This week I hope you had quality time with those people who are special in your life. Joyce and I have our holiday the Saturday before Christmas. Saturday our children and grandchildren who could visit gathered in our home. Commonly, by Christmas, everyone is gone. Joyce and I spent Christmas together just as a couple.

This year we did something different for us. We rented some movies. Among them was Castaway, which we had not seen. Near the end of that movie, Tom Hanks' character explained to a friend what it was like to be marooned alone on an island for more than four years. He said, "I was in control of nothing." He explained that he could not even control his death.

"I was in control of nothing." Does that sound strange to you? Or does that sound real to you?

The conviction that we are in control is an illusion.

  1. Once there was a man named Jacob who, it seems to me, was convinced that he controlled his destiny.
    1. His destiny would be what he made it!
      1. Though he was the second born of twins, he would gain for himself the coveted birthright [a larger portion of the inheritance; dominance as leader of the family after his father's death] (Genesis 25:27-34).
        1. He caught his brother in a moment of need and weakness.
        2. Esau, his twin brother, came in from hunting weak and extremely hungry.
        3. He asked Jacob for a portion of beans he saw Jacob cooking.
        4. Jacob told Esau he would feed him if Esau swore he would give Jacob his birthright.
        5. Foolishly, Esau sold Jacob his birthright for a meal.
      2. Later, with the help of his mother, Jacob stole the family blessing from Esau (Genesis 27).
        1. When his blind father wanted to give Esau the family blessing, Jacob deceived his blind father into blessing him.
        2. Isaac told Esau he would bless him with the family blessing after Esau killed a deer and fixed Isaac his favorite meal.
        3. While Esau was hunting, Jacob [with his mother's encouragement and help] dressed in Esau's clothing, brought a meal of goat meat, and deceived his father.
        4. Jacob was so successful in his deceit that his father pronounced the family blessing on Jacob.
        5. Esau was so angered by Jacob's deceit that he planned to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac died, but Jacob fled to his mother's people before that happened.
    2. While working for Laban, the man who became his father-in-law, Jacob was deceived (Genesis 29:21-30).
      1. He worked seven years as a herdsman for Laban as a bride price for Rachel.
      2. Laban promised him that after seven years of work Jacob could marry his youngest daughter.
        1. Instead, Laban gave Jacob his oldest daughter, Leah, in Rachel's place.
        2. Their wedding customs were quite different from ours, and the wedding took place at night.
        3. Jacob did not discover Laban's deceit until the next morning.
        4. A week later, Laban allowed Jacob to marry Rachel with the promise of seven additional years of work (Genesis 29:25-28).
      3. Marrying sisters, one whom he loved more than the other, began a life of horrible conflict and rivalry filled with intrigue and deception within Jacob's family.
      4. Many years and many deceptions later, as an old man, Jacob had an audience with the king of Egypt.
        1. That Pharaoh inquired about his age, Jacob gave an insightful answer.
        2. This is what Jacob said:
          Genesis 47:9 "The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning."

  2. In one more day, another year ends, and traditionally it is the appropriate time to do some reflecting.
    1. The ending of a year has different effects on all of us.
      1. Some of us look with great anticipation at another year ending.
        1. Probably most of those with great anticipation are teens and college students.
        2. What age is it "that you just cannot wait to reach?"
          1. Have you realized that you will be that age only a short period of time? Your "ideal age" is not permanent!
          2. Any year you name that you "would love to be" only lasts twelve months.
        3. Once you pass twenty, you cannot image how fast you will reach thirty--just ask any 30-year-old.
      2. For some, the passing of a year is a matter of relative indifference.
        1. For those who are not phased by the passing of another year, you probably feel like you have a lot of years left in your life.
        2. You are pretty much satisfied with your age and figure you will be there for a while.
        3. When I was in my twenties, thirties, and early forties I could not understand why retired men did not spend their time hunting and fishing.
          1. I never hunted or fished as much I wished.
          2. Retired people had the time and could afford it.
          3. I did not have the time and could not afford it.
          4. I also thought 65-year-olds and 70-year-olds physically feel the way 25-year-olds feel.
          5. I did not have a clue! I do now!
        4. The time will come when you look back and quietly ask yourself, "Was I ever that age?"
      3. For some of us the passing of a year is a matter of sober awareness.
        1. We are aware that "middle age" is history for us.
        2. We are very much aware that we are foolish for assuming anything about the future.
        3. It is disconcerting to look ahead or to look behind.
        4. Using each day well as it comes takes on a whole new meaning to us.
    2. Christians, reflect a little with me just over the past 12 months.
      1. In the past twelve months, what do you think were the best choices you made? the best things you did? the wisest moments you had?
        1. In 2001, what was the best decision you made?
        2. What was the best act of friendship you performed?
        3. What was the greatest kindness you did that no one but you knows about?
        4. What was the finest family thing you did? [Name things you did for specific family members if you wish.]
        5. What was the wisest business decision you made?
        6. What was the wisest choice you made about your personal life?
      2. In the past twelve months, what do you think were the worst choices you made? the worst things you did? your dumbest moments?
        1. Of all the decisions and choices you made in 2001, what was your dumbest, most stupid, most ignorant decision or choice?
        2. What was the most hurtful thing you did to a meaningful friendship?
        3. What opportunity for good did you let pass by that you most regret?
        4. What did you do that brought the greatest hurt to your family?
        5. What is the dumbest business decision you made?
        6. What is the most ignorant, ridiculous decision you made about your personal life?
    3. Would you let me meddle in your life, and mess with your mind?
      1. If I asked you these same questions at the close of 2002, would you give basically the same answers? At the end of 2002, will nothing have changed?
      2. As time rolls on in your life, will very little change about you as a person?

  3. Let me state what I am not trying to do, and then state my challenge to you.
    1. This is not what I am trying to do.
      1. I am not merely trying to get you to abandon some bad habits.
      2. I am not merely trying to get you to exchange some bad behaviors for some good behaviors or some bad habits for some good habits.
      3. I am not merely trying to get you to confess to yourself that some things need to change in your life.
      4. I am certainly not trying to convince you to wear a religious cloak once or twice a week.
    2. I am challenging you to do the same thing Paul challenged Christians at Ephesus to do when he wrote:
      Ephesians 4:22-24 "... in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."
    3. I am challenging you to do the same thing Paul challenged Christians in Galatia to do when he wrote:
      Galatians 6:7,8 "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life."
    4. I am challenging you to do the same thing Paul challenged the Christians at Colossae to do when he wrote:
      Colossians 3:8-11 "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him-- a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all."
    5. I am asking all of us, including myself, "Change who you are as a person."
      1. "I am who I am!"
        1. No, you are not!
        2. God knows you can change as a person; He gave Jesus to make that possible.
      2. You do not change yourself as a person by being religious.
        1. You change yourself as a person by being Christian.
        2. You let God teach you how to think and in that way give you a different mind.
        3. You let Jesus teach you how to feel and in that way give you a different heart.

As a person, how would you like to be different in 2002? I am not asking you what physical changes would you like to see in your body. I am not asking you what good habits you would like to form or what bad habits you would like to break. I am asking you something more basic. I am asking you do you have the courage to let God change you as a person? That means changing the way you think. That means changing the way you feel.

You cannot control another person--not a best friend, or parents, or a husband, or a wife, or children, or coworkers, or business partners. The only control you have is over the person you are. And you really do not have control over that. You decide who determines who you are as a person: Satan with evil or God with righteousness. If you decide Satan, he will do all he can to move you toward being your worst person possible. If you decide God, He will do all He can to move you toward being the best person your are capable of being.

The issue is this: what kind of person do you want to be? Do you have the courage to allow God to help you be the best person you are capable of being?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 30 December 2001

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