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Sermon blog: You say you want a resolution?

January 4, 2017


Daniel 1:1-8

2 Chronicles 20:1-4

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

30 New Year Resolutions!

I’m never entirely sure about New Year resolutions. What is it that is so special about this one time of year?

From a Christian point of view I am never sure whether God is too concerned when January 1st comes round again. I mean when do they celebrate New Year in heaven? Do they cheer the fireworks  with Australia or the UK or the US?

I believe after all that God is the God of new starts, and that that can even happen in July!

Or on a daily basis.

It’s a time of year that gets you thinking though. You look back. Maybe you have some regrets. You look ahead and you think “this year will be different”.

So what will my resolution be?

When it comes to it, after all the questions, I don’t tend to bother.

But there are those who will encourage you, “go on, make a resolution for 2017”.

One internet blogger suggests 29 possible resolutions you can make and none of them on the face of it appear to relate to giving up chocolate, so perhaps I should pay attention. Actually she lists 30:

  1. Start a meditating practice – doesn’t say what precisely.
  2. Learn something new everyday.
  3. Pick up a hobby – if you’ve got time…
  4. Play more.
  5. Eat fewer calories – oh I guessed there might be something like that in there! Possibly chocolate?
  6. Write a business plan.
  7. Move more – get up and get active.
  8. Read more books – for example there are apparently 12 Russian books you need to read before you die!
  9. Be more grateful.
  10. Stop procrastinating. Hmm I need to think about that…
  11. Set aside an hour a day to achieve your dreams.
  12. Spend more time in nature.
  13. Start doing planks everyday – apparently that’s a kind of exercise! It’s nothing to do with the old Tommy Cooper film.
  14. Enjoy the little things.
  15. Become more confident.
  16. Be more conscientious.
  17. Increase your charisma.
  18. Increase your IQ.
  19. Increase your EQ – your emotional intelligence.
  20. Learn a new skill.
  21. Bring more peace into your life.
  22. Be kinder to yourself.
  23. Create a positive attitude.
  24. Strengthen your personal relationship.
  25. Tame your monkey mind. Apparently you have a monkey in your head? Shrug…
  26. Keep a journal.
  27. Get your documents in order. I can make recommendations on that if you wish, though I haven’t brought any business cards with me.
  28. Easy – doesn’t say how far…
  29. Volunteer
  30. Write a blog. Then I suppose you can come up with 29 things for other people to do.

It’s an interesting list and I’m sure there are some good things in there. It strikes me too though, as I often think when I consider making a resolution, that many of them are not things which are really ultimately under my control. For example how can I bring peace into my life? How can I be sure I learn something new every day?

So today I thought we’d take a look at this and maybe make some suggestions for resolutions. You will be glad to know that I have not come up with 29 or 30.

Just 3 will have to do us.

There are 3 occasions in the Bible where people are said to have resolved to do something, and each one I think brings out something that we could all learn from and put into place.

Rather than chronological order we’ll take them in logical order.

In my humble opinion.

1       Resolving to live differently

Daniel and his friends were in exile. They had been taken from Judah by force. Things had gone very wrong in the times of King Jehoiakim. It was the end of the line it seemed for a nation that flouted its covenant with their God.

Daniel and his 3 friends Hananiah, MIshael and Azariah thrived in their new environment, as the book of Daniel tells us. There is no mention of any attempt on their part to flee their captors in Babylon and return to Jerusalem.

They were enrolled in Babylon University in recognition of their physical and intellectual qualities and would all go on to graduate with flying colours and hold positions of great political influence within Babylon.

Whilst they seemed to settle in and be very much part of what was happening around them, there would be occasions when they would stand out from the crowd in other ways. Ways in which they would not compromise their beliefs.

They would never forget their nation and more importantly they would never forget their God. They were quite ready to go against any king’s orders in order to be obedient to their God. And each time God would honour that, famously in the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, but also at the start of their time in Babylon.

Daniel made a resolution.

The best food was available to these young men. The very food that the royal family ate. Must have been fantastic, but Daniel resolved “not to defile himself with the royal food and wine”.

Now there’s nothing wrong about good food and wine in itself, but this was a matter of principle. It is most likely the case that the first portion of all meat was sacrificed to the Babylonian gods.

Daniel and his friends would not be associated with this. He suggested a vegetarian diet, washed down with nothing but water.

Their supervisor was sceptical, and no doubt concerned at the king’s reaction to this when it went wrong, but we are told God honoured the initial experiment and the men thrived more than any of the steak eating students.

Daniel and his friends had laid down a marker, putting God first and this set the tone for their lives in Babylon and their extraordinary success.

Success built on a resolution to live differently.

Why don’t you resolve to live differently this year? Dare to be a Daniel.

Not saying you need to be different for the sake of it. Not suggesting that you need to be peculiar or weird.

But God calls to be holy. A people who are attractive as they seek to live like Jesus. Doing and saying those things which he taught.

Holding a different set of values. Causing people around us to ask questions. What is it that makes the difference in you? Why do you react differently to difficulties? Why do you seem to be calm when everyone else is stressed? What is it that drives you if it’s not money and success?

2       Resolving to seek God’s guidance

Some time before these events, Jehoshaphat was a king of Judah, reigning in Jerusalem for 25 years. He didn’t always get everything right but he is described in the history books of the Bible as one who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”. Many of the kings of Judah and Israel couldn’t say that! Even on a part-time basis.

We are not told it was January 1st, but Jehoshaphat made a resolution. In the face of a very real danger. Judah’s enemies were getting ready to attack.

Messengers came to Jehoshaphat telling tales of a “vast army” approaching, and we are told that the king was alarmed. Judah, it seems, would have been largely outnumbered.

As a king he could call upon his armies. He had commanders who could advise on the correct strategy for defence and offence against a bigger enemy, but though he was alarmed Jehoshaphat did not panic.

Neither did he go the obvious route and tell his commanders to sort it all out.

Jehosphaphat made that resolution.

There and then – on the spot. He “resolved to enquire of the Lord”. In the midst of grave danger his strategy was to ask for God’s guidance. To pray.

And not only did he pray but he called his whole people to prayer and fasting. Imagine if our political leaders called us to do that today. The contempt they would face!

And so the people got together and prayed as a nation. “God what do you want?”

The rest of the story is worth reading.

In a surprisingly straight forward way, Judah asked God, and God replied. Speaking through a prophet.

“The battle is not yours, but God’s. You will not have to fight this battle”.

Yes they were to march, but Jehoshaphat’s trust in God’s promise was so strong, that they were to do so as an army of fighters with an army of singers marching in front.

In obedient trust the army was led by a choir praising God for “the splendour of his holiness”.

“Give thanks for the Lord for his love endures forever”. It’s a funny way to fight!

Whatever the intention, Judah did not have to fight its enemies. They fought each other. The job was done for them.

A victory won on a resolution to ask for God’s guidance and a victory built on the praise and worship of the God they trusted.

You’re not a king. You don’t have that kind of status or responsibility. But maybe a bit like Jehoshaphat you feel under attack.

Maybe as you enter 2017 you feel there are some big challenges ahead for you. Or the world just seems to be one scary place with everything that is going on.

Whether it’s in your family, your workplace or the wider world, it may be that you are alarmed.

So why not make that resolution to “enquire of the Lord”.

Ask God for the solution. Seek his wisdom for the situation. Recognise that “the battle belongs to the Lord”. He can be trusted.

  1. Resolving to trust the cross of Jesus

Paul was God’s messenger. A religious man of great learning, who having set out to destroy Jesus’ followers had become one himself. His life turned 180 degrees by the original “Damascus Road experience”.

He had met the risen Jesus, the one who he was persecuting by persecuting his followers.

And now his mission changed. To spread the news of Jesus the Christ. And he was prepared to travel in the process.

In his travels he and his companions came to the city of Corinth. Like most parts of Greece, Corinth liked to get philosophical. A good intellectual debate would go down a storm. There was nothing they liked more than human wisdom.

While there may have been times for intellectual debate, and elsewhere it seems Paul was quite prepared to get involved in it, when Paul wrote to the Corinthians later he made it clear that his approach when he visited had been a different one.

The church at Corinth was pretty mixed up. There was amazing evidence that God was at work in them in extraordinary ways, but plenty of evidence too to show that they struggled to live out their faith and even to get on with one another.

A large part of their problem was that obsession with wisdom. They had their favourites. Paul. Apollos. Peter. Who was the most eloquent? Who was the wisest, the cleverest? The suggestion seems to be that Apollos hit the spot in the intellectual stakes.

But ultimately to share the gospel of Jesus is not a matter of intellectual persuasion. Paul recognised that there was a greater power at work and it was that power that would change people’s hearts and lives.

Paul did not choose the way of wisdom. Rather he came in “weakness and fear, and with much trembling”. Perhaps they saw him as a pretty unimpressive character as he came to them.

But Paul had one message. One foundation on which his trust lay.

Paul made a resolution.

He resolved to “know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.

That is what he preached. He preached Jesus. He preached that salvation comes through the cross. And though at face value the message may not have been the sort the Corinthians were looking for, the power of God was plainly at work through Paul.

It was that Holy Spirit power that had changed people’s lives and they would have known that and, it seems, needed to be reminded of that as Paul wrote to them.

So perhaps you could resolve to be like Paul. Your beliefs might not be those of those around you. It may be considered foolish to believe in Jesus and his cross and resurrection in 2017, but Paul proved it to be true in his life.

As a church as you go into 2017, how will you communicate the good news of Jesus with those around? Do you look for a new wisdom? Do you author a new message which will be more successful than the old one?

Will you really try to rely on your wisdom and your abilities or will you rely on the power of God the Holy Spirit through the death of Jesus on the cross?

The cross of Jesus always has been and always will be fully effective to save us.

It justifies us before God the judge.

It brings about atonement, taking away the barrier between us and God, making us at one with him.

It reconciles us to a relationship with God .

It seals our adoption as children of God the Father.

It pays the price of our redemption. We are bought back from slavery to sin.

It brings the promise of resurrection, following in the steps of Jesus for an eternal life.

It sanctifies us – purifying us and enabling us to live differently.

It  brings the promise of glorification – that one day we will see our saviour Jesus face to face, and be like him.

Wouldn’t we all rather see the power of God in our lives rather than struggle on in our own way?

So this year tame the monkey in your mind, do planks and read 12 Russian books before you die.

Or:

1) Resolve to live differently

2) Resolve to seek God’s guidance and

3) Resolve to trust in the cross of Jesus.

I would suggest those to you.

 

 

 

 

 

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