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01-05-2014 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

Lam 3:40-41 (TEV). 40 Let us examine our ways and turn back to the Lord. 41 Let us open our hearts to God in heaven and pray…

  • Opening our hearts to what God is doing… 1 Chron 28:9 (NASB) …serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind…
  • Opening our hearts to step out in faith… Prov 3:5 (NIV). Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
  • Opening our hearts to believe for God’s best… 2 Chron 16:9 (NLT). The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…

Often it’s when we finally decide to do the hard, difficult things that we open the door to God’s amazing blessings and spiritual growth.

It’s when we walk in obedience to what the Spirit of God is saying.

It’s when we open our hearts to God and surrender to his leading.

God wants us to grow. To develop and mature. To change. Some people are content to learn good information—but God wants us to do something with what he says. God wants us to follow him—to take that information and make a change.

You see: Information is good. Transformation is far better.

It’s the same way with New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions are helpful—but they are meaningless unless they are undergirded by personal resolve and discipline to actually change.

Top American New Year’s resolutions:

  1. 1.    Lose weight (…get back in shape…eat healthier)
  2. 2.    Learn something new (…develop a new skill…take a class)
  3. 3.    Save more money (…find a better job…get out of debt)
  4. 4.    Quit smoking (…watch less TV…cut down computer use…stop a bad habit)
  5. 5.    Volunteer more (…help others…be more caring)
  6. 6.    Miscellaneous (recycle…take a trip…manage stress better)

By contrast, here are some goals for believers to consider…

  1. To open our hearts to God. Lam 3:41 (TEV) “Let us open our hearts to God in heaven and pray…”
  2. To serve God with a whole heart and a willing mind. 1 Chron 28:9 (NASB) “…serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind…”
  3. To trust in him with all our heart instead of our own understanding. Prov 3:6 (NLT) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.”
  4. To seek his will and put him first in everything we do. Prov 3:6 (NLT) “Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”
  5. To commit our hearts fully to him. 2 Chron 16:9 (NLT) “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”
  6. To forget the past; to not get stuck (fixating on good or bad). Isa 43:18-19 (TEV) “…Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. 19 Watch for the new thing I am going to do….”
  7. To commit everything we do to God. Prov 16:3 (NIV) “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.”
  8. To keep our eyes on the prize. Phil 3:13-14 (NASB) “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
  9. To love the Lord with everything we are. Mark 12:30 (NIV) “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
  10. Above all, to clothe ourselves with love. Col 3:14 (NLT) “Above all, clothe yourselves with love…”

It’s been intriguing to look back over the last year…various news organizations have listed people and events of significance like …the typhoon in the Philippines, Edward Snowden, healthcare.gov, government shut-down, Nelson Mandela, Toronto mayor Rob Ford, shopping mall attack in Nairobi, Syrian civil war, royal baby in Britain, overthrow of Egyptian government, gay rights, tornadoes in the Midwest, Boston marathon bombing, Pope Francis elected…

But most of those events and people are quite removed from Cloquet, MN. How many of those things had any real impact on your personal life?

  • Here’s the point: Most of what the world considers important is not all that significant in the grand scheme of things. Most of what happens in NYC, or Washington, D.C. or London or Moscow or Beijing or Mumbai doesn’t really affect our personal lives.
  • For the most part, what most affects our personal lives is what WE decide, notWashington or St. Paul. Our own decisions and choices have the greatest impact on us!
    • We choose how much we’re going to eat… or drink…
    • We decide how we’ll spend our money…
    • Everyday we decide which side of the bed to get out on…
    • We decide the words we choose—which affects all those around us, especially our families… by the way we say them… by attitudes we show (angry? mean? impatient? argumentative?)… We affect those around us by the way we act and behave.

The KEY in all those things: WE choose… WE decide… WE take action—or we don’t…

A lot of people have a very optimistic view about people—that we will make good choices if only we have good information. Knowing human nature (knowing my own nature), I’m not so sure…

I heard the other day that Obamacare will require all vending machines to be retrofitted so they display calories for each snack item sold. (The change will cost vending companies millions, but they say it will save millions of dollars on health care costs—if we can get just a fraction of the people to reduce their calory intake by only 100 calories a day.)
So you go to buy a Snickers bar or a bag of Cheetos at a vending machine. You select “D12” and a little display warns you before you can finish your purchase: “275 calories—Proceed?” So then (the theory goes), you change your mind and cancel your chips or candy bar. Instead you push the button for a package of celery and carrot sticks… Right?

PROBLEM: Information has never really been the bottom-line issue. Discipline is the issue! Information is nice, but self-discipline is what is needed. And you can’t buy self-discipline in a vending machine.

Last year New York City passed the “Big Gulp” law, which banned soda fountain drinks over 16 oz. in restaurants and theaters so people who lack self-discipline would be prohibited by law from ingesting too much sugar. The mayor wanted to regulate human behavior…

What if God dealt with sin that way? What if God took away our choice? What if God forced us to do the right thing? Without thinking…without deciding?

God doesn’t operate that way. God never wanted people to follow him mindlessly, like machines or robots that cannot think… programmed to do what the programmer wanted them to. That’s not a relationship!

God never wanted people to have a mindless, meaningless, artificial interaction with him. God wants a relationship with us!

You see, God gives us information. He tells us, for instance, that certain behaviors or attitudes will ruin relationships. But God also gives us the free will to decide what we’re going to do with that information. He doesn’t force us to choose the right thing. He doesn’t “program” us like a robot.

God wants us to choose him—to seek him. This year, we can decide to know him, to follow him, to honor him, to worship him, to give ourselves to him, to strengthen our relationship with him.

God wants people who choose to love him! With all their heartsoulmind…and strength! God could have made us like robots—but he didn’t.

This year we have choices to make. And those choices will influence the direction your life will go. Some choices will produce immediate results.

Other decisions will yield results over the course of time. A while back Eugene Peterson wrote a book: “A long obedience in the same direction…” Over time the benefits of an obedient life add up.

It’s like the sculptor chipping away at a piece of marble: he makes dozens and dozens of taps with hammer and chisel, and nothing happens. Then finally, on perhaps the 100th tap, a tiny piece of marble pops off. It took persistent chiseling with apparently no results to finally get the exact result desired for the statue being shaped. It takes time.
It is important for you to keep “chipping away.” Be diligent. Don’t give up. A “long obedience” in the same direction will pay off in the end.

Gal 6:9 (NIV). Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Have you heard of the “law of the harvest”? If you plant a seed one day, don’t expect a harvest the next. You can’t rush the outcome. You have to plant in the spring, if you want a harvest in the fall. You can’t procrastinate and delay planting until September, hoping to grow get vegetables in October. The harvest comes “at the proper time.”

Many decisions you make will yield a harvest only after a period of time—after you’ve been faithfully cultivating your garden.

  • Reading the Bible will have more of an impact the longer you read it. (And, by the same token, if you stop reading it, problems won’t develop instantaneously. It might take a while before your soul begins to suffer the consequences.)
  • Cutting your calories today won’t drop your weight by 15 pounds tomorrow, but watching your diet over weeks or months can make a big difference down the road, losing a pound or two here and there. (And if you gorge yourself at lunch today…)
  • Learning a new language won’t happen by putting ear buds on tonight when you go to sleep tonight: “Spanish 101.” It will take days of concentrated self-discipline (when you’re awake).
  • It will take perseverance no matter what your goals might be. The Bible says…

2014 should be a year of decision for you.

Resolutions are fine, but what we need is unflagging resolve, discipline, and determination that can lead to the positive changes God wants for us.

Here’s the good news: God is already working in our lives. He wants to see ongoing change for the better. At his very core, God is the Creator. He is a God of new things. Fresh starts. He tells us to sing a new song. He tells us we can be a new creation.

Isa 43:18-19 (TEV). 18 But the LORD says, “Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. 19 Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already—you can see it now! I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there.

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to share with you some of the things that I feel God has put on my heart. Things I sense God saying to us as a church—as his people.

I know that God is leading us and stretching us. I know he wants us to make good choices, to aim to keep changing, to continue to adapt and fulfill the calling that he has given to us as a church body.

But let’s begin today with a simple decision. A choice. How many of you would say, “I want to go in the direction God has planned for me”? How many of you would say, “I choose to follow Jesus”? Would you be willing to say, “To the best of my ability, I give myself, my plans, my ambitions to him”?