"New Beginnings" part 1
Moving Forward In the New Year
by Greg Hanson

PA lot has happened since the last time we were here. We had Christmas, many of us did a bit of traveling, you may have caught a few of the Boxing Week sales, and last night perhaps you brought in the New Year with a party. With all that going on this week, I thought I’d recap top ten “other” things you may have heard this week... “other” than “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year.”

The Top Ten (Other) Things Heard Between Christmas and New Year’s Day:

10. Did you keep the receipt?
9. What do you mean, “it’s time to take the tree down”? I just got it up!
8. Wal-Mart during Boxing Week? Are you nuts?!?
7. I’ll be right back; it didn’t come with batteries.
6. Nah, I prefer the cranberry sauce without the berries.
5. I’ll “some assembly required” you!
4. Well, at least I have something to "regift" next year.
3. I know it’s good to be creative with leftovers, but turkey-slaw?
2. Only 45 minutes in the checkout line. Not bad.
1. Only 359 days until Christmas!

Those are the “other” things you may have heard this week. But with Christmas already behind us, probably the phrase you heard more than any other this week—from friends as well as from complete strangers—was “Happy New Year”. When you think about it, that little phrase is packed full of hope, isn’t it? What does it mean when we say it? It means we get a fresh start. It means the past is behind us. The means the future is full of potential and possibilities. The past year is already in the history books, but the year ahead isn’t written yet. It will be whatever we make it to be. It’s a new start. Isn’t that what we’re referring to when we say “Happy New Year”?

We’re big on new beginnings here. Our core message is that Jesus offers each one of us a new beginning. Regardless of our past, He can give us a fresh start. Our very name as a church implies new beginnings. Sunrise. The sunrise is the start of a new day. Or, in the case of the sunrise this morning, a new year. It doesn’t erase the past, but it moves on from it.

The successes and failures of yesterday may be fresh in your memory, but they are behind you. Your focus should and must be forward. Learn from the past, yes, but don’t live in the past. You can celebrate the past, great; mourn your loses, sure; look back with a mixture of fondness and regret... I expect we all do that. But don’t live the past. In other words, do not allow your past to limit your future. Do not allow your past to deter you from everything God has in front of you. Do not allow the past to rob you of what’s ahead.

So... along that line, what I want to do this morning is give you four tips for making the coming year the best year possible. It can be a year when you reach new heights in your relationship with God, when you achieve professional as well as personal goals and milestones, when you finally get past the obstacles that have been holding you back. Before any of that is possible, you have to...

How to Move Forward This Year:

1.    Allow God to heal you and forgive you of your past.

Have you ever climbed into a motorboat, gotten yourself situated, turned on the engine, and attempted to pull away only to remember that you hadn’t released the rope? You were still tied to the dock, and it didn’t matter how much you gunned the motor, you weren’t going anywhere.

It’s kind of like that when you’re bound by sin. You can’t move forward in life. You held back, you’re tied down, and you’re not going to make any progress until you address that problem. The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews recognized this problem...

Hebrews 12:1 (NLT)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

So according to that, what is it that keeps you from moving forward? Sin. If it doesn’t stop you altogether, it at least slows your progress and prevents you from becoming all you were meant to be. Particularly in the area of spiritual growth, sin in your life can hold you back and even cut you off from God.

Isaiah 59:2 (NLT)
It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.

And remember, no matter how religious you might be and now matter how many rituals you perform and no matter how many times you read the Bible through, if you’re cut off from God, you’re not growing spiritually. Spiritual growth is not about what you do; it’s about who you know and who you are becoming. It’s about knowing God better and better every day. It’s about allowing His presence in your life and the power of His Spirit to transform you.

Your spiritual growth is not up to you; it’s up to God. Oh sure, you can instill habits in your life that can nurture growth and can enhance growth, and those things are important. Coming to church, worshipping, fasting, praying, reading the Bible, meditating on God’s Word, serving, giving, tithing... all of those are important and should be practiced by every sincere Christ-follower. But without the presence and power of God at work in your life, none of that amounts to anything in terms of spiritual growth.

So if there is sin in your life that has cut you off from God, then your growth is stunted and there’s no way around it. You can do all those things and never make any progress.

Shera and I went to see the new Mission Impossible moving this week. There’s one scene where the good guys are trying to establish a satellite connection, they’re at the right big-honkin’ computer, they’ve got the access codes, everything’s wired correctly... but there’s just one problem: There’s no power. One of the big bad guys (BBGs for short) had turned off the power to the building. And no matter what the good guys did, there was no way they were going to be able to connect to the satellite without power.

You might have everything else in place in your life, you might be practicing important spiritual habits, you might be going through all the right motions, but if you’ve been cut off from your Source of power, none of that matters. And what is it that cuts you off from that Source of power? According to Isaiah, it’s Sin. But Luke in the book of Acts provides the solution...

Acts 3:19-20 (NLT)
Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord...

If you’ve got sin in your life, the cure is right there. Luke says to repent of your sins. That literally means to turn around and go the other direction. It means that you have remorse for your sin and you apologize for it, make amends, and change your ways. And when you do that, we’re told that the sin in your life will be wiped away and that your connection with God will be restored.

Whether you’ve never done that before or if you’ve been a Christ-follower for a long time but have allowed sin to continually hamper you, that’s your solution: repent, turn to God, and allow Him to wipe the sin away.

Now, before we move on to the second point, let me touch on one other thing. Sometimes it’s not sin that’s holding us back, sometimes it hurt. You’ve been hurt, you’ve been wronged, you’ve suffered lose, you’ve experienced failure, and you’re having a tough time getting past it. The pain is like an anchor that holds you in place. What do you do about that?

Well, again, you turn to God. Ask Him to help you heal. And you know what? Maybe He’ll do it instantaneously. That does happen. But it’s been my experience that more often He’ll take you through a process of healing.

Psalm 34:18 (NLT)
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NLT)
God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

Isaiah 43:2 (NLT)
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.

2.    Pause to recalibrate and confirm your direction.

At this time of year, we call this making a resolution. It’s identifying what changes are necessary in your life and what your priorities are. It might involve setting some goals and strategizing how to achieve them. It might mean seeking the advice of others and soliciting their prayers.

If you’re familiar with King Solomon from the Old Testament, you know his story. As the son and successor of King David, Solomon started out fully committed to serving God and leading the people of Israel according to the wisdom God had blessed him with. In fact, Solomon is believed to have written parts or all of three books of the Old Testament.

But over time, Solomon deviated from the direction God had given him, he looked to the wrong people for advice, he allowed the wrong people to influence him, and he ended up causing all kinds of unrest and turmoil in the land. Then when Solomon died, the Kingdom of Israel was divided into two.

What went wrong? Solomon deviated from the direction God had established for him, he got off track, and he didn’t take the time to stop and check the map. He didn’t stop to get his bearings and confirm that what he was doing was right. God had given him great wisdom and had equipped him to lead the people successfully, but Solomon forgot to check his compass. He started to lead the people in the wrong direction and he kept on going.

I think one of the great things about New Year’s is that we’ve turned it into a time to do just that: stop and check our compass. Are we going in the right direction or have we gotten off track? Personally, professionally, spiritually... where are we headed? Do we need to recalibrate? Are there changes that are necessary?

For example...

•    Are you dissatisfied with your job? Do you need to make some changes in your career?
•    What are your finances like? How does the way you spend your money reflect your priorities? Do you need to make some adjustments to achieve financial health?
•    Do you have a relationship that’s spiraling downward? What steps can you take to restore that relationship to health? Do you need to commit more time and effort, do you need to consult with a family counsellor, do you need to recruit a friend to mediate for you?
•    Is God happy with the way you’re living? Are His values being displayed through your values, or are they out of sync? How are you using your resources of time, money, and energy to honor Him? Are you trusting His guidance or are you ignoring His prodding?

Once you’ve identified some areas for improvement, figure out how you’re going to do it. This is usually the essence of New Year Resolutions. Set some goals and determine steps to reach them.

2 Corinthians 5:9 (NLT)
So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him.

Proverbs 16:1,3 (NLT)
We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer... Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.

3.    Trust God’s leadership as you move forward.

This time of the year, the days are short. Which means, if you go to work during the day, it’s hard to get home before it gets dark. So what do you do? You make sure your headlights are on. Of course, as soon as you turn them on, you can see clearly from wherever you are at the time all the way to your doorstep, right? Of course not. No, the headlights let you see a little ways down the road, and as you move forward, the headlights keep revealing a little bit more.

Now, if it’s snowing or raining, you can’t see quite as far, can you? So you may need to slow down a little bit, but you keep on progressing as your headlights show you the way to go.

And you know, it’s like that in life. Sometimes you can see a good distance in front of you, and other times when you’re going through a storm, you can’t see quite as far. At all times, though, you can trust God and His Word to reveal the direction you should go.

Psalm 119:105 (NLT)
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.

And you know what? You can trust God’s leadership. You can follow Him. In another Psalm—Psalm 23—God is described as a shepherd. And as our shepherd, that Psalm tells me that...

Psalm 23:2 (NIV)
He leads me beside quiet waters…

So God leads me. He knows the way to go, even when I don’t. Even when I thing I might know, He knows for sure. So although I many not always understand the direction He’s taking me, I know I can always trust Him. That Psalm goes on in the next verse to say...

Psalm 23:3 (NIV)
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Because sheep are so prone to accident, the shepherd has to make sure that the pathways are safe… that they’re right. And as he does this the sheep learn to trust their shepherd. They’ll follow Him because they know they can have confidence in His decisions.

An interesting phrase in this verse is “… for His name’s sake.” It’s interesting because the shepherd’s reputation was important. He had to choose the paths wisely or it would damage his reputation. Why does that matter? Because as our Shepherd, it means you can trust God. You can depend on Him. You can have confidence in His leadership. His reputation is on the line.

Let’s go on to the next verse...

Psalm 23:4 (NIV)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…

What do sheep do? Not a whole lot. Basically, they just eat most of the time. So if a shepherd allowed a flock of sheep to stay in the same place for too long, they’d eat it bare. So a good shepherd needs to lead the sheep from one pasture to the next in order to provide a continual source of food. Sometimes this kind of move would be fairly simple. Other times, as described in this verse, it might mean they have to move through some rather dangerous terrain or even through a dark valley. But to get to the lush plateaus, to get to the mountaintop, sometimes you have to go through the valley.

God may lead you through a dark valley in your life, but that’s because it’s necessary to get you to where you want to be. He led the Hebrews through the wilderness to get them to the Promised Land, and He may need to lead you through a wilderness, too. But you can trust Him.

Psalm 23:4 (NIV)
...I will fear no evil, for You are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Trust God’s leadership as you move forward into the New Year.

4.    Press on toward the goal.

What happens with most New Year’s Resolutions? They fall by the wayside within a couple weeks, right? People start out with great intentions, but they just don’t follow through. They get distracted, they get busy, they’re not willing to pay the price... whatever the reason, they give up.

Now, most resolutions are attainable. Is it possible to lose 10-20 pounds in a year? Sure it is. Is it possible to lower your expenses and put more money into savings? Yeah. So why do so many people fail in fulfilling these basic kinds of resolutions? Because they’re not willing for press on. They dream big, but they’re not willing to take the steps necessary.

That’ why I love the attitude that the apostle Paul displays in his letter to the Christ-followers in the city of Philippi...

Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Key phrases in those verses... “I press on”... “Forgetting the past”... “looking forward”... again he says “I press on”... you can taste the determination in those words, can’t you? He was going to persevere, he was going to press on, he was going to achieve his objective, no matter what.

We can learn a lot from that. We can adopt that same determination. The past is in the past, the future is still in front of you. So press on. 2011 is behind you, 2012 is before you, so press on. Theo old year is gone, the new year is here, so press on. Don’t allow sin to hold you back, don’t allow distractions to slow you down, don’t allow the pressures and inconveniences of life to pull you off track... press on. In your relationships, press on. In your career, press on. As a Christ-follower, press on. Why? Because God has great things in store for you.

Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

He has great plans for you, but to realize them you must put the past behind you, make sure you’re headed in the right direction, trust God’s leadership, and press on throughout this New Year and the years to come.


Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson