No Time Like the Present - Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
ãCopyright December 30, 2018 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche
In our heads we know that New Year's Day is just another day. However, it also serves as a reference point or a marker. It is a place where we can stop and take a good look at our lives. This is why New Year's is the opportune time to make resolutions and set goals.
We all think about what we would like from the New Year. It could be a new job, a resolution to a problem or health issue, it could have to do with finances (paying off a debt or building up savings), perhaps it is relationship oriented, or maybe you want to be able to purchase something you have been saving for or head out on a long-dreamed-of vacation. Those are all worthy considerations. This morning I want to challenge you to use this time to take stock of your spiritual life.
One of the great passages in the Bible is this text which has been quoted countless times and never improved upon,
1For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
2A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
8A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
This morning I would like you to look at the matter of your discipleship and say to yourself: "This is the time to get serious." Or a corollary question: "If not now, then when?" We are going to look at five areas of spiritual growth I encourage you to target in the New Year.
Now is the time to prioritize time with the Lord
It is hard (if not impossible) to have quality time with the Lord if you are always on the move. Later in Ecclesiastes Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 5:1,2
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore, let your words be few.
Psalm 46:10 says "Be Still and know that I am God."
These verses remind us of the importance of quieting our hearts before the Lord. We need to be still, be quiet, and to listen. To do this we have to make these things a priority. If we don't, we will find ourselves always having something else to occupy our time an attention. We are faced on every side with pressures from work, kids' activities, extra-curricular pursuits, and there is always someplace we "need to go" or some "shopping we need to do." Unless we determine to be intentional, we will spend our lives with good intentions with no actions to follow.
We can be intentional in several different ways. Wherever you are in your spiritual life plan to add just one of these things this year (something you are not already doing):
Give Sunday morning to the Lord and make worship a priority for you and for your family. Refuse to make excuses to God or to yourself.
Add a Sunday School discussion class to your Sunday morning. Interact with other believers in an informal setting that will stimulate your thinking.
Set a time each day (preferably at the start of the day) to read and reflect on what you read from the Bible. Start in the New Testament and set a goal to read through the entire New Testament. You might try to do it in a year, or two years . . . or longer. This is not a race! It is about listening to the Word and allowing it to penetrate your heart.
Work on your prayer life. Prayer is talking with God. It is not just asking Him for things, it is about discussing life, seeking direction, looking for understanding. At times it is simply talking to Him about your day. And of course, you can always tell Him how much He means to you. If you find that your mind wanders, try writing down your prayers or jotting down your thoughts and concerns and place them before Him. This isn't about copying what someone else is doing, this is about finding a way that helps you to be still before the Lord.
Read good Christian books. Instead of reading only novels or self-help books . . . try reading a book that will help you grow in your relationship with Christ. Set a simple goal of reading ONE book this year that was written to help people grow in their faith. Maybe you are an avid reader . . . so you set a goal of reading one book a quarter (4 in all) that are designed to help you grow in some area of your walk with God.
Gather your friends and neighbors for a Bible Study. We have several studies right from our sanctuary. Get your friends together and discuss the questions. All that is needed is a willingness to invite people. Invite some others from the church and then invite a non-church neighbor to join you.
The key in any goal setting is summed up by the acronym SAM. It stands for specific, attainable, and measurable. Set a specific goal . . . it may be that you want to be in worship this year 45 of the 52 Sundays. That is specific and measurable. Attainable means realistic. For example, it might be unrealistic to say you wanted to read 60 Christian books this year. Set a reachable goal and go for it!
Now is the Time to be Serious About Reaching Others with the Gospel
All year long we have been encouraging you to dare to reach out to others by giving them a little business card that directs them to a website that can answer their questions. Even that is something most people find uncomfortable . . . so we don't do it. We hope and pray someone else will tell our family, friends, co-workers and fellow classmates about the way to be forgiven and have eternal life. We pray for God to send them someone and refuse to BE that someone because we don't want to feel silly or say the wrong thing.
I hope you see the danger in this way of thinking. People we love may never be led to faith because we were waiting for someone else to tell them the most important news ever!
Let me draw a picture. Suppose your saw your neighbors' house was on fire and you knew they were still inside the structure. Would you decide to stop and pray that someone would see the fire, call the fire department and do something to alert the family inside of the danger? Would you decide that you need to take a class on fire rescue before you could help? If I was the one inside the house, I would hope, as my neighbor, you would try to save my life.
Even if you were desperately afraid of fire you could still call the fire department and scream! You could throw things at the house or throw something through the window! You could make some kind of effort.
The same should be true for the gospel where the stakes are arguably much greater. This is the year to stop making excuses and start looking for opportunities!
Part of our reticence and fear stems from the fact that we don't know what to do. I was certified as an EMT at one time. Unfortunately, in those first months as a new EMT I never was on any calls. Because I did not use the skills I had learned, I lost all confidence in being able to do the job and gave up being an EMT.
This is the problem when we try to witness. We take a class, we learn some good arguments and answers to common questions and then, unless we use those skills, we become timid and lose our confidence.
Everyone can witness. Here a very simple, yet effective way to witness: simply tell your story. Share with someone where you were, how you came to trust Christ, and what has happened since. This should not be elaborate. You can do this in just a few sentences. People may disagree with you or respond negatively but regardless of what they say or think, they cannot deny it IS your story. You don't have to . . . and shouldn't preach a sermon. Plant a seed. That is a very simple goal . . . plant a seed.
In the Dare to Share program they teach teens a very simple outline of the gospel for those of you who would like to be even better equipped to share your faith. This is based on the simple acrostic using the word GOSPEL
G- God created us to be with Him
O- Our sins separate us from God
S- Sins cannot be removed by good works
P- Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again
E- Everyone who trusts him alone will be forgiven
L- Life with Jesus starts now and lasts forever.
You can cover this simple acrostic in just a minute or two. Write it in your Bible. Commit it to memory. Be prepared. Expect God to give you opportunities to witness. And if you forget this simple outline . . . tell your story.
Of all the things you do this next year . . . nothing will be more significant than the testimony you give to others. If you are aware of trying to share your faith, it will change the way you live. You will try to live in a way that opens a door to sharing. If you are a gracious person, if you are kind, if you are honest, if you are loving, if you live a life that is trying to live like Jesus . . . you will find people willing to listen. They will see something in you that makes them curious.
Now is the Time to get Serious about Service
Jesus told His disciples that they should follow His example. He served them, and they should serve others. Our problem with service is we don't particularly want to go to Africa or serve in a soup kitchen. We have plenty to do in our own lives without taking on another project.
Edward Everett Hale wrote.
I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything;
but I can still do something;
and because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
This is what the Lord asks us to do. He doesn't ask us to save the world . . . He already has done that. He asks us to serve as He did, to do something; the something we can do.
The best way to start is to develop a servant heart. You do this with simple things:
Pick up garbage instead of waiting for someone else to do so.
Help carry groceries out to the car or in from the car.
Do the dishes or empty the dishwasher.
Take out the garbage instead of trying to balance one more thing on top.
Be alert to people in need and then make the effort to help.
Get involved in a church ministry as a volunteer.
Send notes to those who are alone.
Help clean up after an event.
Make a visit to someone who is homebound.
Take the time to simply listen to someone who just needs to talk.
Once again, this doesn't have to be a major project. Service is about attitude. Philippians 2 says,
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
The point Paul was making was if Jesus gave Himself for us, then we should be willing to give ourselves for each other. Before we can become servants, we must stop measuring life in terms of "what's in it for me" and instead ask, "In what ways can I demonstrate the love of Christ today?"
We live in a selfish and self-centered society. God calls us to begin the process of changing this. He wants us on the frontlines showing the world what service looks like. This year make an real effort to begin developing a servant heart.
I've tried to be practical in encouraging you to use the time that is before you to grow in grace and try your children's activities, your investments, television, sports, or even your health.
As you do so, let me give you a few cautions.
Don't get discouraged. That might be a silly thing to say because likely a good many of you are discouraged already! You know you are not doing well in this area of your life and you are convinced there is not much you can do to change. To that thought, allow me to say two things. First, STOP listening to the voice of the Devil! It is His job to discourage and derail. When you miss a day or an opportunity, the accusing voice inside your head is there at the prompting of Satan. The best way to respond to Satan is to tell Him the truth: "It is true, I am not what I should be but . . . by the grace of God I am not what I used to be.
Second, don't look at your strength, look at His. He is the One who guarantees growth for all who follow Him. If you lose your way . . . don't give up. Pick up from where you left off and keep growing.
We grow spiritually the same way we develop in sports, music, or even in academics. You don't give up because you fail or have a bad game. You learn, regroup, and then move forward from there.
Jesse Itzler tells the story of his wife Sara, the inventor of Spanx,
At the dinner table growing up, Sara’s father had a weekly ritual where he would ask her what she failed at that week. Maybe she had tried out for the school play, cheerleading, or a sports team. When she’d tell her dad how poorly it went, he would give her a high five. Whether she had succeeded or failed wasn’t important. All that mattered was that she tried. That ritual changed Sara’s definition of failure, and failure became tied to not trying rather than the outcome. (Living with the Monks p. 142)
Perhaps it would help us to picture God giving us a high-five if we tried and failed. The key is to try.
You may already be strong in one of these areas . . . dare to branch out. The temptation for all of us is to camp on where we are already strong. It feels safe and secure. But God did not call us to remain safe . . . He called us to dare to trust Him. You may be good at having devotions, but you have never really shared your faith with anyone. Or maybe you are a dynamo when it comes to telling people about Jesus, but you are oblivious to the little ways you can serve and SHOW people Jesus. Take a step outside your comfort zone. That is where the adventure begins.
Make the decision . . . and then follow through. The problem with resolutions is they are easy to make. They are like wishes when you are ready to blow out your candles. The key to Christian growth is to determine what step you want to take in your walk of faith and than bath it in prayer and check in on your progress every week. Celebrate ANY movement. For example, if you trying to learn how to share your faith and you even mentioned God in a conversation, celebrate. It's a start.
When you are learning an instrument, you start by playing simple songs. When you have learned those songs, you can then take on tougher songs. It's a process.
We are getting ready to begin a new year. I encourage you to determine this year to be the one where you make some significant spiritual growth. Make the decision. Follow through. If you do, this will be one of the most significant years of your life. And if enough of us do it, it will be one of the best years our church has ever had.
ãCopyright December 30, 2018 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche