Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
This is kind of a personal question, but how are your New Year Resolutions treating you? Let’s do it this way, who in here made a Resolution this new year (just raise your hand)? You can put your hands down. Now we are beginning our 5th week of the new year, has anyone already failed at their resolution or given it up? You don’t have to raise your hand for this one.
It’s estimated about 80% of resolutions fail by the second week in February. That’s a pretty astonishing rate. 80% of resolutions made for the new year, fail within 6 weeks. Thinking about an 80% failure, what other venture would you embark on if it had an 80% failure.
How about this:
New Year’s Airlines: We guarantee to get you there 20% of the time. Or
New Year’s Home insurance: We’ve got you covered 20% of year. Or
New Year’s bank: We guarantee that 20% of your money is secure.
It wouldn’t take long for those companies to fail. There would be no consumer confidence, people would be hurt. These are not good ideas. But yet, each year, it’s estimated that 40% of Americans embark on New Year’s resolutions. If have to confess that this year I’ve joined the crowd. I turn 30 in just a few weeks, and in the hopes of making this a good year I’ve resolved to being healthier. I’m being mindful of what I eat, I being mindful of what is in my food, and I am building habits of eating whole foods and less and less processed food. This has been great for me over these past few weeks.
But I know that Resolutions are hard for so many people. And when you fail at going through with something it can be hard. You may just shrug it off. Or you may get down on yourself and think that you’re a failure.
The New Year means resolutions and often failed resolutions, but for our youth, The New Year also means Resurrection. Resurrection is a youth spiritual retreat that happens each year. Just last week we had a great group of youth and adults who spent the weekend together in Pigeon Forge. We weren’t the only ones, in fact, we were joined 12,000 others who descended on the Smokey Mountains ready to see what God would do. For some of our students this was their first trip, and for some of them they had been there many times.
It was such a blessing to be with them. There was a great band who led in worship. I’ve never seen a band play so many different kinds of instruments. The worship was inspired. And the speaker challenged our students to step out and make commitments for Jesus. He challenged our students to live lives for Jesus. Some of them went forward and celebrated.
On Saturday evening after worship we made our way back to the cabin. It was late, but Andrew and I had talked and we knew we wanted some time for our youth to process the weekend and what was going on in their lives. We split into two groups: high school and middle school. I was with the high schoolers and we just talked.
One of the common themes I heard is that many of them had an encounter with God on the weekend. We celebrated this, but they were also unsure what do when they got back home, back to school. Some reflected on how they gone to Resurrection in the past but were never really able to stay close with God. And they worried about that happening again.
Just as so many people fail at our new years resolutions, our youth are worried about failing to stay connected with God.
These concerns are valid and they deal with difficult realities. But I want you to know that we are not alone. If we look at the Bible I think we can get some insight that might help us. Paul was writing to the Philippians, and he had this to say:
12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose.
Here Paul is talking about a goal that he has in mind. This goal that Paul is talking about is kind of explained earlier, but he is talking about being a complete Christian—perfected as Paul says. This term perfected or perfection to describe Christians was also used by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Wesley taught that perfection for a Christian was marked by two things: perfect love of God and perfect love of others.
Paul is telling that he hasn’t reached this goal yet. That he is not yet perfection. Paul wrote much, so, for me it’s comforting to know, that Paul didn’t think he was perfect yet.
Though he hasn’t perfect, Paul tells us that he pursued it—he pursued loving God and loving others. He keeps reaching for it; he keeps working for it; he keeps aiming for it. Because God has grabbed him, God has put this resolution in his heart. God has given Paul the purpose of working toward this goal, so Paul works for it.
But we all know when work for a goal we can fail. When we are working for a goal we will often backtrack. Sometimes even when you have some success you can just rest for a while. Paul continues to talk about this. He says in verse 13:
13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me.
You know, that’s kind of an odd statement—I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. It is an odd statement, but forgetting plays an important role in reaching our goals in life and in faith.
I think about the teenagers I spent the weekend with. They know from their experience that they can had a difficult time keeping close to God when they return home from youth trips. I think about all those that have embarked on New years resolutions. If the past is any indicator, real life change will have about an 80% success rate.
But here’s the deal. You are not your past. And there can good in forgetting.
It’s good to forget a sense of guilt or failure that weighing you down. It’s good to forget negative attitudes or feeling that are hurting you, bringing you down, holding you back.
For our young people, they need to forget that the idea that they might failed at relationship with God. They need to refocus and begin again with the fresh start that God is giving them.
Another place where forgetting is good is too often people harbor grudges and ill will towards others. Maybe towards a family member. Maybe towards a long lost friend. Maybe toward their church or a member of a church.
I have, unfortunately, seen first had what happens in a church ill will is allowed to grow and fester. I have seen, with my own eye, how this ill will gets a mind of it’s own and can linger for years and years. Whenever anything new is about it happen, or God might help move new way, the ill will is remembered, and the movement of God is hampered.
I know that it is easier said than done, but some things need to be forgotten.
It’s not just bad stuff that needs to be forgotten. Have you ever met someone that really thinks a lot of themselves. They are a really great person, just ask them about it and they will tell you how great they are. On TV and in the news this type of personality seems to be normalized, but this is not way to live a healthy spiritual life.
That’s what Paul is telling us. Paul has planted churches, he’s brought countless people to Jesus, he’s arrested for the faith, he has had deep spiritual experiences. This is a man who could go into retirement and think that his life’s work is accomplished. But instead, Paul tells us that he works to forget all he has done.
He does this, because if you live in the past you can’t grow into who God wants you to be.
Since this new began we have been focusing on the theme of new beginnings. We remembered our baptisms, and in that we recall how God calls us, claims us, and gives a new start. We’ve talked bout remember where we have been to help us begin again. It’s also important, today, to recognize that forgetting failures, ill will, forgetting bad stuff can help us move forward into a new start.
If we look back to Paul’s instructions, he doesn’t just say forget. Paul says, forget and reach out to the things ahead. I want to challenge you to forget some and to reach out ahead. Don’t be defined by your past, God has great things for you, and he is calling on your to reach to work for them.
Since we are approaching the time in the year when we find 80% of New Years resolutions fail, maybe this is a time for you to refocus, reevaluate, to forget feelings of failure and to reach for what God wants you to do. Maybe it’s healing, maybe it’s health, maybe it’s deeper discipleship, maybe it’s something that is so specific to you that only you and God know. But now if our chance to do as Paul encourages us: reach for it.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.