I'm surely glad to wish all of you a happy New Year. The old year isn't done yet; we've still got three more days after today. In those three days we can accomplish a lot. I know of something that we ought to do. And, I'm going to call it, "Closing the Gate."
Once upon a time not too many years ago, a famous journalist was out golfing. He was golfing with a man by the name of Lloyd George, who was also famous. They had occasion to cross some fields in which cattle were grazing on their golf game. They had to go through the gate. As they went, the journalist was intent on catching every word the famous man and he didn't quite get the gate shut all the way. Lloyd George noticed it and went back and carefully shut and fastened the gate.
Then Mr. George told of an old Doctor who had recently passed away. When he lay dying he called his sons and daughters to his bedside and urged them as they made their way through life to close every gate behind them through which they passed. Mr. George told the writer, "You know, I probably owe not more to that morsel of wisdom than everything I have. That has meant so much to me. That's the greatest sentence I've ever heard. Be sure to close every gate behind you."
Just as there were cattle grazing in the field from which Mr. Lloyd George and his friend had passed, those cattle that had no right to stray into the new field that the two men had now entered. Just so, there are many things in a similar way that have no right to pass from the year 2002 into the year 2003. You need to close the gate on many things. Some of those things that need to be shut off maybe would be grief. For instance, some of you may have lost a loved one in the past year or two or three. Maybe it's time that you began to move on from that loss. Maybe it's time for you to ask God to help you to close the door on that pain and to move on. Maybe the hurt that you have experienced. Maybe some of you have been cut to the heart by something that somebody said, or something they did, or that they shouldn't have done. Maybe you need to move on from that. Maybe you need to give forgiveness and get forgiveness. It you carry that grudge over into the year 2003, then I think you will be severely damaged in your future relations with God because of that.
In our Scripture reading this morning; Philippians 3:13,14. "Brothers, I haven't achieved. I'm not perfect yet. But I do this one thing; forgetting the things that are behind me I press on." So, he's forgetting, and he's straining toward the goal.
The old year is almost gone and I think that we need to forget the things that are behind us. We need to leave them behind. Don't carry them on into the future. Start with a fresh page. Get rid of those old things. Forgive the others that have hurt you. Get serious about Jesus. Maybe you have been on the periphery of a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. It's time for you to move into the center of that. Stop hanging around the skirts of the church and get into the heart of Jesus.
I'd like for you to turn to Titus. Here Paul told Titus to do something very special. Titus was facing something phenomenal. Titus 1:5 KJV, Paul said to Titus, set in order the things that are wanting. We need to do that. Are there some things in your life that need to be set in order?
The Italians used to have a custom. As New Year's Eve approaches, the streets are clear. There is no traffic. No cars are parked on the streets. Not even a pedestrian walks the sidewalk. Even the policemen take cover. At the stroke of midnight the windows of the houses fly open. With the sound of laughter, music and fireworks, each member of the family pitches out old things. The clutter, the bad things are ejected from each house. Anything that has held them down; things of sorrow, hated furniture, ornaments, junk are all ousted to make room for the new. We need to get rid of the old.
We should have a spiritual house cleaning. Now is the time, not spring cleaning. We must wipe out of our life and our minds anything that is preventing us from attaining our goal of Christ-likeness and full surrender to Jesus. Jesus has high expectations for you. Maybe this is the year you need to be baptized. Maybe this is the year that you really need to step out in faith and do something for the Lord; start a Bible study, help out in the children's divisions, give that special gift for the building fund, do your daily devotions. Maybe you should read the Bible through this year. There's something that you should be doing for Jesus Christ. Are you ready to close the gate?
Come over here to Isaiah in your Bible. Isaiah 38 Hezekiah was interested in what he needed to do. God told him what he needed to do. Isaiah 38:1. In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, "This is what the Lord says: 'Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.'" So, you need to put your house in order. We don't expect that you're supposed to die, but suppose you would die? Suppose that between now and New Year's Day that you would die. Would you be ready? Are there some things you need to take care of? I think there are. There may be some unmended fences. There may be some unfinished problems. Every attorney knows that before the closing you need to get all the paperwork in order. And you never know when your closing is going to be. Would you be ready if you were to die today? Maybe today is the day you need to commit you life to Jesus Christ.
What good would it be to close the gate on unmended fences or unfinished problems? Every attorney knows that before the closing all the paper work must be in order. Is your life in order? If Jesus were to come New Years Day, would you be ready to go?
I remember in Hickory, North Carolina, Boyd Hilton was a friend of mine and he sensed somehow that he was going to die. I don't know how he knew that. Sure enough, a couple years later he did die. And so, his folks had built this house. They had had it surveyed originally and it hadn't been done for eighty years. He knew where all the old markers were and so he got the company and he got all that survey while he was still alive and could remember the borders. He made out his will, and then he died. I think he was about sixty-five. He used to work at the radio station. He set his house in order. Is your house in order?
Some people even go to the extent that they will buy their grave plot. They will even buy their headstone. They will even put their name and their birth-date on it. I don't think very many put their death date on the headstone because we don't know that.
If we can make that kind of preparation for our passing into death, can't we make even a greater preparation for our passing into eternity, to eternal life?
Ahithophel was a wise counselor in David's day. Just before his death he also set his house in order. In 2 Samuel 17:23 the Bible says ...He put his house in order. We need to do that.
Just before Jesus' death He set his house in order. Not until all was complete and fulfilled did he die on the cross. John 19:28. Knowing that all was now completed... He was then able to die then on the cross. Not until He knew in His mind that everything was done would He die on the cross. Everything was completed, His house was in order. And we need to get our house in order.
As each year ends a wonderful opportunity presents itself to the Christian. What a great time to disconnect from bad habits. Maybe you are chained to tobacco or hooked on alcohol or hamstrung by drugs. Perhaps food is your hangup. Maybe you are tied down by a spirit of criticism. Perhaps at home you yell at the kids and yet you are an elder in the church. Things are not right. Your spiritual life is a facade and your kids know it. Why not shut the gate on that way of life today? No more after this Tuesday. Begin 2003 differently.
You need to make that change now, because the clock of life is wound but once. You don't know how tightly the Maker wound your spring. You don't know how many heart beats you have. None of us has the power to say just when the hands will stop. Now is the only time we own to do His precious will and prepare for the arrival of the future. Don't wait till tomorrow because the hands on the clock might stop moving. Do it today. Psalm 95:7 NRSV, ...O that today you would listen to his voice!
Someday you are going to meet an old man. Somewhere down the road 10, 20 or 30 years from now he will be waiting there for you. I'll tell you what may happen. He may be a seasoned soft, gracious fellow, a gentleman who has grown old gracefully. One who is surrounded by a host of good friends who look up to him in honor and respect. Or he could be a sour old codger, a person who doesn't have very many friends at all. There's not much honor to his name, a friendless loner, a hermit.
That old man will be you. You are going to meet yourself. An old woman, an old man. Maybe you're already an old man. Maybe you've already done it. But someday, most of us are going to meet that old man. And he will be the sum total of everything you say, do and think today and each day afterwards. And he will be hardened, crystallized, unchangeable. You know, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. That's what they say. Those people who get old can't change. If you get down into that critical spirit too deep, it's got you. The plastic in your life, nobody can change it or they'll just crack it and destroy it. Now is the time for you to make the change while you can. Every little thought, every deed that you do, every word you say, goes into the making of this old man. If you live selfishly today, you will be an egotistical self-serving old man someday. Smaller, drier, harder, crabbier and close fisted.
If you live unselfishly today, if you live a wonderful God- fearing life, if you have family devotions, if you pray, And if you do the best you can, you're going to be a kind elderly stately gentleman or lady some day. But if not, you won't want to meet yourself. So, make sure that as you walk the road of life, that you are becoming what Jesus Christ wants you to be.
The little decisions you make today will some day harden into what we call your character. And that's the only thing you can take to heaven with you. So, check up on that old man. Work him over while he's still plastic and malleable because someday you won't be able to do that. You'll be crystallized like paralysis. Your hardness will have set.
So, be wise and close the gate on a critical spirit. Let's close the gate on anything that is taking you down a path you will later be sorry for. Build quality into your life so that way on down the path the old man you meet will be a splendid old gentleman, someone you will enjoy. Come over here to Galatians 6:7 Now I would like for you to look at this verse. It says Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. If you sow criticism you will become critical. Whatever you sow, that is what you're going to become.
Now let me assure you that no gate is too difficult for you to close.
So shut the gate on whatever those bad habits are: drugs, alcohol, smoking, overeating, lashing out at people, whatever it is. Let's shut the gate on selfishness and faultfinding. Shut out that critical spirit and pray for a positive attitude.
Three and a half years or so ago I had the privilege of going for a bicycle trip on the Virginia Creeper Trail. I took my bicycle and went down that trail. I started at the top. I went dow the trail. O, it was so much fun. For 30 miles the old railroad bed winds through the woods down a high mountain. We crossed many a high trestle over the deep valleys far below. Some of the trestles were very long. It is awesome. At one point, after you get through a little town down there, the trail begins to level out. You begin to go through among houses. Pretty soon, that trail leads you through farming areas. Well, I noticed that the trail would come up to a gate and the sign said to "Be sure to shut this gate behind you." So I would open the gate, wheel my bicycle through, shut the gate securely and go on. I happened to be in one farm field and lo and behold, right beside the trail was a buckeye tree. Now I'm from Indiana and I like buckeyes. They are never so pretty as when they are shiny. You can open up those pods and here is a shiny buckeye. O, I just loved that! I used to bring them home by the pocketful. I'd put them in my drawer until finally the worms developed in the drawer and my mother had to throw them out, I think.
But anyway, I was under this buckeye tree enjoying some of these pretty shiny buckeyes and happened to look up and notice that, lo and behold, in this same field were a bunch of cattle and in among those cattle was a big bull. I happened to look down and I was wearing red. I thought, "Mama, this might not be too good."
The bull looked like he weighed a thousand pounds anyway. And, he had horns. I noticed that I was quite a ways from either gate. I know that haste makes waste, but I made haste. And I got to that gate, and I want to tell you that I had a fine feeling because the bull was walking in my direction the whole time. And when that gate shut, and I was on the other side of it, I felt real good, as you can imagine.
Would you like to feel real good about your spiritual life? Are there some things that you need to leave on the other side of the gate?
1 Timothy 5:24 speaks of people who have a severe sin problem. And it says Their sins "trail behind them." Do you look behind your life and you see nothing but aa trail of sin back there that you have left along that path? Somehow we need to shut that pattern of sin off. We must sever ourselves from the old life of sin. Through Jesus we can!
Are there areas in your life that need to be left behind? You hear about this "Left Behind Series," you know. We need to leave behind some things, some things in our lives that aren't right. Maybe there's a big bad bull, not in your neighborhood, but maybe he lives in your heart. Maybe you're goring your family and you're snorting around the house, you know. Then you go to church and you look so nice. The Lord knows you. And, you know yourself. It's time to change that through the power of Jesus Christ, you can make that change. You really can.
As you enter the door to a new year, through the power of our Savior, Jesus Christ, you can shut out anything that is preventing you from becoming what Jesus wants you to be. Any objectionable character trait. It can happen.
Remember when the children of Israel crossed of the Red Sea back there in Exodus 14:19-20? They came up to the Red Sea. There it was. The Army of Egypt was chasing them just like the old Devil, He's always on our heels. The devil was after them. And the Army of Egypt came up there. They had set out to live a new life. They left Egypt, they left all that behind, and here it was, chasing them. Do you ever feel like that? This force from the past was about to overtake them. And they would be drawn back down into slavery again. And it would probably be worse than the first time. At that critical junction, do you know what they did? They prayed. They prayed for the Lord to help them. And do you know what the Lord did? That angel that was leading them turned around and went behind them and became a dark cloud. And the Egyptians and the devil couldn't find them. And they were protected. And then he opened up a dry path and led them through and then he shut it off on the Egyptians.
God can do that for you. He can bury your old problems and they'll never rise again if you give them to Him, if you pray, if you submit your life to Him. We are pursued by grief, by sorrow, by sins, by bad habits, by undesirable character traits, but the good news is that we have a God that not only wants to lead us to heaven, but He will become our back door and shut the gate and help us shut that gate to any of theme objectionable things in our lives. God wants to do that for us. I don't know about you, but I want to pray that God will help me to shut off anything in my life that ought not to be there. Any behavior, before I get shut out of eternity. Not that behavior saves us; it doesn't. Well, I want to honor Jesus, don't you? I want to honor Him in my life. Isaiah 52 makes an interesting statement about the future, and about God and His helping us. Look at Isaiah 52:12 RSV. It says, ...the Lord will go ahead of you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. That's pretty nice, isn't it. "God will be your rear guard." He will go back there and keep the forces of the past from coming back into your life to drag you down into slavery again. I will tell you that God is a gate-closing God.
Revelation 22:11 is a text that tells us that someday God is going to close the gates to eternity, and it won't be open any more. We call that the "close of human probation." Here is what this verse says: Revelation 22:11 KJV. He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still. You aren't going to be able to switch. Your plastic has hardened, you see. And you are going to be the way you are. I don't know when that will happen, but soon this irrevocable sentence will be passed and the gate to eternity life will be closed. And you will not get in. You will be shut out, unless you're on the right side of the gate. So, let's make sure we're on the right side today, and the right side is Jesus' side. People who love Jesus more than they love the world, that's the side to be on.
Friends, we need to get our house in order. We need to make sure we're right with Jesus.
Friends, go home and get your house in order. Put Jesus first in your life. Invite Jesus to take charge of your heart. If you are not baptized, get baptized. Do whatever it takes to be ready and establish that saving relationship with Jesus. Close the gate on the Devil and walk into that open door to a new life with Jesus.
I would like to make a call here in this church. We have the whole thing open for us by the Sabbath School Division (Thirteenth Sabbath Program today). And I appreciate that. And so this is open for you to come. I would like to make a call to any of you who would like to be baptized and you would like to join the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Maybe you never have been baptized, or maybe you've been baptized but you'd like to be baptized and join the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This doesn't mean that you'll be baptized today, but if there's some person here that would like to be baptized and would like to just come forward and be right here and say, "i would like to be baptized and join and be a member of this church. Will you, young or old, would you just come forward at this time. Amen!
Maybe you would like to be re-baptized. Baptism is your goal. Yes! Praise the Lord. Just come and stand up here beside me. Anybody else? If you would like to be baptized or re-baptized, come forward. There are several of you! Amen! Anybody else? Here comes another young man. Anybody else? Anyone?
I would like to have prayer for these people. Let's bow our heads.
Dear Father in heaven, how wonderful it is to make decisions for Jesus Christ...
It could be that there is someone sitting in the pews that would like to be baptized and if so, please lead them to take a card from the pew and fill it out and mark "Baptism. Then give the card to a pastor or elder so that you could plan on being baptized in the future.
And Dear Father, There may be others who are here today who...
I would like to make a general call. Any of you who are seated here with your heads bowed, if you would like to re-commit your life to Jesus Christ, anybody, would you please stand at this time. Quite a few are standing.
Now, Lord, you see whom is standing. Maybe even some are thinking about standing. Some are seated, maybe even. What ever Your will is for our lives, help us to shut the gate to the old and open it fully to Jesus Christ. Whatever decisions we are standing and making, maybe there's some old habit that needs to be gotten rid of. Maybe there's some new consecration that needs to come in. We all need growing, and we all need growth. We pray that we might all grow in Jesus Christ. So, bless each decision that is made here today, and may the next year be an exciting and wonderful year. Thank You, for we pray it in Jesus' Name, Amen.
Hymn of Praise: #137, We Three Kings Scripture: Philippians 3:12-14 Hymn of Response: #189, All That Thrills My Soul 021228#148
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last updated 12/29/2002 by Bob Beckett.