A couple sat facing their marriage counselor who asked, “Why are you here to see me?” The woman answered, “Well, it all started when we thought it might be cute to choose each other’s New Year’s resolutions.”
Changing ourselves is much better than trying to change someone else—though I’m not sure which one is easier.
A little boy was overheard praying, “Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am!”
That’s the way we often feel about ourselves.
I want to talk to you this morning about making the best of the beginning of this new year. This really is a good time to turn over a new leaf.
Once in awhile, perhaps just once a year, at its start, we pause for a time and think about the possibility of making the change we really want. We could really go for a fresh start; you know, change a behavior, an outlook or attitude. A little or a large reformation never hurt anyone. At this beginning, we believe we might improve a facet of our character; perhaps even amend a flaw.
Scripture is full of possibilities for a New Year’s Resolution. Let me give you one option, one of my faves: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” Rom 12:8
Another one: “Let us … no longer pass judgment on one another.” Rom 14:13
In the secular world there are eleven top dreams for the new year, eleven resolutions that people most make as they look in hope at the fresh start. They are: to get organized, help others, learn something, get out of debt, exercise, make more family time, quit smoking, lose weight, quit drinking, enjoy life more, and be happier.
There has to be something each of us ought to resolve to change. After all, if you’re someone who thinks today’s word doesn’t apply to you, then perhaps you should be up here. No, no, better yet, you should have been up there (on the cross)…. ‘Cause everybody needs to turn over some leaf.
Our scripture reading tells us the wise men came, saw, worshiped, gave and left. While a lot of people think it’s amazing they made it all the way to see the infant Jesus, what about their journey back?
What’s interesting is that they no longer used the stars, or their local knowledge to choose the route. Instead they relied on a warning they had received in a dream. In this way, the journey the wise men made was more than just a physical one. It was also a spiritual journey. Having discovered Christ, they learned to obey God’s voice calling to them.
The three wise men should be the patron saints of the new year. They heard God calling and they started again by another direction. Find another path for yourself. Do something different. Make the changes that will cause you to make the change. No one changes one thing on its own; it’s the two or three first little changes that permit the bigger and better one to take place in your life.
Now, if we’re to be honest with ourselves, and reflect back over
the previous year, can we say that we put forward 100%? Can we say that we loved our neighbors as ourselves? Can we say that we didn’t break any of the Ten Commandments?
When we look at ourselves honestly like this, we might feel a little bit like Adam and Eve when they’re eyes were opened. Scripture tells us, “… (T)hey sewed fig leaves, and made themselves aprons, for they knew they were naked.” And then what did they do? They ran and hid from God.
We might also find ourselves naked before God, and do what they did. But hiding from the Lord is like a three-year-old trying to hide from mom or dad. We can see them run that way. We can hear them laughing behind the couch. There’s no hiding from the Lord.
But we still try, and we often believe we’ve succeeded. In fact, we think we’ve succeeded so well that we no longer even pay attention to where we’ve done wrong. Our shortcomings no longer come to mind.
But boy, oh boy, can we ever point out the shortcomings of others. They’re in our sights. We’ve got a lock-down on them and their every word and move. Not only do we keep a record of it in our head and heart but we make sure others know all about what so and so did or said. Perhaps it’s because if we can keep people looking in that direction, they won’t be looking at us, and see us truly as we are.
We need to open our eyes and look at our own body of works and words. Let us choose this year to keep our mouth shut and our eyes on our own lives. Overlook others “transgressions.” Forgive others their debts, so that we’ll know the grace of God forgiving ours. That would be a very good new leaf to turn over this year.
A man says he heard from an old friend one night. His friend’s mom had passed away a couple of weeks before and he had called up this friend to share a story about him and his mom’s last night together.
“My Mom had been ill for some time. She’d been in and out of hospital for a few years, but this time we knew it was serious. I don’t think we expected her to go downhill so quickly, but I think she probably knew.
The last night I saw her I held her hand and we talked for hours. But one conversation I had with her will stay with me the rest of my life. I asked her if she was frightened. I guess I was hoping she’d say no for my own peace of mind. And sure enough she looked at me and said, “I’m not scared, honey. I’m just a little disappointed.”
I asked her why. Did she feel the doctors had let her down? Had I let her down in some way?
She looked me in the eyes and said, “No, son. I’m disappointed in myself. I’m lying here knowing I’m leaving this life soon and I can’t help thinking of the opportunities I missed. I’ve had a pretty good life, but there were so many things I could have done if I’d have had the confidence and courage to do them. There were places I could have traveled to, people I could have met, and jobs I could have done.
Did you know I had the chance to work in films? I turned down the job because I didn’t think I’d succeed so I didn’t even try. That’s why I’m disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy. I just wish I’d experienced life at the peak. It’s too late for me now, but promise you’ll take the opportunities you run into, and you’ll not settle for anything less than you desire in your heart.”
What she’d said to him left such a big impression he’s already started a new job, asked his girlfriend to marry him, and next month he’s flying to Montana—the place he’d always wanted to visit as a kid.
This man finishes by asking: What haven’t you done because you’ve been too scared, or you’ve just procrastinated too much?
In Romans 12:2, Paul tells us to put our bodies on the line for God. This act he says is the basis of our spiritual life. “I appeal to you … to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Now I know most of us don’t put body and spirit together like this; in fact, we do the opposite. The body is one thing and the spirit is another. But Paul is absolutely right. The truth is we only make things real when we do it, and it takes a body to do something. You’ve got to put your body where your brain is.
We want to become one thing, do a certain thing, make something happen, but if all we do is think about it it’ll never happen. It’s only when we put our bodies where our dreams are that we have any chance of making real what we believe in.
It’s the people who put their body, the body of their time, the body of their talent, the body of their treasure on the line and in service of something better, who actually make the change in themselves and in the world. We can’t just be dreamers; we have to be doers. After all, if you always do what you always did, you will only get what you always got.
Too many people get to the end of their life and say, “I could have….” The only difference between these and those who are able to say, “I did,” is they put their time, talent and treasure where their dreams were. They sacrificed their bodies, their lives, and came away with the reward of having done, and performed, and given, and changed—and really lived. Paul’s telling us we become real Christians when we really do Christian things.
In the New Testament, people would often come to Jesus with spiritual questions, and in fact, the Pharisees would try to challenge him on his teachings. Many times Jesus would respond to these people by reciting Scripture or saying something like, “Have you never read in the Scriptures?”
Taking the time and energy and focus to read scripture is clearly something Jesus expects us to do. He did it. Have we studied the Scriptures enough to be able to recall them from memory? If your answer is yes, fantastic. Keep up the good work. If not, then this is a change in your life that may change your life. The Bible is full of lessons that God is waiting for us to put into our lives on a daily basis.
You know, some people aren’t very good at being able to tell how thirsty they are. Personally, me, I drink water all the time, or at least a lot. I feel thirsty quite a bit. I’m in tune with my body’s thirst.
It’s the same spiritually. So many people think they’re spiritual camels. They can go days, and weeks, and months, and years, even decades with anything from the well of scripture, the water of life. They learned something back in fifth grade Sunday school, or read something back in eighth grade Confirmation class and boy, they’re set for life. Never felt thirsty again! Never knew they were thirsty again.
Turn over a new leaf this year: Get spiritually thirsty, or at least recognize how parched your spirit and soul are. And then get to drinking the good stuff, the word of the Lord for your heart and life.
It’s true that many people only change when they’re forced to do so. They’re like the guy who was in trouble with the law. He went to confession and told the priest, “I’m changing my ways, Father.” The priest said, “Have you finally seen the light, my son?” “No, Father, but I have felt the heat.”
There are two reasons why people change: They either feel the heat or see the light. Feeling the heat forces us to change. Seeing the light inspires us to change.
Raquel Galford tells us a story of how she was forced to change, and how she also saw the light. She says she would never go back to where she was before and who she was before, even though it has been a tough journey.
I had a defining moment in which my life shifted dramatically. I worked in an office where I had the same co-workers for fifteen years. We had been through marriages, deaths, births, graduations together. We were like a small family. I loved the comfort that this familiarity offered me.
However, I made a decision which would change this forever. They purchased a winning lottery ticket worth 170 million dollars. I didn’t choose to play due to my home circumstances. My husband, who is now my ex-husband, wouldn’t work and so I was trying to make it on one income and my child wanted to play soccer. It took all I had to scrape up the amount I needed to get by.
Needless to say, money changes people. Everyone who won left the office. I was devastated. I couldn’t function. My marriage was falling apart. My ex was so angry at me for not playing. He was a gambling addict. I had no idea he had been taking my credit card and getting cash advances for over a year. I felt as if my entire life had fallen apart. I wallowed in self-pity for a long time.
Then one day, I had enough. So I pulled myself up off the ground, filed for divorce and got a second job so I could buy groceries for us to eat. The road I chose has not been easy. Being a single mom, working two jobs, and taking care of bills and the house is very hard at times. There are days I feel overwhelmed but then I look at my son and I remember why I do it.
Since my divorce, I have written a children’s book which has been published, I have discovered a talent for making jewelry and I have worked with an organization that provides free care for Palestinian children who live in refugee camps in Gaza.
I am amazed that out of so much sadness and pain I emerged a better person than I was before. I now appreciate the fact that people do enter and leave our lives. We are not promised that they get to stay forever. They are on loan to us. I am still learning to really like change. It’s a journey that I must take.
Amazing story, amazing woman, amazing change!
It’s a new year. God has plans and dreams for you that are not new, however. The Lord has always had them. What’s new this time is you.
Put your body where God’s dreams are. Do the little things that make the big change happen for yourself, for others, for the Lord. Forget about others’ faults. Look to your own life. Find forgiveness for others in order to free God’s grace for you. And get thirsty for the good stuff. Find your way to opening the Bible, drinking in God’s word, finding the Lord’s life in its words and pages, given for you, for each of us. Can anybody say, Amen?