Happy New Years!

According to a University of Scranton study, about 40% of American’s make New Years Resolutions. For comparison, only 30% or so watch the Super Bowl. New Years Resolutions are a big deal for us as Americans. And that’s a good thing. We want to better ourselves. We are a growth oriented society. I think, at the heart of it, most of us want change. We want things to get better. We love advancements in science and technology. We love the hope of new elected officials in the government—depending on who the candidate is, I suppose. We love the prospect of new jobs and promotions.

We want change … but, think about this, at the same time we don’t like change.

We want change, but we don’t like change.

Literally every year since I’ve graduated high school I’ve determined to get in better shape in some way or another. But, I’m so lazy. I’ve never actually made a plan to exercise in a way that would result in real change.I’d resolve to do things like take the stairs at work. Park at the far side of the parking lot. Or, I would walk around the mall on my lunch break. Things like that.
Those types of things are good in the sense that it’s better than sitting at a desk all day long, but it was never going to help me get in shape. What I needed was a gym membership and a rigorous workout plan and the resolve to actually do what I wanted to do. Most of you aren’t any different. We want change, but not at the cost of actual change. We want change, but the process of change is scary and uncomfortable so we don’t ever get there. We get so used to one thing and even when there’s a need to move in another direction it’s so hard to make ourselves do it.

I think that’s why the University of Scranton reported that only 8% of New Years resolutions are actually accomplished. 40% of Americans make resolutions and only 8% of those are ever accomplished. If you do the math, that means that only 3% of Americans are ever accomplishing any kind of change from New Years resolutions, which is funny for a country that values resolutions more than the Super Bowl.

We set New Year’s Resolutions because we want change, but we don’t like the hard work that has to go into making that change happen.

That’s why most New Years resolutions never make it anywhere.

But, I also believe that many times we set our minds on resolutions or changes that we are powerless to achieve anyway. It’s not that we’re lazy, we just can’t do it.
I titled today’s message No More New Years Resolutions. I’m not really asking you not to set goals to lose weight, eat healthier, read more, watch less TV, and things like that. I would love nothing more than for you to set those goals kinds of goals and actually reach them. What I’m really concerned about are some of the lofty goals we set that are outside of our reach for some reason or another.

Maybe you fail to change because the resolution is just too big for one year. Maybe the resolution is too big for a lifetime.
Maybe you fail to change because the goals you set are influenced by other people and prove to be out of your control.
Or maybe you fail to change because you’re trying to combat systemic issues in our society that require more change than one person can accomplish.

Not all failures are the same and not all resolutions are the same. So, we’re going to look at three categories of failures today that I don’t think New Years Resolutions can help you with, but we ought yet to be very concerned about.

These are big issues that we are powerless to control on our own. The first is…

Systemic Failures

I listened to a testimony this past week of a Canadian man who was raised Muslim. His family immigrated to Canada from Syria. He went to Quran school as a kid and all of that but he said he didn’t really understand the teachings of Islam. When he was a teenager, he did something really bad and got in a lot of trouble. Because of it, he lost the respect of his whole family, so he decided the only way he could get his families respect back—which is very, very important in Muslim culture—was to become more devoted to his religion. And he didn’t play around either. He moved to Syria where he still had some family to really learn about Islam. But, what he found at the local Mosque were not devout, peaceful, Muslims. What he found was a group of guys who had devoted their lives to change and he found their zeal intoxicating. Surely, these guys could teach him what Islam is really about and earn him the respect of his family. Turns out, these guys were actually part of a group called Al Qaeda and he quickly realized they didn’t really understand the Quran or Islam either. He joined this group because he admired their passion and they promised a better world for everyone. But, what he found was that death followed them everywhere they went. As the man learned more and more about the Quran, he learned that Islam is supposed to protect people, not kill people and that bothered him. After the 911 attacks, when the Al Qaeda participated in the bombings of the twin towers, he decided he should be working against them, not for him. So, he became an undercover operative and worked against the Al Qaeda. But, at the end of the day, and after all he had accomplished, nothing really changed. Every time they take down a bad guy—it’s just like in a superhero movie—there’s always a bigger bad guy to deal with next time.

The entire creation is deeply saturated by layer after layer of sin and deceit to the point that no single person can resolve to bring any significant change. The systemic failures of the world just aren’t something we can change on our own.

They will eventually change, though. In Genesis 3, at the beginning of the Bible, we see how the curse on humanity was the catalyst for the condition of the world today. And in Revelation 21, at the end of the Bible, we see that the curse will all be undone and made right in the end. But, we live in the middle, so there are two ways people deal with the curse now.

Some people say, the world is falling apart and that’s God’s plan. That’s how it should be as we approach Christ’s second coming. This perspective teaches that the world will get worse and worse until the day Jesus returns. I don’t believe the Bible teaches that perspective.
Other people, myself included, would say that the world should be getting better as we approach the second coming of Jesus. The idea is that, as Christ’s Kingdom multiplies upon the earth, the effects of Christians living as Christians should live, will make the world a better place for everyone to live.

Speaking of the first coming of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah wrote this.

Of the increase of his government [authority] and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:7, ESV)

I want you to notice two things in this passage. The first is the word government. It comes from the Hebrew word meaning ‘to dominate.’ It includes political governments, but it has to do with any person or group who has dominion or authority over others. It’s best to think of it as authorities.
The second thing to notice is that Jesus’s authority was prophesied to increase from the time of his birth. Jesus wasn’t born with dominion in this world. But, as time goes on from his birth and as we look towards eternity, the authority of Jesus increases. Jesus’s Kingdom is always growing and spreading all over the planet.
And that’s a great thing! We’re worried about how bad the world has gotten, but as Jesus’s authority increases on the earth, Isaiah says, we will see an increase in peace, justice, righteousness, notice, ‘from this time forth and forevermore.

The world isn’t getting worse. Because God’s Kingdom is spreading over the earth, bringing peace, and righteousness, and justice. The systemic failures of this world are being slowly undone by Jesus. They are getting corrected the more Jesus’s Kingdom increases on the earth.
So, as we look to the New Year, we shouldn’t set a resolution to fix the systemic issues of the world, but to live under the authority of Christ even now when His authority has not yet spread over all the earth.

What does that look like?

Well, I think it looks like any number of our community ministries that some of our members are a part of. I’d love for you to visit the bulletin board right outside the doors to the auditorium to see about those.

I’ll tell you one story. A few of our members and a few others got together because they saw the brokenness of our homeless community. They didn’t decide that they were going to fix homelessness. That’s part of the systemic issues that only Jesus can fix as his Kingdom fills the earth.
But, they chose to live as if they are part of the peace, righteousness, and justice of Jesus’s Kingdom. So, they put together a bunch of gift bags with all sorts of things in them to help some homeless people live a little a little more peacefully. And then they delivered them to people on the streets to bless them.
We can’t fix the systemic failures of the world. That’s something Jesus does. But, we can live in the Kingdom, expressing peace, righteousness, and justice towards others now.

And that’s hard!

Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:21–23, CSB)

Though the world fails, God’s mercies are available to all; they are new every morning.

There’s a second category of failures to address here as we talk about others and that is the…

Failures of Others

We live in a broken world full of broken people, where ‘all have sinned.’ That means we are going to have to deal with the failures of others at times. The failures of others affect us in two ways—directly and indirectly. Directly means that someone sins against you. Someone breaks your trust or violates you in some way. Maybe they overstepped the boundaries of a relationship. Or maybe someone abused you physically or emotionally in some way. Those are direct sins against you.

But, then there are indirect sins. These are things that people do that affect you even if they aren’t directed at you.
• This could be the Father that neglects his children because he is so focused on his work.
• This could be the employer who falls prey to addiction and bankrupts his company to the detriment of his employees.
• This could be the friend who makes bad decisions and always needs you to bail them out.

The decisions we make in life affect those around us, even when they are not directed towards them.
How many of us have been hurt by the decisions of someone who said they loved us?
How many of us have hurt someone we love by decisions we have made?
You might be tempted to make a New Years resolution to ‘better your circumstances,’ but if your circumstances are because of the people you love around you, you probably don’t have a lot of control over your circumstances. I mean, you can’t change other people.
About the only thing you can do to better your circumstances when you are being hurt by people you love is to leave them, to run away, to break off relationships, maybe move to another city or state. You can’t fight—you can’t change other people—so the only thing to do is flee.
But, is that a biblical decision? Should you flee to escape the pain of the failures of others?
I’ll say up front, probably not.
Look what Jude wrote,

Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting expectantly for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. Have mercy on those who waver; save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. (Jude 21–23, CSB)

Jude says, ‘stay where you are at.’ But, when it comes to those around us who have defiled the flesh, those who have sinned and even hurt us, we are to have mercy.
But, notice we are to have mercy with fear. We need to have healthy boundaries so that the sin of others doesn’t hurt us or others in our care. It’s the old saying, ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner.’ Jude doesn’t want you staying with a physically abusive spouse or something like that. We need to have healthy boundaries, but we are called to stay where we are at while we have mercy on those who are still in their sin.

It’s all part of that same process where we are called to live in the Kingdom of God now, living for peace and righteousness, as we await the day when everyone will come under the authority of Jesus.

Again that’s hard!

Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:21–23, CSB)

Though people fail, God’s mercies are available to all; they are new every morning.

And finally, a third category of failures is our own personal…

Moral Failures

Surely, we can set New Years Resolutions to live righteously and to repent of sins! Surely, if there is a failure that we have control over it is our own personal failures! … Right?
Years ago I was leading a small group with some teen boys and I asked the question, ‘How do you repent of sins?’
And I got the funniest response. One of the pastor’s sons, of all people, put up his hand and said sarcastically, ‘You stop doing it!’
Is it really that simple?

How do you repent of drunkenness? ‘You stop drinking!’
How do you repent of sexual sin? ‘You stop having sex!’
How do you repent of envy and covetousness? ‘You stop looking at things other people have!’
How do you repent of pride? ‘You stop being arrogant!’

It’s easy to see things that way. It’s easy to feel as though you choose to sin, therefore, you can choose not to sin. And yet, I think we can all relate to that feeling where you know the right thing to do, and you want to make the right decision, but you don’t seem to have enough willpower to do what’s right.
Certainly, there is personal responsibility, but there is far more to it than, ‘You stop doing it!’

Or do you despise the riches of his kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4, CSB)

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul tells us that, “recognizing…God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, CSB) God shows his kindness to us in order to lead us to live righteous lives. Repentance is catalyzed by God’s kindness. Your repentance does not come apart from God’s activity preceding your repentance. Then, the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy, one of the local church pastors to be gentle, or kind, towards those oppose his teaching on the grounds that,

Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:25, CSB)

Here we see that God grants repentance and again that repentance is catalyzed by godly kindness. Further, in the book of Acts, Peter said that,

God exalted [Jesus] to his right hand as ruler and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:31, CSB)

Part of Jesus’s Lordship is his authority to grant repentance and forgiveness of sins. Repentance comes from God through Jesus. Repentance is not so much something we do as much as something Jesus grants us. Forgiveness of sins isn’t something we earn by repentance. It’s something Jesus grants freely as He wills.

Finally, a last example, in the book of Acts, when the Gentiles began to follow Jesus and received the Holy Spirit, the apostles glorified God saying,

So then, God has given repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles. (Acts 11:18, CSB)

This isn’t obscure verbiage from one verse of the Bible. There are a dozen or more other verses I could show you. Repentance from sins is not just something you do. Repentance is something God gives to us. It’s a gift that results in the forgiveness of sins and salvation.

So, you might be tempted to set a New Years resolution to repent of a particular sin, but I think there’s a further step that needs to take place. You see, if repentance is something that God grants when you come to faith, then your repentance issue has to go back to the root of salvation which is belief.
For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, CSB)
Every sin is a failure to believe in Jesus in that moment.

I’m not saying that people who sin are not believers. I’m just saying that, in the moment when you sin, it’s because you believe that something else is better than Jesus. You believe that your sin will satisfy you more than Jesus. You doubt that Jesus can fulfill you in the same way as your sin. So, you do it.
The New Years resolution you need to set is not to avoid the sin. The resolution you need to set is to believe. You need to believe more. You actually need a habit of consistent belief. You need your belief in Jesus to permeate your thinking throughout everything you do in life.

So, how do you get that? Where does that kind of belief come from?

Well, I believe it comes from your devotional life. It comes by setting aside a time of day for prayer and a time of day to reflect on the truths of the Bible—either in personal study or by listening to sound teaching online or in podcasts. If you want to believe more then you need to fill your mind with the things of God and you need to ask God to grant you repentance according to your belief. That’s the real answer to your persistent sin.

So, if you are going to set a New Years resolution because of your personal moral failures, you probably need to set a resolution to read your Bible daily, or to follow a daily devotional reading, or to listen to a sermon online from a qualified teacher—and to reflect on the truths you hear throughout the day.
And you need to have a resolution to pray as you do that. Confess your sins and ask for forgiveness. And ask that God grant you repentance from sin.

And, again, that’s hard! It almost seems like avoiding sin would be easier. But it’s not, otherwise, you wouldn’t still be doing it.

Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:21–23, CSB)

Though we fail, God’s mercies are available to us all; they are new every morning.

Again, the title of the message is No More New Years Resolutions, because you can’t fix these problems.
You can’t fix the systemic failures of the world. Only Jesus can.
You can’t fix the failures of those around you. Only Jesus can.
You can’t even fix your own personal moral failures. Only Jesus can.

These are problems Jesus fixes and if you want to see Jesus begin to fix these things in your life, there’s a three-step process I use, called the ABC’s, to explain this.
• The first step is to admit that the world is broken, in need of God’s mercies. And, especially, admit that you have contributed to the brokenness of the world in some ways.
• The second step is to believe that Jesus came into this world to correct the failures of humanity. Belief undergirds our faith. When we believe, Jesus grants us repentance and rescues us, not just from eternal punishment for sins, but he saves us from our persistence in sin now.
• And third, commit to follow Jesus who is Lord of all and who is mercifully granting his people repentance. When you commit to follow Jesus, you are committing to live in the righteousness, justice and peace of His Kingdom now, even as Jesus’s Kingdom continues to spread throughout the world. Committing to follow Jesus means living in the goodness of the world and not in the corruption of the world.

So as we come to a close, I want you to consider what Next Step you will take, not just this year, but this week.
Please take out your Next Step card now and make sure at least your name is on it.

You can put anything on your Next Step that God has inspired you to today, but I’ll give you a few ideas.
• If you aren’t a follower of Jesus, but you admit that the world is broken and you have contributed to that brokenness, then you might need to commit to follow Jesus. If you believe that Jesus has come to rescue the world from our failures, then you should put commit to Jesus or check the box that says, ‘Commit to Jesus for the first time.’ If you do that, one of our staff will contact you this week to talk with you about what that looks like in more detail.
• Maybe you recognize that your devotional life needs work. You could commit to a time of personal Bible reading and prayer. Or you can commit to a Small Group. Or you might need to commit to listening to a Bible podcast.
• And maybe you are doing well there, but you look at the systemic failures of the world and you want to be a part of the solution. You might need to commit to ministering to those in the community in some way. I’d encourage you to have an intentional plan to do this and to involve others in your small group or others in your family to be a part of it with you.
• And maybe it’s something else that God has placed on your heart today.
Write down your next step so that our staff and prayer team can be praying for you this week as you begin the New Year.