The beginning of a New Year is known for many things . . . . late night gatherings, college football, elaborate parades, the singing of Auld Lang Syne (or at least the few words we actually know) and making resolutions for a better life.
It is this last thing that I am most interested in this morning. Each year I try to set certain goals that will help me focus during the next year. Usually I have goals for myself educationally, disciplines I want to develop, character traits I want to cultivate. And, like many of you, there are the resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, be a little more productive.
Though resolutions are good what is even more helpful at the start of a new year is to remind ourselves of foundational truths which anchor our lives. This morning I want to share some important truths that we can glean from eavesdropping on this account before us. I realize that these are not the most important truths of life but I hope that these proverb-like maxims will help you in the year to come.
THINGS ARE NOT ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM . . .
We read that a good friend of the Savior’s was sick. Lazarus was dying and Mary and Martha sent a message to him asking for His help. When Jesus heard this he replied,
This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.
Look also at verse 15,
Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.
In both of these verses we see an important principle: as bad as things seemed . . . God was doing something good. What an important lesson for our lives! No matter how bad things appear we have the confidence that God is at work doing something good.
- Where We see conflict. . . God sees a training ground for character (Romans 5:3-5)
- Where We see pain . . . . God sees a tool to wean our hearts from that which is temporary (2 Cor. 1:4)
- What we call a burden . . . God calls a chance to develop empathy (2 Cor. 1:4)
- Where We see struggle . . . God sees a laboratory for building faith (2 Cor. 1:9)
- Where We see hardship . . . God sees a pulpit through which He can show His grace (Phil 1)
- What we call suffering . . . God may call discipline (Heb. 12:5-11)
A puritan as written
I am mended by my sickness, enriched by my poverty and strengthened by my weakness . . . what fools are we, then, to frown upon our afflictions! These, how crabbed soever, are our best friends. They are not indeed for our pleasure, they are for our profit.
GOD’S “DELAYS” ARE MEANT TO DEVELOP US NOT DISCOURAGE US
As we read on in this account we see something very strange. Jesus hears that his friends need him. He is told that His good friend is dying and then he delays for two days!
This is odd to our ears. What kind of a friend is this? Would you be offended if you told a friend that you needed their help and you told them you would be there on Tuesday?
So why did Jesus delay? Very simply put: we don’t know. But because we know the character of the Savior we know that there was a good reason for the delay.
Have you ever had to wait?
- For a prayer to be answered?
- For direction to be given?
- For a need to be met?
These are difficult times and it is tempting to conclude that God does not care. We may get discouraged and conclude that our problems are insignificant to the Lord. But if we conclude such things we have missed this great truth . . . God’s delays are always designed to develop us not discourage us.
Here are some of the reasons God may delay or be silent:
- Delays of Mercy: By saying nothing, God may be extending His mercy to us, giving us time to repent. It is also possible that He is simply withholding knowledge that would devastate us. Rather than being mad at God for not doing what we think He should, we should learn to be grateful that He sometimes hides the truths that would overwhelm us.
- Delays to Develop Faith: In many ways the hardest part of Job’s troubles was that for a long time God would not answer him. There are times when God wants to see how much confidence we have in Him–if we will persist in knocking on the door until it opens.
- Delays Waiting for an Opportunity: Often God is waiting for us to get quiet so that He can work.
- Delays of Preparation: sometimes God delays to prepare us with the tools we need or to prepare the circumstances. Sometimes we ask for things we are not prepared to receive.
- Delays Past Finding Out The Bible tells us that God’s ways are unsearchable. There are some times as with Job that are never explained.
Yes, when God seems silent during 1997 remember that silence is not the same thing as inactivity. This silence that seems so painful now is needful.
THE BEST TIME TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT IS THE PRESENT
Jesus tells the disciples that they should now (two days later) go to see Lazarus. The disciples think it is a bad idea. The last time they went to Judea the people wanted to kill Jesus. They advise that it would be best to stay clear of that area of Israel.
Jesus responds with somewhat difficult words,
Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light. If you journey and walk in the light, you will do better than in the dark
The statement isn’t hard to understand: we can do more when we can see where we are going. In fact, the whole idea of Daylight Savings Time is designed to give us more daylight to work in because it is easier and better to work in the light than in the darkness.
What is difficult it understanding what this had to do with going to see Lazarus and what it has to do with us.
I believe Jesus is telling the disciples that He has only so much “daylight” and He needs to spend it doing what the Father has instructed Him to do. Walking in the light means being obedient to the Father.
John says it well in a later letter:
If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)
How do we apply this? Very simply . . . The wise person uses the time alloted in this life to do what God calls us to do.
We have clear direction of God’s will in the Bible. The problem we have is that we read a command and find it difficult, risky or unpopular and we resist.
We read that we should give a tenth of our income to the Lord BUT we have bills to pay . . . . Jesus says if you don’t do what is right you will end up stumbling in the dark
The Bible tells us that the sex is for the marriage relationship only. BUT what can be wrong with two consenting adults enjoying each other?. .. .the principle is simple: if you don’t obey you end up stumbling in the dark
The Bible tells us that we are to forgive those who wrong us. BUT, we answer, they have hurt us deeply and besides, we don’t WANT to forgive!. . . . the principle is simple: if you don’t obey you end up stumbling in the dark.
WE CAN WASTE A LOT OF TIME AND JOY ASSUMING THE WORST
As we continue in our story we see that the disciples were eager to avoid going to Judea. When Jesus said “Lazarus was asleep” they assumed that this was a good thing . . . he must be getting better. And if He is getting better, then we don’t have to go to Judea.
Wrong! Jesus says, “He’s dead.” Pack your bags, we’re leaving in fifteen minutes.
I love what Thomas says,
Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.“
Now on the one hand we applaud Thomas’s willingness to die with Christ. However, what I want you to see is Thomas’ negative attitude. He doesn’t see the possibility of a miracle, the chance to comfort good friends . . . . he sees the worst.
I Identify with Thomas . . . . do you? I tend to prepare for the worst thing that can happen . . If someone brings me an exciting new idea I will tell them several reasons why it probably won’t work. (Now this isn’t a bad trait in managers if they can move from spotting obstacles to coming up with strategies for overcoming the obstacles.)
If my wife is late getting home for the day I begin to prepare myself for the State Police to come to the door to tell me she was in a car accident. And no one enjoys going on vacation with me around Christmas. I spend weeks worrying, “What will we do if there is a snowstorm!” Now, I’ve gotten better, but I’ve still a long way to go.
Dr. Victor Frankl, the bold, courageous Jew who became a prisoner during the Holocaust, endured years of indignity and humiliation by the Nazis before he was finally liberated. At the beginning of his ordeal, he was marched into a gestapo courtroom. His captors had taken away his home and family, his cherished freedom, his possessions, even his watch and wedding ring. They had shaved his head and stripped his clothing off his body. There he stood before the German high command, under the glaring lights being interrogated and falsely accused. He was destitute, a helpless pawn in the hands of brutal, prejudiced, sadistic men. He had nothing. No, that isn’t true. He suddenly realized there was one thing no one could ever take from him — just one. Do you know what it was? Dr. Frankl realized he still had the power to choose his own attitude. No matter what anyone would ever do to him, regardless of what the future held for him, the attitude choice was his to make. Bitterness or forgiveness. To give up or to go on. Hatred or hope. Determination to endure or the paralysis of self-pity. We must always remember . . . .We have the power to choose our own attitude!
Frankl learned something we all need to learn. Our attitude is our responsibility. No one “makes us” angry. We choose to respond in anger. No circumstance “makes us” depressed…. we choose to react to a circumstance with depression. Even the weather cannot determine our mood. We choose to respond to the weather with a certain mood.
As you look back over 1996 are there any times you wish you had worried more? I didn’t think so. Were there things you wish you hadn’t wasted your anxiety on? Of course. As you stand at the beginning of a New Year, determine that you are not going to look back a year from now regretting the time you wasted with anxiety. Take control of your attitude. Resolve that you will look for opportunities rather than obstacles.
The most important thing you can do for yourself in 1997 is put your thinking in order. If you can solidify the foundational principles of your life everything else will come naturally.
We have seen some foundational principles this morning . .that if practiced can be an anchor in whatever storm comes our way.
1. Things are not always what they seem . . . . Bad things are not always bad
2. When God says “wait” He does not want to discourage us . . . but to develop us
3. There is no better time than the present to do what is right
4. We have the choice of what our attitude will be . . . focus on obstacles or opportunities
We can sum it up with a simple creed that I try to live by and have shared with you often:
God is in control
He Loves me
He never . . . ever . . . makes a mistake.