has passed.
Remember that it is Jehovah God Who has numbered our days. Some of us will live far beyond the “four-score years” that Moses said was the span of a ‘strong man’. Some of us already have, while others will not reach that “three-score and ten” that we’re given as an average…and none of us knows which is which.
If we will take time to realize that everything had a beginning, and therefore will also have an ending…and not just our earthly lives, but the very earth itself…that should make us think about what really matters.
About the importance of “ultimate values”, especially in a world that denies “values” in the first place…a world where our children are being taught that nothing is ABSOLUTE…that there is no “right or wrong”…but that everything depends on the situation…and what is wrong over HERE, may NOT be wrong, over THERE!
So with all that in mind, as we move forward into this new year, let’s look at a few things that might be helpful in the days ahead. And the 1st thing I want you to see is: If you are a Child of God, a believer in His finished work of redemption on the Cross…then you should realize that your life ON earth is LIMITED, by God’s design…BUT, that the end of this life is no barrier to you. It is simply the opening of a door that leads to ETERNAL life, in God’s Kingdom.
John 17:3 says…”This is eternal life, that we may know the only True God, and Jesus Christ, who He has sent”.
And 1st John 3:2-3 says…”Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when HE is revealed, we shall be LIKE Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And whoever has this hope in Him, purifies himself, even as (Christ) is pure”.
That word, HOPE, as it is used there, means the ABSOLUTE ASSURANCE that the believer has, that Christ WILL return, and WILL take all God’s children to Glory WITH Him! We KNOW that He WILL, but we DON’T know WHEN.
In all those old Saturday afternoon cheesy science-fiction movies that we used to love when we were kids, the Martian would land his flying saucer, get out, extend some sort of hand and say “Greetings, earthlings, I come in peace”. But the truth is, IF you’re a believer, you’re NOT an ‘earthling’. The God who made you to inhabit this earth, has now RE-made you, to inhabit ETERNITY!
And He has given you His Holy Spirit, as an INDWELLING PRESENCE, to GUARANTEE that He WILL rescue us FROM this world of sin…that He WILL redeem us from these bodies of DUST, which grow steadily weaker and are attacked by diseases. He WILL call us to Himself, to live WITH Him, for eternal ages, in a perfect world, without end!
I know that YOU know these things. But I also know that it is very important every once in a while, to remind you…to bring these truths back to the forefront of your mind, and to contemplate on them for a time. We need to remind ourselves, as we hurry through our days, that we have the very same promise that Paul had…the promise that led him to say “Whether I live, or whether I die, I am the Lord’s”. (That’s Romans 14:8)
And IF you ARE His, then you need to realize that this world is filled with UN-believers, whose greatest need is to accept that Gift that God has offered to all, through the death of His Son, whether they REALIZE that or not.
Obviously, your greatest WITNESS, MUST be your LIFESTYLE, so those unbelievers can SEE Christ in you, and come to understand that they must have what YOU have! But also, gently, appropriately, remind them that the time to MAKE that all-important decision, grows shorter with every passing day.
It is so easy, when we try to act in our own intellect and power, to do HARM to those unbelievers, by trying to force them into Christianity, by constantly bombarding them with reminders. I have known people to literally RUN AWAY from the Lord, because of repeated badgering by well-meaning but untaught believers.
That’s one reason you have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you: so you won’t HARM the very cause you’re trying to promote by hounding the unbelievers instead of loving them. You need to prayerfully allow HIM to work through you, instead of you trying to do the work FOR Him.
As Christians, we know that the best time to be saved is RIGHT NOW! We know that 2nd Corinthians 6:2 says “Behold, now is the accepted time. Behold NOW is the day of Salvation”. WE know that, but THEY don’t. THEY, if they have thought about it at all, may have decided that they have to wait…until they get some OTHER things taken care of…or they want to ENJOY life first, before they turn their backs on all the pleasures of the world.
People often think they can live their lives their own way, and then just before they die, accept Christ on their death beds. A lot of people actually DO think that way. The problem with that, the very obvious problem, is that nobody KNOWS just when they fall unto that ‘death bed’, and by their waiting they actually MISS that glorious eternity.
And it’s a CERTAINTY that, by waiting, they miss the opportunity to SERVE the one who saved them. I heard a story about a man like that. He had a good friend that was a pastor, but he himself preferred to live for the world, instead of the Lord.
One day this man suffered a massive heart attack and was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. It was touch and go whether he was going to survive. His pastor friend was called to see him, and there in the E.R., looking death in the face, he confessed to his friend that he was afraid to die, because he knew he was lost, as his friend had told him many times.
So right there, with all the tubes and wires and doctors and tests, the pastor succeeded in leading his friend finally to the Lord.
But the doctors were good, and the man’s life was saved, and he went on to live a fulfilling Christian life for many more years. Then, AFTER many years, the man suffered another massive heart attack, and land back in the same emergency room, and again his pastor friend was called to come to him.
When the pastor arrived he asked his friend, “Don’t tell me you’re still afraid to die?” And his friend said “No, I’m not afraid now, but when I think of all the Lord has done for me, and how little I’ve been able to do for HIM, I’m not AFRAID to go and face Him, I’m ASHAMED to have to face Him”. Does that resonate with any of YOU?
Knowing that one day you WILL stand before the Lord, as your JUDGE, and have to answer to Him for all the things you have done on the earth…will you face that day with confidence, knowing that you have done all that you possibly could have done for Him…or will you fall on your face before Him in SHAME, for all the things you COULD have done, but didn’t? Because you KNOW that day WILL come, and that’s why I gave you as a memory verse, or what really is a RE-memory verse, James 4:17. “To him that knoweth to do good but doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
So let’s look at this question for a bit…”What would you do, if you knew that today was the last day of your life?”
That question was asked of a farmer who had lived a faithful life before the Lord, and he answered “I’d go out and plow that back forty acres”.
See, he understood a simple truth. We don’t know WHEN our lives will end, but we DO know that they WILL end. So we should live EVERY day as if it were our last. And given that, there are certain things that we SHOULD do EVERY day.
FIRST, we should begin each day with prayer. Thank God for His blessings. A lot of folks forget to do that. We DO pray, but all we do is ASK Him for things. We forget to THANK Him for what He has already given us. And that old song holds a great way to do that. “Count your blessings…name them one by one…”
Well, then having thanked Him for what He has done, accept that new day as an opportunity to ‘HELP’…to help the Lord in His work in the world today. When Jesus ascended back into heaven, He left us…spirit-filled believers, behind to serve as His Hands and Feet, His Ears and Eyes…as His Heart of compassion. Make a determination to BE that earthly helper each new day.
Then, accept the day as an opportunity to help YOURSELF…to be a better person…to try to do a better job at whatever you have to do. Take a tip from that army recruiting poster, and “Be the best you can be”! And take a tip from ole Ben Franklin, and tell yourself “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well”!
THEN, determine to help your FAMILY members to meet THEIR goals…NOT by PUSHING them, but by coming along side and tenderly OFFERING your help. And finally, determine to help OTHERS that you may encounter throughout the day, as you have the time and opportunity. And be honest about that.
It is so easy to come across someone in need, and say to yourself “I don’t have the TIME to help them”…and if you truly DON’T have the time, then offer up a prayer that someone WILL have the time. But don’t EVER say you’re too busy, just to get out of helping. We need to bring back that old BOY SCOUT motto, and TRY to “do a good deed every day”.
Respond to EVERYone with love! Face every situation with a spirit of goodwill. Commit yourself TO the good will of OTHERS, daily!
No matter WHAT each new day brings you, remember WHAT and WHOSE you are…and approach each day that way. This day before us right now is both the first Sunday of the new YEAR, and the first Sunday of the MONTH, and as always, on this day we end our service by observing the Lord’s Supper. Having just spent so much time looking forward to his BIRTH, it is now time to remember WHY He was Born in the FIRST place, and that was to rescue us from sin.
So I’m going to ask the deacons and deaconesses to come and prepare the Lord’s Table for us…and as they come I’m going to ask you to listen prayerfully as I read the words of institution, as Paul recorded them in 1st Corinthians 11….