Robert Jeffress - New Year, New Choices
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and on behalf of everyone at Pathway to Victory let me wish you a happy new year. Well, chances are that you're entering 2021 with a list of worthy resolutions. Maybe it's your goal to exercise more, or to eat healthier, or to spend more time with your family. And while those are all good things, there's an even more important choice we need to make. My message on this new year's day is titled "New Year, New Choices," on today's special edition of Pathway to Victory.
Tom Parker in his book, "In One Day: The Things Americans Do", notes, every day in America 108.000 of us move to a different home, 18.000 of us move to another state. 40 Americans turn 100, about 5.800 become 65, and 8.000 try to forget their 40th birthdays. Every day in America, Americans purchase 45.000 new automobiles and trucks and smash up 87.000. More than 6.300 get divorced while 13.000 get married. Dogs bite 11.000 citizens including 20 male carriers. Every day in America, we eat 75 acres of pizza, 53 million hot dogs, 167 million eggs, 3 million gallons of ice cream, and 3000 tons of candy, and we burn 1.7 million calories while we're at it. I bet those don't even out either.
You know, every day in America, we're engaged in endless activities and we make numerous decisions. The greatest decision you're going to make in the coming year, has nothing to do with what car you're going to drive, where you're going to live or where you're going to work. The single greatest question you're going to face is this, are you going to make loving, serving, and obeying God your highest priority or are you're going to allow your life to be once again swept away by the endless activities and concerns of everyday life? Are you going to experience God's blessing or are you going to experience his discipline?
You know, the children of Israel faced a similar choice as they stood on the brink of a new era in their lives. They had a choice to make as they entered the Promised Land. Would they obey God and experience his blessings or would they disobey God and experience his curses. If you have your Bibles today, I want you to turn to Deuteronomy 11 as we look at the new year before us and the new choice we have today. Deuteronomy 11, but let me set the stage for Deuteronomy 11. You know, the word Deuteronomy actually comes from two Greek words duetero which means second and nomos which means the law. This is the second giving of the law by Moses.
Remember what led us to this point in Deuteronomy, the children of Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, and then God sent those 10 miraculous plagues against Egypt that forced Pharaoh's hand to let the people go and God delivered them out of Egypt. He miraculously parted the Red Sea. He paved away for the Israel lights passage while drowning the thousands of Egyptian soldiers. And now that they were through the Red Sea, they came to Kadesh Barnea, the entry point into the Promised Land. And at that point, God came up with a plan. He said, "I want you to send 12 spies into the land to see what awaits you, and to see what obstacles you might face".
And so they sent the 12 spies into the land, and the spies came back with this report. 10 of them said, "The land that is before us is indeed bountiful and fruitful but there are giants in the land. There are too many obstacles, we cannot overtake it". Two of the spies came back and said, "Yes, there are obstacles, but the same God who brought us to this point will surely give us the land he has promised". The people chose to believe the majority report. And as a result, they were sentenced to 40 years of wandering in the wilderness missing God's blessing.
Now the 40 years have passed, those who disbelieved God had been disciplined. Their lives had been taken, and now a new generation stood again on the brink of the Promised Land and Moses, an old man stood before them and reminded them of the choice before them. For the last 40 years they had experienced God's blessings and curses. And now Moses said, "What do you want to face in the years ahead? Do you want to obey God and experience his blessing or curse God and receive his discipline"? Look at Deuteronomy 11:26 to 28. Moses says, "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, if you listened to the commandments of the Lord your God which I am commanding you today, and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord, your God but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today by following other Gods, which you have not known".
Now folks, there is no deep theology here. This is a very simple, straightforward proposition. If you want God's blessings, obey him. If you want his discipline, disobey him. Today 3.200 years later, you and I face the same choice. As you stand on the brink of a new year, you need to ask yourself what do I want for myself and my family? Do I want God's blessings or do I want his discipline? What do we mean by God's blessings? God's blessings in our life sometimes mean material prosperity.
You know, sometimes we run so far from the prosperity Gospel that we sometimes miss an important truth that God sometimes blesses those who follow him with material prosperity. But the material prosperity isn't the only kind of prosperity blessing God gives. Sometimes the consequences of obeying God include harmonious and fulfilling relationships with other people. Sometimes God's blessing means a protection from evil and calamity in our lives. Sometimes God's blessing results in and just a peace of mind, no matter what is happening around us. God says, "If you obey me, there are real tangible benefits you will experience". Do you want God's blessings in your life? Then obey him, make him first in your life. There are real benefits in this life to doing so. Or do you want to experience God's curses? The curses of God here refer to God's discipline.
Listen to the words of the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 12:5-8, "And have you forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons? My brethren, my son do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint. When you are reproved by him. For those whom the Lord loves, he disciplines. And he scourges every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom his father does not discipline. But if you are without discipline of which all have become partakers then you are illegitimate children and not sons".
I'm amazed at the number of Christians who see absolutely no relationship between their disobedience of God and the problems they face in their life. The Bible says, if you are a child of God and disobeyed God or ignore God's commands, there are going to be real painful consequences in your life. If you don't believe that, the Bible says, look at first Corinthians 10 beginning with verse seven, "And do not be idolaters, as some of them, the Israelites were, as it is written the people sat down to eat and drink and stood up to play". That's a reference to what happened at the base of mount Sinai when Moses was receiving the law. "Nor let us act immorally as some of the Israelites did, and 23.000 failed that is died in one day. Nor let us try the Lord as some of them did and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now, these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction upon the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall".
Paul is saying, "God allowed these things to happen to the Israelites". He wrote them down in his book as a reminder to us of the consequences of disobeying or ignoring God. Which do you want as you face the coming year? God's blessing or God's curses? I want you to look at the pathway to God's discipline that the experience of the Israelites illustrates. The pathway that God's discipline in your life always begins with an improper view of God, an improper view of God. Instead of believing in the God of the Bible, most people believe in the God of their own imagination. They refuse to believe the God of the Bible, the God who is intolerant of sin, who is holy, who is totally impartial. Instead they have created a God in their mind who is just as arbitrary and tolerant of sin as everyone else. And that's the mistake that Israelites made.
Sure they thought God would destroy the pagan inhabitants of Canaan for their idolatry that they thought they were the exception to God's judgment. They thought because of their special relationship with God, God's rules, didn't apply to them. If you're a Christian, God's forgiveness means he has wiped away the eternal consequences of your sin. It means you're not going to hell, but being a Christian does not exempt you from God's very real and painful punishment when you disobey him. In fact, it guarantees that discipline. Because again as the writer of Hebrews says, "You Mark it down, whom the Lord loves, he will discipline".
The second milestone on the road to discipline is an improper view of ourselves. And that is believing that the good things that happened to us are the result of our good behavior, our hard work, or just plain luck, rather than seeing the good things in our life as a gift from God. Again, the Israelites made that mistake. In Deuteronomy 8:11-14, listen to the word of warning for Moses. He said, "Beware, lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. Lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and build good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply and your silver and gold multiply and all that have multiplies, then your heart becomes proud. And you forget the Lord, your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery".
Do you know the time you and I are most likely to turn away from God? It's when our health is good. It's when the bank account is full. It's when everything at our work is going great. It's when our family is living in harmony. That's the time we are most likely to say, "Who really needs God, everything's going fine just as it is". David said in Psalm 119:67, "Before I was afflicted, I went a stray, but now I obey your word". When David fell into a sin with Bathsheba, it was when everything in the kingdom was going well. That's when he departed from God. It was only after he suffered the discipline of God that he fell in line and started walking with God.
I believe many times the reason God turns our world upside down sometimes, is to remind us that we are wholly dependent upon him. And then thirdly, it is marked by an improper view of others. That is depending on other people or other things to fill the place in our heart that God can only fill. You know, that's the essence of what idolatry is. Idolatry is loving someone or something else more than we love God. If you look through the book of Deuteronomy one thing you come away with is there is one sin that God is absolutely certain to punish every time and it is the sin of idolatry. God hates idolatry. He hates it. When we look to any one or anything else to satisfy our need in life. Why is that? It's because God is a jealous God. Now does that bother you to hear that? That God is a jealous God?
As Pascal, the philosopher said, "God has placed a God shaped vacuum in every heart. And God knows that we will only truly be satisfied by him". And that's why he is jealous about anything or anyone else that attempts to replace him in our life. God loves you too much to allow you to get away with worshiping something that ultimately won't satisfy you. That's why God hates idolatry. One writer defined sin as, the suicidal abandonment of joy. In Isaiah 12:3, God says, "Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation". Now listen to this. "We assassinate the deep seated joy God has for each of us. When we seek to draw life from the empty and the broken cisterns this world so readily offers". But what is it that leads to God's blessing? Moses also shares with us the pathway to God's blessing in our life.
Look again at verses 26 and 27 of Deuteronomy 11, he said, "See I'm setting before you today a blessing and a curse. But blessing if you listen to the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I'm commanding you today". Do you want God's blessing in your life? Then listen to his commands. Now let me clarify by what he means by listen. By listening, he's not talking about sitting there, allowing the words of the pastor to go in your ear gate while you think about this afternoon's football game, okay? The word listen in Hebrew means to absorb with a goal of application. That's what he's talking about. Listening to the commands of God with a view to applying them. Turn back one chapter to Deuteronomy 10:12, and you'll get a clearer idea of what Moses has in mind here. But to fear the Lord, your God, to walk in all of his ways and to love him and serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Moses says, "Here are three things God wants from you if you want to experience his blessing in your life". Number one, to fear God. To fear God. Proverbs 1:7 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge". Now, what does it mean to fear God? You know, people try to soften that word. They say, "It really doesn't mean to be afraid of God, it means to have a reverential respect for God". It means to be an all of God but it doesn't mean to be afraid of God. No, fear means fear. To fear God means to be afraid of God. Specifically, it means to be afraid of the consequences of disobeying God. The fear of God, a healthy respect for the holiness of God, his impartiality is the beginning place of all wisdom and wise living. He says, "We need to fear God". But secondly, he says "To walk in all of his ways".
If you want God's blessing in your life, it means obeying God in every part of your life, not just select parts of your life, in all parts of your life. Let's do an inventory this morning. Are you obeying God in every part of your life? What about your moral life? Are there any secrets sexual sins in your life that if they were portrayed on this giant screen up here before the whole congregation, you would be ashamed for anyone to see? What about your family life? Are you treating your mate the way God says you should? How about your children? Your parents?
Are you obeying God in your work? Are you seeing your work as an assignment from God and you're doing it enthusiastically wholeheartedly or you just trying to get by? What about your business dealings? Any dishonesty there in the way you're treating other people or the government? What about your spiritual life? Are you tithing as God has commanded you to or you're robbing God? Are you spending time with God learning to know him more or can you go days, weeks, even months without opening your Bible, wherever talking with God? If you want God's blessings in your life Moses says, you need to walk with God and obey him and all of your life.
Thirdly, what's the key to God's blessing? To love God and to serve him with all of your heart. Moses added this phrase to remind Israel that their obedience to God was not just out of some cold legalistic requirement. It wasn't even just out of the fear of the consequences of disobeying God, ultimately our obedience to God is based on our love for God. Our appreciation for all he's done for us. And God says the same thing to us today. Just think about all God has done for you. When you and I were dead in our trespasses in sin, headed for an eternity of separation from God, God for no other reason than their great love with what you loved, you reach down and pick you up. He saved you by the death of his son. He indwelled you with the Holy Spirit of God. He has given you numerous and undeserved blessings every day of your life out of gratitude for all God has done for you. Should you wholeheartedly want to obey him? That's the pathway that leads to God's blessing.