A Year in the Promises: New Year, New Decade, New ‘Thing’
Intro: Good morning. I hope everyone had a merry Christmas. It was nice to have had a Christmas Eve ‘Eve’ service. And in just a few days we will be ringing in a new year and a new decade, so today, I want to take a look at what that means as far as our last sermon on our year-long look at God’s promises are concerned.
As we look back at this past year, we’ve looked at how God promises us love, joy, peace, everlasting life, hope, holiness, comfort, provision, he promises to answer our prayers and forgive our sins, he promises to free us from doubt, fear, guilt, anxiety.
So now, what is it that God would say to us as we enter a new year, a new decade? Turn with me to Isaiah 43. We’re just going to look at two simple verses, verses 18-19. As you’re turning there, since we had a Christmas Eve “Eve” service, and New Year’s Eve is right around the corner, I thought I’d share this story.
One week a Sunday school teacher had just finished telling her class the Christmas story. After telling the story the teacher asked, “Who do you think is the most important woman in the Bible?”
A little boy raised his hand, and thought the teacher expected him to say Mary, he said, “Eve.” The teacher asked him why he thought Eve was the most important woman in the Bible. The little boy replied, “Well, they name two days of the year after Eve. You know, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.”
I found that cute.
Scripture: Isaiah 43: 18-19
18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Central Truth: What I want to encourage you with today is that God is faithful, and God does not want us to look back on 2019 and carry with us the baggage, the heavy baggage that I talked about in a sermon not too long ago. He wants us to start afresh. He wants us to start with the idea that He is going to do something new in this new year. That not every year is supposed to be hum-drum, same-ol’ same-ol’. God wants to do new things. God promises to do new things with us, in us and through us. But its up to us to find out what new thing God wants to do. You may have heard the phrase, “New Year, New You,” today I am going to talk about “New Year, New thing.”
Point 1: Sometimes, ‘new’ can be exciting. We just got some new things for Christmas. Evelyn bought me It’s a Wonderful Life on DVD. Unfortunately, she didn’t know that I already had it, mainly because I didn’t tell anyone. I bought a used copy for a dollar at a library sale, came home with it, and stuck it in the cabinet will all of our other Christmas movies.
I didn’t think that it was any big deal to tell anyone, considering the library sale was in May, and it’s a Christmas movie. So, I just thought I’d get it out in December and say something then. Now, the thing is, if you’ve ever borrowed a DVD from the library––if your library is anything like ours, ours is nice and probably the best thing in the community. But, you never know just how scratched a DVD might be. If you want a DVD from the library, borrow it while it’s still new, not a couple years old and has been in the hands of who knows who and how many.
This one looked like it had been beaten, it was kind of scruffy on the outside, and I didn’t know what kind of condition the disc was in. So when I opened the present on Christmas, Evelyn thought I would be a little disappointed because she found out sometime between the time she ordered it and Christmas day, that I had a copy. But I’m glad she bought me a copy, because now, it’s brand new.
I’m sure you’ve all had things that were years old and worn out, and you were ecstatic to get a new one, right? It could be simple stuff like a DVD or practical things like towels or new clothes. Maybe it’s something bigger and better like new furniture that doesn’t have holes in it, or a couch that isn’t wobbly. Or a table with no scratches, and chairs with no juice stains from the grandkids.
Maybe you’ve gotten something out of necessity like a new roof or new plumbing or new wiring, or a new furnace. Or a new riding lawn mower. Or like us, a like-new truck.
There’s a sense of joy in that. Sure, these things will wear out and we’ll have to get rid of whatever-it-is eventually. And then get a new one all over again. That’s not so bad. A cycle of new things.
The New Year is a cycle of ‘new’ every 365 days. We get to start over again and have something to look forward to. What will the year bring? Will this be the year that fill in the blank finally happens? Maybe the right job, maybe a promotion, whatever it might be. One more year closer to retirement? Sometimes, depending on the year we just had, we’re kind of glad to put the old year behind us, and start anew.
God is like that. God does new things. This verse says, “a new thing.” But He doesn’t just do one new thing and that’s it. Like the new year every 365 days, He does one new thing, and later on he does another new thing, and later on he does another new thing. He does new things, plural. All the time. Not marked on a calendar every 365 days, it’s in His own time, we talked about that a couple of weeks ago. In His own time, He will do a new thing and another new thing, and another new thing. And it’s up to us to get on board or else it’ll pass us by.
I believe that we can let things pass us by, even if they are from God. A new opportunity that God provides for us can come and go because we’re complacent with where we’re at. And it’s easy to be complacent. We get into a groove. We get comfortable. We’re settled in. We may not even like where we’re at, but by golly, don’t get me out of my comfort zone. Usually when God does a new thing, it challenges us out of our comfort zone.
The famous writer, Carl Sandburg said, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”
Have you ever felt torn between the two? I have. I’ll admit it.
In their book, Live Your Calling, Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck said,
Discovering and living your calling is an adventure that entails risk. Responding to God’s call to fulfill your mission in life will undoubtedly require you to journey beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone. Jesus never seemed to hesitate in telling people to leave their familiar lives for the unfamiliar path of following him, did He?
Each time we blockade ourselves further within our comfort zone, it becomes more difficult to hear God’s callings in our lives. Living your calling is possible only when you are willing to be obedient to God’s voice and risk stepping out to follow Jesus. Living the adventure of your calling requires courage, resourcefulness, and willingness to confront new and unfamiliar challenges.
God calls us to new things. That’s because God does new things. I was watching a documentary the other day––speaking of DVDs. It’s one that I have on DVD. If you’re familiar with the Christian rock group, Petra, it was their story. The documentary was a bonus disc that accompanied a reunion concert DVD that’s about 10 years old now. And it is amazing that we now take Contemporary Christian Music for granted. It’s all over the place. Nobody thinks anything about it. But at the time Petra first formed almost 50 years ago now, rock and roll was the devil’s music. And what did God do, but a new thing. A crazy, absolutely absurd, bold, in-your-face, new thing. God would call people to become rock and roll musicians and reach people with the gospel through “the devil’s music?”
It spun a few heads. It messed with people’s theology. People picketed their concerts. Well-known televangelists that this band had admired now preached against them by name. But Petra and other artists like them pioneered a brand new thing that God was doing in the 1970s. They had to get out of their comfort zone. They had to get up and even spend a lot of time away from family, endure persecution––more from fellow Christians than from the world––in order to partner with God in His new thing. And what was the result? Thousands of young souls got saved. Millions if you count the ministry of the entire genre itself.
That was a whole new thing that God was doing. And it was planned for a specific time, for its specific generation.
God might not be calling you to something like that. But, then again, he might be calling you, and maybe even this church, to something radically new, and crazy different. Something that gets people’s attention, and draws in young families.
Point 2: When you look at these verses, God begins with “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” It’s hard to do something new, when you’re dwelling on the past.
Now, dwelling on the past, in and of itself is not bad. It’s good to reflect and remember blessings that God has done, it’s good to reflect on your life and as for this church, it’s good to remember its history and the people that were here in this church building that blessed you and this church.
I remember a lot of people that were here some 30 years ago. When we were at Jerry’s funeral, a man came up to us. I recognized him instantly. It took me a minute to remember his name, but his family was here 25 years ago. It gave me a warm feeling to remember those days.
But is God calling this church to be what it was 25 years ago? There are people here now that were not here then. There’s a new decade starting in just a few days. There are ministries here now, outreaches that were not here 25 years ago. What else is God calling this church to do?
If we get stuck in a rut, and dwell on the past, we might just say, “well, it’s always been done that way.” But those are often the last words of any organization.
And maybe God is saying that to you on a more personal level. Maybe you’ve had a rough year or a couple of rough years. Maybe it’s been your health or your finances or relationships, and God is speaking to you now. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” God is saying to you, it’s a new year. You’re not living in 2019 anymore.
Maybe it’s guilt. Maybe it’s a grudge that you’ve been carrying. God is saying, forget it. Move on. Maybe there’s something else you’ve been hanging onto that you shouldn’t. God is saying, hang onto me and my promises because I am about to do something new.
I am about to do something new with you, in you, to you and for you. And I am about to do something new with you. We get to go on an adventure with God. Talking about DVDs again, Bilbo Baggins never expected the adventure of a lifetime. But he got it one day when a bunch of dwarves knocked on his door. He was invited to go along with them on the greatest adventure any Hobbit could have ever dreamed of. Did he want to go? Of course not.
Bilbo Baggins was content with his garden, his pipe, his books, his warm cozy fire. He had a comfort zone. Going out, being a thief and battling dragons was a bit out of his comfort zone. But it took a little prodding from Gandalf the Grey, and even then, he refused. In fact, he fainted over it. But after sleeping on it, he decides, “I’m going on an adventure!” And if you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies, or read the books, you’ll know that Bilbo never regretted his adventure.
In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo’s nephew Frodo says to Sam––who is a bit apprehensive about going on their adventure, “Remember what Bilbo used to say, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
And God might have you go on an adventure: schooling, a new career, a new calling. And you say, at my age? Bilbo was 50 in the Hobbit. Frodo was 50. But of course I’m using fiction. In the Bible, Moses was 80 years old and Aaron was 83 when they faced Pharoah. Sarah was 90 years old when she gave birth to Isaac.
Or maybe you’re one of the younger ones here. David was about 17 when he killed Goliath. Jeremiah was about the same age when he was called to be a prophet. We just celebrated Christmas, and Mary, the mother of Jesus would have been about the same age when she gave birth to Jesus, too. And did you know Jesus’ disciples were only in their teens or early 20s?
So you can’t give the excuse that you’re too young or too old for God to use you.
Point 3: God is doing something new. The verses say, “Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Whatever God is doing, he is making the way. He is making the provision. You don’t have to worry about finances, you don’t have to worry about time, you don’t have to worry about talent. God is making the way. Now, that isn’t to say that you don’t have to do your part. You have to step forward, maybe apply for the loan or whatever it takes on your part in the physical sense, but we don’t have to worry that it’s all on us. And we don’t have to worry that God’s going to drop the ball. We need to stop, and as Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that [He is] God.”
Last week, after the sermon, Dad pointed out to me another reason why God might have chosen to reveal the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. Because they were still. Bethlehem was busy with people scurrying about––going in and out of the city. It must have been crowded if there was no room for a pregnant woman in the inn. It would have been like Watkins Glen in the summer. Last Sunday, we went to visit my aunt in Odessa, and there’s this farm on the hill on the east side that stands out, and I’ve always found it peaceful. I always love looking at it when I come into Watkins Glen. It just stands out as refreshing. And, I had always wondered how to get to it, and on our way to my aunt’s house I think I found how to get to it. But when Watkins Glen is just bustling and busy during the summer, no matter how busy and crowded it is here, there’s this peaceful farm on the hill, overlooking this town. It must have been like that with the shepherds. No matter how busy the town was, the shepherds were on a hill, peaceful and still.
Have you noticed how much easier it is to hear from God when you’re still? Have you noticed how much easier it is to listen to His voice when you’re focused on him and not on your everyday commotion and running around? We all have busy lives. Day in, day out. It’s hard to take a real day off. Even if it’s a day off of work, it’s not always a day off because you have so much to do. Have you taken time to be still and perceive what God is doing?
Author, Joel Ryan said on Christianity.com:
The tone of [Psalm 46:10] can be read: stop striving, stop fighting, and stop trying to do things on your own. Stop stressing about the battle ahead and trust me. Wake up! I am the Lord. I am your refuge and your strength. You have nothing to fear or worry about when I am with you. I will fight your battles and deal with your enemies. So get out of my way. Step back, open your eyes, and acknowledge who I am and what I can do. Let me be God. Don’t try and do my job for me. Be patient, be still, and let me go to work.
Going back to our original verse in Isaiah, “Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
God says “now.” And we know that now, isn’t always now, just because we pluck one verse out and read it today, now doesn’t necessarily mean ‘now’ for us. In this particular context, God was telling the Israelites something, and he was telling them that this was their ‘now’ moment. The point being, that God has ‘now’ moments with us. And when those moments come, are we able to perceive it? God wants us to perceive it, God wants us to know. It’s his way of preparing us, getting us up to the start line.
And as we move to the start line, God is changing the landscape––so to speak––making a way for us. Maybe we don’t fully see the track in front of us. But God is making the track. He’s making the course for us to run on––or since we’re in Watkins Glen––he’s preparing the course for us to drive on.
He’s making a course for us, he’s making our way ready, and it might be that we’ve been in a spiritual wilderness, and now, he’s changing that wilderness experience into something better. Maybe it’s a prayer that’s being answered now, and he’s making a stream in the wasteland. Whatever God is doing, he’s getting it ready for us. He’s changing things around for us. He’s telling us to get ready, to step up to the start line.
Conclusion: So, what is the final promise for the series? God promises to do a new thing. Whatever it might be. It’s going to be something different for each one of us. It’s going to be something different for this church than it is for another church. But God doesn’t get stuck in a rut. God doesn’t just keep us in the grind. He wants to do something new. He wants to move us out of the rut. He wants to lift us up. He wants to answer prayer and he wants to take you on an adventure.
God never promises that it will always be easy. We have to step out of our comfort zone. But that just means we’re going to have to rely on Him and watch what He does to provide the way and by that, He ends up getting the glory, not us. We’re going to have to rely on Him to make the way in the wilderness and the streams in the desert. That should be encouraging.
So, what is it that God is going to do for you this new year? What is it that God is going to do with you this new year, and what is it that God is going to do in you this new year?
It’s up to us to find out. I can’t tell you. I don’t know what He has for each and every one of you on an individual basis, and I’m not sure exactly what God has for this church in this coming decade. But what I do know is that God promises that He will do something. God promises that He has a plan and He will make a way. But we need to be still and be able to perceive when its time. We need to let go of the past, the former way of being; the former way of doing things, let go of that and be receptive to the new thing that God wants to do.
I think that’s why a lot of churches close. They are not receptive to what God wants to do. They’re too stuck on the past way of doing things, and they want to be in control rather than letting God be in control. And like I said earlier, “We have always done it that way” is the last words of any organization––religious or secular.
What new thing does God want to do? Let’s make that a priority to listen and obey this new year.
Prayer: Dear Lord, I pray that you would be with us today. I pray that you would reveal to us what you would like to do this new year, or this new decade. Is it a promise made long ago that you would like to fulfill? Is it a promise that you would like to make? Is it a calling?
Lord, I pray that you would stir our hearts and let us know what ‘new thing’ you have for us individually, and what new thing you have for us collectively. What is it that you would like to do? Is it now, is it later? Whenever it might be, I pray that you would stir in us an answer, a calling, a promise––maybe a promise fulfilled. Stir within us a hope, a peace and a purpose. In Jesus name, amen.