A New Thing

Well, friends, welcome to 2015! Can you believe another year is here already? It’s unbelievable how fast time seems to fly, isn’t it? Yet, at the same time, every new year still brings about all sorts of excitement and possibilities. I mean, that’s most likely why better than 40 percent of Americans made a New Year’s resolution this week. (And, in case that doesn’t seem like a large percentage, about one-third of Americans watch the Super Bowl by comparison). So, for a lot of people, this is a really, really big deal. Now, if you find yourself sitting here this morning without any resolutions, that’s okay; I’m here to help you out. I’ve got you covered. So, here’s five resolutions I found online that you can add to your list for 2015:

  1. Don’t send a text message to someone sitting in the same room. You know, this is actually a good point. It’s okay, you can actually get up and talk to people face-to-face.
  2. Check your work email account at least once this year. Alright, well that shouldn’t be too tough, but I guess we all know a person or two that could benefit from this resolution, right? Maybe they could take it a step further and even reply to some…
  3. Find a more accurate scale. (Yeah because, you know, that’s the real problem…)
  4. Stop buttering your donuts. (Wait, what? Ok, dude, if this is on your resolution list, give us a call, and we’ll get you some help.)
  5. Eat more fruit…(Hey, alright. You know, that’s actually not a bad resolution at all.) snacks.

Okay, you know what, this list was a bad idea. These are terrible resolutions. You probably shouldn’t download your resolutions from the Internet. But, here’s the truth that’s probably not all that surprising: despite all our good intentions, very few of us will actually keep the resolutions we set. The University of Scranton research suggests that just 8 percent of people achieve their New Year’s goals. Why do you think that is the case?

Why is it that so many of us fail at goal-setting? What’s the secret that we are missing when it comes to achieving our resolutions? Maybe it’s because we’ve set unrealistic goals or maybe it’s because we’ve tried to go it alone. Pastor and author of Change Before You Have To, Rob Ketterling says, “People don’t change because a known bondage is more comfortable than an unknown freedom.” So, perhaps this morning you’re one of the 92 percent of people who have failed a resolution. Perhaps you’re not really into the New Year’s resolution thing, but you’ve attempted various changes before only to slowly drift back into your old patterns. So, let me ask you, what is it that needs to change in your life?

People don’t change because a known bondage is more comfortable than an unknown freedom.

Rob Ketterling

This morning, we’re going to look at two verses found in the heart of Isaiah. These are more than likely two verses you are familiar with, but I believe that as we read them together, we will see that they will help us tremendously in not simply setting good-intentioned resolutions but in achieving God-intentioned goals. And, that’s really our goal this morning: to not set good intentioned resolutions but God-intentioned goals. So, let’s read Isaiah 43:18-19. It says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

I believe this morning that there are many of us that have attempted to produce change in our lives unsuccessfully or only superficially but, today, God desires to do something new within us. You see, we often look to Jesus to change our circumstances when He really wants to change us. And, so, no matter what your resolution may be—it might be to quit smoking, to lose weight or to get out of debt—it’s not really about becoming healthier or becoming financially wiser. I mean, those are certainly all good intentions. But, we want more than that; we want God-intentioned lives. And, the God-intention for our lives is not simply to be healthier or wiser at the end of 2015; it’s to be closer to Jesus. It’s to look more like Him. It’s to seek His face in the midst of difficult change.

CHANGE WITH FOCUS

So, this morning, I want to draw forth three things that bring about change in our lives from these two verses. Our first point is that we change with focus. Again, Isaiah 43:18 reads, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” If we cannot focus on the right things and stop focusing on the wrong things, change will not occur. Furthermore, if we focus on too many things, change will not occur. So, what are we really talking about here?

Pastor and author Rod Loy, in his book Immediate Obedience observed this about his new year’s resolutions. Each year, he found himself to be a part of the 92 percent, and he wanted to break that cycle. I think we might all identify with what he is saying. He says,

Many years ago I developed the habit of setting goals in six different areas of my life at the beginning of every year— not just one goal, but several goals for each of the six areas. Then I created a detailed plan to fit them all into my schedule. However, by the third or fourth month of each year, the mass and complexity of all those goals proved to be overwhelming… so I pared my focus down to just one goal that would be my focus for the entire year. I asked myself, “What’s the one area of my life that, if I grow and change, will make me a better person and a better leader?

To apply his question to our lives, perhaps you might ask yourself, “What’s the one area of my life that, if I grow and change, will make me a better husband, wife, mother, father, son, daughter, friend, employee, fill in the blank?”

And, I think David’s prayer in Psalm 27:4 answers this question when he says, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” One thing. The Hebrew word translated as “one thing” literally means the main thing or the very first thing. Throughout his life, David had certainly asked for many different things, but in this passage, David states clearly that if he could ask for only one thing it would simply be the presence of the Lord. All of his other desires were bound up in this single desire and this single desire was set upon the things of God.

Furthermore, David isn’t content with a moment spent with God. He’s not looking simply to dedicate a portion of his morning or his week to God. No, David prays that all the days of his life he might dwell in God’s presence. When the kids are screaming and tearing through the house. When Mondays bring the additional stress of a long work week. When you get cut off on the highway. It’s seeking and finding God in such moments. David wants to be aware of the presence of God in all moments.

Let me ask you: what sort of difference would it make in our lives if we were people with a singular vision like David? What if we could honestly proclaim that in 2015–above all other things–I want to be in the presence of God? The reality is that with this one thing, all other things begin to fall into their proper place and perspective. As we refocus our attention on eternal things, as David did, it influences every other area of our lives. The lasting change we desire to make only becomes possible as our lives are brought into harmony with the things that matter to God.

To make our focus on God does not come easily or naturally. One might think it to be as easy as attending church each week. I mean, that’s certainly a great starting point–to be committed to church attendance. I encourage you to make that a goal. Yet, do you realize that if you attend church one hour per week every week of your life until you are 65 years old, you will have spent a total of four months in church. Yet, within the same time span, statistics show that the average American will have spent over 9.5 years in front of a television. We have to change our focus. You see, if we are not intentional about spending time reading God’s Word throughout the week or spending time in prayer between each Sunday or memorizing Scriptures that pertain to the change we are attempting to make, our focus will shift away from the God who brings about change in our lives. So, to truly focus on the things of God first and foremost, we will have to deliberately reorder our priorities and make spending time with Him more important than all the other things on the list.

So, before we move on, I want to give you a practical way to do this with today’s technology. I have on the screen five apps you can download today that will help you to refocus and reclaim your phone or tablet back to reading, memorizing and studying Scripture as well as prayer.

  1. YouVersion Bible: If you don’t have this app on a smartphone, get it. There are plenty of Bible apps out there, but I strongly recommend this one. It has tons of translations, the ability to write and share notes, reading plans, devotional reading plans, a verse of the day and a lot more.
  2. Glo: This is also a computer software priced fairly but it allows you to study Scripture with various translations, interactive maps, web articles and videos and much more.
  3. Verses: This is a new one that I’ve found. Though it’s not free, it’s pretty cool. It will train you to memorize any verse in the ESV or NLT translations through memory exercises. Once you’ve memorized a verse, it will also periodically remind you to go back and strengthen your memory of that verse.
  4. New Life App/New Life Pod: If you search New Life Assembly of God in Google Play or the iTunes store, you will find our podcast with each week’s sermon for you to listen to while on the go. (This has since been deprecated, but you can still download the podcast from the iTunes store!)
  5. Evernote: While this is simply a note taking app, it can be of tremendous value in your spiritual walk. Use it to takes notes during sermons. Use it to write down prayer requests from others, so you don’t forget about them. Use it as a journal to write your own prayer requests.

We will putting this list on our Facebook page with all of the links tomorrow. But, the point is that we must be deliberate in focusing on the right priorities. So, if in 2015, you are desiring to make some changes, I want to encourage you. You can do it. Change is possible, and you don’t have to be a part of the 92 percent. If we choose at the beginning of this year to seek Him firstly, change will happen. If we reorganize our lists and priorities so that He is the focus, change will happen. This year, we can be a part of the eight percent who make a significant change, not because we have good intentions but because we live our daily lives with God-intentioned purpose. So, our first point this morning, is that we change with focus.

CHANGE WITH EMBRACE

Our second point is that we change with embrace. The first part of Isaiah 43:19 reads, “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?” At first, it sounds like God is asking if we can see the things He is currently doing. But, the verb “perceive” in the Hebrew language is far more than a simple awareness or acknowledgement of something. In reality, it paints a picture of a husband-wife relationship within a marriage. It illustrates a person who is totally receptive–willingly to totally embrace. So, God is not simply asking whether we know of or if we see the things He is doing. We are often aware of the change we need to make, aren’t we? Instead, He is asking if we are willing to embrace the new thing and receive it in our lives. Change demands embrace.

But, that’s often easier said than done, isn’t it? To embrace something new means to let go of whatever it is we are currently holding onto so tightly. And, that can be a scary, dangerous experience. I’ve shared this before, but I do not like heights–at all. Anytime someone forces me to uncomfortable height, you will see me gripping the edge or the railing pretty tightly. That’s why Felix Baumgartner’s story is crazy.

Felix Baumgartner always dreamed of flying and skydiving. In 1999. he claimed the world record for the highest parachute jump from a building. In 2003, Baumgartner became the first person to skydive across the English Channel. He also set the world record for the lowest BASE jump ever, when he jumped 95 feet from the hand of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. He was the first person to skydive onto, then base jump from, the Turning Torso building in Sweden. In 2007, he became the first person to jump from the 91st floor observation deck of the then-tallest completed building in the world. If you haven’t gotten the picture yet, Baumgartner is crazy. He’s insane.

But, in October 2012, he really lost his mind when he flew approximately 24 miles into the Earth’s stratosphere above New Mexico in a helium balloon to make a record-breaking jump. The journey upward took nearly 2.5 hours. On his ascent, he also passed the Armstrong limit which is the point in the atmosphere where the pressure is so low that water will boil at the temperature of the human body instead of its normal 212 degrees. After exiting the capsule, Baumgartner said, “I know the whole world is watching now. I wish you could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to get up really high to understand how small you are… I’m going home now,” and he jumped. His free fall was a total of 4 minutes and 19 seconds before deploying his parachute and descending for another 6 minutes. That means this guy literally fell to the earth for over 10 minutes.

Not only did Baumgartner experience a violent spin during his flight, but his highest speed was over 840 miles per hour–breaking the sound barrier and thus becoming the first human to do so without the use of any form of engine power.

Can you imagine that moment of standing on the capsule’s edge? As he steps out, he holds the railing tightly–understanding that the moment he lets go, it could mean literally either death or that he would accomplish something great. There are those of you in this room this morning that identify with Baumgartner more than you might realize. You are standing on the edge of immense change; you are faced with the opportunity to push the limits of what you thought life could hold. I mean, what if Baumgartner would of stood on the precipice of change only to then retreat back into the capsule? You see, when we only observe the possibilities of change but never actually make the change, we cheat ourselves. The only way to something different, something better, something greater is to actually make the change.

When we only observe the possibilities of change but never actually make the change, we cheat ourselves.

There’s a man in Gospels that we simply know by the name of the Rich Young Ruler who stood on the precipice of change. Matthew tells us that as this guy approached Jesus, he was looking for what he had to do to make a change in his life. Scripture is clear that he had kept the Law, but then Jesus says, “‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

I’m not telling you this morning to go and sell all of your possessions necessarily. But, the point is that the Rich Young Ruler was unable to let go of his former ways and to embrace the new thing God desired for him. He wanted to make some serious changes while simultaneously holding onto everything from the past. And, friends, it does not work this way.

So, again, if this is you this morning, I want to encourage you. I know the idea of change is scary and dangerous at times. You might be gripping onto the very thing you need to move away from because it’s what you are familiar with and comfortable with. But, you can embrace the new thing God wants to accomplish in your life. But, in order to do that, you’re going to have to let go of what’s easy. And, if you can embrace the new thing that God desires for your life, you  can be a part of the eight percent who make a significant change because you’re no longer embracing merely good intentions but you’re diving fully into God’s intentions for your life. So, our second point is that we change with embrace.

CHANGE WITH HELP

Our third and final point is that we change with help. The second part of Isaiah 43:19 reads, “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Who is making a way? It’s God! He’s the One who is taking our desert and our wasteland moments and changing them into life-giving moments. Yet, when it comes to change, we often neglect to seek the Lord and His hand in making the change. We think that we go it alone. Over recent years, self-help books have quickly climbed to the best-selling genre for booksellers. Recent studies have indicated that the majority of self-help book customers, however, don’t read past the first twenty pages. Psychologists have indicated that merely the act of purchasing a self-help book has helped to make someone feel better about their current situation. Yet, studies have indicated that over 80 percent of self-help book buyers are repeat customers. It’s creating the illusion of change without actually changing anything. It’s superficial help. In reality, we need the help of the Holy Spirit to bring about deep and lasting change. He will make a way–not you or me or some guy on the cover of a book.

The reality, and we’ve said it many times already this morning, is that change is never easy, but it’s near impossible to do it alone. The Apostle Paul recognized this in Romans 7:24, when he said, “I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?” This is a plight that we are all too familiar with, isn’t it? Where’s my help? Where’s my change? I can’t do this alone. Isn’t there anyone out there who can help me? Paul continues to say in the next verse, “The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.” We can only change with help. So, God sent us a Savior who could reconcile us with Himself, and He sent the Spirit to walk with us and empower us in this life.

In Psalm 56, David, too, was at the end of his rope. His enemies were rising up against him, and he didn’t know what to do or where to go. But, Psalm 56:9 says, “My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help. This I know: God is on my side! I praise God for what he has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised.” When we set out to make some serious changes in our lives, we’re going to reach opposition. There may be some people who tell us that we can’t do it. There may be that voice of doubt in our hearts that tries to tell us we’ve been defeated. But, friends, this morning, I want you to understand that God is on your side. And, when God is on your side, and when you make Him your focus and His will your embrace, you can change. He has given us a Savior and He has given us His Spirit because we cannot produce deep, lasting change without Him.

Furthermore, God has given us a community that will hold us accountable and encourage us in our change. That community is called the church. It’s why at our church we have LIFE Groups with a variety of topics because we want you to get plugged in. And, right now, leaders are able to submit forms to be a part of this LIFE Group semester because we want to encourage community and accountability and change. It’s why we have things such as church membership starting up next Sunday. We want you to be involved in the church–to be participators. But, this isn’t just something limited to church or our spiritual lives.

Research has shown that 77 percent of heart attack victims who have joined a small group are able to make difficult life change and stay on the track to health because of the support and encouragement from the group. You might say, “Well, of course they have the motivation to change when it’s a matter of life or death.” But, the study showed further that the odds are nine-to-one against you, that you will be able to make a change where it is a matter of life and death and you are without an accountability group. Nine to one odds. So, nearly eight out of the ten victims made significant change when they were held accountable, but nine out of ten stayed the same without accountability. Who here this morning would prefer the eight-to-one odds that you will succeed?

So, as we move to our closing this morning, if you feel like you are at the end of your rope, and you’re just looking for someone who is willing to help, Jesus Christ can and does. I know the idea of seeking for and asking for help can be uncomfortable. Just the idea of change alone is uncomfortable enough. But, you do not have to attempt to make this change in your life all on your own. Seek Him for help; participate in this community that is here to help. And, I believe that if you are willing to submit to some form of accountability, you can be a part of the eight percent who make a significant change because you’ll no longer be content with merely good intentions but you will want to accomplish God’s intention in your life.

Friends, God desires to do a new thing in your life. He wants to push the limits of what you thought this life could hold. And, if this year, we all aim to change with focus, embrace and help, we can make some deep, significant changes in our lives. We can make change that lasts.

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