As You Begin the New Year, Remember…
(Preached January 1, 2012 – FBC Nitro, WV)
This last week I read about a man who had retired, and his habit each morning to was read the obituaries in the newspaper. On one particular morning he found his own name there. He called the newspaper somewhat angry and somewhat shocked. When reached the editor he lectured him about his horrible error. Finally when he finished his rant, the editor said, “Look, I’m really sorry. I tell you what we’ll do. In the morning I’ll put your name in the birth column and you can have a brand new beginning!”
There is something exciting about new beginnings. I always enjoy the anticipation of the first day of a new year, then enjoy when it arrives. It gives us the possibility of a new beginning. If we start a new job, we have an opportunity for a new beginning. If we move into a new house, we have the opportunity for a new beginning. As we stand on the threshold of a new beginning however, it is vital that we learn from our past. Throughout the Bible God was always telling His people to remember what He had done for them in the past. By remembering what He had done in the past, they would have strength in the present and hope for the future. The same is true for us today.
In our passage for this morning, the people of Israel are poised to cross the Jordan, conquer the land of Canaan, and experience a new beginning. Before they did so however, Moses encouraged them to remember their past. Before we today can look to the future or even live in the present, we have to learn from the past. As we stand at the beginning of this new year, we need to do what Moses told the nation of Israel to do before they entered the promised land.
First of all, as you begin a new year, remember God’s providence. v. 21 of our passage says, “…you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.’” Israel was now ready to cross the Jordan River because of the circumstances God had brought together in the past. God reached down his hand and sent plagues on the land of Egypt so that the people of Israel would be released from slavery. Even when Pharaoh resisted the plans of God, God used that resistance to glorify himself and to inspire His people. They experienced God’s providence then, and we experience God’s providence now. Providence is God’s ruling over all the events in a person’s life to accomplish His purpose and to care for His people. Perhaps the best single verse in the Bible we have on providence is Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,…” God “bringing things together” is His providence.
I remember back as a senior in college that I was terribly smitten with a young lady who was a college sophomore. I was crushed when she broke up with me – I simply couldn’t understand. A few years later I was preparing to graduate from seminary and preached at a “neutral church” for two pulpit committees of churches seeking pastors. I didn’t go to either church, but instead was called by the neutral church, that was also without a pastor but didn’t have any initial interest in my ministry. A few months into pastoring that congregation, a gorgeous young lady with dancing blue eyes came through the doors of the church for a Sunday worship service. After several more incidents of God working through circumstances, that woman became my wife.
In all those things, He knew what was best for me – His providence was working then. His providence is still working now, for God does not change. He is constantly changing us, but He himself never changes. On this first day of 2012, we each have a choice – we can celebrate God’s providence, or we can lament what we perceive as God’s inactivity. We can find reasons to do both, but the truth is that in the end God knows best, and He is in control. His way is always the best way. As you stand at the beginning of a new year, remember God’s providence in your life.
Then as you begin a new year, remember God’s presence. v. 22 of our passage says, “…the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes.” God wanted Israel not only to know He is real, but also that He is there. He demonstrated it with signs and wonders. God doesn’t do miracles for show or to give us a thrill. God does miracles, both small and great, to show us His presence and to magnify His glory. God is moving in our lives every day, and showing us His presence. The question is, “are we looking?” Have you ever gotten a phone call, a letter, an email, that was exactly what you needed to hear at that time? Have you ever come across a friend that you hadn’t seen for ages, but at a crucial time and in an unexpected place you encountered him/her? Have you ever been sitting in church and a song is song or words are spoken in a message that you are convinced were just for you? Those things are all demonstrations of God’s presence! The God who has been with us to this point in our lives isn’t going anywhere – He will always be with us. Jesus promises us in Matthew 28:20, “…behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
As you begin a new year, remember God’s provision. V. 23 says, “And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers.” Let’s focus on these words: he brought us out, that he might bring us in. Let’s repeat them together: He brought us out, that He might bring us in. God does not bring heartache into our lives with nothing else in mind. When God allows us to lose one set of circumstances, it is because He has something better in store. The people of Israel lost the predictability of their slavery in Egypt. Their taskmasters managed to keep them alive so that they may work and do their bidding. Even though life was hard, it was predictable. God brought them out that he might bring them in, that he might bring them in to something far better. God brings us out, so that He can bring us in. Philippians 4:19 says, “…my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” God doesn’t supply some of our needs, He supplies every need. He doesn’t do it according to our riches, thank goodness! He supplies our needs according to His riches. If you will look back and ask God to show you, you will begin to see ways in which God has provided for your needs.
One of the major ways in which I have seen God provide for needs is through tithing. I can’t explain it, and from a strictly financial standpoint it makes absolutely no sense to release 10% of our income and surrender control of it completely to God. From a personal standpoint, I know that when I give to God, I have much more wisdom to manage what remains in my care. Actually I have more overall than I did before I gave. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Again he says in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” God provides in other ways in addition to finances. The point is that he takes care of us. The old hymn says,
“Do not dismay what’er betide
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.”
As you begin a new year, remember God’s provision.
Then, as you begin a new year, remember God’s protection. v. 24 of our passage says, “And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.” I believe we will all be amazed when we get to heaven and see all the ways God protected us from harm while we were on this earth. We may realize a few of them now, but God is protecting us over and over again. Psalm 68:20 says, “Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death.”
As I look back upon my own life in 2011, one of the things that is prominent to me is the incident of breaking my ankle, missing a marathon, then having to spend a month on crutches. At first I was angry and discouraged, but then began realizing how blessed I was. I started to hear about how other people in the area had been struck by cars and severely injured or killed. I know now God was watching over me, and I am grateful. I would say each one of us can recall ways in which we have experienced God’s protection, if only we would take the time to do so.
Then after recalling the past, we set our minds on living in the present and moving towards the future. While we must remember the past, we cannot remain in the past.
Clean House is the name of a television show on the Style Channel where experts in cleaning, organizing, remodeling, and painting sweep into a cluttered home with the purpose of leaving it more comfortable, attractive, and livable. The experts face the challenges of clothes strewn across the floor, bulging cabinets, closets filled from top to bottom, filled counter tops, and overflowing kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, and living rooms—not a clean room in the house! The experts’ first step is to take an inventory of all the “stuff.” Then, decisions are made about what to sell at a yard sale and what to keep. The home’s inhabitants hesitate and hold on to favorite clothes from years gone by, childhood keepsakes, space-taking trivia, but then they yield. The sale is held, and money comes in to help with the makeover. Then the family leaves, and the work begins. Rooms are cleaned out, redone for more efficiency and attractiveness, and repainted. Curtains are hung, cabinets set in, and walls decorated. A transformation takes place, and when the family returns, what a difference it makes! Any nervous anticipation quickly gives way to excitement and laughter when the family sees what’s taken place. “Thank you, thank you,” the family says often amid smiles and tears.
In our spiritual house, there comes a time for each of us to “take inventory” of what’s in our hearts, get rid of some things, and do some repairing and remodeling. Like the families on the show, we have an expert in remodeling and renovation—Jesus Christ—who can make our makeover an astounding success.
As you begin a new year, remember the God of the past is the God of the present and the God of the future. He is faithful to take you into next twelve months in new and exciting ways that exceed your fondest dreams.