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A new year and an old challenge....

Tomorrow is a new year—2024.  We can probably all agree that 2023 was a year we are glad is over….for various political, economical, social and ecological reasons.  Adieu 2023! But as we look to 2024, will it be any better? And if it can, what things should you or I do to make it a very good year. After all, we’re pretty tiny and limited  in terms of our significance on this planet.

Now, I don’t claim to be a genius, but I do look observe things, I read I bit, and I am trying to listen to both sides of arguments more.  And what I have witnessed over the past many years is a modern society, here and in Europe particularly, introducing new ideas and new ways of  educating children from kindergarten to graduate schools.  For the past 40 years our education system is always looking for new and better ways of teaching people, a method that is more open-minded to some pretty radical and wacky ideas.  But what astounds me is that those in charge of education have not tried the old ways that effectively served mankind well for thousands of years.  You can say what you want, but 50 years ago children did not kill their teachers, bring weapons of mass destruction to school, flaunt any sort of authority, fail to understand basic math, writing and reading skills, or become addicted to drugs.  There may have been mistakes made 50 years, but nothing such as we are seeing today. Likewise in our nation, something is wrong with the mainline churches and the media’s attitude towards Christianity. It’s not that our citizens have not gotten bored with Christianity, they have never discovered enough of it to get bored with it!

So what are we to do—small men and women that we are—living on this very, very large rock called “Earth”?  Let me suggest this morning, that if some of us in this room, right now,  or some of those reading this devotion today, truly decided to believe that it is possible to live the beatitudes…it is within our reach to have unshakable confidence that by faith we can move mountains….and if we resolutely decided that we are ready to be used by God in any way He sees fit,  we could start a fire that resulted in a great awakening in America and Europe.

Let me share nine ideas that are not mine, and not new—-they are alls God’s ideas—but somehow modern men have by and large forgotten, watered-down, or abandoned these truths:

1 Light and darkness:

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

God does not contradict Himself in terms of right wrong—dark and light.  If He says “no”, it means “no”——not maybe, or later, or perhaps, or He’ll think about it. It’s “no”.

This year put aside the dark things—the deceit, dishonesty, ulterior motives and sin in general—choose to walk in the light.  Light allows us to see where we are going and not stumble, fall, waste in going the  wrong way, etc.  By walking in the light we can see things as the really are, not the way those in darkness see things.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.  Only Jesus Christ can bring light into our lives and the life of this nation. We’ve lost our way as a country—we need a lamp.   Plato said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”   We need leaders that aren’t afraid of light.

2 Our Eyes upon Him and not on our steps….

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  If your eyes are fixed upon your feet ,and all that’s churning  and swirling around you, you are going to sink just like Peter did in the Sea of Galilee.  There are too many variables, possibilities, options and things working against us—we cannot possibly shield and protect ourselves from everything.  But if our eyes are fixed upon Him, we can be sure that nothing is going to befall us unless He permits it for a good purpose.  Fix your eyes on Jesus; and yes, in this case, it’s ok to stare!

3 Belief and no doubt….

“But when you pray, you must believe and not doubt at all. Whoever doubts is like a wave in the sea that is driven and blown about by the wind. If you are like that, unable to make up your mind and undecided in all you do, you must not think that you will receive anything from the Lord.”  This is where many of us who claim to be Christians fail the most.  Our prayers might be eloquent, long and impressive—but do we believe???  Are we resisting evil, praying with confidence that our prayers are heard and God will  answer us?

Bob Goff said that Christians should, “stand up like a mountain; have faith like a rock; love like an avalanche.”  Sometimes we must step out boldly, even while others are wringing their hands telling us why it won’t work or what might happen if we fail.  Ignore them and step out anyway! "Courage doesn’t mean we’re not afraid anymore, it just means our actions aren’t controlled by our doubts.” (Goff).  Do you believe that God can fill this (or your) church?  Do you believe that God can bring the lost into your Christian place of worship?  Do you trust that God can heal a broken marriage and restore the friendship that’s been shattered?  Is He able to open the eyes of the people of this nation so that we can elect men and women of integrity to the nation’s highest offices???

4 Humility and not self-centeredness and conceit….

“Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10.  Every day my pride and ego relentlessly fight against any hint of humility in my heart. But once humility is overcome, my ego continues its battle to take control of my entire life.  That pride leaves me paralyzed, frustrated, imprisoned. Pride’s symptoms expose me for what I really am without Christ: I become easily offended and angry because I don’t get my way, and I find myself speaking cruel and harsh words to those I love, or, worse, I exude a smug sense of superiority, since I am surely more spiritual and more successful than others. Oh, how ugly, sad and selfish our pride and ego must seem to our humble Savior and servant Jesus!

If you hear nothing else, hear this: Pride comes from the devil—humility comes from Christ.

5 Giving instead of getting

Paul said, “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”    I wish every teenager and child would  hear me and believe this: “Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.” – Ben Carson

Jesus told us to not let our right hand know what our left hand was giving. “Always give without remembering…. and always receive without forgetting.”   What a difference we would see in our community if we lived like that.  Churchill said that,  “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Remember this in 2024: The happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.   Mother Theresa said that, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.

6. Listen more, talk and educate people less

Dale Carneige once said that “each man is in some way my superior”.  Think about that….wisdom and knowledge can be found in the words of every person you meet. Therefore, make it a priority in 2024 to talk less and become wiser by listening to others.  Saints James said, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).17. “Most people need love and acceptance a lot more than they need advice. (Bob Goff)

7 Keep your word—no matter what!

“When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake.”  God honors those “ who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the LORD; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind". Psalms 15:4-5 New International Version (NIV)

In 2024, stop breaking your promises and stop blaming someone or something else when you do!If you can’t keep your word, don’t offer it! Let your handshake, your word, your guarantee mean something, like it used to in Biblical times.

8 Be still, quiet and listen  when the Spirit speaks

Moses said this: Exodus 14:14 (NIV) “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."

We’re told in Lamentations 3:25-26 ESV. “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”  Someone once said that,  “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”  Do the things that matter in life, and wait for Him to bring to completion those things He has led you to create, establish, and pursue!  But this requires faith that God will cause it to take root and grow. Don’t give up—trust Him and listen to Him—not the naysayers in your life.

9. Let the way you love others be the proof that are truly a believer in Jesus Christ….

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   

Do you love like that?  More importantly, will you in 2024?   Loving others, from the heart, is the greatest tool for evangelism and church growth in the world!  The manner in which we love our enemies, those that disagree with us, those that shamefully use us represents Patriot Missiles against Satan!

To love someone—anyone— is to see him as God intended him or her.  You’re an ambassador for God Himself when you love, as He loves.  It’s been said that  “Faith makes all things possible…but love makes all things easy.”   You will find, in 2024, that if you choose to love as Christ loves, that being loved is life's second greatest blessing; loving is the greatest.

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.  (Saint Augustine). May we all be creatures of love in 2024, and may a revival take place because of it—and may it start with me….

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