The New Year presents a blank slate. People leap at the opportunity to start over. Along with millions being spent on gym memberships, a host of classic self-help books will be running off the shelves.
Just take the list of some of the best selling books of all time. Books that sell millions of copies and have been doing so for years. These books reflect what is in the hearts of Americans and many Christians.
- Dale Carnegie – “How to Win Friends and Influence People” The book tells us to never offend people. Unfortunately, the Gospel is always going to be offensive. Jesus promises division.
- Napoleon Hill – “Think and Grow Rich” I’ve read this one. It is the foundation stone of the Health, Wealth and Prosperity Gospel that seeks to manipulate and control God to get goodies from Him.
- Norman Vincent Peale – “The Power of Positive Thinking”. This is Donald Trumps favorite book. You imagine and confess the universe you want and the very creation responds to your words and becomes what you desire.
These books have spawned all of the books that came after them– “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki (massive best seller), Zig Ziglar and some of his writings, “The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas Stanley and on-and-on. People will build their year off of the wisdom from these writings. Some of their insights can be good, even brilliant, but they have some of the same foundational aspects built on making men the center of all things. They are books founded on our own self-centered idolatry and a quest to become great for our own sakes.
Scripture takes a different route for the directions for living.
I was contemplating how to best set a vision for living boldly for God in 2018. During my end of year daily Bible reading, God provided that Inspiration for my 2018 resolutions from the Old Testament prophets.
If there is anything to aspire to be, it should be to know the most important being in the universe. OT prophets tell me what God likes and who He likes to be with.
The OT prophets range of ministry was perhaps most active during the time of the Divided Kingdom and then the later the exile.
Upon the death of Solomon, the Kingdom of Israel was divided into North and South. Solomon’s son Rehoboam had promised the people that he would exact more taxes and work them harder than his father every had – hardly a wise son – and the people revolted splitting the kingdom in two. The North half was known as Israel. Israel would have as its capital Shechem, Tisrah and Samaria over the years of its existence. The Southern Kingdom was known as Judah. Judah retained its capital in Jerusalem.
The Old Testament prophets became very vocal in this season because the divided nations began to depart from God. There was a long secession of kings in both nations that somehow found a way to best each other at doing evil. Eventually, God would reveal to the prophets that there would be nations to come take Israel and Judah into exile. Assyria would take Israel in 722 BC. Babylon would arise and conquer Judah and start taking them into exile around 607 BC.
If we boiled down the reason that could would send the Kingdom of Israel and Judah into exile, it comes down to one massive and ugly thing – idolatry. These people turned from the living God who dwelt in their midst in the temple and they began to worship images fashioned to fit their own imaginations.
- We do the same… Our idols are not made out of wood, stone and metal, but our idols are still fashioned from our wicked hearts of sinful rebellion. Our idols are even more self-evident a worship of our own power, our own fame, our own self-love and pride and our own desires to dominate and to ascend above others.
- Our New Year Resolutions often glorify our idols. Healthier body. Why? More money. More power. More appeal to the ladies or young men. More dominance in the work place or business world.
- Be aware that God smashes idolatry. He did it for Israel and Judah. He used earth straddling nations to discipline them and to break their heart of idolatry.
- It is the turmoil caused by these conquering world-powers and all of the smaller nations squabbling over the crumbs that would form much of the content of the prophetic messages.
Transition: The Old Testament prophets give unique insight into resolutions that will please God, not merely please men. The prophets had a unique insight, given by God into the character qualities God loves and the people who are the focus of His working in the world. We should want to hear their message.
Our first Old Testament prophet is Micah.
- Dwelling in a largely agricultural part of the country, Micah lived outside the governmental centers of power in his nation, leading to his strong concern for the lowly and less fortunate of society—the lame, the outcasts, and the afflicted (Micah 4:6). Therefore, Micah directed much of his prophecy toward the powerful leaders of Samaria and Jerusalem, the capital cities of Israel and Judah, respectively (1:1).
- In Micah 6:6-8, the prophet summarizes much of the content of the book bearing his name:
Micah 6:6-8 –
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (presumed answser is “no”)
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
- God has told us exactly what he wants us to do. Micah lists the 3 items forming the trifecta of what He desires for people.
- Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.
- Some have tried to turn these points in Malachi into the Gospel. You get saved by doing these things. Not the case. These are the fruit of the Gospel in changing lives. If your life has been touched by the Holy Spirit, you will want to do these things.
- Do Justice – “Act in a just, fair way towards others. Treat them the way you want to be treated.”
- Love kindness – “Don’t just show mercy, but love to show it. Give others the same measure of mercy you want to receive from God.”
- Walk humbly – Walking humbly with God is understanding our place in relationship to God and understanding His place. He is not the Cosmic Slot Machine giving us all the goodies we could ever want. We have no control over God. We cannot manipulate Him or hide things from Him.
- Resolutions on doing justice, loving kindness and mercy and walking humbly with God – What does this look like?
- Looks like people that resolve to discipline their children in love. Every time you discipline, you do so not from anger, but with a purpose. You are going to do justice, show mercy and demonstrate walking humbly to your children. Every act of discipline will have a time of reconciliation with your children. Never just a spank or harsh word and release. Some of you may need to start disciplining your kids consistently so that justice is done.
- Following these patterns that God looks for in His looks like people that don’t fly into a rage or gossip when they get offended, but who attempt to understand what the other side is feeling and then goes out of the way to see them in the best light possible.
- It looks like people who do want good things for the widow, the orphan and the elderly. Could that be a family resolution? Travel once a month to a senior citizen home and minister in music and conversation to old people that need friendship, that need Jesus?
- Walking humbly may mean that you change how decisions are made in your family. Instead of trying merely to build career or to build business or to keep your reputation or to polish your child or to get an education, you submit all of your decisions humbly to prayer and the Word of God. Even the ones for which you think you know the answer already. You resolve to ask God first what you should do before making any major decision.
- Young men, don’t despise doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly. As a young Christian, I once despised what I considered to be the soft things of Christianity.
- I’m reminded of the old story, Teddy’s Button.
- Teddy was a brash young man who idolized his father – a man who had lost his life in a bloody war, but died in an act of courage fighting the enemy. His son, Teddy, clutched a button that was a symbol of his pride in his father’s sacrifice. He took it with him everywhere he went.
- Teddy longed to fight the greatest enemies – to do valiant deeds like his father before him.
- His over eagerness to fight and do manly things drew the attention of the local pastor during an angry outburst in church and Teddy was invited to see him. The pastor promised to show Teddy the greatest enemy that he would ever face – one that would test every bit of his manly mettle.
- When Teddy came into the room wanting to know what his mission and purpose in life would be and what enemy he would be demanded to face, the pastor had him face a mirror.
- The greatest enemy was himself.
- Everything that would truly test his manliness, discipline, that would bring out his valor and his nobility was to be found in resisting the great enemy of self.
- There is a power in bringing your will under the authority of Christ, young man.
Transition: There is a tremendous strength that must be exercised to doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly and it can transform your life if they are done with purpose. What does the Lord require of you? Those three things! Should you find any other endeavors as nearly as important? Have a hunger to hear what God wants from you. Understand that what God wants will reveal the most noble and exciting and challenging life you could ever lead.
Yet another prophet that bears scrutiny is Habakkuk.
- His book is arranged in such a way that he brings complaints against God and God answers.
- His complaints center around not seeing justice. Evil people are getting away with things. God’s people are surrounded by evil. They are literally being invaded by evil, foreign powers and Habbakuk is concerned – “The wicked surround the righteous…” (1:4).
- We often get into a spiritual state of depression because of the evil growing in the United States culture. Government, music, art and entertainment have an overwhelming sexuality, abandon to evil, rejection of God’s Guidance and the accompanying blessings. We get overwhelmed. Habakkuk shows signs that he too was overwhelmed, perhaps depressed and certainly despairing of the situations around him – both personal and to his nation.
- Habakkuk hears God’s revelation and responds in a life changing way in in 3:17-19:
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
- Did you catch what he is talking about?
- The response from Habbakuk to a vision of God’s future justice is to be “content in one’s circumstances.
- For you, your resolution is to be content in the circumstances that God has provided (not matter what they are in) in 2018.
- If God is sovereign and if you are beloved people (and both are true), then the plight you find yourself in is not meant to destroy you, but to refine you.
- Lose your job? “I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
- Kids rebellious and causing chaos in the home? “God the Lord, is my strength.”
- People offending you and talking about you? “He makes me tread on my high places.”
- Your health failing or a family member’s health failing?
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom…nor fruit be on the vines,the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord…
- Can you resolve not to be weakened by your circumstances? Can you resolve not to become bitter and withdrawn and anxious and angry over what God provides you in 2018? But instead to take comfort in God? That is a good resolution. I resolve to be content in what God has provided.
Transition: Habbakuk has had a good Word for us. Malachi will also speak profoundly in the 3rd chapter.
Malachi’s ministry took place nearly a hundred years after the decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C., which ended the Babylonian captivity and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and to rebuild the temple (2 Chron. 36:23).
- This was some 80 years after Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the rebuilding of the temple.
- Those two earlier prophets had said that the rebuilding of the temple would result in peace, prosperity, the conversion of people from other nations, and the return of God’s own glorious presence (see Haggai 2; Zech. 1:16–17; 2:1–13; 8:1–9:17).
- To the discouraged people of Malachi’s day, these predictions must have seemed a cruel mockery. In contrast to the glowing promises, they faced economic difficulties due to drought and crop failure (Mal. 3:11). They remained an insignificant territory, no longer an independent nation and no longer ruled by a Davidic king. Worst of all, despite the promise of God’s presence, they experienced only spiritual decline.
- They tired of waiting for God’s promises and were beginning to show it through giving God their scraps. They started bringing God defective things – their cast offs. They gave to the Lord, but the quality of their giving showed their hearts were drifting.
- The summation of his book may arguably be found in Malachi 3:10
- Malachi 3:10 – 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.11 I will rebuke the devourer[b] for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.
- To shorten that and to fashion it into a 2018 resolution – “Be generous with God in 2018.”
- Don’t give God the worst of your efforts, your resources and your worship. Give God the best that you have.
- The passage says that God blesses those that are generous with Him. Do you not want the generosity of God? Don’t let your heart drift away from Him. Don’t show a diminished praise by giving him second rate sacrifices. Trust that your gifts to God are not throwing away your resources. Trust that God is good and gracious and kind enough to bless you.
Transition: Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly, be content with your circumstances, be generous with God… We are beginning to compile a list of resolutions that God loves to see in His people.
Now turn to Isaiah. Go to Isaiah 66:3.
- Isaiah is probably the prince of prophets. He prophesies during the rise of Assyria – that first great power that will take the Divided Kingdom of Israel into exile.
- Isaiah’s interaction with God’s revelation is stunning. Within Isaiah, there are a number of Servant Songs – some of my most favorite passages in all of Scripture that give us a picture of Jesus Christ hundreds of years before the incarnation. Jesus is pictured as the Faithful Servant of God who perfectly does God’s will, is rejected by men and who dies for their sins. Awesome book. Filled with God’s wisdom.
- The central theme of the book is God himself, who does all things for his own glory (48:11). Isaiah defines everything else by how it relates to God: is it rightly related to him as the center of all reality (45:22–25)? God’s people find strength only as they rest in the promises of their God (30:15). They find refreshment only as they delight themselves in his word (55:1–2).
- In 2018, God does not desire massive sacrifices, a fatter tithe, legendary exploits.
- Consider what he says in Isaiah 66:3…
3 “He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man;
he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck;
he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood;
he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol.
These have chosen their own ways,
and their soul delights in their abominations;
4 I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.”
- The sacrifices that the Israelites thought that God most honored are seen as filthy, worthless things. They are equated to murdering a man, breaking a dog’s neck or offering pigs blood – all vile things in the eyes of God. God does not desire mere acts without a true heart of worship behind them.
- Instead, God desires something much different per Isaiah. The summation of Isaiah’s message is in 66:1-2. Look at that.
66 Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
2 All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.
- What does that mean? “The one to whom I will look”? Well, God is not a man that has to search around like we would look for a pen in a junk drawer. He does not have physical eyes that have to turn to lock His gaze on someone – Scripture tells us that God is spirit. For God to “look to” a man or woman means that God will cast His favor on them. That man or woman will experience the blessing, the presence and the power of God in their life.
- That phrase “The one to whom I will look” should captivate us. If you are a child of God, don’t you want His favor? Don’t you want to walk with Him, have His blessing, feel His presence, use His wisdom to navigate through life’s difficult questions and problems? I want God to “look to” me. And God looks to the humble, contrite in spirit and those that tremble at His word.
- The theme of being humble is all throughout the words of the Old Testament prophets.
- Wakefield tells the story of the famous inventor Samuel Morse who was once asked if he ever encountered situations where he didn’t know what to do. Morse responded, “More than once, and whenever I could not see my way clearly, I knelt down and prayed to God for light and understanding.”
- Morse received many honors from his invention of the telegraph but felt undeserving: “I have made a valuable application of electricity not because I was superior to other men but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone and He was pleased to reveal it to me.”
- It was John Riskin who said, “I believe the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean by humility, doubt of his own power, or hesitation in speaking his opinion. But really great men have a … feeling that the greatness is not in them but through them; that they could not do or be anything else than God made them.”
- Andrew Murray said, “The humble man feels no jealousy or envy. He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him. He can bear to hear others praised while he is forgotten because … he has received the spirit of Jesus, who pleased not Himself, and who sought not His own honor. Therefore, in putting on the Lord Jesus Christ he has put on the heart of compassion, kindness, meekness, longsuffering, and humility.” M.R. De Haan used to say, “Humility is something we should constantly pray for, yet never thank God that we have.”
- God loves humility because it relies on God for an understanding of what a man is.
- God also loves per our passage, the contrite in spirit.
- To be contrite means that you have remorse, you feel sorry, you demonstrate that you feel guilt. It basically is a synonym for repentance – a change of mind and heart that agrees with God that sin is evil and ugly.
- Among the Old Testament prophets, I don’t think that any prophet covers repentance and its power better than Jonah. Jonah 4:6-10 shows how a contrite king of Nineveh found favor with God.
6 The word reached[c] the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
- That phrase “contrite in spirit” means “practicing ongoing repentance.” God loves a repentant heart. He blesses it with His favor. Continually and perpetually takes your sins before God in the new year. Make 2018 a year of contrition for your heart. God looks to a man or woman who resonates with this.
- Finally, Isaiah places emphasis on God desiring to be with people who “tremble at My word.”
- Trembling at God’s word means that you understand that there is nothing in the universe that is more related to your welfare and to your well being than the Word of God.
- The Words of God are not some empty sentences on a page. They are the life giving, life sustaining moment by moment direction of a universe shattering God who has seen fit to reveal in 66 finite books His infinite will, person and kindness.
- Do not take this book lightly. Those who ignore it will be damned. Those who embrace it will be blessed.
- Do you still tremble at His Word? Do you understand what is at stake when you crack it open?
- Perhaps you have grown cold and indifferent to the word of God and you no longer tremble.
- Do you understand that ignoring or being apathetic to God’s Word has a tremendous and devastating cost to you, your family and your future?
- When you neglect family devotions, do you understand that you are depriving yourself of hearing from the life Giving God?
- Life and peace and wisdom were within your reach and you chose something else to replace it?
- Do you weigh fully the consequence that you are inviting darkness into your home through neglecting God’s word and treating it as something less than it is?
- John 6:63 states that “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
- God looks to people that treat His Word as consequential. He looks to people and blesses them with His presence and favor who understand that the Word of God is the most impactful, earth shattering, life changing and powerful thing in existence.
Weigh your resolutions. Maybe you have none at all. Wake up. Live life with purpose and hold fast to what God has delivered to you? What could be higher for you to resolve in 2018 than to walk closer to the greatest Being ever? To be close to his wisdom, to be discerning through dangerous circumstances, to have His blessing because He is present with you?
Some may walk away from learning life lessons from the Old Testament Prophets about what God blesses and they may walk away from this whole resolutions thing and want nothing to do with it. Is it too small a thing to resolve to do justice, love kindness, walk humbly, be content with your circumstances, be generous with God, practice daily repentance and to tremble at His word? You have greater things do in life than to walk in God’s presence, to have His blessings, to use His wisdom to solve life’s greatest difficulties and challenges?
Perhaps you have no ambition at all? Father, mother, son or daughter, God has blessings and guidance and strength right at the tips of your fingers. They are within your grasp. Why do you not take hold of the best that God has to offer?
What could be more consequential than having the blessing of the Creator of the Universe? Resolve with strength and clarity that you cannot do better than to build 2018 around doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly, finding contentment with your circumstances, being generous with God, practicing daily repentance and trembling at His word.