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Showing posts with label New Beginnings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Beginnings. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I Have a NEW Mind!

Copyright April 28, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Romans 12:1-3

           I was in the choir room with the choir warming up for our anthem just a few minutes ago.  Sarah asked if anyone had accidentally picked up her reading glasses from the piano.  Kathy, who'd just been sitting at the piano and was holding a pair of reading glasses in her hand said, "No.  I promise. these are my reading glasses."  Kathy's sister, Sally, said, "Uh, Kathy.  You have a pair of reading glasses on your head!"  Sure enough, she did!  And they were the exact same style as Sarah's!  Kathy Said, "I'm losing my mind!"  We all had a good laugh.
            We use that expression, "I'm losing my mind," as a bad thing.  But the truth is, if we follow Christ, we are losing our old mind and Christ is giving us a NEW mind.  And that's what I want to talk about today. 

Romans 12:1-3
1And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

Explain the Passage
          The Apostle Paul gives us the image of a sacrifice placed on an altar.  At the time Paul wrote, animal sacrifice was a common religious practice—for both Jews and Gentiles.  A living animal was usually placed on an altar, its throat cut so the blood would drain out along with the animal’s life.  Then the animal would be butchered, cooked over fire, and eaten, or completely incinerated with fire.  As you can imagine, it was a startling thing to behold—something that left a lasting impression.  The point is a sacrifice was complete and irrevocable.  Right?  You can’t make half a sacrifice.  You can’t make a sacrifice and then take it back.  It’s an all or nothing proposal.  (At least for the animal!)
            But Paul turns the tables on us.  He invites us to leave the animals alone.  Instead, he urges us to put our life on the altar.  Give your own body—all that you are—as a living sacrifice.  It’s not human sacrifice he is asking; it’s self-sacrifice.  It’s surrendering all that you have and all that you are to the will of God.  It’s an “all-in” whole-hearted proposition that is true worship—truly pleasing to God—and it changes everything.
            It’s what Jesus did for us, you see.  Christ gave himself completely for us on the cross.  He didn’t just do some good things.  He didn’t just preach some great sermons.  Jesus gave everything.  He was whole-heartedly committed to God’s plan of salvation for you.  He willingly sacrificed his entire life for you—even when it meant dying on a cross.
            And Christ’s sacrifice makes it is possible for us to be made NEW!  We can have NEW desires, a NEW way of thinking, a NEW purpose in life, NEW peace and joy and confidence, and ultimately the promise of eternal life with a NEW heaven and a NEW earth.  But in order for the NEW to come, we have to let the old die.  In fact, we have to trust Jesus enough to place our old self—our old ways of thinking and living—on the altar as a sacrifice.  For when you sacrifice our old life, Jesus will make you NEW!

Thought Transformation
The key verse for us today is verse 2a – Don’t copy the behavior and customs of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Most of us grow up copying the behavior and customs of the world.  We do the things people around us do because we think the way they do.  In fact, if we ever see someone who acts or thinks in a way that in noticeably different, we might even call them weird.  I know when I was in high school, I had a few friends who lived out their Christian beliefs very faithfully.  At the time, I thought they were very weird because they didn’t act and talk and think the way most high school students did.  They stood out.  They were “weird.”  At the time, I thought they should just “copy the behavior and customs” of everyone else.  Now I see they were the minority that was really doing what God wanted.  Now I wish I had been part of that minority when I was in high school.  Now, I am—or at least I am striving to be—because I am striving to let God transform me into a NEW person.  So what if it makes me different.  So what if it makes me weird.  If it makes me more like Christ, great!
We all need to let God transform the way we think.  Romans 12:3 says, Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”  So let’s apply this wisdom and think clearly and honestly about ourselves.
First of all, you are not the center of the world.  Regardless of what the unbelieving world insinuates, the world doesn’t revolve around you.  You are not entitled to “Have it your way.”  Your own personal happiness is not the chief goal in life.  In fact, if you faithfully follow Christ and live for God the way He intended for you, you will definitely need to give up some things you want.  It is a sacrifice.  (Remember how our scripture said to sacrifice yourself to God?)  Following Christ means letting go of our selfish desires, our self-centered motives, and serving others instead of ourselves.  This is tough for many people, but we need to let God transform our way of thinking.
Some people think too highly of themselves.  Others struggle with thoughts that they are not important or that they are not good enough.  That’s why I like Romans 12:3 so much.  It addresses both misunderstandings.  It says, “Be honest in you evaluation of yourself.”  And the Truth is, (though you are not the center of the world) you are very important to God.  God deeply loves you.  He has been working out your salvation since the beginning of time.  He cared enough to send Christ to die for you.  God wants you to be part of His mission to save the world.  That’s pretty impressive.  You must be important!  So if you struggle with low self-esteem, let God transform the way you think.  You are precious to Him.
Do you struggle with shame or guilty?  God has promised He will forgive you if you ask.  No matter what you’ve done—how big or how small—God will forgive you.  1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Shame and guilt can cripple us.  It makes us hesitant in our relationship with God and others.  Shame and guilt are constant burdens that weigh us down and slow us down in our spiritual life.  They sap the joy God wants us to have.  They can make life weary and full of worry.  So if you struggle with shame or guilt, let God transform the way you think.  The truth is, forgiveness is available through faith in Christ.  And if you believe, God does not think about your sins anymore.  They have been washed away.  God says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”  If you asked God to forgive you, He has.  Now it’s time for you to let go of your thoughts of shame and guilt.  Let God transform the way you think.
Some of you may struggle with doubt.  The unbelieving world says this world is all there is.  Since science cannot verify the existence of an afterlife, they reject the idea as a fantasy.  Since they cannot see God, they reason He is just a myth.  But faith helps us see that there is more to life than just what you can see and hear and taste and touch.  Faith helps us to know that Truth is more than just facts and figures.  Faith helps us to see there is always hope even when all seems to be lost.  Faith helps us to know that the future is ultimately in God’s hands and so, there is nothing to fear.  Faith helps us to hear God’s still small voice leading us down the right path.  Faith helps us to feel God’s presence when we need assurance that everything is going to be alright.  Even if we lose this life, God has another waiting for us in Eternity.  And all the wrongs of this world will ultimately be made right one day.  It’s OK to have questions.  It’s OK to have doubts.  Sometimes they lead us to deeper understanding and faith.  But if your doubts control you or keep you frozen with fear, maybe it’s time to let God transform the way you think.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  Take hold of the power, love, and self-discipline God wants you to have.  Let Him transform the way you think. 

            As I close, I join with the Apostle Paul and plead with you, give your bodies to God as a holy and living sacrifice.  Don’t hold anything back.  Surrender yourself completely to the Lord and He will transform your mind.

Monday, April 27, 2015

I Have a NEW Heart!

Copyright April 21, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Ezekiel 36:25-27

            I love springtime!  It is my favorite time of year.  I love the weather.  I love the longer days.  But most of all, I love seeing earth spring forth into NEW life.  Trees are budding.  Flowers are blooming.  It is a glorious thing to behold. 
With spring, come caterpillars feeding to prepare themselves to transform into butterflies.  Abigail has a “pet” caterpillar in a jar.  She named him Larry.  Larry has already built a cocoon. Soon Larry will transform into a butterfly (or more likely a moth).  It’s such a pleasure to behold the excitement of a child studying this process—to see it through their eyes.  Abigail also has a “pet” worm, but it won’t build a cocoon. I was joking with Abigail and asked if her worm was going to turn into a butterfly too.

“No!  Worms don’t turn into butterflies!”  She said, “That’s the difference between worms and caterpillars!”
Wisdom from the mouth of an 8-year-old.  The difference between worms and caterpillars: God doesn’t turn worms into butterflies.  Do you have the faith to let God transform you into something NEW?  Are you a worm or a caterpillar?
            If you have faith in Jesus Christ—if you trust him with life and your eternity—God will transform you into a NEW creation.  He will give you NEW desires, a NEW way of thinking, and a NEW purpose in life.  Today I want to talk about God’s promise to give us a NEW heart.  Let’s look back into the Old Testament at the words of the prophet Ezekiel written over 500 years before Christ was born. 

Ezekiel 36:25-27
25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”

Explain the Passage
            Ezekiel lived during the Old Testament period of our faith.  We usually forget what a blessing it is to live in our time as opposed to Ezekiel’s time.  You see the whole character of life transformed when Jesus rose from the grave.  He ushered in a NEW Covenant between God and humanity. 
            In the Old Covenant, people were given rules (Laws) to help them avoid God’s judgment.  God said: If you obey my laws, I will be bless you.  If you disobey my laws, I will punish you. (summary of Deuteronomy 26:1-46)  That was the agreement.  The problem was most people only followed the rules to avoid punishment and receive a blessing.  There was very little sense of actual right and wrong—it was mostly about reward and punishment.  People didn’t necessarily want to do the right thing.  They just wanted to be blessed and avoid the God’s wrath.  Following the law was just a mechanical thing people did.  It was not motivated by love.
            Prophets used to lament this lack of love in people.  Perhaps the prophet Isaiah said it best in Isaiah 29:13, “And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.”

            When Jesus rose from the grave, He ushered in a NEW agreement (a NEW Covenant).  In the New Covenant, love is the only rule.  St. Augustine described Christianity this way.  He said, “Love God and do whatever you want.”  You see if you love God, you can do whatever you want because you will only want to do the right things if you truly love God.  In the NEW Covenant, Jesus offers us a NEW heart that loves God and sincerely desires to do good and not evil.
And all this is what Ezekiel predicted.  Five hundred years before Christ came, Ezekiel prophesied:
·      Vs 25a – “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean.  Your filth will be washed away…”  Since Jesus paid the price for our sins when he died on the cross, we who trust in Christ have been cleansed.  Our sins are washed away!  And how is it that we commemorate this cleansing by Jesus when a person decides to become a Christian?  We sprinkle people with water when we baptize them.
·      Vs 25b "…and you will no longer worship idols.”  An idol is not necessarily a statue.  An idol is anything that takes the place of God in our heart.  Money can be an idol.  Power can be an idol.  Sex or your job or your family can become idols in your heart.  In the story of creation found in Genesis, the forbidden fruit was an idol for Adam and Eve because they desired it more than they wanted to obey God.  You see, there has always been this crazy tendency within the human heart to replace God with something else.  It is the primal sin.  And God promised through Ezekiel, that one day we would stop doing this.  And here’s how God accomplishes this in us.
·       Vs 26 – “I will give you a new heart… a tender, responsive heart.”  Ezekiel dreamed of the days we live in right now!  We live under the NEW Covenant—when we can receive a NEW heart from God—one that wants to do the right thing and no longer wants to do evil!  Because Jesus died and rose from the grave, you can have a NEW heart! 

A NEW Heart
            Christ gives us an amazing opportunity!  We can have a NEW heart!  And here’s what it looks like: 
·       Vs. 26 – “…I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”  [Some of you may have been hurt, betrayed, or disappointed so that your hearts have grown cold.  You can’t trust anymore.  You’re afraid to feel.  It’s like your heart has become cold and stony.  Your cold, stony heart isolates you from further pain and disappointment, but it also keeps you from experiencing life, love, and relationships in their fullness as God intended.  Ultimately, your cold, stony heart separate you from God—the source of life.  If you go on living with your cold, stony heart, you’re going to die spiritually.  But you don’t have to.  If you trust Jesus, he will give you a NEW heart that is tender and responsive.
·       Some of you have dirty, filthy hearts.  Even though you look nice on the outside, on the inside you harbor evil thoughts, selfish desires, and unkind attitudes.  You know this is not the way you should be, but you don’t know how to change.  Jesus can wash away your filthy heart and give you a NEW, clean heart.
·       Some of you are not so bad.  If fact, you’ve spent most of your life trying really hard to follow all the rules.  Your parents taught you right from wrong and you’ve tried to lived up to everyone’s expectations.  Sure you’ve made mistakes along the way (who hasn’t?), but overall you’d say you’re a pretty good person.  But I’ve got news for you:  More than anyone else, Jesus wants to give you a NEW heart.  You see, no matter how “good” you are, you can never be good enough.  If you’ve been trying to get along in life by simply following the rules, you have misunderstood God’s intention for you entirely.  God doesn’t want you to follow the rules.  God want you to do what’s right.  (And following the rules and doing what’s right are not necessarily always the same thing.)  You see, you (just like everybody else) need a NEW heart—one that is guided by God’s Holy Spirit, one that has His laws written upon it, one that always knows intuitively how to do the right thing at the right in the right way.  You need a NEW heart. 

            Do you trust Jesus to give you a NEW heart?  You see, faith is the key that unlocks the power of Christ to transform you.  That’s the difference between a caterpillar and a worm.  A caterpillar and a worm both crawl around on the ground.  But only the caterpillar builds its own tomb, seals it, and waits to see what God will do.  And what looks like the end for the caterpillar, God’s sees as a butterfly. 
            Are you a worm or a caterpillar?  Do you trust God enough to let your old heart die so Jesus can give you a NEW heart?  Would you like to go on living with your old heart (which is not really living at all, just existing), or would you rather trust Jesus to give you a NEW heart and a NEW life—true life?
            God invites us all to trust in Jesus and receive a NEW heart.  That is your choice today.  How will you choose?  Are you a worm or a caterpillar?

Monday, April 20, 2015

I've Been Made NEW!

Copyright April 13, 2015
Galatians 6:14-16

            My wife, Kelly, went shopping together last night.  I got a new pair of shoes and she got a new smart phone phone.  Her old iPhone finally bit the dust and wouldn't turn on anymore.  I'm so proud of her.  She finally ditched the iPhone and opted for the better android system with a brand new Samsung Galaxy s5!  So she's is learning how to use a new phone today and I'm wearing a new pair of shoes.
            There’s just something about getting something new.  Isn’t there?  Doesn’t it feel great to own a brand new smart phone or put on a new set of clothes?  And who wouldn’t love to sit behind the wheel of a brand new car? (You can even buy air fresheners scented with that “New Car” smell to trick into the good feelings that come from owning a new car.)  There’s just something great about new things.
            Of course, lately the thing that has been in vogue in home decor is the “distressed.”  Do you what this is?  It’s where you take a new piece of furniture and rough it up so it looks like it’s an old piece of furniture.  There are all kinds of pointers on how you can do this.  One method calls for you to use a chain to flog the wood until it is sufficiently “distressed.”  All this reminds me of a fashion trend for denim jeans when I was in high school.  It was the style to wear jeans with holes in them.  So some kids I knew would actually buy a new pair of jeans and cut holes in them.  Then they would wash over and over again to give them a worn appearance.  Clothing stores caught on pretty quick and soon were selling their own jeans that came already tattered.  Most parents were just dumbfounded with the whole thing! 
            But you know what I think’s really cool.  It’s when you take something old and make it new again.  There’s nothing like a classic car that’s been restored to be like new!  Or how about a piece of truly beautiful and interesting antique furniture?  I recently had the privilege of refinishing an old phonograph.  This is one of those old wind-up record players back from before they invented radios.  This particular phonograph was built in 1917 and has been in my family all my life.  It existed as a dilapidated piece of junk with chipped wood and broken parts. But it always fascinated me and I had the chance to bring it back to life.  Now it is NEW again and it is beautiful to me. 

            I think my love of making old things new springs from my understanding of what Christ has done for me.  You see, Jesus is making me NEW.  Ever since the day I gave my life to Christ, He has been renovating me.  He has been changing the old person that I was into the NEW person He wants me to be.  And that’s what I want to talk about with you today, because it is far more important than classic cars or old furniture.  I want to share how you can be made NEW. 
The Bible teaches that what marks a person as a Christian is they have been made NEW.  They have new desires.  They have a new way of thinking.  They have a new purpose in life.  And these changes are so real and dramatic in a person’s life, that the best way to describe them is to say, “They are a NEW person.”  Jesus even used the term “born again” as if to say the person they used to be was dead and they have been born again—a new person.
            Over the next few weeks, we will study what it means to be made NEW by God.  Let’s start today by looking at Galatians 6:14-16.

Galatians 6:14-16
14 As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. 15 It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. 16 May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God.

Exegete the Passage
The Apostle Paul wrote these words to Christians living in a city called Galatia to bolster their faith in Christ.  Some false teachers were confusing them they by teaching the Galatians needed to believe in Christ and…  I.E. Believe in Christ and be circumcised.  Believe in Christ and follow the Jewish law… 
This is false because no external thing we do can save us.  It is only Christ who saves us and to tag on any additional stipulation as a requirement for God’s grace is an offence to the absolutely free gift of God’s grace.
The Galatian Christians were often persecuted for not being circumcised by both Jews and Romans.  You see, Roman authorities officially recognized and allowed for the practice of the Jewish religion; whereas, Christianity was not sanctioned and often severely persecuted.  Circumcision was the religious mark of a Jewish person.  Some thought that by being circumcised they might fall under the Jewish umbrella and thus be protected from persecution from both Jews and Romans.  Couldn’t these Christians just go along with the crowd, be circumcised and keep being good Jews?
We face similar temptations in our own time.  Though we aren’t pressured to be circumcised, we are pressured to be like everybody else around us.  Most non-Christians will tolerate Christians so long as we don’t cause a fuss (as long as we remain pretty much like them).  But if we really become a NEW person and take a stand on something that is contrary to popular opinion, we face ridicule and ostracizing.  For instance: we do not support gay marriage because it is clearly contrary to biblical teaching.  However, popular opinion disagrees with biblical teaching.  An active, growing, and vocal majority in our country advocate for gay marriage.  And when Christians refuse to go along, when we stand on solid biblical teaching, we are ridiculed, ostracized, and possibly even penalized.  There is a great temptation among many Christians to avoid all that and just “go along with the crowd.”
Paul says, “No!  All you need is to believe in Christ.  All the other stuff doesn’t matter.  Religious ceremonies can’t save you.  The approval of others can’t save you.  All that really matters is that you believe in Christ.  For when you do, you will be transformed into a new creation.”  The key verse for us is - 15 It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation.
A NEW Allegiance
When you truly believe in Christ, it means you have chosen to follow Him.  You have become His disciple.  Disciples forsake everything else and choose to follow their master.  You think about the Disciples we read about in the New Testament.  They left their homes, their jobs, their families, everything to follow Jesus.  And Jesus transformed them into new people. 
In the same way, when we chose to follow Jesus, we put Him and His teaching above all else in our lives.  Jesus said, If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).  Jesus is not advocating a life of hate--especially for your family.  The point is:  Our love and devotion for Jesus must be so strong, so committed, that it surpasses all our other commitments.  It means, that we will always choose to follow Christ even at the expense of these other natural, familial obligations. And the truth is, when you give your heart to Christ, you will actually become a better father, mother, husband, wife, son or daughter or friend.  You will become a better person, because when you choose to believe and follow Christ, he transforms you into a New Person. 
A NEW Creation
            What does it mean to be made NEW?  I will be talking about this over the next few weeks in worship.  But let me just give you a summary today.  When Jesus makes you NEW, it  means you will have a heart.  Your desires will change.  The sinful, selfish things you used to desire, will be replaced by things that are good, wholesome, and fulfilling.  You will find peace because your heart will desire things that are good for you, things you were originally designed to have.  And God will give you the desires of your heart and you will be fulfilled.
            When Jesus makes you NEW, He will give you a NEW mind.  He will help you a new way of thinking where you see yourself and others as He sees you—as the beautiful, unique, wonderful masterpieces He created.  Instead of seeing your flaws and weaknesses as mistakes, you will start to see them that God has transformed them into your greatest attributes--for in your weakness His glory shines through most clearly.  False pride will disappear and be replaced by a true knowledge of who you are and who you belong to.  You will find the confidence that comes from being a child of God.
            When Jesus makes you NEW, He will give you a NEW purpose.  Jesus will give direction to your life.  You will find a true sense of purpose, knowing that your life matters.  You will no longer chase after meaning in your days—jumping from one cause to another, and losing your identity every time your life’s purpose changes.  You will have an eternal purpose that transcends your age, gender, where you live, or your station in life.  It will be a purpose that brings everlasting rewards you will celebrate for all eternity.
            Lastly, when Jesus makes you NEW, He will give you a NEW eternal destination.  You see, those who have not been made NEW are dying.  They are headed down a road to destruction.  Their destination is eternal separation from God, the source of life.  It is a Hell of eternal torment, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  But those believe in Christ, whom Christ makes NEW, have a NEW destination.  They will have eternal life in heaven with God and all His saints.  It is a glorious place of eternal joy where there will be no more sickness or sadness or death.  All the injustices of this world along with the worries and suffering and evil will be swallowed up and forgotten forever in the wondrous glory of God.           

            If you would like to experience all these good things, why don’t you decide to follow Christ today?  Don’t cling to your old life any longer.  Let go of the past and embrace the glorious NEW future Jesus wants you to have.  Pray to Jesus and ask to be His disciple today and He will make you NEW. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Sunrise - A New Beginning

Copyright April 2, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Romans 6:3-11

Read Romans 6:3-11
Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. 

A Sunrise is the Symbol of a New Beginning
Every time I see a sunrise, it reminds me of the possibilities of a new day.  Whatever happened yesterday is over.  It’s a brand new day.  Anything can happen!  And I think that the core of the Christian message.  Because of what Christ did on the first Easter, we can make a brand new start.  The old has passed away.  We are no longer controlled by what happened before.  We can start over.  Just as Christ died and was buried in a tomb, our old way of thinking and acting can be buried if we let it.  And just as Christ rose from the dead, we can rise with him to a new life with new and better ways of thinking and living.  This si the glorious good news of Easter! 

The Story of Tom’s New Beginning
            I met a new friend when I lived in Lithia Springs, Georgia.  His name was Tom Kaznicki.  I was serving in my first appointment and also in seminary.  We lived in an apartment next to Tom’s parents and Tom was living with them.  We thought it was strange that Tom—who was in his 30s—was living with his parents, but we never asked about it.  We would say hello as we saw him from time to time—just being friendly neighbors. 
            When I found out Tom liked the outdoors like me, I invited him to go on a hike with me at Sweetwater State Park.  As we were walking and talking, Tom asked me what I did and I told him I was a pastor and was in seminary and shared how I was working as a chaplain at a drug rehab center.  Tom got quiet and I thought, “Great.  I ruined it now.  He thinks I’m some sort of religious nut.”  (Tom had never attended church as a kid or an adult.  This often happens to me when people find out I’m a pastor.  People start to treat you different; they stop seeing you as just a person and then only see you as a “pastor”.) 
After a few minutes of silence, Tom said, “You know it’s really strange that you said you work in a drug rehab center.  That’s the reason I’m living with my parents.  I was living in Michigan, but I relapsed in my drug addiction and lost my job and had to move back in with my parents.”  It turned out Tom had been struggling with an addiction to methamphetamines since he was 17.
Tom and I stayed friends over the years—even after I moved away to another town.  Tom and I would talk on the phone every so often.  Sometimes, Tom would call me confide in his struggles with the addiction.  Once, he called me and was so disappointed and frustrated he had relapsed yet again.  He said, “Chris, I just wish I could die and start over.  I wish go back to when I was 17 and just never try those drugs.”
The Holy Spirit gave me the right words to say.  I said, “Tom, that’s what Jesus did for us.  Because of what he did on the cross and the way he rose from the grave, we can die and start over.  That’s what it means to be a Christian.  There’s a scripture that says, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lived in me (Galatians 2:20).  So you see, if we give ourselves to Christ, we can die and be reborn as a new person.  We can have a brand new start.”
About a year later, I received a letter from Tom.  He thanked me for being his friend and for my advice.  Tom was in a Christian drug rehab program and had given his life to Christ and had been clean for over a year.  Tom thanked me for planting the seed that had helped him come to Christ.
A few years later, Tom died.  When I heard the news I thought, “Oh no.  Tom relapsed again and overdosed.”  But to my relief I found out it wasn’t so.  Tom had remained drug free.  However, the years of drug use had taken their toll on Tom’s body and he had a heart attack even though he was still relatively young.  But I am not sad for Tom, because I know he is in heaven now.  And I know I will see him again one day on those streets of gold, because I believe in what Jesus did for us all on Easter. 

Because of Jesus, you no longer have to be trapped in your sin.  You no longer have to be chained to your past.  Christ has set us free to make a brand new beginning.  And just as the sun rises each new day, you can make a fresh start again and again if you have to.  But don’t go on in your sin on purpose.  Don’t waste the power Christ gives you.  Take hold of your New Beginning and let your old sinful self die forever.  Step into the new life of your new day and choose to walk in the light forever, never going back.  Burry your old sins forever in a tomb and rise to the new life Christ offers you.