[1 John 5.4]
We love winners, don't we?
There may be no greater mystery in professional sports than the Buffalo Bills in the early 1990s. You'll recall that the Bills were able to advance to the Super Bowl in each of the seasons from 1990-94. Notice that I didn't say that they won the Super Bowl.
In the recent documentary by ESPN entitled The Four Falls of Buffalo, it was remarked that "there is no greater joy in sports than winning the Super Bowl, and no greater pain in losing one." The Bills were a team that just couldn't finish, and in dramatic fashion. While hindsight is 20/20 and looking back it was certainly a great accomplishment to even play in four consecutive Super Bowls (4 of the 32 teams in the NFL have never even had the honor),the inability to just finish the season the way you started has haunted this proud football franchise for decades.
Because it's not how you start, it's how you finish.
What matters is what happens in the end.
We're finishing up an entire season that most of the world dedicates to the birth of Jesus Christ. And while that is a significant event, it is no nearly as significant as how Jesus died and was resurrected.
Jesus had what was the greatest comeback in history. To be put to death on a cruel cross and be raised by God from the dead three days later was the most focal point of global history. It not only showed him to be the one true Son of God, but it showed everyone he was who he said he was.
It's not how you start, it's how you finish.
Maybe you're finishing this year on a bad note. Maybe you're a little down. Maybe you're battling health problems. Maybe you're in a bit of financial bind. Maybe you're a little lost spiritually. Maybe you haven't been the Christian you wanted to be this year - maybe you didn't attend worship as faithfully as you wanted, you didn't get involved as much as you wanted, or you didn't study as much as you wanted to.
A new year is a perfect opportunity for a fresh start. It's an opportunity to turn over a new leaf. Nothing really changes except the calendar, but mentally, there's something new and awesome about having a new year to get some things done. To resolve ourselves to change and make things better.
The Buffalo Bills had not one, not two, not three, but four opportunities to finish strong. They didn't capitalize. But you can.
Tonight I'm going to give you three reasons why you can win in 2016.
We can win in 2016 with God because...
I. We Have the Power to Change
There seems to always be a guarantee in life that change will happen. Change is something we tend to fear and become anxious about because we do not feel in control of life. The good news is that God has a plan for your life to hope, future, and to prosper. If we trust in God and allow the change to grow us to become more like Jesus Christ in how we respond and act, then we are promised that all things will work together for good for those who love Him and keep His commandments!
As I look back on 2015, lots has changed for my family and I that I never saw coming. This time last year I was looking at planning the Church Street Youth Group for 2015, and I was really excited. I had become a little jaded in youth work and a little burnt out. But through some time off, some study, and talking with some mentors, I was back at work and fired up about 2015. I was working harder than ever and I really thought that was where I was going to be for a number of years to come.
And then Graymere came knocking. And it was an opportunity that my family and I could not pass up.
It has been a different kind of challenge working here - one that I didn't expect. But my family and I dealt with the changes that came to us and we responded in a great way.
Change is inevitable. Sometimes people say "I don't like change" and to me, that's just an excuse not to push yourself, to not test yourself and realize the true servant that God would have you to be.
But the greatest thing about change is that the power lies within us to make change in our own lives. We can also choose how we respond to changes around us. God has given us an uncanny ability to evaluate what needs to change in our lives and make it happen.
A New Year is a great time to rededicate your life to serving God. We can have the assurance that God will be faithful to us in times of change, whether that's in our own lives or the lives of those around us.
The well-known passage in Deuteronomy illustrates this perfectly for us:
31.6 - Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified of them, because the Lord your God goes with you, and he will never forsake you.
Just as we might take a walk with our spouse down a path, I like to imagine that God is with me, right beside me, where ever I go and whatever I do. And it's important to note that God will not change. Ever. We are the ones who must do that.
The world and the devil have a great way of trying to convince us that God will conform to whatever box we try to fit him in. And that's just not how it is.
I, the Lord, do not change.
I'm reminded of the well-known story of the battleship that was out at sea. The captain, who was worried about the deteriorating weather conditions, stayed on the bridge to keep an eye on all activities.
One night, the lookout on the bridge suddenly shouted, “Captain! A light, bearing on the starboard bow.”
“Is it stationary or moving astern?” the captain asked.
The lookout replied that it was stationary. This meant the battleship was on a dangerous collision course with the other ship.
The captain immediately ordered his signalman to signal to the ship: “We are on a collision course. I advise you to change course 20 degrees east.”
Back came a response from the other ship: “You change course 20 degrees west.”
Agitated by the arrogance of the response, the captain asked his signalman to shoot out another message: “I am a captain, you change course 20 degrees east.”
Back came the second response: “I am a second class seaman, you had still better change course 20 degrees west.”
The captain was furious this time. He shouted to the signalman to send back a final message: “I am a battleship! Change course 20 degrees east right now!"
Back came the flashing response: “You change course 20 degrees west. I am a lighthouse.”
The Lord is our lighthouse, and no matter how much fussing or complaining or sin or the devil tricking us into God somehow changing, he won't. It is we who must do the changing.
We can win in 2016 because...
II. Jesus Has Already Overcome the World
Jesus says himself in John 16.33 to "be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world."
That's great news. Because we can reason from that one statement that Jesus made that if he has already overcome the world, then there is nothing in this world that should overcome us!
In fact, Jesus says in this same verse that we will have tribulation. We will be tested. We will be tempted - by the world. He says these things so that we can have peace. He has already overcome the world.
[1 John 5.4-5]
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This passage is all about victory. We sing the song so many times: Victory in Jesus. My savior forever, he sought me, he bought me with his redeeming blood. That's our victory. But what does victory have to do with a maturing love for God?
We as Christians live in a real world with real obstacles. Real temptations. Real pain. Sometimes you may read scripture or come to worship or Bible class and feel like it's not the real world. That the Bible isn't speaking to you - it's speaking to all those people without sin, distress, or pain.
It isn't easy to obey God. It's much easier to drift in the world, make our own decisions, follow our own plan, and "do our own thing."
But the Christian is "born of God." We may look at that phrase in scripture and gloss over it, but this is what gives us ultimate victory. This is what can help us win. "Whatever is born of God overcomes the world."
The Greek word for victory is actually Nike (NÉE-Kay). Not the shoe brand. The word simply means victory, and those two words: overcome and victory are favorites of John, both in his Gospel and his letters.
Our victory is the result of faith, and we grow in faith as we grow in love.
There's an old legend of a soldier who was serving in the army of Alexander the Great. The soldier wasn't acting bravely, he wasn't fighting and pressing as he should have.
The great general approached the young man and said, "What's your name, soldier?"
"My name is Alexander, sir," the man replied.
The general looked at him straight in the eye and said firmly: "Soldier, get in there and fight - or change your name!"
What is our name? We are called "Children of God, the born-again ones of God." Alexander the Great wanted his name to be a symbol of courage - our name carries with is the assurance of victory. To be born of God means to share in God's victory. And when we're victorious, we have overcome the world.
We can win in 2016 because...
III. You're Backing the Winning Side Already
We need to understand that God is on our side, and it's the winning side!
When you feel overwhelmed, it's important to go to God in prayer and confess your inability and inadequacy. You need to be honest if you're afraid and tell God exactly how you feel.
In 2 Chronicles 20:12, Jehoshaphat says to God in prayer, “We are helpless in the face of this large army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but we look to you for help" (GNT).
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt like there was a problem in your marriage, your career, or somewhere in your life that you thought was overwhelming? You start at the beginning of the week thinking maybe you can handle it, but by Wednesday you're out of power.
Maybe you've felt like the author of this poem:
"The world had a hopeful beginning
But man spoiled it all by sinning
We trust that the story
Will end in God's glory
But right now the other side's winning."
Have you ever felt like that? You pick up the newspaper, and it looks like the bad guys are winning. There are kids killing other kids in our schools! The moral and spiritual climate of our society is collapsing. It looks like the bad guys are winning in many ways.
So what do you do? You say, “God, we're powerless, and we don't know what to do.” You tell God exactly how you feel.
It's interesting when you compare verse 12, where it says we're powerless, to verse 6, where Jehoshaphat says, "God, you have all the power in the world." It doesn't matter if you're powerless if God has power. If you put your trust in him, he'll take care of you.
I don't have to have power. You don't, either. And you don't have to pretend that you do. All you have to do is trust in God, who's got all the power that you need.
It's difficult to express our inadequacy, even to God. But when we turn over control to Him, we can trust that he will bring us the ultimate victory.
The Buffalo Bills couldn’t win the one game at the end of the season that mattered the most. If we trust in God and fight those battles for him - it may even look hopeless and look like we’re going to lose, but we will have victory in the end.
So this evening, how does your story end? What’s happened in the past doesn’t matter - only moving forward is what God cares about. We can win with God because we have that power to change. We can win with God because Jesus has already overcome the world. And we can win with God because we’ve backed the winning side already.