Welcome to 2017. The New Year holds so much promise to so many people every year. We say things like, “It’s a new start.” Or we say things like, “It’s a clean slate.” For some reason we look at the turning of the year as a line of demarcation as if all of 2016 is somehow behind us and will never rear its ugly head again. As long as we look forward and not backward, we believe we can make 2017 better than 2016. After all, 2017 is a blanket of fresh snow we haven’t yet trampled upon. We will be cautious and make only the best choices. These are the same sentiments we had going into 2016, and how many of us made multitudes of mistakes last year.
Now that 2017 is in its infancy, 2016 serves a major purpose. January 1, 2017 is like half-time of a football game. Or in my case, when I preached this message a year ago, I used the analogy of a round of golf. A round of golf is usually eighteen holes and divided up into a “front” nine and a “back” nine. The final score in golf is cumulative between the “front” nine hole score and the “back” nine hole score. The goal is to get the lowest score possible and that requires a person to play their absolute best to reach the goal of playing a good complete round of golf and being proud of the outcome.
Depending on the golf course, I have a goal in mind for a final score. As I play my “front” nine, I make some good shots, and I make some bad shots. I make good decisions and I make bad decisions. Once I finish playing the ninth hole, the final hole on the “front” nine, I always make the announcement as I walk up to the “back” nine that it’s a “NEW SCORECARD!” By that I mean that when I turn the scorecard over, the boxes where I record my scores are blank…a blank slate…like a New Year. But I’m not smart if I don’t assess what happened on the “front” nine BEFORE putting together a game plan to attack the “back.”
If my driver sailed into the woods five times, and it cost me strokes and I had a larger number than I wanted after nine holes, I need to decide to make the necessary adjustments BEFORE playing the final nine holes to reach my goal of a respectable score. If I don’t learn from the fact that my driver is erratic, and I don’t change what was hurting me, I will keep making the same bad decisions on the “back” nine and blow my score up and get horrible unwanted results. I need to keep my driver in my bag and not let it see the light of day. Yes, I must repent from using my driver again that day…it’s hurting me.
That’s what we do in life. Our Christian walk is a cumulative total of all our past accomplishments and failures up to this present day. If we don’t look to see what was good in our past and what was bad in our past and make adjustments, we’re gonna blow our life up (so to speak). That is exactly what Moses wanted the Israelite Nation to do before entering into Canaan. He wanted them to evaluate their past and see what brought them God’s blessing and what brought them God’s chastening.
In Deuteronomy 30:16, Moses reminds the people that if they love God, walk in His ways, keep his commandments, statutes, and judgments, they will enjoy life and multiply, and God will bless them in the Promised Land. Moses goes on to warn them in Deuteronomy 30:17-18 that if they turn away and not hear God, they will be drawn away and worship other gods (as they had done before). Bad things were in store for them if they indeed followed after other gods the way they had in their past.
Moses knew the Promised Land truly was a new beginning for the Israelite Nation. They had the potential to reap the blessings of God, but Moses also knew, that if they were going to fall into the same bad habits (following other gods) as they had done in the dessert following the exodus out of Egypt, it was going to affect them going forward and mar that blank slate they were soon to possess. So he basically told them to evaluate their past. See what worked (obedience) and see what didn’t work (idolatry) and make the necessary adjustments to finish strong and end well in the Promised Land. But alas, they didn’t heed Moses’ warning, and they found themselves in captivity several times with God needing to raise up judges to deliver them time and time again after they repented.
What is it in your Christian life in 2016 that is ruining your cumulative score? What worked for you in 2016 that would help enhance and keep you moving forward in 2017? Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots is a master of half-time adjustments. He can dissect every aspect of his football team’s play, and make the necessary adjustments at half time. If their running game was being shut down, he would create a new focus for the second half and not keep doing what led to poor results. That’s what we need to do for 2017. Look to see what was giving us poor results (chastening from God for example) and eliminate that from our lives for 2017, to put ourselves in a better position come the doorstep of 2018.
God wants us to do better moment by moment, day by day, year by year. That’s the whole intent of the process of sanctification. We should have upward steady improvement in our entire conversation year to year, and not an inconsistent peak and valley existence. The peak and valley experience comes from repeating the mistakes of the past and needing to be restored after repentance, a cycle Israel knew all too well. They forfeited so much of what they were entitled to because they didn’t deserve it. We should covet ALL of God’s blessings were entitled to, but we’ll forfeit those blessings if we do wrong.
So reevaluate 2016 before getting too far into 2017. Make the necessary “half-time” adjustments. Remember as you close out the “front” nine (2016), what hurt your score, and make the necessary adjustments to do better on the “back” nine (2017). There’s an old saying that sums up the whole thing. “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Making the same mistakes doesn’t make sense in sports. It didn’t serve the Israelites well once they crossed over into the Promised Land. If you don’t learn from 2016…then 2017 will look no different this time next year.