Sunday, January 18, 2009

Never Stop Starting Over!

Scripture Reading: Romans 6:1-11
Scripture Text: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Who here today made New Year's Resolutions? OK, wow, about half. Of those of you who didn't, how many of you were just ambivalent to the concept? OK, now how may of you were like, "New Year's Resolutions, NO Way!!!" New Year's Day resolutions have a big part of our celebration of the New Year. But did you know that New Year’s Resolutions can be traced back to the ancient Babylonians. They had some of the very same ones that we know like being successful, getting life in order, giving back borrowed farm equipment...that sort of stuff!

New Years’ Resolutions
- One man who proudly made New Year’s Resolutions boasted, “There’s nothing like getting up at six in the morning, going for a run around the park, and taking a brisk shower before breakfast.” His friend replied, “Wow, how long have you been doing this?” To which he replied, “I start tomorrow.”
Janus - January is the start of the new year as we all know, but did you know that January is named after the Roman god “Janus.” Now Janus had one head with two looking back and one looking forward. What a great name for the first month of a new year. New Year’s Day is so much about looking backward at the year or years past and reflecting. Do we like where we’ve been? How we look? How we’ve succeeded? How we lived? But like Janus, January has another face that looks ahead...What do we want the new year to bring? What do I want to accomplish? How do I want to live differently.

New Starts - A New Year means a new start...a sort of wiping the slate clean...What if we really could have this? A wiping of the slate clean? What if we really could start the year with a new start, a clean start, with the power to live the abundant life. I stand here today to tell you that you can.

The Struggle
Habits & “What We Do”
- Now I know some of you might be saying, but Mark, we’ve tried this. We’ve done the New Years’ Resolutions, we tried the fad diets, the short-lived exercise programs, we’ve given up cigarettes for a few days, we’ve spent the money on books and classes to help our stagnated career.

I don't think this was about Tom, but I'm sure he can relate to it....At the beginning of a New Year, a high school principal decided to post his teachers' New Year's resolutions on the bulletin board. As the teachers gathered around the bulletin board, a great commotion started. One of the teachers was complaining. "Why weren't my resolutions posted?" She was throwing such a temper tantrum that the principal hurried to his office to see if he had overlooked her resolutions. Sure enough, he had mislaid them on his desk. As he read her resolutions he was astounded. This teacher's first resolution was not to let little things upset her in the New Year.

Writer Ed McManus has some words of comfort for those of us who set resolutions: "Don't worry about [keeping] those 2009 News Year's resolutions," he says. "You only have to deal with them until February and then you can give them up for Lent."

I don't know how you are doing on your New Year's resolutions, but my prayer is that you are having success in your faith resolutions...But, I also know that those are difficult struggles too.

Alot of us have stuff in our lives we’d like to get rid of...A volatile temper, a sharp tongue, a gossiping whisper, a deceitful mind, a greedy heart, a lusting body, a gluttonous stomach. Often, too we know that these things are things we should change, things that we’d like to change. But it’s hard isn’t it. Afterall, the anger comes when we’re stressed and tired. The sharp tongue comes in defense of an attack, the alcohol calms me down...and all that holiday food was just WAY TOO GOOD to resist! There are lots of excus...I mean reasons why we haven’t changed...But perhaps we’ve never really, and I mean really, tried...Maybe it’s time for a new start.

Training Elephants - Don’t get me wrong, many of us have experienced the set backs. Like our joking of New Year’s resolutions, we’re almost trained to expect failure. We’ve been trained like elephants. You see the circus ties baby elephants to tent pegs. Try as they might these baby elephants can’t pull the tent pegs out; however, the crazy thing is that adult elephants, with the power to pull out three pegs, don’t even try to resist when they are roped to the see from a young age these elephants have struggled and lost against the pegs...They don’t realize they now have the power pull free.

I think alot of us have experienced just that. We have our tent pegs holding us down and pulling us back. Sins that entangle and ensnare. Habits or sometimes lack of habits that we have struggled against for so long, we’ve pretty much given up.

Tar Babies - Some of us though experience a different struggle, which I call the Tar Baby. The story is based on Uncle Remus’ stories where Br’er Rabbit, arrogant and impetuous is tricked by Br’er Bear and Br’er Fox. Br’er Rabbit gets mad when this “man” sitting on a log won’t speak to him, so he hits him, but his fist gets stuck. Unfuriated, he hits him again, but now the other hand is stuck...A kick, another. A headbutt, and eventually, his entire body is stuck to blob of tar, and soon Br’er Rabbit is facing a hungry bear and fox boiling water in anticipation of rabbit stew. You see there are some things that the more we fight with, the more stuck we get. Addictions, unfortunately often fall into these categories. The more we’ve resisted, the more failures we’ve amassed, depressed, and drinking again from the bottle, overeating, or shopping.
***It’s time for a new start.

The Victory - Fred Craddock once told a parable about a man who moved into a cottage equipped with a stove and simple furnishings. As the sharp edge of winter cut across the landscape, the cottage grew cold as did its occupant. He went out back and pulled a few boards off the house to kindle the fire. The fire was warm, but the house seemed as cold as before. More boards came off for a larger fire to warm the now even colder house, which in return required an even larger fire, demanding more boards. In a few days the man cursed the weather, cursed the house, cursed the stove, and moved away.
The Failure of Give & Take - If we want to truly have a new start and have victory in our lives...If we really want to live the new and abundant life, we have to recognize that we don’t have the power within us to conquer all. We can’t give to ourselves victory. We can’t take from ourselves the struggle against our own flesh. The very first act of faith is the recognition that we need God. The beginning of New Life is dying to ourselves.

New Life - The Resurrection of Jesus could only come after the death, and our victory over our struggles can only come after giving our life to Jesus. Romans 6:9-11 says, [read it]. Are you ready to live a new life? Are you really ready for a new start? Start at the foot of the Cross, where God is proclaiming love...His love for you.

Is The Power On? - There was a man who went into a hardware store with a chain saw. He threw the chain saw down at the store owner''s feet and said, "This is a piece of junk. You told me that I could cut down forty trees a day, and I couldn''t cut down any more than three." The owner said, "Well, maybe the teeth on the saw need to be sharpened." Once that was done, the man took the saw back home, only to return three days later. The man said, "It''s still a piece of junk. It''s a little bit better, but not much. Now I can only cut down five trees a day and you said I could cut down forty. I want my money back." The store owner responded, "I really don''t understand it. This is a good piece of equipment. Let''s try it." The owned pulled the starter rope and the chain saw started right up. The man looked at it, surprised, and said, "What in the world is that noise?" Too often that's us isn't it...those of us who come to church every Sunday, who proclaim, "Jesus is Lord of my life"....yet we are still stuck living in old ways, worldly ways, feeling unable to change or feel the power of new life!

The New Life is about living a new life in the Spirit of God. For it is the Spirit that gives us power. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” When we accept God into our lives, we accept this Spirit of Power to dwell within us. Often, it’s said we invite Jesus into our hearts, theologically speaking, we accept Jesus as Lord and receive the Holy Spirit in our lives. God within us, the power of God, the Spirit of power, love, and self-discipline.

New Starts - Resolutions are good, especially if there are changes we need to make in our lives. I heard about one poor guy who dialed his girlfriend and got the following recording: "I am not available right now, but thank you for caring enough to call. I am making some changes in my life. Please leave a message after the beep. If I do not return your call, you are one of the changes."

Not Resolutions...Revolutions! - There was another guy who decided to make only resolutions this year he could keep. He resolved to gain weight, to stop exercising, to read less and watch more TV, to procrastinate more, to quit giving money and time to charity, to not date any swimsuit model, and to never make New Year's resolutions again.

Maybe he's onto something...Perhaps, what we need is not another resolution, but a revolution. We need a turning point in our lives. Today can be that day. We’re just into the start of a New Year, and I felt that I should wait for this sermon...3 weeks into the year, the resolutions are failing (or never began), and the routine is setting back in...but it doesn’t have to.

Today I declare you free. Free from every rut, from every routine, from every sin that so easily entangles, and by the authority of Jesus given to his followers I say this, “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily entangles, and let us us run the race God has set before us. And we have the power to do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith!”

I close with this story...

Living Who We Are - Rabbi Marc Gafni recalls one of the first bar mitzvahs he ever performed. It was for a boy named Louis. Louis was awkward and sad. His insensitive parents did little to encourage his self-esteem. They implied that he was too dumb to learn the traditional Hebrew passages a boy recites for his bar mitzvah.

Rabbi Gafni was determined to bring out the best in Louis. He spent extra time teaching him the songs and prayers. He discovered that Louis was smart, and had a fantastic singing voice. On the day of his bar mitzvah, Louis performed beautifully. At the end of the ceremony, Rabbi Gafni stood and spoke directly to Louis. He said, "Louis, this morning you met your real self. This is who you are. You are good, graceful, talented, and smart. Whatever people told you yesterday, and Louis, whatever happens tomorrow, promise me one thing. Remember . . . this is you. Remember, and don't ever lose it."

A few years later, Louis wrote to Rabbi Gafni. The boy whose parents predicted that he was too dumb to perform a traditional bar mitzvah was studying for his medical degree at an Ivy League university. He was also engaged to be married. Louis ended his letter by saying, ". . . I kept my promise---I always remembered my bar mitzvah morning when you said that this is who I am. For this, I thank you."

Never Stop
Starting Over!
- Brothers and sisters, you have been joined with Jesus in baptism, and you are children of God. Galatians 3:26 says, “You are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” Remember who you are. Remember that in Jesus you can have a fresh start, a new beginning. Each day is a new day. Each year is a new year. I implore you on God’s behalf, Don’t ever, ever, EVER stop starting over...for you have a new life.

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