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Reflection and Refraction

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Moving into a New Year - new beginnings moving away from the past

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As we are on the cusp of a new year, this is a time when people take a moment (sometimes far too brief) to take stock of where they are in their lives. It’s a time to reflect on where you’ve been. What were your goals in 2017? Did you accomplish them? Did you start to work on them? What got in the way? What did you finish, and what’s left undone?
I honestly do not ask these questions to make any of us feel guilty. For years the only “New Year’s Resolution” I kept was not to make any more New Year’s Resolutions.
I believe in the resolutions, and setting goals. Our challenge is too often our goals are set and never revisited. This morning, I want to do something I don’t normally do, I’m going to preach a topical sermon. That means I’m going to take this opportunity and give you a bit of a pep talk as we go into the new year.

Reflection and Refraction

In my research of resolutions only 8% of resolutions are kept according to one study. Another says that 80% of New Year’s resolutions have failed by February.
Any time we have a “new beginning” (month, week, day…), anytime we have a holiday, a celebration of any kind, is a good time to stop and reflect.
Realize though that no matter how much you reflect on your life you are not seeing it all.
1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
In this life we will never see the full picture. We’re in the midst of a process, and we’re not done yet.
As we reflect on the past, think about looking in the mirror. Yes, you see a picture of yourself, but you’ve lost a full dimension. You’ve gone from your three dimensional self to a two dimensional image of yourself. The same is true of our past - you don’t get the full picture. Don’t be afraid to reflect on the past, but don’t hold on to it.
Don’t be afraid to reflect on the past, but don’t hold on to it.
Philippians 3:13 ESV
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
Philippians 3:13b ESV
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
This verse speaks of pressing forward.
Lot’s wife on the other hand speaks fo the dangers of holding onto the past.
Genesis 19:26 ESV
26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis
Lot’s wife looked back and she became literally a preservative. Too often when we look back we want to preserve the past.
We’ve heard it said that the Good ol’ days, weren’t so good. And that’s true.
Though we’re not called to dwell on our past, we can learn from it. The Scriptures are often demonstrating how God has worked in the past, and it will serve us well to think about how we have seen God working in our lives in the past to give us hope in the future.
However if we hold on to the past it can stop us from enjoying what God has for us in the present. As the Israelites were on their journey to the promised land, there were those that wanted to go back to Egypt. Somehow they’d forgotten how bad it was for them.
Moses in the midst of the exodus said these words:
Exodus 33:15 ESV
15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.
The Psalmists often reflect on the past, move to the present, and then speak of faith for the future.
The Psalmists often reflect on the past, move to the present, and then speak of faith for the future.
Oswald Chambers writes:
My Utmost for His Highest December 31st—Yesterday

Security from Yesterday. “God requireth that which is past.” At the end of the year we turn with eagerness to all that God has for the future, and yet anxiety is apt to arise from remembering the yesterdays. Our present enjoyment of God’s grace is apt to be checked by the memory of yesterday’s sins and blunders. But God is the God of our yesterdays, and He allows the memory of them in order to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual culture for the future. God reminds us of the past lest we get into a shallow security in the present

Yes, our past is important, and it is a PART of who we are, but it doesn’t define who we will be.
Lamentations 3:22–23 ESV
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
New beginnings is something that God has been doing since the beginning.
Creation - the garden - casting out of the garden - the flood - the choosing of Abraham and his descendants - the exodus - the promised land - Jesus - baptism - being born again - the resurrection - and in the future a new heaven and a new earth!
Paul reminds us:
2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Yes, we’re a new creation - as a Christian I am no longer the person I was before I knew Christ. And still I have those lingering effects. Paul assures us in Philippians
Philippians 1:6 ESV
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
We are in process. That’s why it’s important for us to look and see where we’ve come. I believe that one of the reasons people falter in their walks with God is that they don’t look back to see where they’ve come from. Researchers tell us it is the same with resolutions. If we don’t take stock of how we’re doing, then we don’t get the perks of seeing progress, nor do we take the time to evaluate ourselves.
It takes discipline. Discipline uses the same root as disciple. Discipleship and Discipline are difficult:
Hebrews 11:12 ESV
12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
Hebrews 12:11 ESV
11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Being disciplined is difficult - resolutions often speak of exercise and diet, but what about our spiritual life? What about our commitment to God? What about the stewardship of all God has given us? (Mind, body, time, talent, treasure)?
As we reflect on the past year, don’t dwell on the lost opportunities or failures you might see. Oswald Chambers put it this way:
My Utmost for His Highest December 31st—Yesterday

Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ.

Finally, I want to close with this passage from Paul’s letter to Titus:
Titus 3:5–7 ESV
5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:4–7 ESV
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:5-
We have not earned God’s love - it’s not by our works of righteousness - it’s all according to His mercy. by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
In the back I’ve put a sheet that can help you grow in the Lord. There are 6 HABITS that can help you set a goal. I encourage you to choose 1 or 2 of them to start:
H - Hang time with God.
Take time to be with the Lord. Reading the Word, journaling, praying.
A - Accountability.
Whether it be in exercise or our faith it is not good for man to be alone. Jesus sent the disciples out in twos. Find a partner and hold each other accountable in growth goals.
B - Bible Study
Take time to actually study the Bible, not just read it. I have several easy Bible studies that can help you. If you’d like one, just email me or come talk to me.
I - Involvement in the greater life of the church.
Do something more than showing up on Sunday mornings. We practice Simple Church here, so we’re not going to ask you to go into full-time ministry here…I’m not even full-time here. Still, involvement in the church will help you grow as you give back with your time and talent to the church.
T - make a financial commitment to church
Challenge yourself, don’t give out of what’s left over. The Israelites gave to God out of their abundance - in other words they gave first.
S - Scripture memorization
This is one that scares everyone. I can’t memorize Scripture. I guarantee you you can. I’ll prove it to you.
2 Timothy 3:16 NIV
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
Finally, please remember, you can do it!
Philippians 4:13 ESV
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
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