If you looked at the bulletin this morning, you would notice that up in the corner is a date. It says January 1, 2023. Now, if we wanted to be precise, it would say AD 2023, but what does AD mean? It is short for the Latin phrase Anno Domini which translated into English is: In the year of our Lord.
Our theme through advent has been This Changes Everything and what happened on the first Christmas changed how we measure time and how we look at time.
For most of human history, time was measured by those who were in power at the time, so you will recall at the beginning of the Christmas story we read in Luke 2:1-2 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
And so, the birth of Jesus was originally dated by the fact that most of the known world was ruled by Caesar Augustus, and today we know that Augustus died in 14. 14 What? 14 the Year of our Lord. When Jesus was crucified, it was under the authority of Caesar Tiberius. Tiberius died in 37, the year of our Lord. History has been divided into two sections those things that happened before Jesus was born and those things that happened after Jesus was born.
And so, the greatest men and women in history, for good or for evil, are defined by two dates, when they were born and when they died, and those dates are referenced to the birth of a baby in a stable in a little village in a small occupied country over 20 centuries ago.
And so Napoleon Bonaparte lived from 1769-1821 in the year of our Lord. And Mahatma Gandhi lived from 1869 to 1948 in the year of our Lord. And if you were to visit the grave of the great Atheist Friedrich Nietzsche, on his tombstone, you would see his life summed up by the dates 1844-1900, in the year of our Lord.
Muhammad, the founder of Islam, lived from 570 to 632 in the year of our Lord. There have been attempts through the years to secularize this by referring to it as CE or the Common Era, but common in what? In the birth of Jesus.
And today, we stand on the cusp of a brand-New Year.
2022 is gone, and we are just on the threshold of 2023.
Now during the first week of a new year, it’s not unusual to reminisce about the past and to dream about the future. Were there things that we would change about the past 365 days if we had a chance or are we happy with the last 52 weeks of our lives?
2022 for all intents and purposes, is gone. Everything we did and everything we strived for is now history. December 2022 is as unobtainable as December 2002 or 1992 or 1922
James 4:14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.
Well, the smoke of 2022 is starting to clear. We are moving into a new year, and 2023 promises to be a great year in the life of Cornerstone Wesleyan Church. And as we stand posed to step over the threshold into a year that holds so much promise, maybe it would do well to reflect for a moment on 2022.
2022 has been a year of transition. It was during the past twelve months that we have discovered, as a church, how to live with COVID. We have made adjustments to how we worship and do ministry, and we have seen new folks become part of our church family as well as folks who have returned to in-person worship.
It has been a good year, in many ways a successful year.
But when everything is said and done, 2022 is gone. It exists now only in our memories and will be perpetuated forever in our record books. For all we have done, all we have accomplished, and all we have struggled together for is but a mist that appeared for a little while and then vanished. If we were to stop now and go no further, then 2022 would have been a wasted effort.
Part of the Scripture that was read this morning was Philippians 3:13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. . .
This Scripture has two main premises and two distinct trains of thought. 1) Forgetting what is behind and 2) Straining toward what is ahead. Two distinct commands, made in opposite directions and yet affirming one another.
Throughout the Bible, we are treated to a Hebraic Literary device called parallelism, and which simply means that something is stated twice in different ways.
For example, Psalm 23 says “The Lord is my shepherd” “I shall not want” and Psalms 78:1 says “O my people, hear my teaching;” “listen to the words of my mouth.” and Ecclesiastes 3:1 “There is a time for everything,” “and a season for every activity under heaven:” I’m sure that King David would have been proud of Paul and his writing style.
There are several things as we look out over a brand-new year that must be forgotten. Things that need to be disposed of. Not simply placed in a closet to be taken out and dusted off from time to time, fondled and examined, but gotten rid of completely. In Philippians 3:14, Paul draws a comparison between our life and a race. What is behind is fine, but it is behind, and unless our effort remains consistent, it has little bearing on the result of the race. A runner doesn’t place any stock in how many circuits he’s done, only the number of circuits that are left.
Friends, it may be a cliché, but “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” How do you want to spend today? Yesterday is gone, it cannot be altered, changed or relived. If you continue to live for yesterday, you won’t only miss out on today, and there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll miss out on tomorrow as well. What do we need to forget?
1) We Need to Forget our Resentments As the New Year stretches out in front of us like an unmarked page, maybe we’d better take the time to clean our pens before we leave our mark. Resentments are dangerous toys for Christians to be playing with, and there is no place for them within the grace that God has given us.
My favourite American President of all time was Abraham Lincoln, and it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said of Lincoln, “His heart was as great as the world, but there was no room in it for the memory of a wrong.” If somebody did something to you last year, forget it. If somebody said something about you last year, forget it. I love the comment that says, “Speak well of your enemies. After all, you made them.”
You say, “Preacher, I can forgive, but I can’t forget.” That may be your philosophy, but it’s not the philosophy of the Bible. Instead, Jesus told us in Mark 11:25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”
You see, the measure with which you forgive is the measure that Christ uses when He forgives you. “But Denn, you don’t know what they did to me or said to me.” No, I don’t, and my heart breaks for all of the hurts out there, but it also breaks for the hurt that people do to themselves when they hold on to and nurture the hurts of the past. Why? Because that will destroy you quicker than anything.
When you dwell on how hard done by you are, it will eat you up and make you bitter. If someone can make you stoop so low as to hate them, they win. As we step into 2023, let’s forget all of the petty hurts and injustices and all of the big hurts and injustices from 2022 and 2021 and 2020 and 2019 etc. etc. etc. If you can forget only one thing today, forget the grievances that you have against others whether they be friend or foe and get on with your life.
2) We Need to Forget our Worries. If you’ve been in our living room, then you know that we have a rocking chair that belonged to Angela’s Grandmother, and it is like worry. It gives you something to do, it won’t get you anywhere.
I am convinced that many who suffer from mental illness are worrying about something over which they have no control.
Arthur Roche said, “Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through our minds. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” Has that ever happened to you? You start worrying about something, and pretty soon, you discover that it has consumed all your other thoughts.
Let’s put it into perspective. There are 773,672 words in the Bible, don’t ask me how I know. The word worry is used 13 times. compare that with trust, which is used 126 times, faith used 270 times, the word believe is used 226 times and love is used 551 times.
If you want to narrow it down even more, of the 13 times that worry is used, 11 times we are told not to worry and of the other two, one asks the question, “Why do you worry?” and the other one says, “Tomorrow will worry about itself.”
I have to agree with Robert Frost who wrote, “The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.”
Listen up, people, “Worry” is a sin. It’s not just a danger. It’s not just a nuisance. It’s not just a pastime. It’s not just a habit; it is a sin! The same Bible that says do not commit adultery and do not kill also says do not worry. Worry is a sin because worry is saying, “I don’t believe that God can handle my problems.” Too often, we are like the old lady who said, “I always feel bad when I feel good because I know that I’ll feel bad after a while.”
There are two types of things that we worry about, a) things we can do something about and b) things we can’t do anything about. So, we ought to do something about the first group and forget the second group.
I love the story of the bishop who had this irrational fear that his legs were going to become paralyzed. One night while he was at a dinner party, he reached down and pinched his leg. When he couldn’t feel anything, he exclaimed out loud, “Just as I feared total insensitivity below the waist.” The lady sitting next to him responded by saying, “If it’s any comfort, your grace, the leg you pinched was mine.” I mean, face it, people, the very least we can do is make sure that we are pinching our own leg.
3) We Need to our Failures. Too many people today are paralyzed by the fear of failure. Much like Mark Twain wrote, “The cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again. But he won’t sit upon a cold stove lid, either.”
Nobody likes to fail, but it is unfortunate that some people seek to escape failure by not trying, which in itself guarantees failure. Maybe we need to adopt the philosophy of George Bernard Shaw, who said, “When I was a young man, I observed that nine out of the things I did were failures, I didn’t want to be a failure, so I did ten times more work.”
We can’t be afraid of failing because the fear of failure becomes the fear of trying. With every attempt comes the possibility of failure. Planting a new church in Bedford contained an element of risk. Building this building contained an element of risk. Planting a satellite in Bever Bank contained the possibility of failure.
But if we had of focused on how we could fail, we would never have planted Cornerstone Wesleyan Church, and we wouldn’t be here now, and there are lives that would not have been touched and changed.
Let’s go back to the sports analogy. Every runner in a race, with the exception of one, will fail to win.
But that doesn’t mean that they will never run again. Here is an aside. Recently there was a study done that showed that athletes were visibly happier with bronze than with silver.
Think about it when you win bronze, you just made the podium. When you win silver, you
just lost the gold. You were the first loser.
As we move into 2023, we need to look beyond past failures to future successes. We have all failed at one time or another in our lives, and we know that failure is not defeat.
The only impact that yesterday’s failures should have on today’s endeavours is that they should have made us wiser. Let’s forget our failures as we move into the future.
4) We Need to Forget our Successes. There is nothing wrong with having pride in the achievements which God has permitted us if it’s not a gloating pride and we recognize that it was God who was the author of our success. But our achievements have as little bearing on tomorrow as did yesterday’s failures.
For two years in the 90s, I had to work outside the church, and I worked at Tip Top Tailors, selling on commission. And I discovered it didn’t matter how good last week was. You started on Monday with no sales.
No matter how high our attendance was last year, no matter how many people came to our services over the past twelve months, no matter how many people were touched, and no matter how many people were baptized, we can’t stop trying.
When the runner is a lap ahead of his opponents, he doesn’t stop to gloat. The race isn’t over until the very end. Too many sports teams have gotten lazy in the last period, inning, or quarter, only to have an almost certain victory snatched out of their grasp by a hungrier team. No matter how good we think we are doing, we are never good enough to stop trying.
Victories need to be used just as failures are, as simple lessons of life. If we learn not to do a particular thing because it results in failure, then we have to learn to follow our successes. The trick is just because something worked well yesterday doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work just as well tomorrow. New ideas and concepts can quickly become dated and traditional if we aren’t careful. We can’t hold onto the old simply because it is old, nor can we embrace everything new that comes down the track just because it’s new. The church is here to minister to society, and as society changes, so must the church. We don’t change the message, but we may need to change the medium.
Techniques, programs, and equipment that were suitable 50, 30, 20, 10, 5 or even 1 year ago may not be suitable or effective today.
We can’t always base our operation on what worked in ancient history or, for that matter, what worked yesterday. We need to continue to learn and to use those things that we learned to further the Kingdom of God. We need to forget the failures and also the victories of yesterday and push onto new victories tomorrow. Let’s never become one of those churches that are always talking about the good old days, and how good God was back then, and what a perfect world it used to be.
But simply forgetting isn’t enough, Paul continues to say in Philippians 3:13–14 . . . looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
It’s not enough to let go of the past if you’re not ready to stretch ahead and grab hold of the future. You know what they say, “It doesn’t matter if you are on the right track; you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
God has great things in store for you! If you want them. But unless you reach out and take them, they’ll never be yours. All of 2023 belongs to you, it’s yours, and it’s there if you want it. No matter what your past may be, your future is spotless.
When I say that 2023 is going to be a great year for us, I meant it, and I intend to do everything I can to make it just that. I plan on straining ahead toward what is ahead.
I believe that things will be done in, through and by Cornerstone Wesleyan Church that have never been done before. Do you believe that?
Can you join me in believing that? Do you believe that Cornerstone Wesleyan Church has something to offer to our communities, to Bedford/Hammonds Plains and Sackville/ Beaver Bank, and the surrounding communities?
Do you believe that we are preaching a Christ who is relevant to 2023, And do you believe that we are offering the needed love and acceptance that the people of our communities are crying out for?
I believe that we do, and I believe that we can see souls saved and lives changed. Can you see it? Can you reach it? Can you believe it? but more than that I believe that our people, you, are going to get a deeper vision of the Lord and reach out to the people whom you love and care for.
We have to dream. We have to have a vision of the future. But more than that, we need to be willing to reach out for that dream. Willing to strive for it and to yearn for it. To strain toward what is ahead.
The picture that Paul is drawing is that of a runner, not content to simply run but pushing himself to be victorious, reaching out with his fingers straining to push himself over the finish line before his competitors.
Paul was ever pushing, ever straining for the cause of Christ. He was never content to simply watch the race go by; instead, he had to be at the very forefront.
Not content to finish last, third or even second. Instead, Paul sought to run the race as a winner.
Forgetting the laps that were behind him, his eyes seeing only the victory tape at the end of the course and pushing himself toward that victory.
Let’s run the race. Not as the Cornerstone Wesleyan Church of last year, but as Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in 2023.