Pastor Terry Brisbane leads us into the 2nd part of our (RE) series.
I’m looking at the idea of starting the new year with this opportunity before us. I think of the new year as a gift. I think of it as a new opportunity to launch things and to correct things. It’s true, we’re almost a month in, a little over three weeks. I like to think of the whole month as an opportunity, an opening number, 31 days to set our sail. I want us to set our sail in the right direction. I want us to look at this as a month that sets the tone for the rest of the year. I know there’s a lot of stuff in a year we can’t predict, I get that. There’s no way, we’re not God. We can’t see around the corner. We don’t even know what the next day brings, good or bad. That’s why we need to walk with humility. I think we understand that. But having said that, there are things we can be attentive to that will either help us move forward, position us for things with the Lord, or can set us back.
What I hope and believe is that in this brief time that we’re sharing it will help us think a little bit about some things as we’re building our lives and trying to follow Christ. If we could start by looking at a little tiny parable. It’s a chapter of Matthew 13. There are all kinds of stories. A parable is a story that Jesus gave to illustrate spiritual truth. There’s a little one there. He said to them, “Therefore, every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old.” It’s tiny, but Jesus is getting at something. He’s talking about this life in the kingdom, this life with Jesus. There are a lot of nuances contextually to this piece and we can spend a lot of time just with it.
I want to look at the parable with a sense that the Lord wants us to do some things in our lives. He has old things He wants to rekindle, and He has new things He wants to release. He wants us to be able to bring out of our treasure, out of our collection. Think of a collection. People love to collect things. Some of us have things that we’ve collected, and every now and then, we have someone over and show them our collection. It might be pictures. It might be something else that we’re involved in. The fact is, we’re proud of it. Why do we collect things? Where did it come from? Why do we as human beings do we like to do that?
There are times when we find someone who is interested, it brings us pleasure to share that. Jesus is connecting with that idea that a person is really excited about. The interest of those who have come, and He wants them to see that he has old pieces and new pieces. That is good for us because many times we forget. When we think about the scriptures, I like to say God has old experiences and new observations that He wants to work in our lives, ancient moorings, and new learnings. We want to be able to hold on to the core principles of what Jesus taught us and what the Scriptures teach us. By the same token, we want to be able to apply them in fresh new ways. We want to be able to study the Bible for what it is in and of itself. At the same time, we want it to become alive in our lives in such a way that we can apply it to the everydayness of our lives and the real problems that we face.
God wants us to be able to use His words, both ancient and new, to be able to represent Him well in the midst of a culture that oftentimes mitigates against having an understanding of what it means to build our lives around the teachings of Jesus. Remember in the early weeks we talked about a holy life called a transformed life? Romans 12, “Do not be conformed to this world, shaped or molded, or confined by its way of thinking about things. But learn to be a countercultural thinker. Learn to live against the grain a little bit. Do not be conformed or be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you might prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” We talked about the power of having His Word in our lives and knowing and understanding it.
The reason we talked about getting involved in a Bible group or continuing to learn and grow in our understanding of the Scriptures is that they provide a tremendous foundation for us. We want to be able to hold on to those things. If we don’t know what we believe, then any way will do. If we do know and have a good sense of what the Scriptures teach, it gives us a foundational point. That’s like an old treasure to me. Then, there’s also the idea of new things and treasures. God must be able to take His words and apply them in fresh new ways. We’re moving into these opening three weeks. As I was thinking about it, along the way, there might be certain things that God is saying. He might be saying, “I need you to also adjust.” There might be some things that Lord wants us to remember. There might be some things that God was tugging at our hearts to give attention to. I think the purpose of this sharing is to remind us to go back in these past few weeks we’ve opened up our year with and say, “What has the Lord been trying to tell me? How have I been responding to that?” How we respond is a big deal. It matters.
There’s a classic passage in the book of James. I want to read it. It says, “But don’t just listen to God’s Word, you must do what it says. Otherwise, you’re only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the Word and you don’t obey, it’s like glancing at your face in a mirror, you see yourself, you walk away, and then you forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that is God’s Word, it will set you free. If you do what it says, and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for it.” Initially, this passage is clearly about responsiveness. It’s not just about hearing God’s Word, but about implementing and doing it. It’s also a perfect passage for our series. It reminds us if we are to watch out, we should be watching out for a very real tendency to get excited, convicted, motivated, or moved about something. Something captures our interest and stirs us emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Perhaps in the last few weeks, God stirred something, we felt His touch. We felt, “Maybe I should get involved in a group. Maybe I should think about making this little shift. Maybe the Lord is trying to say this to me.” We feel something. We sense maybe this is how God wants me to be in this situation. But we walk out the doors and an hour later, we’re already on to something else. We forgot what we saw in the mirror. Or the next day is behind us and something is lost.
James is talking about the value of sustaining our awareness. He says, “If you look carefully if you focus and do and don’t forget, then God will bless you for it.” One of the keys for growth, prevailing, and progressing, is to act on our awareness. It’s very important because many times, one of the main things the Bible has a lot to say about is constantly telling us to do good works. You’ll read it, remember, remember, remember, don’t forget, why? Because it’s in us to do it. We get emotionally moved or stirred, but we don’t follow through on the good intentions. It’s better to have one or two things in this season of our life. Let’s just call it the first part of this year, maybe even a seasonal sense of what God wants us to pursue with a degree of intention. We have a lot of good ideas, but we don’t do any of them.
It’d be better to do one thing, make one small adjustment, correct one habit, make one responsive movement towards what the Lord is putting in our hearts. Many times, it’s the action that creates the movement that opens up new things. I always talk about the breakdown that leads to the breakthrough, that leads to the breakout. I’ve learned things that aren’t going our way can be beneficial to us if we’re willing to respond to what God might be prompting us to do. So, here’s the question. What are some of the new things that God wants to do and establish in us, or the things He wants to heal? Perhaps for some of us, this year is to be a year of healing. They call Jesus the great physician. He would go places no one else could go. He saw things no one else saw. Little things that everybody missed, He saw it. He heals, He still does. He knows us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Oh, He does. He knows us better than we know ourselves.
This is a year of healing. Maybe there’s something we’ve carried too far, too long. The problem with some things is, they can get infected or they can linger. Scars are okay. It’s the open wound that keeps getting infected, that’s the problem. His Grace wants to come in and heal some things. For some, this has to be a year of healing. For others, this is going to be a year where God wants to do other types of things. There are things that I was jotting in my mind, writing down, and was thinking about. For some, there are things He wants us to have established in us for the first time. Things like areas of strength in our lives. Areas where we’ve always been vulnerable and we haven’t been able to get ourselves out of this. Almost conceding that this is always how it’s going to be for me. I’m kind of ashamed of it. I don’t want to talk about it. I feel like I can’t get out.
Maybe God is saying, “I want to establish some things in your life this year. This is the year of growth. This is the year of breakthrough. This is a year of moving forward in areas that in the past we haven’t.” I’m just saying, there are times when the Lord wants to do things in us. He wants to work His purposes in us. There are areas where you say you know what, this is your time. It’s going to be a theme of what we’re sharing. This is your time to upgrade in this area. This is not what I really want for you. You’re settling for so much less, playing it too safe, pursuing the wrong things. I have better for you.
I thought about this verse because it meant something to me coming out of the year that I had. It was a little more challenging than most of the years I’ve had. It was one verse and certain verses meant more to me this year than other verses. There’s one passage from Isaiah. “Behold, I will do a new thing.” This could be a word for someone here as well. A word within the word. I always call that the word that’s for us within the word. “Behold, I will do a new thing. Now it will spring forth. Do you not know it? Shall you not know it?” I love the way it’s captured. “I will even make a road in the wilderness and a river in the desert.” A road in a river, a road in the wilderness, a new thing. I will show you the way. I will show you the way through this wilderness. The wilderness times in our lives when things don’t make sense when it’s hard to figure out, what’s the best way for me here? I don’t know how to get through this. I can’t see the mark, I lost my path. Am I going to be stuck here forever? “I will show you the way. I will make a road for you in the wilderness. I will show you the way out.” That’s powerful. It’s powerful. “I will make a road for you in the wilderness.” The wilderness is a place of desolation. It’s when we feel like we can’t get our footing. We just feel lost, sometimes it’s very lonely there. Those are lonely places. “I will show you the way.”
He says, “I will give you a river in the desert.” What is that? That speaks of refreshing in the midst of something that’s very hard. When I think of the desert, I think of the heat. Things die in the desert. There’s no water, things die. But the Lord would say to us, “Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone. But if it does die, it brings forth fruit.” He was talking about Himself. He was talking about a principle as well. What things does God want to die so that other things can live? In my mind, the Lord is always working with us. There’s a river and there’s a road. There’s something He’s trying to do. There’s a way for us. A river also speaks of refreshing. For some, this is to be a season of refreshing as we shift our focus. A road speaks of direction, a way for us to go. A river speaks of refreshing, a new life flow. Out of your innermost being Jesus said, will flow rivers of water. These are promises for us. So this New Year is opportunity. I have been thinking about it and have a couple of things I want to share and sit with together. I’m going to use little phrases to set it up and hopefully, we think about it. How can we seize the opportunity that is before us? How can we respond to the promptings of the Lord that He is trying to get us to pay attention to?
The first thing I want to say is for some, God is calling us to, number one, get unstuck. Or we can get stuck. It’s easy to get stuck. It’s like we get ourselves going in the same thing and start to find out, spiritually speaking, we get into this groove, and are only going through the motions. If we’re not careful we start living on autopilot. That can happen in life, true. Life is cruise control, we’re caught in routine. We lose our passion, we get depleted, we get weary, we get worn, uninspired. We get stuck in a rut. Do you want to know what a rut looks like? A rut looks like a place where an old car is stuck. You get stuck in a groove, don’t you? We get stuck in a rut. We can’t get out. We are going nowhere fast, just stuck. Do you know what a definition of a rut is? The first one is obvious, a long deep track made by repeated passing of the wheels of the vehicle. The second one says, “Pattern of behavior that’s become dull but is hard to change.” A reminder of what Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6-7, “God wants us sometimes to stir things up. Stir up the gift that is within you.” Stir it up. Paul says to Timothy, who clearly was someone struggling with fear. “Timothy, God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and a soundness of mind.” Sometimes we lack the power. Our fears are too powerful. But God has not given you the spirit of fear. He’s given you the spirit of power. He’s given you the spirit of love. Perfect love casts out all fear.
When we’re afraid, something in us is disconnected from the love of God. When we understand that our life is in His hands, He loves us, and we are secure in that love, then He will challenge the things that terrorize us. “I give you the promise, God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and soundness of mind.” How much of our struggle is in our minds? How much of the stuff that we think is true is in our minds? The promise of Jesus is that He will give us soundness of mind. God wants to give us clarity, the ability to move through things. That’s part of His promise. God wants us to be able to do that. God wants us to be able to get unstuck with things. “Come to me all you who labor and are heavily laden, I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon me. Learn of me. My yoke is easy. My burden is light. Walk with me. I will carry the heavy load. You carry the little one. We’ll walk together. You’re not alone. I love you. I’m with you.” These are good words. But there are times when God wants to stir things up because we get stuck and stagnant.
Secondly, sometimes it’s time to get unstuck. For some, this is going to be the time. The unstuck part may look like us making some intentional shifts. Maybe we need to take a little bit of a fast on something. It could be food, technology, or entertainment, something. It could be a shift that we need to make. We say, ” God, maybe for a period of time, I’m going to hold off on this. I’m too just like bound to it.” Maybe I just need to sit with you in a different way right now. Maybe I need to mix up the way I’ve been responding. Maybe I’ll get into a new group. Maybe I need to get into a different group. Or a little shift of a ministry. Maybe I need to get involved for the first time. Maybe I need to do something different. Maybe do a little spiritual cross-training, little mixing up of that muscle memory, so that I can have something that tweaks it out a little bit differently and creates some new life flow. Otherwise, you can get stuck. Your habits are good. Habit saves us mental energy. That’s why we’re used to doing them.
Once we learn something, our mind shifts into auto. It’s a habit. We don’t think every time we do something. If we had to think about it intensely, we’d burnout. “Whoa! I got to get up, oh! I got to go to the car, oh!” It’s literally a burnt-out. The way we’re constructed, after time, the way we act, there are certain things we just do them. We’re not thinking about it, and that’s pretty good. Good habits are great, bad habits aren’t. There is a tendency sometimes, spiritually speaking, when we get ourselves stuck in that rut. We start to just go through the motions. Something that was meant to bring vitality becomes habitual to an extent. It almost becomes ritualistic and loses something of its potency in our life for what it was meant to do. That’s why we have to periodically change things up, relook at opening up some new relationships and friendships. What will happen is, it creates airflow and space for God to do new things. That’s very important.
Number one, get unstuck. Number two, get serious. What I’m about to say probably isn’t going to necessarily seem so serious. I’ve been talking a little bit about Rocky lately. Sometime in the last couple of weeks, I saw that movie, Creed. It’s pretty good. Rocky is an icon, right? Sylvester Stallone just won a Golden Globe for his role. That’s pretty good. It was a good film. I remember I was telling my son about it, because it was the 40 year anniversary of the original one. I said, “Yeah, so that was a really good movie.” My son Jacob got all excited about Rocky. He’s very persuasive. He said, “Dad, I have recorded them all. Every one of them, Rocky 1, 2, 3.” He had them all down. He asked, “Do you want to watch it? We’re going to watch them. We’re going to watch them together. We’re going to watch them all together, Dad.” I didn’t even know there was a Rocky 5 and 6. There’s a reason by the way.
Having said that, actually, at least for the first three, God spoke to me in Rocky of all places. Sometimes surviving is victory. Sometimes God wants us to give our best. You ain’t going to get a rematch. I don’t want one. Surviving victory. Remember, I talked about Rocky 2. His eye is damaged. He’s got a spot, his vision is impaired, and his trainer Mickey, “You got a blind spot.” He said, “You are going to have to learn how to compensate for your blind spot. You’d have to use a different style and technique.” We all have blind spots. When we see them, God wants us to adjust. There is a way to do it. In Rocky 3, he got soft. He started winning. He became the champion. He started doing all the commercials. He lost his edge. Of course, that’s the song, The Eye of the Tiger. You have to get the eye of the tiger. Basically, he’s told, “Look, you got soft. You’re taking it too easy. You’re not paying attention. This guy that you’re about to fight, he’s got the eye. You don’t. He’s going to kill you. You don’t want to get in the ring with that guy. He’s got what you used to have. He’s all in and your plan is soft.” There’s something there, I’m telling you. Rocky has things that teaches. He does.
While I’m on the subject. Creed has this moment where Rocky points back and says, “You know, my best days are all behind me.” In some ways, he’s right. He has pictures on the wall with a bunch of old fighters, most of them dead. He said, “That’s me.” The young fighter whose Apollo Creed’s son starts working with him. There’s this beautiful moment. I’m not giving it away though. He walks out there and he’s got a shot at being a champion for his championship match. He’s never seen what he’s about to experience. It’s overwhelming. There’s this moment, he’s got to walk through this dark hall, and then it opens up. He’s walking alone. One of the things is, he puts his hand on his shoulder as he walks with him because he has seen it before. I’ve been there. Steady, son. It’s okay. It’s going to be fine. They walk through thinking that. We all need that. We think our days are behind us. We have tremendous value and there are people who can benefit from things we’ve been able to walk through. There are others of us who we need those people in our lives because there are things we haven’t seen yet. The wisdom is allowing those two to come together. Get serious.
I was thinking about how many times, there was probably nobody more committed or serious than Paul. We can put it this way when we’re talking about our tendency to get sloppy, distracted, and how our effort can dwindle. One of the amazing things about the apostle Paul, and I suppose this is true of most great athletes, artists, and achievers, is a capacity for an extended time of creative activity that can be sustained for long periods of time. That’s why a lot of people make it to the Hall of Fame. Many times, it’s their capacity to sustain creativity for long periods of time. If you do something long enough, you’re going to get some type of reward typically or some acknowledgment. Paul said, “I don’t care about temporal acknowledgments, temporal crowns. I’m more interested in eternal things.” This will be the last passage we will look at. Paul wrote in Philippians 3, “Not that I’ve already attained or I’m already perfected, I don’t have all this down.” Someone said, “Well, you’ve achieved something, we achieved nothing. But I press on that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus laid hold of me. He touched my life for a purpose, and I want to fulfill the purpose that He touched my life for.” That should be the quest of every one of us. “Behold, brethren, I do not, my brothers and sisters, count myself to have apprehended. No, this one thing I do, I’m forgetting those things which are behind, I’m reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press towards the goal for the prize of the upper call of God in Christ Jesus.” That’s a man on fire. That’s a man intense. That’s a man all in.
About a month ago, our youngest son graduated. He graduated from the university. He was attending Biola, the Biblical Institute of Los Angeles. It’s a good culture and arts university. My wife Cheryl, I, and Jake’s grandparents, Don and Diane, went there along with other families. We flew down and wanted to be there to mark that moment and celebrate with him. It was in an auditorium. We were there with lots of other families and friends who wanted to celebrate also. I went to three graduation ceremonies. There’s something about a graduation ceremony that is an acknowledgment of what’s been accomplished. There’s also a sense of hopefulness, especially when it’s a high school or college graduation or something that has to do with achieving something of a degree. There’s always a sense of what is ahead of you. There’s this, ‘you did something amazing and we want to be here to celebrate that.’ We also are thinking about what’s ahead.
There it is again, the old and the new. It’s not unusual to have commencement speakers who are keynote speakers. I wanted to be there for Jake. We were there, listening. The ceremony was near the end of the year in December. I went in thinking, “Okay, it’s good. I’m sure I’ll hear something.” I wasn’t expecting what I got. I thought a lot about the year that had been. About what God wanted to say to me about the year that was coming. I had that working in my heart already. I sat down and after the excitement of it, we were in the stands with everybody on both sides. The school president, Dr. Corey walked up, started sharing. The students were all there, listening, getting ready, they were excited. He introduces the commencement speaker. He’s the 75-year-old Bishop, Charles Blake, from the historic African American denomination Church of God in Christ. He’s a bishop. This 75-year-old Dr. Blake walks up and starts to share the message. I’m listening and he starts talking about Paul. His title on it was interesting. It was Strategies for the Spectacular Life, which caught my attention. Strategies for the Spectacular Life. He’s just talking about Paul.
Dr. Blake gets to a place where he starts saying he was all in, and I’m listening. About 20 minutes in, you know when you’re listening to something, someone’s talking about the Lord, and something hits and you feel it. The reason I knew it hit me is that I was just listening and all of a sudden I started really listening. All of a sudden I could feel water in these eyes. I said, “Hey, I was just here to watch Jake graduate. What’s going on?” But as he was talking, he said something. It probably was where I was, which is often how it works. The word comes and depending on where we are, hits us, like an arrow and breaks into places. We’re not always at the same place in life. So the word is not static. You have two things that are not static. You have the Word of God, which is ever moving. Then you have our lives which are ever moving. There are just times when they hit. The word goes in. I’m sitting there listening. He’s talking about Paul and his commitment. He’s talking about how people, even crazy people, or evil people have commitments. When you’re all in, you’re all in.
Dr. Blake said, “You know what? This reminds me of the time when I was a boy.” Here’s a 75-year-old man walking back in time. He said, “I remember a moment in my childhood. I was on a playground with my boyhood friend. We weren’t close friends, but we used to wrestle, play fight, and shadowbox.” Then he said something that started changing. One day he says stood out to him and he remembered it vividly. He said, “There was a day when my friend who we used to play fight, stopped playing and started fighting for real.” I quote him, “He stopped playing and I started fighting. I was still playing and he was fighting. I was playing and in a few painful blows, let me know that I’m going to stay in the same yard with this guy. I mean, you’re going to have to fight or you have to run.” He said, “And then it hit me.” I was there thinking about things. He says, “If you’re playing, when your enemy is fighting, he will probably succeed and you will probably be defeated.” He was talking about spiritual seriousness.
Are there some things we’re playing at that we should be fighting? There’s a time to be serious with things. Are we playing when we should be fighting? It’s no play fight in this Christian life. This is a serious thing. We’ll get eaten alive if we don’t take it seriously or try to do something in our strength or alone. Listen to what I just said. Some things are too serious and too hard to dislodge. They’re too real, they’re too powerful. If we try to do it in our strength, we won’t make it. We need His grace. Many times, we’ve said His grace gets mediated through others, hence the value of relationship. We talk about the value of groups not just to get people into groups, but because out of those groups comes the context of spiritual friendship. Out of spiritual friendship comes the capacity for trust. We drop our guard, we can be real, we get better, we can be honest. We can pray for one another, we can strengthen one another, we can move forward together. We don’t have to be ashamed. We can be helped and help the other. Two is better than one. Three or four, not easily broken. Jesus never sent them out alone, always together, always.
Lastly, get unstuck, get serious. The third one is important. I’ll just leave it with this. As we think about refocusing, commit to the important and the essential. There’s a great quote from a writer who is dead now. He wrote an extremely powerful book, and it continues to be a classic. It’s called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. He said, “Anything less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant.” What does this underscore? Just let that linger. This underscores the importance of focus and the tendency that we have to drift into the unimportant. The only way to prevent the drift to the unimportant is to intentionally commit ourselves to the important. In other words, the natural drift, if we just go through life, is to drift to the unimportant. You have to be intentional, and that’s unconscious. If we don’t consciously decide in tangible practical ways, even if it’s small ways to commit ourselves to things that connect with the important, we will naturally drift unconsciously into the unimportant. That’s where it goes. The garden grows weeds, it doesn’t tend itself. That’s how it works.
if you think about it the way of Jesus is the same way. There’s nobody, that’s what we talk about. The things like, think about your devotional life. Think about; are we engaged in any kind of community? Think about; are we serving? We’ll be talking about those things because that’s the kind of thing that helps us commit ourselves to the important. That tendency is not just to all of a sudden become strong. The tendency is to drift. That’s why Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these other things will fall into place.” But to do that requires effort and intentionality. Jesus, of course, is the great role model of focus. He modeled ultimate focus. He beckons us to follow in His way and His steps. I’ll leave us with this. Some of us are going through some things. I was talking to someone and they said, “Tell me what was happening.” I said, “Well, you’re going through it.” I said, “But I heard a phrase, maybe it’s good for you.” I said, “If you’re going to go through it, you might as well grow through it. If you’re going to go through it, might as well grow through it.” We get to choose, we get to choose.
Let’s pray. Lord, I want to ask You to help us all move forward. I want to pray that You would be amazingly patient with us and love us. I ask that we would not be like that person in James who sees something, hears something, maybe at this moment, something that you’re tugging, something you’re asking us to adjust some small thing, maybe some point of engagement, some different type of thing that we’ve been doing, or we’ve been thinking about. Now, we need to follow through on our good intention. Whatever it is, Lord, a position we’re supposed to take in terms of an attitude shift, whatever it is, we need to share that out. Lord, don’t let us be like that person who sees something, walks away, forgets what it was, and loses it. Help us to be people who respond and follow in your way. Yours is a good way and we get to choose. We get to choose if we’re going to go your way. Just by saying yes, the Lord opens up all kinds of possibilities. I pray that you keep our hearts soft, keep us humble. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You move, we come humbly. I ask for Your blessing, Your goodness, Your grace over a time of giving over our closing song, which is our benediction, our good word. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.