Need a New Beginning?

On the last Sunday of Year 2000 we haven't heard much of that "Y2K" shorthand since the computers rolled over uneventfully 365 days ago tonight there are lots of memories that come flooding in for me.

Although the 21st century and third millennium technically begin at midnight tonight, the millennial parties were held around the world last year. Did you ever see a manmade monument more beautiful than the Eiffel Tower at that moment?

The Perspective of a Year

There were lots of highs in sports this year. Tiger Woods continued to be the dominant figure in professional sports. Our Tennessee Titans went to the Super Bowl, only to finish one yard short. And Lance Armstrong survived a battle with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain to come back and win the Tour de France in 1999 and repeat that spectacular feat in 2000.

But there were lows aplenty too. There were celebrity deaths of people such as Larry Linville (Frank Burns from TV's "M*A*S*H"), Jim Varney (Nashville's own Ernest P. Worrell of commercial and movie fame), actress Loretta Young, and Peanuts' creator Charles Schulz. And there were the tragic deaths within our own church family.

There was the terrible crash of Air France's Concorde on July 25 that killed all 109 souls on the supersonic jet and four persons on the ground. Tensions in the Middle East have continued to boil. A visit to the Temple Mount in September by Ariel Sharon led to what came to be known as the "Days of Rage."

Oh, yes! We had a presidential election in the United States. At around 8:00 p.m., Bush was declared the winner by TV anchors. Then, just as Gore was about ready to make his concession speech in Nashville, Florida was put back in the undecided column. The race remained there for the next 35 days while chads, judges, and demonstrators had their moments of notoriety.

But here is the question that counts for you today: Are you closer to God today than you were last New Year's Eve?

The Spiritual Significance of a New Year

I have always believed there is a great spiritual significance to new years. The transition from December 31 to January 1 every year reminds us of the truth that there are new beginnings to be had in this life. By God's mercy, we can make a fresh start of things. We can have clean slates. In biblical language: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17).

Spiritual renewal is the work of the Holy Spirit. When any one of us accepts what cannot be changed about himself and his circumstances, stops blaming others for his plight, and stands ready to move ahead with his life, God will take his surrendered heart and situation in order to begin shaping him anew. He will give constant reassurances that we are not alone in a hostile universe and teach us to minister out of our pains and failures.

Paul had this process of ongoing personal revival in mind when he wrote:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12-14).
"Corrections and Amplifications"

The Guardian is London's daily newspaper with a twist. It bares its soul daily in a confessional "Corrections and Amplifications" column. Edited by Ian Mayes, it admits mistakes and makes corrections on an average of five items each day. This stands in sharp contrast to the begrudging admissions in some papers occasionally wrung out only by attorneys threatening suit.

"It strikes you, doing this job, that newspapers are the perfect invention for making mistakes," says Mayes. He has even taken some of his favorite corrections and published them in a book last month.

Mayes doesn't mind having a laugh at his newspaper's expense. For example, this correction ran August 21, 1998: "We spelt Morecambe, the town in Lancashire, wrong again on page 2, G2, yesterday. We often do."

People, there is a lesson here. Not newspapers but human beings are the "perfect invention for making mistakes," so we should not be so defensive and brittle about our blunders. I wish I needed to acknowledge only five per day! The wonderful thing is that no mistake, calamity, or sin needs to be considered final and fatal. Acknowledgment of it brings forgiveness, and forgiveness entails the change for a new beginning.

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. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9).

May I suggest a begin-the-new-year strategy for all of us? It is called repentanceand is to be taken seriously. But it is not the sort of repentance some of you have tried. It is not the sort of repentance that names and corrects every fault but the type that simply surrenders the control of mind, heart, and life to God one day at a time.

During the two and one-half years I participated in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly, I came to understand the difference between church-house repentance and life-changing repentance. Church-house repentance is the drunk's promise that she will never again touch a drop of alcohol, straighten up her life, and be a good girl. Life- changing repentance gives up on trying to reform one's own life, surrenders the control to God, and accepts just enough strength to live a new day every day one day at a time.

If you are willing to embrace this sort of mind-changing, heart-changing, life-changing repentance, I ask you to stand with me to pray for forgiveness and strength.

O God, our Father, save us and rescue us from the sins to which we so easily succumb.

Keep us,
From saying one thing with our words and another with our deeds;
From criticizing others for things we allow in ourselves;
From demanding standards for others which we ourselves make no effort to fulfil.
Keep us,
From flirting with temptation and playing with fire;
From the indecision that cannot say yes or no and be done with it;
From the reluctance to break with habits we know are wrong.
Keep us,
From trying to have the best of both worlds and trying to please both others and you;
From living one way on Sunday and another on Monday;
From anything which would keep us from giving our whole loyalty, our whole allegiance, our whole life, and whole heart to you.
We ask these things in the blessed name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Now that you have prayed for forgiveness, I want you to communicate to the appropriate people what you have done. God already knows! But you may need to squeeze your wife's hand, wink at your Mom, or whisper something to the person beside you as we sing. Maybe you need to go to that person this afternoon or make a phone call to someone. Perhaps you prefer to write a short note to someone.

You may need to be baptized in order to seal and certify your relationship to Jesus. If you don't have a church home, you need to find one and commit to being identified with and involved in its activities. But you need to formalize what you've done with God and communicate it to at least a few key people in your life who would be thrilled to know about the step you've taken today. Making it known publicly will also help you carry through with the commitments you've made.

It's a new day for you even before the official start of 2001. And God will affirm it to you as you leave this place today.

[1] "Pursuing happiness by the numbers," U.S. News & World Report (Dec. 18, 2000), p. 56.

[2] "Census Shows Gains in South and West," Wall Street Journal (Dec. 30, 2000), p. A2.

[3] Adapted from William Barclay, A Barclay Prayer Book (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1990), pp. 248-249.


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