A Compass for the New Year (various verses)
I. Everyone Has a Compass
This morning, I want us to think about this new year, 2011, in terms of a journey. Where will it take us, as a church? What will we discover along the way? What will we find around the next bend? Obviously, none of us can predict the future, but we can plot our course. We can set our trajectory. Even though we are moving forward into the unknown, into the unexpected, we can move forward with a compass.
Did you know that every single person is going into 2011 with a compass? Every person has principles that will guide them this year. Nine days ago, millions of people made resolutions for the New Year. Those resolutions are the principles they want to be guided by in 2011: lose weight, exercise more, spend more time with the family, live within our mean, and many others like that.
But all of us know how well we do with New Year's resolutions. In most cases, we fall back to our default compass: do what's easy, do what feels good, avoid conflict, avoid pain, make excuses...look out for number one.
What does your compass look like? What principles, what truths are guiding or will guide you in this New Year?
This morning, I want to give you another compass, a compass I hope we will use as a church family this year. For the past several years, I've used the very first sermon of the new year to challenge all of us with a vision for our shared life and ministry as Way of Grace.
And just as there are four points on a compass, I want to give you four verses that I hope will guide us in 2011. For each verse, I will take a little time to talk about what the verse is saying in light of the context, but also focus on specific ways we can apply these truths right here in our life together as Way of Grace Church.
II. The Four Points of Our Compass
So grab your Bible or a Bible near you and turn with me to the very first verse, Colossians 1:18.
A. True North: Putting Jesus First (Colossians 1:18)
Let’s look together at what Paul tells the Colossians here in chapter 1, verse 8. He writes…
And he [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
1. Understanding the Verse
Now this verse comes right out of section that runs form verse 15 to verse 20. And in this section, Paul is wants to establish the fact that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, Jesus is enough; Jesus is all we need. And he does this by pulling back the veil on the reality of Christ.
If the baby of Christmas is like a cute gift box wrapped up with a pretty bow, what Paul is doing here is opening that box and showing us that the inside is deeper and wider than even the Grand Canyon.
Just listen to some of the language he uses here about Jesus: He is the image of the invisible God…all things were created through him and for him…he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Is there any person of whom that can be said? No! Jesus is incomparable!
In verse 18, we see Paul first confirming the fact that if the church is like a human body, made up of us, different but interdependent parts, then Jesus is like the head, which guides the body, which has authority over the body. People can live without a number of body parts, but know can exist without their head.
But Paul wants to be clear that Jesus is not only lord over the Church. He is, or will be, Lord over all things. He writes, “he is the beginning”, which either points us back to the fact that the whole universe was created through Him, OR it points us forward to the fact that Jesus is the beginning of the restoration that God is currently effecting; restoring the universe from its corruption by human sin and death.
Jesus beat death, He rose from the dead, He became “the firstborn from the dead”, in order that He might be “preeminent” in every thing, in every person, in every way. Now, “preeminent” is not a word we use a lot. Sounds pretty fancy, doesn’t it? But it simply means,
to have first place”.
Because of who Jesus is and because of what Jesus did, God’s purpose, His rescue plan was put into effect in order that Jesus Christ might have first place in everything.
2. Applying the Verse
Is that true in your life? Does Jesus have “first place”? Every single day, other people, other priorities, other passions and perspective s are competing for first place in our lives. But in light of the bigness, the greatness of Jesus that Paul reminds us of here, only Christ should have that position.
I recently read a short account that expresses this same point: An old Chinese woman with bound feet, balancing herself on a cane, listened to a missionary tell about Jesus. She was very interested in this new story, but she wondered if it was true. She did not trust the foreign missionary's word all by itself, so she asked a Chinese woman who was a Christian. "Yes, it is true," she was told. "I will come and see you and tell you more." The next day the woman arrived with a Bible and told her more of the story. The old Chinese woman believed…She knew that she must put Christ first and renounce her idols and false gods. As she struggled with this, one night she had a dream, which was but a reflection of the internal struggle already going on in her heart. In her dream the idols on the shelves of her room began to shake. A light fell across the floor and a figure entered the room. The idols began climbing down off the shelves. The old woman asked her idols: "Where are you going?" They replied: "When Jesus comes, we have to get out."
We all have idols. We all devote ourselves to and are directed by things other than God.
But in 2011, should it not be our desire to live more fully in light of this fact that Jesus Christ should have first place, should be first in everything? You know, I love camping. I don’t do very much of it, but I enjoy it. But one thing I know about camping is how campfire smoke sticks on, how it permeates your clothes. It’s amazing how it stays with you.
Like campfire smoke, it should be our overwhelming desire that when people come into contact with this church family, they leave with the distinct smell of Jesus Christ. As we seek to put Christ first in every aspect of our life (trusting Him, learning of Him, obeying Him, praising Him), may that overflow into our life together.
May He be in our conversations with and encouragements to one another. May He be at the center of our teaching. May He be at the center of our praises, prayers, and songs.
In 2011, may God put the name of Jesus Christ on our lips more and more, and may we submit more and more to the fullness of Jesus in our hearts. He is, he should be, our True North.
B. West: Speaking to One Another (Ephesians 4:15)
But flip back two books to Ephesians 4. Listen to what verse 15 tells us about another point of this compass…
1. Understanding the Verse
Here, like in Colossians 1, we find that same language about Jesus being the head of the body which is the church, the family of God, that community of Christ’s followers. But here the emphasis is on how this body grows. The boarder context here emphasizes this growth, specifically why this growth is important AND how this growth takes place.
Look at verse 13. Paul talks about his “mature manhood” which is defined by “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. True spiritual maturity is not measured by anyone or anything but Jesus Christ. That’s not surprising given what we learned in Colossians 1.
But notice here (v. 15) that this growth is connected to the idea of “speaking the truth in love”.
Who is “speaking the truth in love”? Well the next verse, verse 16 is clearly talking about “every joint with which [the body] is equipped”, AND the emphasis is on “each part…working properly”. And when that is happening, “the body grow[s] so that it builds itself up in love.”
When God’s people speak the truth of God’s word to one another, in love, all of us grow, all of us mature spiritually.
2. Applying the Verse
But what does this look like in our everyday lives? Well certainly this means that whenever we have the opportunity, God’s people, as brothers and sisters, should be using the word of God to encourage one another through all of the joys and struggles of life.
This can happen on Sunday morning, or in a Growth Group. This can happen by e-mail, card, or phone call.
But this year, my desire is to see more of us connecting with one another, speaking the truth in love to one another in more personal, more intimate ways. My prayer is that every person in this church will find themselves, at some point and is some form, in what we are calling a “core relationship”.
A “core relationship” is simply a small, relationship-based (not classroom-based or program-based…a relationship-based) setting for discipleship, that is, becoming more like Jesus. This might means getting together with a couple guys before work on a weekday. This might mean meeting another lady for coffee every other week.
The key issue here is not necessarily where, who, or how often, but getting into one another’s lives to read God’s word together, to pray together, and to encourage one another. There are things that God does in relationships like that He doesn’t do on a Sunday morning or in a larger groups study. He chooses to use these kinds of relationships in unique ways.
Commenting on the ministry of the 17th century pastor, Richard Baxter, one author said, “He saw personal work with people as having irreplaceable value, because it provided “the best opportunity to impress the truth upon their hearts, when we can speak to each individual’s particular necessity and say to the sinner, (as the prophet Nathan said the king David) ‘Thou art he man’. (You are the man!)”
Do you recognize that you need that in your life? More of us are recognizing that, and more people are starting to connect in this way at Way of Grace. Please talk to me about being involved.
C. East: Fed by God's Word (Matthew 4:4)
Okay, flip back even further to the very beginning of the New Testament, to Matthew 4. In Matthew 4, verse 4, we discover the third point of our compass. Listen as I read this verse:
1. Understanding the Verse
Many of you know that the context here is verses 1-11, which is the account of Jesus being tempted by the devil before the commencement of His ministry in Galilee and Judea.
We learn from verse 2 that Jesus was fasting for forty days and nights in order to strengthen himself spiritually, in order to keep His eyes fixed on His Father. But this spiritual strengthening came at a price: physical weakness. He was obviously starving after this length of time.
Knowing Jesus was racked by hunger pains, when Satan comes to him, His first temptation is all about food. The devil challenged Jesus to prove His divine identity as God’s Son by turning rocks into bread. But even though Jesus could easily do this kind of miracle, as is clear from the rest of Matthew’s gospel, He tells us here in verse 4 (quoting Deuteronomy 8:3) that there is something far more important than physical, material sustenance.
Jesus wanted to demonstrate here that trusting God and God’s purposes, God’s timing, is always better than trying to take matters into our own hands. Jesus knew that God would take care of Him physically as Jesus first trusted in God’s spiritual purposes for His life.
During those forty days and forty nights, Jesus was eating. But He was feeding himself with the word of God. That’s what was sustaining Him.
2. Applying the Verse
Do you believe that God’s word is life-sustaining? Do you believe that you will be walking in darkness, that you will be dying of spiritual starvation if you are not feeding on the word of God?
As a church, we need to be more and more dependant on the word of God. Our desire should be for the word of God to be even more central in our lives individually and more central in our life together, in our relationships with one another.
One practical step we are taking this year to move in this direction is to read through the Bible together in 2011. As many of you know, we’ve put together an made available a reading calendar called our “Three-a-Day” readings. Reading just three chapters a day will take us through the entire Bible in one year.
And we are doing a number of things to encourage you to be involved and support your participation. We are drawing from our previous week’s readings and incorporating them on Sunday morning (like this verse here!), in our Growth Groups, and in our Core discipleship relationships. Isn’t it wonderful to know your brothers and sisters are literally on the same page as you?
If we go to great lengths to feed ourselves three times a day with earthly food, why wouldn’t we commit ourselves to three chapters a day from the Bible in order to feed ourselves spiritually?
I pray that you will join us on this journey. And I pray that you will come Sunday night or Wednesday night and talk about what you’ve been reading. I pray you will get involved in a Core relationship, and use the word to encourage a brother or sister…and to be encouraged!
Will you miss some readings throughout the year? Probably. But the point is not devotion to the schedule, it’s devotion to God through His word.
D. South: Standing for the Gospel (Romans 1:16)
Finally, look with me at Romans 1 (flipping forward six books)…Romans 1, verse 16. Here we discover the final point of our compass for 2011. Paul writes:
1. Understanding the Verse
If we were able to view the entire book of Romans, especially the first eight chapters of this letter, we would realize that this verse, 1:16 is really the opening proposition that drives all of Paul’s teaching in the coming chapters.
The “gospel”, “salvation”, “believe”, “Jew” and “Greek”…Paul will unpack and explain all of these things in the pages to come.
He will make it clear that every person, Jew or non-Jew, needs to be rescued. He will make it clear that the gospel (which means “good news”)…he will make it clear that this “good news’ about what Jesus did when He died on the cross and rose from the dead, how this message, how this reality is our only hope. He will make it clear that faith and faith alone is the key to unlocking the treasure of God’s grace and deliverance. There is nothing we can do except believe that Jesus did everything.
In short…the gospel is the only hope we have; the only hope our world has.
2. Applying the Verse
Way of Grace, are we ashamed of the gospel? Are we afraid to speak it, to share it, to let it’s light shine from us? Are we more concerned about what God has called us to do, or with people’s opinions and acceptance?
It should be our prayer in 2011 that we would more fully embrace and be driven by the reality that the gospel is God’s power to rescue the men and women, the boys and girls that are spiritually dying all around us.
I know you the suffering out there. I know you see the effects of unforgiveness, and greed, and anger, and immorality, and selfishness, and indifference in the lives of so many.
In the lives of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members.
Listen, no amount of government assistance or higher education or marriage counseling or prescription medication or career advancement or material wealth or even church involvement is going to bring true change. Only the gospel is “the power of God for salvation”.
And the gospel is a message that must be spoken. It must be heard. It must be believed.
Last night, I had the wonderful opportunity to see a couple that God used in my life in an indirect way for the sake of the gospel. They were the couple that lived across the street from my parents when we first moved to Phoenix. And I found out last night, for the first time, how, when this gal first went to meet my mother, my mother came out, shaking her finger in this lady’s face and warning her about preaching all of this Jesus stuff to her or her husband (my father). Quite an introduction, huh? How would you like to have a meeting like that with your new neighbor?
But as this couple told me last night, they simply commited themselves to prayer and to loving my family. Well God answered those prayers and my mother eventually came to this lady and asked her about which church she belonged to and whether or not my family could come the next Sunday. My mother eventually came to know the rescue of Jesus and I ended up in a church, Camelback Bible Church, where I heard and responded to this good news as well.
I am so grateful that that couple was not ashamed of the gospel. If they were, I might not be here today, sharing with you.
Way of Grace, how will God use us this year for the sake of the gospel? How will he use you to share this hope with those around you?
III. How Will You Find Your Way?
2011 is like a road stretching out before us. Where will it take us? What will you encounter this year? None of us knows, do we?
But God has given us a compass to find our way. His word has reminded us this morning of what is most important…what is critical. Brothers and sisters, let's use this compass!
All of these things go together; they’re all interconnected! If we are putting Christ first, then we will be committed to our brothers and sisters, speaking the truth in love. But speaking the truth in love requires we first know the truth. If we are to give the word to others, we must first be fed by God’s word. And if we are filled up with God’s word, how will it not also overflow from our lives to every person?
Let’s encourage one another, throughout the year, to use this compass. And let’s be praying that God will grow all of us in light of these things, that 2011 will go down in the history books as one in which Way of Grace Church grew from strength to strength…one in which it was obvious to everyone that God was at work in our midst…for His glory and our good.