A Changing Year, an Unchanging God
January 1, 2023
A New Year, 2023, is upon us. I heard it coming last evening as it said in a loud voice, “Ready or not, here I come!” Some days I would rather escape into the past. I would like to be sitting on the porch swing at my Aunt Mary’s home in Claysville, Pennsylvania, and again feel the warm August sun and hear the lazy sounds of the cicada in the trees. I would rather be a little boy spending a lazy, careless day in the warmth of summer. Those years are now just memories and 2023 is newly upon us.
I am not one who develops New Year’s Resolutions but I know some people like to make resolutions for the New Year. I was looking for something to lighten the day when I found a list of “New Year’s Resolutions You can Actually Keep.” The author asks, “Are you sick of making the same resolutions year after year and yet you never keep them? Here are some resolutions you can actually accomplish!” Remember, these are facetious, not serious recommendations.
10. Read less.
9. Put on at least 30 pounds.
8. Stop exercising—it’s a waste of time.
7. Watch more TV. You’ve been missing some good stuff.
6. Procrastinate more.
5. Drink and Drink some more. [I don’t think he is talking about water.]
4. Start being superstitious.
3. Spend more time at work. [I suppose that is not for us retired people.]
2. Stop bringing lunch from home. Eat out more often.
And last but not least,
1. Take up a new habit-maybe smoking or chewing!
It is so much easier to be successful when we resolve to do self-defeating and even self-destroying behaviors than the ones that give us a better quality of life. The Evil One often gets in the way when we are doing something which is helpful to ourselves and others. If you ever were addicted to tobacco and quit, I think you know what I am talking about. When the Deceiver comes to derail your good plans, renounce him in the name of Jesus. John writes, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4).”
Some tell us that the New Year is a blank slate, a new start, a time for new opportunities. The problem is that we bring a sack full of old baggage with us from the old year. We are not like the cartoons showing a diapered baby labeled as the New Year. We come into the New Year like the old hymn proclaims, “Just as I Am.” Wisdom does not come just because we are a year older. Wisdom comes as one is in a dynamic, vital relationship with the Lord, not because of the passing of time.
One of the things we can do as we come into the New Year is get rid of some of that baggage that weighs us down and prevents us from moving with confidence into the future. I find it releasing when I get rid of some of the old papers and documents from the army and from the church. Why have that stuff sitting in a brown box in a closet or in the garage? When it comes to life in the spirit, and when it comes to the baggage we carry into the New Year a good thing to do is dump the baggage at the altar and be free. Dump your doubts there. Dump your hurts there. Dump your preconceptions there. Dump your unrealistic expectations there. Dump your willful sins there. Dump the sin you commit by refusing to do what God calls you to do. Dump your unforgiveness there. Don’t take that trash with you into the New Year. You say that you have tried that and it has not worked for you. The best I can say is to keep on dumping it at the altar until you unburden yourself. In the old days, people used to come to the altar and pray and pray and pray until they “prayed through.” In our microwave world, we expect spiritual transformation in 30 seconds or less. It does not work that way. God does not usually work that way in our lives. Sometimes we are so used to the weighty baggage that even though we say we want to get rid of it, we are holding on tight to it. Dump it until you experience release and freedom. And if it comes back, dump it again and again until you have “dumped through.”
The best way to have confidence in moving into the New Year or have hope as we are in this the first day of the New Year is if we recognize that the future is the Lord’s. We do not own the future. God owns the future. When I am wise, which is occasional, I know that in my heart God owns the future. At other times doubts and lack of faith bring fear of the future. I keep telling myself, “God is in charge!” But the old temptations to live as though there were no God keep coming back. God is indeed in charge and God owns the future. The Bible is clear in this matter.
The reading from the Revelation of John reminds us that God does own the future and that God, not us, nor the evil one, is in charge. John has a vision of God’s future. He writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Revelation 21:1-2).” God’s future will bring a new heaven and a new earth. God is preparing a new heaven and a new earth for his people. And whatever God is specifically preparing for us is alright with me.
A loud voice spoke from the throne of God. The Voice tells John that the home of God is among mortals—among you and me. In the future God will dwell with us as he has never dwelled with us before. He will completely be our God and we will completely be his people. God will do a mighty work with and for us. He will wipe away the tears from our eyes. Death will be a matter of the past only. Grief, crying and pain will vanish from our experience. God is making all things new. The Bible clearly tells us that God is in charge, and God owns the future.
What will be the future of the Church, of Veterans Memorial Chapel? Since we are participants with God in this holy work of ministry, much depends on our living as God wants us to live. It means that we recognize that his purposes for his church, for you and me, is to make new disciples and for us to become stronger disciples of Christ Jesus. It means that we have a passion to share the Good News, the Glad Tidings, of God in Christ Jesus with other people. God wants to bless the chapel and his Church in 2023. That is one of God’s purposes for us. However, the problem with receiving God’s blessing is that we cannot be blessed when we are pushed and pulled by the things of the world, by our personal preferences, by the evil cultural and political notions of the world.
We can either get in the way of receiving God’s blessings or open ourselves to be receptive to receiving his richest blessings. You might ask, “Who would ever want to prevent God from blessing us?” That’s where the self-defeating behaviors come into the picture. When we live with one foot operating in the realm of the world and the other in the kingdom, we block the blessing. When our generosity is poor, we are blocking the blessing. When we compartmentalize God, we block the blessing. On the other hand, God blesses those who are open to hearing his Word and living it out. God blesses those who place God and the Good News, the Gospel, first in their lives. God does not bless us when we make decisions then ask God to bless our decisions. God blesses us when we first ask God what he wants, and when he answers us, we make it happen.
Jim Cymbola, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City, a church that by all human wisdom should never exist, writes an interesting book, The Church that God Blesses. It is about what a church can do to be in the place where it will receive God’s blessing. Pastor Cymbola writes, “The blessing of God always depends on the simple essentials of spiritual life . . . It’s the simple devotion of the heart, not complicated concepts, that opens up the windows of heaven’s blessing upon our souls.” He is not writing about generic spirituality but specifically about the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. God’s intention for the Church, for the chapel, is to bless it so that we can be a blessing in this city and in the world.
Ready or not, the New Year is upon us. I am not one to make New Year’s Resolutions but I know that for some that process works for some people. One thing you might consider is reading through the entire Bible in 2023. It only takes 20 minutes each day to read through the whole Bible in one year. We can make 2023 a time of new beginnings or simply carry on with life as usual. As we move into this New Year, we can let go of the baggage that holds us back from receiving God’s richest blessings. We can leave that stuff at the altar and pray through. The Lord is merciful and he is more willing to forgive than we are to ask for forgiveness. Sometimes it is hard to recognize that God is in charge. However, the witness of those who wrote the books of the Bible tell us clearly that God is in charge. The best we can do each day is to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).” May the Lord richly bless you in this New Year, 2023.
A sermon preached at Veterans Memorial Chapel, Indianapolis, Indiana on New Year’s morning 2023
CH (COL) Michael W. Malone, AUS (RET)