Biblical Ways to Make 2020 a Great Year
Study Guide, December 29, 2019
Pastor Clay Olsen
So, how does it feel to be on the cusp of a New Year? There is always something especially encouraging about each New Year. And there have certainly been a lot of ‘New Years’! According to the Jewish Calendar, the year is not 2020, but 5780! That has even a better ring to it. And you would think that after all these years mankind would have pretty much figured out how life on Earth is supposed to be lived. But no…as far as human nature is concerned, the wrong beat just goes on and on and on. Although many do take some shots at redirecting people’s ships with those motivational sayings, like: ‘Gotta learn how to fall before you learn to fly’, or ‘Every journey begins with a single step’, or ‘You never fail until you stop trying’, or ‘The best way to get something done is to begin’, or Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn’. That’s an interesting twist on that one.1
But really though, life was never supposed to be complicated. But it was always supposed to be very well ordered. And right away, that is the essence of most people’s problems. Each day of their life that they live, they are simply living it ‘out of order’, and thus, the rest of their life is simply ‘out of order’ as well.
Many around the world just finished the celebration of Christmas. Many rejoiced over the fact of Jesus’ coming into the world as God Incarnate, God in the flesh. In the first chapter of John the Apostle John describes the sheer majesty of it all. John 1:1-4- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” NASU So John takes us back to the beginning. And right away, we have a clue to life and living life…you have to go back to the beginning. In the beginning, or really in eternity past, the One whose birth in Bethlehem that we just celebrated was the Word, and the Word was God Himself.
John starts the same way that Genesis starts: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Gen 1:1 NASU We usually put the emphasis on connecting the beginning with creation there, but we first need to put the emphasis on connecting the beginning with God there…as in, “In the beginning….God…” The point is that everything in life is connected to this beginning; “In the beginning…God!” God is the beginning! And then John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So the written introduction of God to mankind starts with “In the beginning…God”, and the written introduction of Jesus to mankind starts with “In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God.”
No matter where you are in your life now or what you are doing in life now, or whatever you are planning for your life, everything in life and everything in your life needs to be connected with God, because God is the beginning of everything! Therefore, the first order of every decision, the first order of every plan, the first order of every start of every New Year is to go back to the beginning…go back and make sure that you have connected it with the beginning, or to be more precise, connect it with God. Again, everything started with God and everything will end with God. Remember, this One whose birth in Bethlehem we just celebrated also later declared: Rev 22:13- “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” NASU
Let’s go to what Paul added to all of this about Jesus and the picture will become very clear. Col 1:15-17- “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. NASU
Did you catch that part about the ‘beginning’ again? Both the Prophets and the Apostles were always taking us back to the beginning…or making sure that we got it; that Jesus Christ was not only in the beginning, but that He is the beginning. He is the source of our very existence.
Again, no wonder so much of the world is so disjointed in it’s thinking, so disconnected in it’s understanding, so out of order in its worldview. If you don’t start at the beginning, with God, you are left to wander aimlessly for the rest of your life. If you don’t start with Jesus then no matter how you order your life, your whole life will be completely out of order. If you don’t start with the ‘Alpha’ in your life, then when you get to the ‘Omega’ of your life, then no matter what you have experienced from life or acquired in life or accomplished in life, what have you really gained? Jesus spoke directly to this issue in Matt 16:26- “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” NKJV That is the question every person in the world needs to answer. Actually, one day they will, when they come to the ‘omega’ of their life.
But then, for those of us that have received the ‘Alpha and Omega’ of life…received Jesus Christ as our God and Savior, how then are we to order the rest of our lives? Or what place is Jesus to have in all of our lives? Remember Paul’s words… “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” So by revelation we see that Jesus is to have supremacy over all things. He is to have first place since He is head of the body, head of the church. But also, by application, you and I are His body. You and I are the body of Christ. Therefore, what place is Jesus to have in our life, or in what is Jesus to have first place in our life? What about in our family? What place is Christ supposed to have in that? First place! What about in our vocation…in our job? What place is Christ supposed to have in that? First place! What about in our relationships in our church and in our community? What place is Christ supposed to have it that? First place! Of course! And so, you see, Jesus’ place as first place is the only right order there is by which you and I are to then order our lives. And when we order our lives according to giving Jesus first place in everything then Jesus turns that carol of ‘Joy to the World’ into ‘Joy to your world, and my world.’ I love that acrostic of ‘JOY’ that reminds us that the secret to real joy is when your joy is based on Jesus – Others- and then You. Amen to that? Keep that order in place.
So now, let’s say you have committed yourself to order your life based upon this order of looking to Jesus as having first place in your life. What will that look like? Or, what follows a life or flows out of a life that is ordered by Jesus having first place in your life. Well, let’s let John tell us about that too, for after John tells us that the Word became flesh he then tells us this: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14-15 NASU So When the Word became flesh, became incarnate, God in the flesh, there were two particular attributes that characterized Jesus’ life: grace and truth. On constant display in Jesus’ daily treatment of others and in His daily teaching with others were these two virtues: grace and truth.
Suffice it to say, these two attributes were natural to God, but they are hardly natural to mankind…or natural to us. So the question before us is: If we are to commit to ordering our lives to set Jesus apart as Lord of our lives, having first place, first consideration in all things, what then will be the evidence that we are actually following through with that commitment? Here’s a hint: And it’s not this: All you’ve got to do is act naturally…No way! No, what we’ve got to do is act ‘un-naturally to us, but rather to act ‘supernaturally’, as ordered by our new spiritual nature, or as directed by the Holy Spirit! Which is another aspect of the order…we are to order our lives to live by the very two attributes that characterized Jesus’ life: grace and truth.
Whenever Jesus is having first place in our life, the first evidence of that is His grace will be shown through our life. On the flip side of that, wherever there is not the evidence of His grace, that is then evidence that we are not giving Jesus first place. And we remember what Paul said about that? Speaking of grace as love he said: 1 Cor 13:1-7- “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” NLT
What would our world be like if we ordered our lives by this passage? What would our churches be like if we ordered our lives by this Biblical love, this Biblical grace? We are to remember that grace means ‘unmerited favor’. As in ‘we are saved by grace’ and not by our works or our merits. But human nature, or let’s personalize it…our old nature, operates on the merit system. Our natural habit is bent toward only dispensing out our favor after we have judged that our favor has been merited or earned by someone or by others. And while there might be natural reason for that, there is no spiritual power in that. No, the power to change lives comes through when we give the grace of God to others. The power to change people’s lives is when the unmerited favor that we have been given by God is then given to others by us through the power of Christ working in us. That’s when people experience the power of Christ’s Spirit; when they experience the grace of Christ given through us. Remember something here that’s very important: It’s God’s grace in the first place. So we’re not to trying to work up some of our own grace, because it’s not ours to begin with. Remember, we are the branches, not the Vine. Just let it flow…and try not to plug up the flow by going with how you feel instead of by what God has revealed.
And then the other evidence that we really are giving Jesus first place in our lives is this evidence of truth that we are declaring through our lives. And of course, this, too, is guided by the order that Paul revealed to us, as in: ‘Love in truth, and speak truth in love. Or, ‘Love others in truth, and Speak truth to others in love’. That’s another great thing about it all: it’s never one or the other, or one without the other. Jesus came in grace and truth, not either or, but both. Both are to be our passion…in being generous with others in extending grace and in being faithful to God by proclaiming truth to others. And our world is in desperate need of truth, Amen? The closer this world gets to our Lord’s Second Advent, the more the Deceiver is pushing his deception of falsehoods on our world. And God warned us to watch for these falsehoods seeping into the cracks of the church around the world as well. And they are more and more. This is just another reason that you and I need to give Jesus first place in our mind and in our heart, because our natural reasoning is no match for the Devil. But we win out with living out the truth that has been planted in our mind and heart, as we order our day to day commitment to feed on God’s Word, fill our mind with God’s truths, and then share His truths with others as often as we have opportunity.
So, to be a great year ahead, make it a grace year ahead. To make it a triumphant year ahead make it a truth filled year ahead. Be faithful with sharing God’s truth and be generous with extending God’s grace. You rightly order your world by giving Jesus His rightful place in your life: First place!
- Janie B. Cheaney, The Beginning at the End, World Magazine, Dec. 2019