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Changes For The New Year

 A text transcript of the message preached at Elijah Ministries on 15/01/2006.

 Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus. 

Happy New Year!

It’s lovely to see so many faithful saints back here at Elijah, eager to hear the Word, I’ve missed you guys. – PJ asked me to preach today – he’s away with his family. As your humble servant, I hope I can be a small blessing to someone out there today. Let us pray:

Father, we come before you and ask that you to meet with us now Lord. Open our hearts and our minds so that we can hear your voice Father, not what we want to hear but what you would have us hear. We pray that as we start this New Year, that we can be blessed anew with your precious Word. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen.

I trust that you’ve all had a refreshing break from work and had a pleasant holiday. I had a blessed opportunity to spend a week in Sodwana Bay with my family, where I did some Scuba diving. It’s incredible, but every time I dive, it never ceases to amaze me how glorious God’s creation is. Under the sea, it is so beautiful that I sometimes think that the Bible’s got it wrong, that heaven is down and not up! The awesome power of the sea is still for me one of the most tangible and visible evidences that there is a living God.

Anyway, so back at the grindstone, it’s that time of the year where most people look back on the last year, see what a mess we made of things and decide that some change is needed. A New year gives us the chance to make a fresh start. Some people make New Year’s Resolutions. Resolutions in order to change those areas in our lives that we think most need to change, and we base these on our priorities. Many people want to lose weight, become more healthy, become more fit and start gym, take a new class, make more money, be more successful etc etc. – all based on our priorities.   What I want to ask you this morning is…

What are your priorities for this new year? What do you want to change in your life? Are your priorities where they should be? My message this morning is entitled 'Changes for a New Year'.

Sermon on the mount
Most of us are familiar with the story of the Lord Jesus and His sermon on the mount. In Matthew Chapters 5, 6 and 7, we have many of Jesus’ great teachings that even people in the world know: we have the beatitudes, our general responsibilities to God and our neighbours, and teachings on how we should be living our lives as Christians, as we wait upon His return. Then Jesus ends that Sermon with the parable of the foolish man and the wise man. Turn with me to Matthew 7. ……..

 Here, having spent a few chapters teaching us how we should be living as Christians, Jesus suddenly tells a parable.

Matthew 7:24  "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  (25)  "And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  (26)  "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  (27)  "The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell--and great was its fall." 

It’s quite strange, but this sounds like He was describing New Orleans!

Generally speaking though, this parable is talking about salvation. If your life is built on the rock, which is Jesus Christ, well when the storms of life and the storms of judgment come in, we will be saved. But if we're not built on the one foundation of Jesus, well then we're in serious trouble - not just in the storms of life, but in the great storm of judgment that is currently shaking this world. And I don’t think I need to remind you of how devastating that judgement is.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, landslides, global warming - all at unprecedented levels in recorded history; not to mention AIDS, Tropical diseases, Bird flu. There were so many hurricanes in 2005 that for the first time in recorded history, they ran out of names for them and had to use Greek numbering to identify them. The National Oceanic and atmospheric administration department of the US government released this statement in December This hurricane season shattered records that have stood for decades— the most named storms, the most hurricanes, the most category five hurricanes and the most major storms hitting the US coastline. Arguably, it was the most devastating hurricane season in recorded history”. These things are not coincidences people -The wrath of God is shaking this evil world, and as PJ so often tells us, that shaking is going to get a lot worse. Time is short.

Obedience
 But back to our parable, there are a few things we need to notice. More specifically, the parable of building the house is talking about obedience. Notice that the imperative of Jesus here is obedience. V24
He who hears these words and…. ACTS on them. The KJV says whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and ….doeth them.  It’s not enough to just believe. If you hear these words of Jesus, and do them, then you will be compared to the wise man whose house was built upon the rock.

 You have to hear His words and …do them, be obedient to them… otherwise your house will fall…

 And just how obedient are we? I really fear that the last days Church of Laodicea is growing at an astonishing rate. Where the Christian is lukewarm, neither hot nor cold – worldly Christianity, comfortable Christianity, Christians with one foot in the Bible and the other foot firmly in the world, Christianity with a compromise.

Where the Word of God is the truth, but only when we feel like it.

 For example, there’s a chap called Rick Warren, who many say is becoming the greatest evangelist the world has ever seen with his Purpose driven life and church building programmes, and he says, and I quote: “You've heard me say many times that the greatest thing you can do with your life is tell somebody about Jesus and help them secure their eternal destiny…. Well, I was wrong. There is one thing you can do greater than share Jesus Christ with somebody, and it is to help start a church.” Unquote. So, someone’s salvation is less important than starting a church?? Warren has gone on to say that, and I quote again: “Christian fundamentalism will be the enemy of the 21st century church. Fundamentalism  is a very legalistic, narrow view of Christianity.” Unquote.

Personally, I believe the only way to be a Christian is to be a fundamentalist - fundamentally grounded on the Truth, and that Truth is, the Word of God, which is so much more important than the self-serving opinion’s of men.

 A fundamental Bible-believing Christian. There is no other way….

 But the mega-churches say that The Word of God is true, but only when they feel like it.

 And because of this, many just believe in Jesus and think the job is done. They don't realise that on this pilgrimage towards heaven, along the long, narrow and rocky road, that it's not about pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die, or the assurance of life after death in some later world. On the contrary, we are supposed to be building a house, a life based on the Rock that is Jesus, all along the way having a secure, loyal and binding relationship with Him. We are supposed to be building a life that will glorify Him, a building of obedience founded on the firm foundation of the words of our Lord Jesus.

If you know that you have been saved, can I make you very aware this morning, that you are obliged to build a house, to build a life to the glory of the Lord Jesus. And so I ask you: How is your house? …..

 Have you even laid it’s foundation yet? ….Or maybe you’ve built the house, but your roof is leaking? ….Maybe your house is feeling shabby in relation to your obedience, and how you glorify Christ in your life? ……Maybe your house is worse than shabby, maybe your house is falling down, in bad need of renovation. Or maybe…. you need to rebuild your house entirely, because you've become ashamed of it.

 The apostle Paul said in 1 Cor 10:31  Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  

And that means whatever you do… not just on Sundays, not just at home, not just at work….  it means in everything you do… do it unto the Lord. Christianity is not a belief system or even a religion – it is a way of life and a really difficult one at that. Remember always that you’re not working for yourself, you’re not even working for your boss…… you as a Christian should be working …for the Lord …unto the Lord, to HIS Glory.

Will the house that you build this year, or the life that you lead, be to Christ's glory?

 And what about last year? Take a look back at 2005 - Was it to the glory and honour of God? What about the festive season? Did you honour God in your actions? Did you show the world how a true Christian behaves? Or maybe you blended in so well, that they couldn’t even tell the difference? …….Maybe… you blended in so well… that they couldn’t…even tell …the difference.

The church of Laodicea
If your life isn’t a testimony to the Lord, then you need to seriously consider which direction you are headed. If you are not growing in the Lord, closer to Him, eager to please Him in your actions, eager to read His Word, then you must be lukewarm. And let me show you what the Lord thinks of lukewarm Christians…

 Turn with me to Revelation 3: 

Here He is speaking to the 7 churches of Asia Minor. And the last church He mentions is the church of Laodicea, which also represents the church of the last days, the times that we are currently living in. Please notice that in this passage, He is speaking to the church. He is speaking to Christians.

 Revelation 3:15  'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.   'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 

This is a serious warning people, He is not talking to the world, He is not talking to unbelievers, He’s talking to the church…. to Christians…. to us….

 And what is the reason for this lukewarm state? Well, He tells us in v17:

 (17)  'Because you say, I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing, and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.

What an indictment of the modern day church! What He’s saying here is that we’ve become so puffed up in our own accomplishments that we’ve actually lost our humility. We’re in need of nothing, we think we’re so blessed, but in reality we’ve missed the plot completely – because Jesus sees us as wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Lukewarm, self-righteous, having need of nothing, having lost all humility. Having lost the fear of the Lord. Puffed up by our own self-importance.

The word Laodicea actually means “the people’s voice”, where Christians listen to what they want to hear, not what they should be hearing. And this is confirmed in 2 Timothy 4: let me read it for you…

 v 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;  (4)  And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

And how true is that of modern day Christianity. Where church growth programmes are more important than salvation of the individual. Lukewarm. Listening to only what we want to hear. Self-righteous. Lacking in humility.

 

Is this what we’ve become? Where Jesus is ready to spit us out! God forbid!

 How come when there’s disagreement, even amongst Christians, it’s always the other person’s fault? How come we are always so self-righteous? No humility. It's always the other person's fault, it’s always the other person who needs to change.

 I hesitate to guess that we spend far too much time praying, "God, change my husband, change my family, change my boss, change my colleagues...... change the conditions in my life...". Yet we seldom pray the most important prayer, the humble man’s prayer: "Change me, Oh Lord. The real trouble isn't my spouse, my brother, my friend. I'm the one who stands in need of change." And this year, we need to stop pointing fingers at others and take a long hard look in the mirror.

 Remember too that God orchestrates the steps and lives of all of his children. He doesn't allow anything to happen to us merely by fate. And that means he allows your every crisis. And why does He allow these crisis points in our lives? Usually, He is trying to teach us something through it. He's saying you need to change.

 Even those of you that have been truly faithful to the Lord this last year, we all still need to undergo change. Like it or not, we're all in the process of changing, in one way or another. In the spiritual realm, there is no such thing as mere existence, or stagnation; we're continually being changed, either for good or for bad. We're either becoming more like our Lord wants us to, or we’re becoming more like the world, -- we’re either growing in Christ or we’re lukewarm, on the way to backsliding.

 Have you become like the Laodicean church….. lukewarm……. in need of nothing?

Have you learned to shield yourself from the convicting word of God and the voice of his Spirit, which can only lead to rebellion and hardness of heart?

If this describes you, understand that you need to change. God won't meet you until you wake up and admit, "Nothing is going to change for me, unless I change."

 Spiritual blindness

And if you truly desire to be changed, you might be asking how do I go about that. God's word clearly shows what steps you must take.

 Just as the church of Laodicea is blind without even knowing it, so we need to be able to really  see before we can change. We need to have the veil removed from our eyes…in v17 of Rev 3 , the Lord says we’re blind and in v18, he says  I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may ….see.

 He sees us as being Spiritually blind.

 Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 3………

 2 Corinthians 3: 14  But their minds were blinded; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.  (15)  But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart;  (16)  but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 

 In this passage, Paul is talking primarily about the blindness of the Jews concerning Jesus as the messiah. Yet he is also laying down a principle that applies to all people, to us. He's talking about blindness to biblical truth. Note verse 14: " But their minds were blinded to Scripture; …..because it is only removed in Christ. 

 The people Paul wrote to were sincere. They faithfully studied the books of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms, they taught from it and quoted it freely. But there was still a veil over their eyes.

And we think of a spiritual veil covering the eyes of Jews, Muslims and other false religions, blinding them to the truth about Jesus. Yet the Lord says that the church of Laodicea is also blind, and this is so true of many Christians today. They read God's clear warnings in scripture, but they willingly ignore them, they're still not affected by them or changed by them. In fact, they continue doing the very things they hear God's word speak against. And in this instance I’m not even going to go into the obvious heresies like the false doctrines of the mega churches and the ordination of Homosexual priests.

 Instead, just consider a few really basic Christian principles –

Keep a bookmark in Corinthians and turn to Matt 6:  Lets look at unforgiveness:

 Jesus himself says, Matthew 6:14  "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15  "But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you.

How much clearer can God be on this matter of forgiveness? Yet many Christians simply won't let go of their bitterness, they have unforgiveness in their hearts. They claim, "Oh, I've forgiven that person" -- but their heart isn't in their words. And the Lord knows better, you can’t fool Him.

 Maybe you’ve been mistreated or abused by someone -- your boss, your spouse, a co-worker, a friend, maybe even a Christian brother. And you think you’re justified in holding onto your bitterness. But the Bible says if you allow even an ounce of unforgiveness in your heart, your sins will begin piling up against you. This is a horrible danger friends. Day after day our sins are mounting if we have unforgiveness in our hearts. Your prayers aren't even being heard.

 And this is the result of spiritual blindness and a hard heart. The Word of God is true, but only when we feel like it.

 Let’s look at another quick example. Honesty. A few scriptures….

 Jam 5:12  but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

Eph 4:25  Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor:

Col 3:9  Lie not one to another,

Exo 20:16  Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Pro 14:5  A faithful witness will not lie: but a false witness will utter lies.

 Again, the Bible is absolutely explicit about this. A Christian is honest. A Christian is reliable, dependable, trustworthy. His words are never empty. Empty words and false promises will always catch up with you and even bring God’s judgement upon you. Ariel Sharon lied to his people and betrayed them by giving away some of the Promised land – and look where it got him. May God forgive him and have mercy on him. 

 If you say you’re going to do something, then do it.

Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.

How is it that we think we can get away with lieing?…. And a little white lie, is still …..a lie.

 The veil of Spiritual blindness and a hard heart.

 The veil is taken away

So how do we remove this veil of blindness?

 It tells us how… go back to 2 Corinthians 3:   v16  but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away..

Paul says that we can have our blindness removed, if we turn to the Lord. The Greek word here for turn means "to reverse course." About turn. To repent. To turn away from your own ways and change to the ways of the Lord, which is His Word.

 If your life is in some kind of turmoil and I’m sure this is true for most of us, you're going to have to change course. You may think, "It's my husband",  "it’s my brother."  "it’s my boss” They’re all wrong. They all have to change. “ How come we see so clearly others mistakes, but we're blind to our own need for change. – we need to admit to God, "It's me, Lord. I'm the one who needs to change. Please father, show me where I've gone wrong."

 We all need to change. And the change that is most important, is the change from within, in our hearts.

 This might sound like it’s all doom and gloom brothers and sisters. But let me assure you it’s not. For encouragement, turn with me to Psalm 51.

Psalm 51 -the changed heart

 Psalm 51 is a psalm of David. When we think of David, we think: shepherd, poet, warrior, giant-killer, king, ancestor of Jesus – in short, one of the greatest men in the old testament. But alongside that list stands another:, liar, betrayer, adulterer, murderer – qualities that might be true about any one of us.

Knowing how much more we might share in David’s failures, than in his greatness, we should be curious to find out what made God refer to David as a man after His own heart – as He does in Acts. Act 13:22  "After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, 'I HAVE FOUND DAVID the son of Jesse, A MAN AFTER MY OWN HEART, who will do all My will.'

 Shew! Wouldn’t you like the Lord to think that of you! A man after the Lord’s own heart! Lets have a look at how that came about….

 After David was made king, something went seriously wrong, because somewhere along the way, he got so puffed up, that he allowed his lusts to get the better of him, and he committed horrific sin in the sight of the Lord. He looked with lust on Bathsheba as she bathed; he had her brought to his palace and had an adulterous affair with her, while her husband Uriah was loyally fighting for David’s army. Then when she told him she was pregnant, he tried to cover his sin by having her husband murdered in the frontline of the battlefield. The whole story is told in 1 and 2 Samuel.

Maybe this Psalm relates to you, to your own story.  In it, David realises his guilt and hated it. He becomes so sick with shame and conviction, that he begs for mercy and forgiveness. And that is the first step to having a changed heart, to acknowledge your guilt. David took it, and so must we. Psalm 51 - the Psalm of the changed heart.

 Psalms 51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your loving-kindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.  (2)  Wash me completely from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  (3)  For I confess my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me.  (4)  Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done evil in Your sight; that You might be justified when You speak, and be clear when You judge.  (5)  Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.  (6)  Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part You shall make me to know wisdom.  (7)  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  (8)  Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which You have broken may rejoice.  (9)  Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  (10)  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  (11)  Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.  (12)  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  (13)  Then I will teach transgressors Your ways; and sinners shall be converted to You.  (14)  Deliver me from the guilt of shedding blood, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.  (15)  O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise.  (16)  For You do not desire sacrifice; or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.  (17)  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart O God, you will not despise.

 In this Psalm, David recognized his guilt, confessed his sin and pleaded for forgiveness. Then he asked God to change his heart. But before all this could happen, David describes in v17 the attitude he needed to have in his heart, before he could even approach God.

V17 "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart O God, thou wilt not despise" .

The word "contrite" means humbly sorrowful. To be bowed down with a broken heart, broken with the awareness of our spiritual blindness. So much so, that our inner spirit is crushed with a sense of its guilt and disobedience.

A contrite heart doesn’t try to excuse or justify sin and a contrite heart doesn’t blame other people, or God for our own failures.

Remember Adam saying, "The woman YOU gave me handed me the fruit and I ate it.” Eve, on the other hand pointed to the serpent and said, "He deceived me and I ate." Adam blamed God and Eve blamed the serpent. Can you hear David doing something like that? And can you hear yourself doing the same thing – blaming everyone else for your sin.

"Well, if you were married to such a jerk, you'd also cheat!" Or "It's not my fault, my boss is so stingy I have to steal from him to survive!" Or, my personal favourite - " if there weren’t so many bad drivers, I wouldn't lose my temper so much!”  Sound familiar?

Instead, a contrite heart is humble – it recognizes that sin is a crime against God’s word. It recognizes that sin is rebellion, unbelief, disobedience and hardness of heart.

 When we become aware of our sins and become humble and contrite, we need to know that God isn't interested in empty apologies, cheap promises or resolutions. God cares nothing for our efforts to balance evil with a little more good. God wants a broken heart, which is the true sacrifice of someone who wants to turn from sin, to repent and to forsake sin…

Genuine confession demands Repentance.

 And this will, thankfully, bring us to the cross of Christ. At the cross, we do not hide our sins, but confess them and trust the Saviour to wipe them away.

 Look at some examples of how godly men confessed in the Bible:

It was Isaiah who said, Isaiah 6.5 "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, ..."

In Luke 5:8  It was Peter who fell at Jesus' feet and said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!".

In Luke 18:13 The publican smote his breast and prayed, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!".

In 1 Timothy 1:15, it was Paul who declared "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am worst of all."

When Paul wrote that, he hadn’t met me yet.

 When our sins are forgiven, a wonderful thing happens. In v12 of Psalm 51, David says:  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.

Have you lost the joy of your salvation? It is only when we have experienced God's cleansing that we can have that renewed joy of His salvation. When our Spirit is renewed and we are filled with the Holy Spirit, it is truly the most wonderful joy, which includes peace – the peace that surpasses all understanding.

 

To close….

Someone once said:

"Man cannot cope with guilt alone. I don't care how many worship services you attend or how many good deeds you do, your goodness is insufficient.

You can't be good enough to deserve forgiveness. ... No one. Not you, not me, not anyone.

Stop trying to justify your own guilt. You can't do it. There is no way. ...

I don't care how bad you are. You can't be bad enough to forget your guilt.

And I don't care how good you are. You can't be good enough to overcome your guilt.

You need …..a Saviour."

and this is one of the most beautiful Truths of Christianity. The Truth that separates Christianity from all other religions – the fact that there really IS a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is willing to forgive all those who truly turn to Him – through His amazing patience, Grace and Mercy. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, all times, all people, always.

 If you failed the Lord Jesus last year in your building, are you prepared to say with me today: 'Forgive me Lord, I failed this past year, but I'm determined to build a house of obedience, upon the foundation of the words of Christ, to your glory, whatever it costs'. And that brothers and sisters, should be our New Year’s resolution, our priority for each day. This year and every year.  Amen.

 God Bless You.