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The Zondervan 2001 Pastor's AnnualAn Idea and Resource Book
By T. T. Crabtree
ZondervanCopyright © 2000 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSuggested preaching program for the month of JANUARY
* Sunday Mornings
Taking a look at the coming year is comparable to examining a road map. As we face Highway 2001, we stand in need of guidance. The suggested theme for the morning messages is "Finding and Following God's Guidelines."
* Sunday Evenings
Not only do we need guidance as we face a new year, but we also need to recognize and respond to our spiritual resources. The suggested theme is "Questions People Ask About the Holy Spirit."
* Wednesday Evenings
Some things in life are optional while other things are essential. We will look at some essentials in a Wednesday evening series entitled "Great Imperatives for Effective Living." On the last Wednesday evening of the month, we will change our focus a bit as we begin a series from Paul's letter to the Philippians called "Great Imperatives for Christian Living."
WEDNESDAY EVENING, JANUARY 3
Title: An Imperative Regarding the Negative and the Positive
Text: "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom. 12:2 RSV).
Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-2
Let us rejoice that we find ourselves on Highway 2001 with all of its opportunities for ministry to others and service to our Lord. In order that we might do a better job for our Lord, ourselves, and others, we are going to look at some of the great imperatives found in the writings of the apostle Paul as he wrote to the churches that were dear to his heart.
Paul's great challenge to the church at Rome provides us with an appropriate imperative with which to begin the new year. The imperatives in our text require that we give careful attention to the forces at work that affect our lives both negatively and positively. The negative imperative in our text calls attention to a great danger we all face-the peril of being contaminated by the environment in which we live. The positive imperative calls upon us to experience an inward spiritual transformation that produces a radical change in our conduct in the midst of this compromising environment in which we live.
I. The bold challenge to full commitment (Rom. 12:1).
Paul issues a challenge to all disciples of the Lord Jesus to present their bodies as a living sacrifice in service to God and others. Phillips translates this bold challenge: "With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him." This is a pivotal verse. That which precedes is doctrinal, and that which follows is very practical. The first portion of the book deals with our beliefs, and the balance of the book deals with the expression of those beliefs in behavior.
II. An imperative regarding a great peril.
"Do not be conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2 RSV). Phillips translates this warning in a powerful way: "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold." As the redeemed children of God, having been made new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17), we live in a world system that is under the dominion of the evil one (1 John 5:19). The sinful world in which we live is not passive and unconcerned. Evil is aggressive, and it requires effort for us to prevail against the squeezing, conforming power of the world system in which we live.
God calls us to be different. We are to be dead to sin and alive to God (Rom. 6:4, 11-14). Instead of responding affirmatively to temptations, we are to respond as dead persons. We must not permit either our evil nature within or the evil world about us to dominate us. We are to conduct ourselves as the beloved children of God, walking in the light rather than in darkness (Eph. 5:3-14). Paul told the Colossians to put to death that which was earthly and evil in their nature (Col. 3:5-9) and to put on the new nature and live as God's chosen ones (vv. 10-17).
III. An imperative regarding an exciting possibility.
"Be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom. 12:2 RSV). Paul uses a Greek word here with which people today are familiar. It is the word metamorphosis, and it means to change the nature.
A farmer raised a field of cabbage but was unable to sell it. The cabbage went to waste in the field, and many cabbages were eaten by worms. Later the farmer's son noticed small yellow butterflies in the field where the cabbage had been raised. He learned that the worms had changed into butterflies. The technical name for that change is metamorphosis.
Paul is urging his readers to experience a remarkable transformation that is possible by a renewal of the mind that comes when one is born again and filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the work of the Holy Spirit using the Scriptures and a responsive heart to bring about inward mental and spiritual transformation that is manifested outwardly in a change in one's conduct.
If you would change your conduct, you must change your creed. If you would change your behavior, you must first of all change your beliefs. If you would become truly Christian in your conduct, you must become Christlike in your thinking. For only by a revolutionary change in your thoughts can you experience a revolutionary change in your conduct. The call to repentance is in reality a call to a complete change in one's thought patterns and decision-making processes with reference to God, to sin, to self, to things, and to others. How much change has taken place in your thinking about God, yourself, others, and things during the past year?
Paul challenged the Philippian Christians to have the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5). Only as we let the Holy Spirit change our thinking and cause us to think like Christ can we experience the transformation that needs to take place in our lives.
The glorious end result of refusing to be conformed to the world and of experiencing inward mental and spiritual transformation is to prove in our own experience that the will of God is good and acceptable and perfect.
You can never really know that God's will is best for you and for others until you make this complete commitment of yourself to God's will as he reveals it to you. So with eyes wide open to the mercies of God, present yourself to him.
SUNDAY MORNING, JANUARY 7
Title: Trusting God's Guidance
Text: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths" (Prov. 3:5-6).
Scripture Reading: Proverbs 3:1-8
Hymns: "Glorious Is Thy Name," McKinney "Take My Life, Lead Me, Lord," Rawls "Wherever He Leads, I'll Go," McKinney
Offertory Prayer: Heavenly Father, we begin this new year aware that our daily steps may be the walk of faith or the walk of disobedience. Help us to so commit ourselves to you that we will walk in the confidence of your guidance. Let this time of dedication of our gifts become for us a time of new commitment to follow where you lead and to do what you ask. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We stand today at the gate of a new year and see the road ahead. We cannot see far, and without God's wisdom we will not see with understanding. At best, we expect to experience, beyond our present limited horizon, some complex and confusing turns in the road that will test our highest knowledge and deepest commitment. There will be hills to climb and bumpy sections to cross. How will we fare? Do we have any assurance that we can safely and successfully make it?
Our text says we can make it-and victoriously if we will trust God's guidance. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
This is an excellent watchword for the year, a battle cry for the testing times, a comfort and strength for our uncertainty. It is a sufficient substitute for a road map, even though our eyes cannot discern the turns, the stops, the difficulties, or the pleasures ahead. What does this text say to us?
I. God can guide us in our everyday living.
In every decision, every action, in every development of our lives, God will direct our paths.
A. The analogy of a road builder and maintenance chief are suggested in the word "direct." These assure that we travel to a desired destination as the road is built and maintained.
The Hebrew language contains several words for road or path, including words that refer to a highway, a way, a narrow path, a broad path, a trodden path, and a customary path or road. The word in Proverbs 3:6 is the customary or usual path or road. God relates to us as road builder and maintenance chief in the customary or day-to-day travels of our lives.
God cuts the road straight and keeps it useful. That is what is meant by the promise, "He shall direct thy paths." We can get where we ought to be because God is available to prepare the way. He is active in all our affairs. We may not see the road builder and the maintenance chief during every mile traveled, but we do not move an inch without their help. This analogy does not say enough, however.
B. God goes with us. The God who can guide us does, in fact, become personally involved with us on every inch of our journey. He promises: "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye" (Ps. 32:8); "For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death" (Ps. 48:14); "The Lord shall guide thee continually" (Isa. 58:11); "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).
II. God can guide us, but three conditions determine his guidance.
A. Acknowledge him. First, "in all thy ways acknowledge him." That is, in all the steps of your journey, see that you acknowledge God as your guide. We have likely had the experience of meeting a person on the street whom we knew well but who was preoccupied in thought or conversation and did not respond to our greeting. We either smilingly passed on by that person, spoke again, or touched the person on the shoulder. No slight was intended; our acknowledgment was simply missed. We also have experienced times when a preoccupied family member did not hear what we said, though we spoke directly to him or her. If this can happen in our relationships with friends and family members, it surely can happen in God's relationship with us. By our preoccupation we may miss his guidance. So if we have God's guidance, we must pay attention to him with the sensitivity of a faith that is alive and expectant, and not just in special moments of devotion and prayer. We are to acknowledge him in all our ways, in the days and the nights, at work and play, in rest or worship, in relationships, and when we are alone.
B. Trust him. This brings us to the second condition of God's guidance: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart." We trust him in the hours of special need when there is no one else to trust. Or we trust him when we are called upon to do some unique assignment with which we feel insecure. But how about our trust level when we are unaware of needs, or when the ordinary experiences of life are in process? Trusting God, like loving him, must be total in degree. We must desire to please him totally in the ordinary experiences of every day.
Think of two professing Christians, both of whom affirm their faith in Jesus Christ. One is stable and copes with changes so smoothly that to the casual observer it seems easy. The other Christian is insecure. Any threatened difficulty creates a panic. If the currents of trouble are navigated at all, it is by the barest margin. What's the difference? The one with unwavering faith has sought and found God's guidance. The other "double-minded" person is unstable because he does not acknowledge God in all his ways.
C. Don't depend on yourself. These first two conditions may be labeled positive conditions. However, there is a third that can be labeled a negative condition: "Lean not to thine own understanding." The Revised Standard Version says, "Do not rely on your own insight." The Living Bible says, "Don't trust yourself." This condition suggests the absolute inadequacy of life without God's guidance. We really can't make it on our journey without him, and some people pay an unnecessarily high price to learn that self-management leads to endless defeat.
A family of faith decided not to trust God one day and leaned on their own understanding. God promised to Abraham and Sarah a child, but no child was born. After years of waiting, Sarah, thinking she was helping God out of his dilemma of not being able to provide a child, utilized the surrogate custom of that time. She gave her servant, Hagar, to Abraham. From that union Ishmael was born. In due time the child of promise, Isaac, was born to Sarah and Abraham. Eventually hostility and jealousy between the two women and the two boys came to such a crisis that Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. This personal hostility escalated into national hatred and religious persecution between Arabs and Jews, and Moslems and Christians. We only defeat ourselves and God's purpose when we lean on our own understanding.
God wants to give us his guidance. He knows our need for it; he knows our failure without it. But he likewise knows our capacity to follow his direction. He has a unique plan for each of us, and he waits for us to pay attention to him, to trust him with the whole heart, to reject our own abilities to guide ourselves. He can and will guide us when we trust him.
SUNDAY EVENING, JANUARY 7
Title: Who Is the Holy Spirit?
Text: "And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost" (Acts 19:1-2).]
Excerpted from The Zondervan 2001 Pastor's Annual by T. T. Crabtree Copyright © 2000 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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