Developing Holy Habits
It’s that time of year again when the world is making resolutions for the New Year. Roughly half of the people in the US make New Year’s resolutions each year. One study reported that 53% of the resolutions made were about saving money. 45% involved losing weight or getting in shape. In the 20% group – Travel more, read more, learn a skill or hobby. 16% want to quit smoking. All are very good goals – all would have positive effects on our lives if we succeeded in keeping our resolutions. By year end, only about 8% will actually have managed to keep their resolution or reach their goal! Studies show how many our resolutions are maintained as time goes on: – past the first week: 75% – past 2 weeks: 71% – after one month: 64% – after 6 months: 46% In other words: Half of the people who make good resolutions at New Years have given up on them by the end of June. I guess, the “glass half full” perspective is that almost half of the people succeed. It still means of course that over half of the people didn’t make it to the 6 month mark. Let me ask you – Which half do you want to be in? How many of you have made resolutions in the past that went something like this: 2015: I will read at least 10 books this year 2016: I will try to finish the book I started last year. 2017: I will read most of my email this year 2018: I will sometimes read the comic section of the Sunday paper Or for those of us who are constantly worrying about weight: 2016: I will work out 5 days a week and eat 500 calories a day until I lose 50 pounds 2017: I will work out 3 days a week and try to lose the 5 pounds I gained last year 2018: I will walk my dog and throw out that box of Twinkies next week. Or for those of you with money issues: 2015: By next year I will be completely out of debt 2016: By next year I will pay the interest on my credit card 2017: By next year I will transfer my debt to a new credit card. 2018: By next year I will be out of the country There was a man who said, At the end of my life, I hope many people will say of me: “Boy, that guy sure did owe me a lot of money.” You know resolutions are really making a commitment to change a habit aren’t they? Save more money is changing the habit that we have in our spending. Losing weight is changing our eating habits isn’t it? As some of you know that’s one that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve been trying to lose weight this year – and I plan to continue to try and lose weight in 2019 as well – and it’s about changing the habits that I have – packing a healthy lunch instead of going to the Bozzelli Deli for a large pepperoni steak and cheese sub. My wife makes fun of my breakfasts these days – a box of cereal used to be two or three days’ worth of breakfasts for me, now you have to look closely under the banana, strawberries and blueberries to find the cereal in the bowl. My habits have had to change for me to have any hope of success in reaching my goals. It’s hard to change old habits… And that’s why so many times we fail isn’t it? It’s hard to build good habits – the bad ones seem to come so much easier to us. As most of you know, I enjoy playing a little bit of golf – or maybe a lot of golf – and the game demands that you have good habits in order to succeed. Bad swing habits means that, that little white ball is going to go bad places. So I work at developing good habits. I bought a thing that a few of you will know what I’m talking about – I bought an orange whip swing trainer. It’s basically a heavy, orange tennis ball on the end of a fishing pole. By swinging it repeatedly you develop balance and tempo in your swing. You train yourself to get your downswing in the right slot – in short, through repetition and reinforcement you develop good, positive habits. By using it consistently, when the bad habits start to creep back in during a round (and they do), I can try and focus myself, try to go back to the good habits that I’ve been working to develop. And that is my challenge for you for the New Year – not to get an orange on a fishing pole and look like some psycho standing in a parking lot swinging the thing wildly in the air – but to work on developing Holy Habits for the New Year. We are creatures of habit! Someone said “The habits that you develop, develop you”. Another person put it this way – • Plant a thought and reap a word; • plant a word and reap an action; • plant an action and reap a habit; • plant a habit and reap a character; • plant a character and reap a destiny You see developing Holy Habits will change your life! I’m talking about – • Habits that will enable you to start each day right • Habits that will enable you to stop worrying • Habits that will cause you to stop being critical • Habits that will make you a blessing to others • Habits that will draw you closer to God Where do we start? Peruse (Read) the Bible First – Phil 4:6 Paul tells us – Philippians 4:6 (KJV) 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. “Be careful for nothing”. The word translated as careful means anxious or fearful. Faith and fear are opposites! The antidote to anxiety is to have God deeply involved in your life. We have to develop habits that build our faith and fight our fear, that extinguish our anxiety. Our fear and anxiety are not merely the product of poor coping strategies. It is symptomatic of misplaced trust. If we place our trust – place our faith in Christ – we can face whatever the world throws our way. We grow our faith by spending time in God’s Word – by studying God’s Word. The Bible is the source of faith – Romans 10:17 (KJV) 17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Our faith grows through exposure to scripture. We need to hear God’s Word, we need to read God’s Word, we need to saturate our minds with God’s Word. We have a number of ways available to us to be exposed to the Word – Sunday morning we have Sunday school, the songs – the hymns that we sing are largely scripture based, if you look at the bottom of the page it tells you the scripture that relates to the song (have you ever stopped to look at what the writer was trying to say through he words of the song?) – The preaching… we are very blessed to have a Pastor who shares the entire Word of God – the easy parts and the hard parts. Both the Pastor and Brother Billy do a tremendous job of sharing the Word, of explaining the Word and challenging us through the Word. But we need to be in God’s Word more often than just on Sunday. We have a great prayer and Bible study time on Wednesday night – I’m not sure what Brother Billy is going to teach for the next quarter, but I’m sure it will be interesting, enlightening and will give us things to think on. So if you are here on Sunday, and you make it on Wednesday is that enough to grow and strengthen our faith? I would say that if minds saturated with scripture develop a strong faith, then we need to spend time daily in God’s Word. I said to peruse the Bible first. I like that word peruse – it means to read, but more to read in thorough or careful way. Peruse the Bible – read it carefully and thoroughly. Every one of us is different, so we each have to determine for ourselves what works. Nevertheless, let me make some basic suggestions. Key # 1 is to CEMENT A TIME. If we only study God’s Word when we feel like it, our study will be inconsistent and inadequate and infrequent. The first step in Bible Study is to discipline ourselves to a specific time. If possible, it needs to be the same time each day. Usually, it is best not to do it just before we go to bed because we probably will not remember as much when we’re sleepy. If we would spend only 15 minutes each day, we could read through the Bible in a year’s time. I would recommend what works for me – start the day with the Bible. You’ll have a better day if you do. Read the Bible, do your devotion before you eat, before you turn on the TV, before you check email or Facebook or twitter, spend time with God before you head to work – before the world has a chance to distract you and pull you away into all the hustle and bustle and chaos and aggravations that we encounter each day. Key # 2 is to CHOOSE A PLAN. Some people simply read through the Bible. Some people just randomly open the Bible and start there for the day. The problem with this approach is that it is easy to get bogged down in some of the more difficult parts of the text. It’s easy to miss the context when we just jump around. And in this day and age, we have other options. Bible study guides are available at most religious bookstores if you’re a bookstore person. Plans are readily available online from your computer and though apps for your phone or tablet. Have a plan for study. Concentrating on one book at a time is an effective method of study. Another approach is to read three chapters in the Old Testament and three chapters in the New Testament each day. It is more important that we have a plan than what our plan is. Key # 3 is to CONSIDER WHAT YOU’VE READ. A group of Christians at Berea were singled out for praise by Luke in the book of Acts. He explained why they were worthy of praise: ” Acts 17:11 (KJV) 11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” We not only need to read God’s Word. We also need to meditate (to deeply focus our mind or think deeply and carefully about) on it until its meaning becomes clear to us. We can do that memorizing Scripture. And if you have trouble with memorization like me, we can do that by writing down a key verse and carrying it around with us each day (works best if you start the day in the Word of course). Put it on a sticky note or post-it and stick it on the door of your refrigerator or on your car dashboard – or any place you’re going to see it repeatedly throughout the day. Our study must include both reading and meditation. Just powering through a bunch of chapters, just to say that we’ve read them doesn’t get our mind focused on what God has to say to us. Bible reading turns our thoughts to the gospel. Jesus is found in every book of the Bible! In the Old Testament there are prophecies and likenesses that point to Christ. All throughout God’s Word we are pointed to Jesus! And reading the Bible naturally directs us to Christ’s death and resurrection – 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (KJV) 1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: Reading the Bible tells us about the greatest love story that was ever told. When we read the Bible we see God’s great love for us – how far He is willing to go to give you what you can’t earn, what you can’t deserve on your own. Reading the gospel reminds us that God loved us enough to come into our world as a baby, die at the hands of evil men, to pay a debt that He didn’t owe and on the third day rise to open the gates of heaven to all who believe. When we read the gospel, when we are thinking about the gospel, when we are studying and talking about the gospel, we’re being equipped to share the gospel! You can’t share what you don’t know! Each of us are called to be missionaries aren’t we? We are called to share the good news to those that are in our midst. For most of us, it doesn’t mean that we are all called to go to Africa and start a church. It does mean that we are called to share Jesus with our family, our friends, our co-workers as the opportunities present themselves. As God opens doors we are expected to be ready to step in and do our part. 1 Peter 3:15 (KJV) 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 2 Timothy 4:2 (KJV) 2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. To be ready we have to know – we have to study. Studying the Bible makes missionaries – makes confident missionaries – of us all! Peruse (Read) the Bible First, Pray Thankfully To Start The Day– Phil. 4:6-7 First, stop trembling and start trusting! Nothing that happens today or tomorrow or the next day or the day after that is a surprise to God! Trust that God has “got it”. Trust that God is going to come through in every situation. Start your day by lifting a prayer to God to thank Him for the multiplied blessings that we all enjoy. Do you believe that God hears our prayers and that He moves on behalf of His people? Then we should trust Him with to handle whatever we take to Him shouldn’t we? Trust that whatever it is, He’s going to work it out in the right way, the way that works His purpose – even if it sometimes isn’t ours. We sometimes struggle with prayer don’t we? Because God doesn’t always answer us the way we want Him to, or in the time frame that we want Him to – so we struggle. But the Bible assures us that He doesn’t ignore our prayers. He’s hears each and every one of them. We can find peace when we trust Him to handle things. One of the best ways to reduce the problems in your life, one of the most effective ways to get rid of the stress is to turn the problems, turn the stressors, the triggers into prayers. We need to ask God for His help with our problems instead of trying to do it all on our own. We need to Give our problems over to God and let Him take care of them. At its most basic point prayer is simply talking to God! It’s talking to God about what you think of Him, and what’s going on in your life. It is your means of taking your problems and giving them to Him. Prayer is also a chance to set your mind on what God has done – on the blessings that you have in life – and give thanks for them. We often focus on the big stuff don’t we? I didn’t get a new Mercedes or a new big house or a big raise or the new job or any of a thousand other things – and we think that we aren’t highly blessed. Nothing could be further for the truth! We tend to take for granted the things that God does for us every day don’t we? Maybe we should start our day by going through all of the “little” ways that God blesses us – maybe make a list and add to it each time something comes to mind for the month of January. I bet you would be surprised at the end of the month at just how many things were on your list if you truly looked at all the ways that you’ve been blessed in life. Most of us have reached a point in life where standing up from our easy chair or couch sounds like someone is eating bowl of rice crispies – snap, crackle, pop! And yet there are so many things to be thankful for – the ability to be here today, or the ability to here god’s Word via Facebook or the church website when we can’t be here, everyone has clothes to wear thankfully (some of us not as fashionable as others, but nice clothes just the same) and most likely we all had food to eat and a roof over our heads. We have family – parents, husbands, wives, kids, grandkids, great-grandkids – we have friends, we have church family that loves us that we should be thankful for! I wonder just how many things we take for granted that God provides for us each and every day. Take the time to think on all those “little” things and give thanks for those things, not just for the big things in life. And if you want to tell me “Brother Robert, I just don’t see it, I don’t have that that much to be thankful for. “I’m broke, the roof leaks, the cars broken down, the dogs got fleas” I want you to remember one thing – even through all of that God loves you! God loves you enough that Christ died for you. For God so loved the world – so loved you, so loved me… Things might be tough here, but because God loves us this is only temporary – we’ve got something much better waiting for us. We can always give thanks that God loves us enough to make sure that we can spend eternity with Him. Start the day giving thanks for all that you can. Peruse (Read) the Bible First, Pray Thankfully To Start the Day, Point to Positive Things – Phil 4:8 Paul tells us to point our mind, focus our thoughts on things that are positive. We should care what goes into our mind! God doesn’t want you to fill your mind with garbage and junk. Point your mind to the things that will strengthen you, that will lead you to peace, that will help you to grow spiritually. The mind is a fertile field. We plant all kinds of seeds in our minds throughout each day; seeds from what we watch on TV; seeds from our music, conversation or idle talk; seeds from what we read. What kind of crop of thoughts are you growing up there? The fruit will come out in your actions and values. How much of the Word of God is planted in your mind each day? The fact is, if we plant more of God’s thoughts we will know better how to handle other, ungodly thoughts. Fill your mind with the Bible by reading it daily; memorize it; meditate on it. Be committed to regular Sunday attendance at church. Expose yourself to things that reflect the goodness of God. Fellowship with other believers. Guard your eyes when watching TV. These things will plant a better crop in your mind and produce a better harvest of thoughts. Paul says- whatsoever things are true… Maybe you’ve heard that when bank tellers are trained to spot counterfeit bills they do not primarily focus on becoming knowledgeable of all the variations that exist of counterfeit bills. They study and study and learn the shapes and contours and character (in a sense) of the real deal. That’s what equips them to spot fake, useless money. So we’re called to focus our minds on that which is true. We spot the lie, we see through the false teaching by knowing what the truth is – by knowing the truth that is in the Word of God. Whatsoever things are honest… That same word is also translated noble. So we’re also called to dwell on that which is noble. What does that mean? Something is noble- the word implies a feeling of worthy, full of integrity, something that occupies higher ground. How often are we disposed to focus instead on things that are not noble? When we come home and flip on the TV and just sit there watching whatever is on, we’re subjecting ourselves to someone else’s idea of ‘worthwhile’ entertainment. Again, God doesn’t want you to fill your mind with garbage and junk. So we’re called to occupy our thinking with noble things. Things that aim for higher ground. Things that reflect good morals not the immoral behavior that is presented so often, Focus on things that use language that doesn’t make us cringe, that is uplifting and positive, not full of vitriol and hate. Think on things that are noble. But take noble one step further – look for the noble things throughout your day. Look around you. Have you noticed what people are doing around you – I mean the good things? The world is quick to point out the bad things, the just plain dumb things that people are doing. But take the time to look around and notice those little acts of kindness, notice those gentle expressions of love and friendship that are happening all around you – those are the things we ought to think about. If you really want to make this Scripture work for you – when you think about those noble things people are doing all the time – stop what you are doing and express it. Say thanks. Send a card or a note. Send an email. Send a text. You will find your life is so much better – sweeter, fuller, richer, filled with more love and joy than you ever thought possible – when you do this. Whatsoever things are just… or right. That would suggest of course that there are things that are ‘wrong’. We expect, perhaps, to see things that are ‘wrong’ in abundance in the world around us. The world is telling us that we have to accept many, many things that are contrary to the Word of God. But we have to be careful lest we as the people of God should ever call ‘good’ that which God calls evil. We end up, of course, on the wrong and losing side of the argument. The call to that which is just, is the call to deal properly with everyone in every situation. It’s the call to hold fast to the principals contained in the Word – regardless of what others think. It is to focus our minds on dealing with others honestly and with integrity. Think of it as “What Would Jesus Do” thought – it’s the call to self-sacrifice and responsibility, not the call to self-interest. Whatsoever things are pure,… We are to think on the things that are pure. What’s the opposite of that? Impurity. There is a whole lot of impurity out there today. Television, radio, the internet – pornography – the world today has accepted a new standard for what’s acceptable. God hasn’t changed His standards however. We carry around with us a powerful device that gives us the ability to find information instantly. Gives us the ability to take our entertainment with us wherever we go. Gives us the ability to get into things that we shouldn’t, to waste time on useless, meaningless things – even harmful things. Thinking on impurity, filling you mind with impure sights and sounds and thoughts will destroy you at worst and at the least, it will steal your joy. Removal of impurity by itself is an impossibility. So what we need is to fill that space in our minds with Jesus. The need is to think on pure things. I only know one pure thing – Jesus. Point your thoughts, focus your mind on Jesus. Whatsoever things are lovely,… one dictionary defines lovely as: 1. Charmingly or exquisitely beautiful: a lovely flower. 2. Having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye, as a person or a face. 3. Delightful; highly pleasing: to have a lovely time. 4. of a great moral or spiritual beauty: a lovely character. We are to think about things like that. Lovely sunsets, beautiful flowers, grand views, great golf courses. We are to think on those enjoyable, pleasing times we have. Our tendency is to think on the problems and dwell on the troubles in life. We need to stop doing that. Think on the lovely things in life. Whatsoever things are of good report… The NIV says “Things that are admirable.” The Amplified Bible uses the word “virtue”. The New American Bible says, “anything worthy of praise”. I think you get the idea. We need to stop and THINK about those things of good report. We are usually guilty of quickly passing those things by and go on to the next problem or situation. When we get a good report from work or when our spouse or someone we care about gets a good report or does something good, does something right – we ought to point our mind to that thing. We should focus on that admirable thing and praise God for the goodness of it! if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things… Paul sums things up by saying. “If ANYTHING is excellent or praiseworthy – think on these things. There’s a secret here folks, thinking on these things will change your life. Life will be so much happier. There will be more smiles. More joy. More love. If we just think about these things. When we focus our thoughts, when we point our minds to the positive things around us we can’t help but become a positive person! True, Honest (noble), Just (right), Pure, Lovely, good report (Admirable). These are the things we need to be thinking about. Sound almost impossible or overwhelming to you? In one of his meetings, D.L. Moody was explaining to his audience the truth that we cannot bring about spiritual changes in our lives by our own strength. He demonstrated the principal like this: “Tell me,” he said to his audience, “how can I get the air out of the tumbler I have in my hand?” One man said, “Suck it out with a pump.” But Moody replied, “That would create a vacuum and shatter it.” Finally after many suggestions, he picked up a pitcher and quietly filled the glass with water. “There,” he said, “all the air is now removed.” He then explained that victory for the child of God does not come solely by working hard to eliminate sinful habits, but rather by allowing Christ to take full possession.” A lot of people work hard to remove bad habits from their lives. Just look at all the self-help books out there. The real answer to breaking our old habits and developing new Holy habits is to be filled with Jesus! Make your resolutions this year to PERUSE the Bible first thing daily, PRAY thankfully at the start of each day and POINT your mind all day to the positive things. It will change your life! One more “P” word this morning – Profess. If you’re here this morning and you have never accepted Jesus as your Savior, start the New Year off right – with a profession of faith. The Bible says – That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. It’s that simple. 2 Corinthians 6:2 (KJV) …behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. Don’t delay, don’t procrastinate, today is the day, this is the time. We’re going to have a song of invitation where you’re invited to come forward and make that profession. If the Spirit is tugging at your heart this morning and you don’t want to walk down the aisle here, then after this last song come and talk with the Pastor, Miss Jean, Brother Billy, Brother BJ, myself – whomever you are comfortable with – we’ll be glad to talk with you however long it takes. There is no greater need in any life than to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. I talked this morning about habits that will change your life – being saved will change not just your life today, but your eternal destiny as well!