Pastor Barry Robinson

Letters to the Camberwell Congregation from Pastor Barry Robinson

New Year 2009

New Year 2009

Download a PDF version of this letter.

Dear Church Family,

It’s that time of year again when in a fit of optimism many of us will make great promises to ourselves about what we are going to do in the New Year and yet we usually find we’ve abandoned them by the second week in January.

Well this year I am determined it’s going to be different. I have made a couple of New Years resolutions I know I will be able to keep for the whole of 2009. I have decided to:

  • Eat more and exercise less; and
  • Spend more time watching the telly.

Now I might well be able to keep those resolutions but they wouldn’t make a great deal of difference to my life, except to make me even lazier than I am and increase my waist size by several inches.

But I’d like us as a church family to think about some resolutions, some commitments that will make a radical difference in our lives if we follow through on them.

I want to challenge all of us to make four new commitments for this New Year. Here they are:

1. Commit to forget your past failures

The apostle Paul 2000 years ago gave some very practical advice that has stood the test of time and is just as relevant for us today as when he wrote it:

“…Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

God is telling us here that we do not have to live our lives imprisoned by our past. All of us have failed in some way over the last year, but God’s Word is saying that we must not allow ourselves to be bogged down by our past failures.

We must not dwell on our past so that it stops us moving forward into the future God has for us.

I think that the start of the New Year is a good time for us to rise to that challenge.

Can we say that we are going to, with God’s help, forget our past? Can we stop torturing ourselves about what we did or didn’t do?

This New Year is a good time to stop being chained to our past failures.

On the Cross Jesus died so that we could be forgiven, and when we receive His forgiveness it allows us to forgive ourselves and forget our failures.

2. Commit to give up your grudges

A grudge is a deep ongoing resentment that we cultivate in our hearts against someone else. It’s an unforgiving spirit that leads to unforgiving attitudes and unforgiving actions.

Grudges are dangerous because they are so destructive:

  • Grudges destroy marriages;
  • Grudges break up families;
  • Grudges ruin friendships;
  • Grudges split churches.

And what’s more they are also self-destructive. When we hold a grudge against someone we will hurt ourselves as much and perhaps more than we will hurt the person we are holding it against.

I believe God is saying to us that in 2009 I want you to:

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13)

God in those words is challenging us directly and personally to give up our grudges.

Do you remember the parable Jesus told about the servant who was forgiven a huge debt by the king and then refused to forgive someone else a tiny amount by comparison? Jesus said his unforgiving spirit landed him in prison. Max Lucado has made this interesting comment:

“Unforgiving servants always end up in prison. Prisons of anger, guilt, and depression.”

God says to us in His word “don’t sentence yourself to prison; set yourself free”.

He isn’t asking us to ignore whatever the person has done to us. He isn’t asking us to pretend it did happen. He doesn’t ask us to condone it, to pretend it didn’t matter.

What God asks us to do is to forgive the grievance. That means to acknowledge how wrong and painful it was but decide to forgive person who did the wrong to us.

If Christ, through the pain of the cross, can forgive us our sin, then, Paul says, with His help we can give up our grievances.

3. Commit to restore your relationships

Here is how the Lord issues this challenge to us:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

The important phrase there is, ‘as far as it depends on you’.

By using that phrase God is personally challenging each one of us to do all we can to restore any relationships that have gone wrong in our life.

Some relationships, of course, might have gone wrong because of what other people have done and they might not want that relationship restored. God recognises that. That is why he starts by saying ‘If it is possible’.

But where we have caused a rift in a relationship then we have a responsibility to do everything we can to restore it.

That everything includes the one thing we all probably find most difficult, asking for forgiveness.

Is God is saying to some of us that this change of year is the right time to restore that relationship we ruined by going and sincerely saying that we are sorry for those angry words or those selfish and un-thoughtful actions?

Will we rise to that challenge and make a commitment to restore our broken relationships in this New Year?

4. Commit to turn your back on your transgressions

At the end of the American Civil War when the slaves had been set free many of them decided to stay with their former master and continue to do what they were told. They were set free but they chose to live as slaves.

The New Testament says that is exactly how many Christians choose to live. Christ died to set them free, the Holy Spirit has given them the power to be free, but just like those former slaves they still choose to obey their old master, sin.

Notice these words from Romans 6,

“Shall we go sinning…? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?…But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin…You have been set free sin…” (Romans 6:2, 17-18)

God here in his word challenges us to turn our back on sin whatever it is. To stop letting it control the way we live. To stop giving in to it.

He wants us to stop obeying our old master.

Jesus’ death broke the power of sin; the Holy Spirit gives us the power to resist sin and that means that we don’t have to go into this New Year still being defeated by the same old sin. We can have the victory over it.

God says we are no longer slaves to sin so don’t live like one or act like one.

So, will this New Year be just a calendar-changing event for us or are we willing to rise to these challenges from God’s word and make these resolutions, these commitments and so make it a life-changing year?

This New Year will really be something to celebrate if we can:

  • Commit to forget our failures;
  • Commit to give up our grudges;
  • Commit to restore our relationships; and
  • Commit to turning our back on our transgressions.

Let’s make sure that forgiveness is at the heart of 2009. To have the courage and commitment to:

  • Forgive ourselves and forget the past;
  • Forgive others who have hurt us, whatever grievances we have;
  • Ask for forgiveness from those we have hurt and “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”; and
  • Ask for God’s forgiveness being “No longer be a slave to sin”.

Have a happy and a forgiving New Year,

Barry Robinson

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