(Improve the New through looking at the Old.)
Psa 26:2 Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.
2Co 13:5a Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.
Just last night... the planet earth celebrated another orbit around the sun. Down in the basement, we had a “New Year's Eve” party where we gathered together in order to fellowship with each other, play games, eat snacks... and in my case... try to stay awake long enough to actually see the New Year come in.
You know... I really can't remember the last time I actually did that. It seems like after getting married and having kids... parties and celebrations like last night have lost some of their value to me and I became more concerned with sleep than anything else. And you know... it seems like the older I get... the more important that becomes!
But as I was thinking about today's sermon... and the fact that this is the first sermon I'll preach in the year of our Lord, 2017... I thought it might be a good thing to take an honest look at where we've been... in order to think about and make whatever changes are necessary that will get us to where we want to go.
Atheist philosopher, George Santayana said... 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' And though this isn't a biblical truth... it is true, nonetheless. Because if we never take an honest look at where we've been... and how we got to where we are... we won't be able to plan for where we want to go.
Think of it this way... “Ships without sails (propulsion) are at the mercy of the current” - (Terry Lee Hovey) So if we want to make positive changes for our future... it's helpful to take a look at our past and present. Otherwise... we may very well get caught up in Einstein's definition of insanity... 'doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results'.
And folks... when it comes to my spiritual life... to my Christianity... I don't want to be a ship without propulsion... helplessly adrift and at the mercy of the currents... Because you cannot rely on the currents of life to get you to where you want to go. More times than not they'll take you to exactly where you don't want to be.
You can also look at it like this... Another year gone by also means we're just that much closer to seeing the Lord... Either He'll return to this world and establish His earthly kingdom... or, we'll go to be with Him.
So... submitting to God's examination of our hearts... or, examining ourselves, as our opening verses said... is not only a scriptural... but it's the wise thing to do. 1Co 11:31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
None of us want to be “caught out in the cold”, as the saying goes... when it comes to our faith. When the Lord does return... or when we go to Him... which would you rather hear Him say?
Mat 25:34 ...Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world
Or... Mat 25:41 ...Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels
Now... I think I know your answer to that question. I'm confident that it's a sure bet that all of us would want to hear the Lord tell us to “come”... not to “depart”.
So... to get this self-examination started... I have one question I want to focus on... Because I believe that the subject matter of this question... and our honest response to it... touches on every aspect of our lives.
And this question is based upon the response that our Lord gave to a question that was asked of Him... concerning the “greatest commandment”...
Mar 12:29-31 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:  And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.  And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
So of all the commandments we see in the Bible... these are the two most important. They boil down to... “Love God” and “Love Your Neighbor”. And since your view of God... and relationship with Him affects everything else in life... my question is...
I. How is Your Relationship With the Lord?
You know, as much as I would like to say that my relationship with the Lord is great... I know in my heart that it's really not where I would like it to be. And I think that's probably the answer that most of us could give.
We know God... and we love Him... but at the same time... we know we can and should be closer. You know what I mean? And sometimes I think that the closer I get to Him... the more I understand just how far away I truly am.
God wants us to love Him with all of our heart... all of our soul... all of our mind... and all of our strength. But yet I know that I'm no where near any of those. That level of perfection eludes me.
My heart is divided because I love my wife, my family, and my church... my new truck. My mind is imperfect because even as I try to focus on Him only... I'm bombarded with other thoughts that demand my attention and clouds my focus. And my strength is weak because sometimes my actions, or my responses to situations may reflect a level of carnality that I didn't know was there.
So... my “honest” answer to the question about my relationship with the Lord... after my “honest” examination of myself... is that “it could be better”!
And you know... I think that's probably the answer that most people would give. “It could be...” or “It should be”... better. So... how do we make it better?
Well, the first thing we need to understand about any relationship is that its depth is directly related to the level of communication within it. And that communication implies the exchange of information between parties.
For example... I've come to know my wife pretty well through talking with her and observing her actions and reactions to her surroundings... or to the stupid things I've done... I've grown close to her through spending time with her.
Well... in a similar fashion... the only way we can improve our relationship with the Lord is by spending time with Him. First of all... through...
A. Bible Study
Joh 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
So the first step we need to take, then... if we truly want to improve our relationship with God... is read the Bible! God speaks to us... and reveals Himself to us... through His written Word... 2Ti 3:16-17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
In other words... everything we need to know concerning our faith and daily life... everything we need to know about how we are to act... or what we are to believe... how we are to treat others... how we are to live in this world... is revealed to us through God's written Word.
It's all in black, white and red. The circumstances may have changed through the centuries... but the plots and motives remain the same because people remain the same.
And don't just read the Bible... study it... memorize it... meditate on it. Set aside a specific portion of the day that will be dedicated to the Word of God... and guard that portion of the day jealously. Don't let anything come between you and your time in the Word.
Deu 6:6-9 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Now doesn't this speak a level of devotion to the Word of God that few of us have truly attained? But yet this is the level that God desires for us to have... so it should become a priority to us in the coming year.
If we truly desire to grow closer to the Lord... then we need to learn how to listen to Him through His Word. And though it's true that God speaks to us through other means... such as our circumstances... other people... the “urging” of the Spirit with in us... all of these are to be measured by the Word of God.
If any of them go contrary to His written Word... then it isn't from God, but from the flesh. So... the bottom line here is... we can't measure anything by God's Word... if we don't know it.
Now... another thing we should do in order to improve our relationship with the Lord... is to become fervent in...
Psa 63:6 When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.
When it comes to improving our relationship with the Lord through our prayer life... I have to ask first... Do we even have one? Have we been stedfast in communicating with the Lord through prayer?
Do we spend time each and every day... focusing on God and His attributes, such as His holiness... His sovereignty... His righteousness... His love?
Do we regularly offer the sacrifice of praise in the beauty of holiness? Do we lift up our thanks for His bountiful blessings. Do we meditate on Him and bow in humble adoration of His majesty?
1Ch 29:11 Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all.
Or instead... do we toss out a couple lines of prayer as an afterthought... because we just didn't have time? You know... I can think of many times in my own life when I “hit the ground running” in the morning and didn't think of the Lord until I was driving down the street. And so... I'd pray (with my eyes open, of course) while I was driving.
And though I can understand how that happens now and then... I don't think it should ever become a habit.
Psa 10:17 LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:
You see... if the Creator of the universe can make time for me... I think it's only proper that I make time for Him. He is God... after all. And even though we know He's our friend... He's not our friend in the sense that we're “best buds” and we'll “toss back a couple of brews” one day.
No... absolutely not! He is holy! He is the Majesty on High! The Supreme Being that created all things and sits outside of time and space. And when we think of Him as an afterthought... or as our “buddy”... or “the Man upstairs”... we're actually belittling Him and making Him less than He truly is.
And folks... that's called blasphemy. Any time we take away from Him... we add to ourselves. In other words... when we belittle the Lord in our hearts and minds... we are at the same time elevating ourselves, in our hearts and minds... We're making ourselves more than we really are... and bringing ourselves up to His level... by bringing Him down to ours.
If we don't devote time to God's Word and communicating with Him through prayer... we can never get an accurate understanding of who He really is.
Jer 29:12-13 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.  And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
So... just as we should have an established time for God's Word... we should also have an established time for prayer... and both should be jealously guarded. Don't let anything come between you and your time in prayer.
Dan 6:10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.
After Darius had been tricked into signing a law against prayer to any being other than himself for 30 days... Daniel determined that even if it meant the threat of death... he would continue seeking the Lord, 3 times a day, just as he always had.
And so should we... If we truly desire to improve our relationship with the Lord... then we should determine within ourselves... just as Daniel did... to remain faithful to Him in prayer.
Establish definite times... but be ready to pray for whatever reason at the drop of a hat. Choose a certain place in your home... but be willing to pray wherever you are as the need arises.
Pray alone in your closet... but also pray with your spouse and family... at the restaurant... or in church. Pray with few words, but focused entirely upon God... but also be prepared for those times when you're led to spend the whole night on your face before God.
1Th 5:17-18 Pray without ceasing.  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Now... the 3rd thing we need to think about, in our desire to honestly examine our relationship with the Lord... has to deal with...
Luk 4:8 ...for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Joh 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
The natural result of drawing closer to the Lord through Bible study... and improving our communication with Him through prayer... is an increased desire to worship.
Now one definition of worship is... “the act of religious devotion directed towards God.” And that's a good definition... but I prefer God's definition that we read earlier... as quoted by Christ...
Mar 12:30 ...thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength
That... is worship. And though I may be far from loving Him perfectly like this... I press on. I haven't given up. And you know what? I'm enjoying the trip because I know that He's given me everything I'll need to eventually get there.
2Pe 1:3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
Jesus also told us that those of us who desire to worship God, must worship Him in “spirit”... and that doesn't mean the Holy Spirit... it means the human spirit... that is within us, it's in our heart.
And then He went on to say that we'd worship in “truth” which means that... it's informed... It requires an adequate knowledge of who God is. Because, if the object of worship is false... then the worship is also false. We simply cannot worship “in truth” if we don't know the truth...
And folks... Jesus is the truth. He told us in... Joh 14:6 ...I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
So, as we've seen... the way to improve our relationship with the Lord is through faithfully seeking Him through Bible study, prayer and worship... which in turn, will lead us to the truth... which is Jesus Christ.
But understand... if you've determined that you will earnestly seek God this next year... And if you're resolved to remain faithful in Bible study, prayer and worship... You will draw closer to Him than you've ever been. But understand this... just because you've drawn closer... doesn't mean that your life will become “hunky dory”.
In fact... the closer you get to Him... the further you get from the world. And the world doesn't like that. It will begin to come against you like never before. (Like a liberal/progressive against President Trump) So be prepared... not only for the evil that the world will throw against you... but also for the grace that God will give you in return.
And for those who have not yet trusted in Christ... For those who aren't yet Christians... Let me tell you this... Christ died on the cross for you. In the eyes of God... you stand guilty of breaking His law.
And the penalty for that is death. But by believing in Jesus Christ... and becoming His disciple... giving your life to Him and following Him... your sins will be forgiven... your guilt will be wiped away... and He will give you eternal life.
And it can begin today... by taking that first step of faith...