New Year – Begin Again
Study Guide, January 1, 2023
Pastor Clay Olsen
One of our favorite guys over the years in our Men’s Group was Chris Vurnakes. He went Home in 2018 at the young age of 98. His wife, Frances, was the Chapel’s first Secretary, after we came to serve here. Both of them were wonderful people. Chris was a down to earth thinker with a Biblical attitude. And he is known for often saying, “You know, the one constant in life is ‘change’.”
Many people fight change. Rather, it is wise to expect change, anticipate change…even embrace change. Certainly, not all change is helpful, but some change is more than helpful, even blessed. And that’s the kind of change that is simply to be a lifestyle for followers of Christ, particularly in this: 2 Cor 3:18- “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” NASU
Change is really to be our goal, especially in being transformed into Christ’s image by the power of the Holy Spirit. And every New Year is both a reminder and an opportunity to magnify that goal in our lives. Of all the goals or resolutions, this is to be at the top…as John the Baptist put it: “He must increase, and I must decrease.” And the wonder of it all is that as we focus on making the image and character of Christ become our daily pursuit…as we become more and more like Christ, we also become more and more like the person we were created to be, along with all the blessings that grow along with that.
If you were to ask most people, “So, how would you like to experience more love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, and even more in your life?” They would say something like, “Well, who wouldn’t?!” Of course! Those are the very things our souls long for! Those are the sweet fruits our souls crave! Those are the very things that satisfy the soul that nothing else can replace. And God, as the Master Gardner of our souls, will happily grow those in our lives as we…well, let’s put it this way…
One of the most blessed titles of God that is honored and enjoyed at Christmas is the Hebrew word “Immanuel”, meaning, as we know, “God with us”. And that’s about as comforting and encouraging to know as it gets; to know that our God came to save us because He wanted to be ‘with us’…with us in a Father and child relationship, and with us in a daily personal fellowship. Just think, our Creator wants to do life together with us. Just like He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the Garden of Eden. Just like He walked with His disciples around the roads of the regions of the Galilee…so He wants to walk with you and with me throughout the pathways of our life, and then walk us all the way Home, like He did with Chris and Harris and each of His children when it was time for them to walk Home to Heaven. He is “Immanuel”, God with us.
But there is another Hebrew phrase. It’s more than a word, it’s three words: “Othno am Alohim”. And it means “Us with God”! And that is the part that connects us to ‘Immanuel’ – ‘God with us’. ‘Us with God’ is the reciprocal and the reconciliatory part that connects us to the comfort and joy and encouragement and strength and the blessings of the fruit of the Spirit. Oh yes, God is our Immanuel, our God with us. But are we God’s ‘Othno am Alohim”… ‘Us with God?!’
‘Othno am Alohim’ is our response to Jesus’ call of ‘Follow Me’. It’s our ‘Yes Lord, I will.” Remember, there cannot be two Masters in our lives. And, as a child of God’s, if we still trying to be the Master, that immediately creates conflicts in our spirit, conflicts in our mind, and conflicts in our emotions. And we immediately forfeit the growth of everything our souls crave. You cannot be full of yourself and full of the Holy Spirit at the same time. The degree that you experience love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, goodness, and so forth is the degree that you are surrendering to the Lordship of Christ in your life. The degree that you experience the growth of the fruit of the Spirit is directly linked to the degree that you are living out ‘Othno am Alohim’… ‘Us with God!’ It’s like every morning Jesus calls to us, “I am with you…are you with Me?” That would make a great resolution right there, to, day by day, start your day with something like, “Lord Jesus, I know that You are with Me. And I want You to know that I am with You.”
To some, that kind of commitment sounds rather daunting. You’re not alone in that feeling. Do these words sound familiar? And the Message Bible actually portrays the point of this passage really well. The Message Bible is a paraphrase Bible and not a translation, but it does capture the struggle that Paul expresses here really well. So here it is: Rom 7:14-8:2- “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself — after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.” The Message Bible
Can you relate to that? I think we all can. Here is Paul talking as a saved man. Even as a saved man he was revealing that he couldn’t trust in himself for either salvation or for sanctification. The answer to both becoming a Christian and to then living the Christian life is not found in us! It’s only found in the Saviorhood of Christ and then living under the Lordship of Christ. This ‘something more’ that Paul was talking about is to both have trusted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and to then daily surrender to Christ’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to empower you to follow Him as Lord of your life! Mark it down: The Christian life is not to be lived by our will power. No, it is to be lived by our willingness to live under another power…our willingness to live under the power of the Holy Spirit.
Maybe that’s one change you need to make for living out this New Year. Remember: To become Born Again we had to turn from trusting in our own selves, our own merit or works, and trust in the sinless life and works of Jesus alone to save us from our sins and qualify us for Heaven. Now, in order to follow Jesus as His disciples, we have to turn from trusting in our own power and surrender to and depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit. We become sort of like a glove for the Hand of the Holy Spirit to work in and through us.
You know who else could have written similar words to what Paul wrote? His Gospel follows Matthew’s Gospel. You mean Mark? Yes…Mark. Now, we remember Peter’s vows about never deserting Jesus before His arrest. But do you recall who else vowed that? Mark 14:31- “No!” Peter declared emphatically. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the others vowed the same.” NLT Actually, each of the Disciples broke their vows and deserted Jesus at His arrest. Mark 14:50– tells us: “Then everyone deserted Him and fled.” But one Disciple, in particular, even acknowledged this about his own desertion. 51 – “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” NIV That was Mark himself. That was pretty humble, wouldn’t you say, to include that admission about himself?
And yet it’s like with each of the Disciples…they were very open about letting everyone know that even after being with Jesus and learning from Jesus, they too, were still learning that they couldn’t trust themselves, for they too, even as born again followers, were still failed and flawed in and of themselves. Why even later during Paul’s first missionary journey, Mark had gone with them, but for some reason he left the work. And it affected Paul in such a way that he disagreed with Barnabas about having Mark go with them on the second missionary journey, because he had lost confidence in Mark’s commitment. It wasn’t until later that Paul and Mark reconciled. But then they went on and served the Lord together again, with great commitment and in great friendship.
That is another amazing and remarkable thing about our Lord! He continually calls for His born again children to not only follow Him, but He also calls for them to ‘begin again’ when or if they have not been following Him as closely as they ought. ‘Begin again’…that is the direction that God is always wanting for you and for me to take. Remember, His mercies are new each morning…so, begin again. If you have drifted in your discipleship, begin again. If you have grown lukewarm in your love for the Lord, begin again. Return to your first love and do the deeds you did at first in following your Savior. If you have grown discouraged in yourself, begin again. And yet, as is said, ‘To be discouraged in yourself is to have trusted in yourself.’ So be careful about the direction of your trust. Remember, the branch trusts in the vine, not in itself as the source for what it needs. So look away from yourself to the real source of encouragement and strength and motivation…look to your Lord Jesus, the only Savior and daily Shepherd of your life, who calls you to come to Him and begin again…and again…and again.
And what a great time to begin again with a New Year. The New Year is all about beginnings. Remember, for those who are in Christ, born again with the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, you are never a prisoner of your past, for in Christ, old things have passed away, and all things are being made new. It’s never too late to become the person God created you to be. And even when you are seeking to follow Jesus, day by day, every new day is a call to begin again today! We are called each day to live today for the One who lived each day for us, and died for us, so that we could live again in Him. And to then live for Him, as Paul states in 2 Cor 5:14-15- “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” NASU
That would make another great resolution for the New Year…to decide ‘Who’ you are going to live for, yourself or for Christ? How about, ‘Resolved: to no longer live for myself, but to live for Christ who died and rose again on my behalf.’ And then watch what kind of changes happen in your life, and in your heart, and in your emotions when that becomes your mindset. And could it be that the key to the peace that everyone seeks is found not in ‘what’ you are living for, but in ‘Who’ you are living for? The Apostle Paul found that in living his life for the Prince of Peace, he could then live each day with the presence of peace in his life, even while living in a world at war. We can find the same.
Who are you living for? Not ‘what’ will you do this New Year, but ‘Who’ will you do it for? Who will you first seek to please in your thoughts, words, and deeds? What do you want to count from this New Year of your life, and in every coming year on into eternity?
To make sure that what you are doing counts, be sure to connect it to ‘Who’ you are doing it for! Whatever you do, do all to the glory and honor of Christ, who loved you and gave up His life to save you.
Jesus is your ‘Immanuel’…God with us. And each day we can be Jesus’ ‘Othno am Alohim’…Us with God.