Sunday, January 1, 2023

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - Hope in a New Year

As I write this message, several countries have already slipped from 2022 into 2023. Everyone around the world has high hopes for 2023. They are filled with optimism and looking forward to changes. Many have already written down their new year resolutions or, in some cases, already purchased exercise equipment to get into better shape. Each person who wrote down their resolutions or promised to get in shape for the new year is very hopeful, but then there is reality.

In recent surveys of individuals who started their new year with a goal, forty-three percent give up by February and only nine percent actually keep them all year. Each was enthusiastic and had every intention of making some sort of change in his or her life at the beginning of the new year. However, the resolution for eating better got thrown out the window when working late at night at the office. Instead of a healthy salad with a light dressing on the side, dinner became an order of leftover chips and salsa from the New Year’s party. The exercise equipment that we spent hundreds of dollars on is either collecting dust in the corner of the bedroom or has turned into a very expensive clothing rack. In time, it will soon find its way into a yard or garage sale with the owners lamenting that they only got a small fraction of what they paid for the equipment.

Am I pointing my finger at the people who made and failed to keep their resolutions? The answer is no. I have made resolutions before to make changes in my life. Like so many, my hopes soon ran into reality and I found myself taking down my list of items I wanted to change and sighing.

You may be thinking to yourself that you were hoping I would be giving an inspirational message that would help you to keep your resolutions. You will not find me giving those types of self-help messages to motivate you into exercising more or giving God tremendous amounts of money to ensure a big return on your investments. Nope, sorry. I won’t give you a message like that. But, I do give you messages of hope and help to strengthen your faith.

As we see a new year come and the torch passed from 2022 to 2023, there are things that you should commit yourself to doing in the new year. You should make yourself a spiritual new year resolution that involves going to church or worshiping with others, sharing your faith, showing God’s love to others and, of course, spreading the Good News to those who walk in darkness.

Going to church is uplifting. When believers come together, they share their faith and strength. Surveys have found that people who regularly go to church lead happier and more productive lives, because they have a purpose. So many just shuffle their way through life and ask the immortal question of why they are here. When you have Jesus in your life, you have a purpose of not only loving God, but also loving your family, friends, neighbors and your enemies. Many will volunteer to feed the poor and take care of those in need. All of those things are done out of Christian love.

Paul, in chapter three of his epistle to the Colossians, wrote, “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

When we come together, our hearts are filled with joy as we worship together with thankful hearts. By living that way, we are truly God’s representatives to the world and we share that daily joy that we have as believers. It gives us a purpose in our lives that no job or earthly activity can provide. We worship together out of our mutual love for God and the desire to serve Him. That love is pure and comes from God, because God is love.

John, in chapter three of his first epistle, wrote, “If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them. We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?

If we say we are Christians and do not love those around us, then we haven’t been risen in new life and transformed. If hatred fills your life and you don’t care for those around you, you are not a believer. A true believer shows his or her love by being willing to do for others even if it makes a person feel uncomfortable.

In chapter five of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

As Jesus points out, it is so easy to say that you love someone, but putting that love into action and praying for your enemies is quite another. It is easier to hate and do only harm to others if they are your enemy. True Christian love knows no side. Loving those who love you is so very easy. The harder part is loving your enemies and helping them in their time of need. That is the true testament of faith.

For most, sharing their faith is a difficult thing. If you are living a Christ-like life, it shouldn’t be difficult at all. Your actions as a Christian speak louder than words. If you show love for others, many will ask why you are doing what you are doing. It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to answer that question. 

In chapter two of his epistle, James wrote, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

It is not enough to say that you love someone and then not do anything to show that love for others. Wishing a homeless individual a happy new year while going to a party isn’t the action of a Christian. If your neighbors or your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. Love is more than a word; it is an action.

So, I ask each of you reading this message to add a few more items to your lists of new year resolutions and dedicate yourself to keeping these. You may not eat healthy or have muscles you can be proud of but keeping these resolutions of worshiping God, sharing your love and being there for others in need will certainly make you feel that God’s purpose for your life is being fulfilled and that you can stand firm in His grace. Happy 2023 and may God richly bless you every day of your life. 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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