2020 has been a wild year. Some feel like it has lasted forever, mainly because of COVID-19 and all the shutdowns. Then we had all the riots this summer, and we are finishing off with a crazy election year that still isn’t over. We also had quite a few astronomical events from Super moons, to a blue moon that happened on Halloween, and then we recently had Jupiter and Saturn come close together, and there were other events as well. Of course, these things I mentioned are just a few examples of what has happened this year.

While we have vaccines for COVID-19,  it will take some time for it to be effective, but we can be hopeful that things will turn around in this new year. Even if they don’t, as Christians, we must press on and keep our eyes focused on the goal of heaven. As Paul wrote:

Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

In context, Paul was talking about moving from his old life of being a Pharisee to being a Christian, but the principle is the same because we must move on from the events of 2020 and press forward. Again, Paul continues:

Philippians 3:13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,  14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

It would be easy for Paul to continually think back about all the bad things he did in his life that were fighting against God, but that would not serve him well as he moves forward to fight the good fight of faith. It will not do us any good to look back at all the bad things we experienced in 2020 and dwell on them because you can’t change the past, but you can control how you will look at today and the future. Don’t let a bad year keep you down because it one measly year out of many. So, focus on today and what things you might do to make sure that you keep your faith and trust in God.

You can do this any time during the year, but I think a great time to evaluate yourself is at the beginning of a new year simply because the new year is a reminder that you have a new year before you that will no doubt have its own challenges and rewards. Paul tells us:

2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-- unless indeed you are disqualified.

This is a really good thing to do after the year we have had because there have been many Christians that have allowed the events of 2020 to cause them not to be as active for the Lord. I know we have been restricted and encouraged not to go out as much, and some places are not assembling with the saints at all, but thankfully many are still studying together and have some form of a worship service on Sunday through services like Zoom. However, many are not as committed to serving the Lord as they used to be because they have gotten used to doing very little.

In Oklahoma, we have not had the same restrictions as some other states such as California and New York. In fact, the Supreme Court overruled New York’s overreach of trying to demand that churches could not assemble because of COVID-19. So, we should be thankful that our state hasn’t tried to force churches to not assemble. Instead, they have given recommendations for us to follow that help make our assemblies safer. 

So, the first thing we need to do is evaluate our relationship with God. We need to ask ourselves, what have we been making our priority? Have we been focused on our fear about COVID, or maybe it’s politics; after all, this is an election year? Now, there is nothing wrong with being cautious with this virus, and there is nothing wrong with getting into politics. These things only become a problem for us as Christians if we make them our priority. Anything we put before our God and our spiritual walk of faith is not good.

Let me ask you a question. If you were to give yourself a grade on how passionate you were for God in 2020, what grade would you give yourself? Would it be an A, an F, or somewhere in between? I know it’s easy to be biased when grading yourself, but try to be honest. Even if we give ourselves an A, we can always grow and improve.

Next, I want you to think about ways you can improve your grade for this new year. What changes can you make that will make you grow closer to God? Perhaps it will be spending more time reading and reflecting on Scripture, or maybe it will be increasing the amount of prayer time in your life. Whatever you decide, do your best to make it happen.

It also might help you to have the right focus by going back to the cross and thinking about all that Jesus did for you. Think about what He gave up to die for you.

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.

There is no one like Jesus who would love us enough to give up His life just so we could be reconciled to our Father in heaven.

Romans 5:6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

It is so easy for us not to think about what Jesus went through and what it took for Him to do this for us, but the more we can understand what He did for us, the easier it will be for us to be motivated to live for Him and stay focused on heaven.

We would also do well to increase our faith, which comes from reading, studying, and applying what we read in Scripture.

Romans 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.  

The Word of God is the foundation of our faith as Paul said in,

Romans 1:16  For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

We are very fortunate because we have the privilege of having access to everything we need to know about having faith in God, as Paul tells Timothy in,

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

This teaches that faith in God is not simply based on a feeling or our imagination because our faith can and must be grounded in the Word of God. Unfortunately, there are many in the religious world who don’t understand this basic principle about faith, and that is why you will find them talking about how they know they are close to God and how they know the things they are doing in their lives and their worship must be ok because they feel that God is pleased with them.

They use this way of thinking to justify any and everything they practice in their lives or in their worship of God, but friends, this is not the kind of faith that God will be pleased with because it is not based on His Word. I believe Jesus makes this clear in,

Matthew 7:21” Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  22 “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

As Paul says in Eph. 4:5, there is only one faith that is pleasing to God and that is an obedient faith to His Word, and this is the same kind of faith that the writer of Hebrews is talking about in,

 Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Notice, he only rewards those who diligently seek Him, and as you read that entire chapter, it gives an example after example of those who had an obedient faith and followed God’s Word, and that is exactly what we must do today. One of the ways we can determine how strong our faith in God is can be based on how well or how poorly we follow His Word and by how much trust we put in the Lord.

So, let’s do our best in this new year to become better students of God’s Word, and let’s be diligent at being doers of God’s Word. When we allow our lives to be shaped by the beautiful word of God, then we will have the kind of faith that we need to press on toward the goal of heaven.

We also want to work on being better servants of the Lord, but it easy after having the year we had in 2020 to lose our spiritual fire for serving the Lord because it’s always easier to do nothing than something. Before we know it, our fire will go out, and our love for serving God will grow cold. The devil loves it when this happens because it gives him great opportunities to lure us away from God, which is why it’s important that we follow the advice that Paul wrote to the Ephesians.

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

When we put on the whole armor of God, the devil has no power over us because we have studied our enemy, and we know what kind of devices he uses. Having that knowledge gives us the upper hand. As Paul said:

2 Corinthians 2:11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

However, sometimes people and entire congregations can allow their fire to go out. The church at Ephesus is an example of a congregation whose flame was well on its way to going out. 

Revelation 2:1 “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:  2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;  3 “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.  4 “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  5 “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place -- unless you repent.

You will notice that this church had some good qualities, but they were starting to go downhill, and Jesus basically says that they had left their first love. They had reached the point where they were just going through the motions. Because of this, Jesus tells them that He will remove their lampstand. There is no reason for a church to have a lampstand if there is no fire there for it. Jesus basically tells them they must repent or face the consequences. While it is sad when people and entire congregations lose their spiritual passion, we must realize that it can happen to us. That is why it is important that we test ourselves to see if our spiritual flame is burning hot for the Lord or if it is about to go out.

So, let’s do our best to keep our zeal hot and look for opportunities to serve as individuals and collectively as a congregation. It doesn’t matter if a pandemic is going on or even if we entered into a time of great persecution as they dealt with in the first century, God’s Word still needs to be proclaimed, and God’s people must continue to serve and be good examples to those that they are around.

Perhaps one of the most important qualities we should possess as Christians and continue to work on is love. As Paul said:

1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.  2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Without love, you can never have the kind of zeal that God wants you to have. People can do all kinds of wonderful things, but if they don’t do it with love, it profits them nothing.

Let me ask you a question. Are you on fire for the Lord, or are you hiding your light under a basket?

If we don’t have a zeal for serving Christ, then He may remove our lampstand as well. Let’s never forget what Jesus said:

Luke 9:23 “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 

Jesus makes it easy for us to understand that serving God is a daily event. We must never grow weary of doing good or growing in our knowledge of God’s Word because if you are not growing, you are becoming complacent, which is not a good thing. Whether you are 10 or 90, we must continue to challenge ourselves to grow and become wiser in God’s Word and living the Christian life because it will keep our flame burning hot for the Lord. As Paul said:

1 Corinthians 15:58  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

John writes:

Revelation 14:13 Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ““Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”

When you look at these two verses, it should be clear that our work does not come to an end until we are not capable, or we die. Notice, Paul says that a Christian is to always abound in the work of the Lord, and John continues that thought by saying that after a Christian dies, then they get to rest from their labors.

It concerns me when Christians get to the point where they say that someone else can do the work because I have already done that work for many years. We need to be very careful when we start thinking this way because we are setting ourselves up to become idle, and when we become idle, our flame will grow dimmer and dimmer for the Lord. If you are already in this condition, then the way you relight your flame for the Lord is by rolling up your sleeves and getting busy for the Lord once again. It is never too late to be about the Father’s business. 

So, let us do our best to grow in our love for others and to never stop serving in the kingdom.

In Mt. 10, Jesus was sending His disciples out on a small mission, and He gave them a warning about what would happen to them, but notice what He tells them in:

Matthew 10:22 “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

This is what it is all about. As Christians, we must endure all the hardships and all the temptations of this life by keeping our sight on Jesus and remaining faithful to Him. Jesus states that those who endure to the end will be saved, and they will receive the crown of righteousness (Rev. 2:10). In order for us to remain faithful and not lose our fire for the Lord, it takes an inward determination. If you don’t convince yourself of how important it is to love God with all of your heart, mind, and soul, how are you ever going to be able to press forward? If we are not on fire for Jesus, then how is anyone going to be able to see Christ in us?

Finally, I think it will help motivate us to remember that there is a judgment day coming and that we will all be judged by the Word of God. Our deeds and lack thereof will come to light.

So, ask yourself the question, Are you ready for the Judgment Day?

When we study the Bible, we learn that Jesus will come back, and when He does, it will end life on the face of the earth.

Matthew 24:36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.  37 “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  38 “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark,  39 “and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  40 “Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  41 “Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  42 “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.  43 “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  44 “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Peter puts it this way:

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.  11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,  12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?  13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.  14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless;

There are many today who teach that Jesus is coming soon because the signs are right, yet Jesus said that no one knows that day except the Father in heaven (Mk. 13:32). So, Jesus could come today, or it could be 1000 years from now, but what is important is that we live our lives in such a way that we are ready for the judgment day, today. As Peter said in verse 11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness. We must be prepared for the judgment today. If we are, then it will be a glorious day for us, but if we are not, it will be a horrible day for us that will last for an eternity in hell.

Jesus gives us an example of why we must think about being ready for judgment day in:

Matthew 25:1 “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  2 “Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.  3 “Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them,  4 “but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.  5 “But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.  6 “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ 7 “Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.  8 “And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 “But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 10 “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.  11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 “But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

Many Christians are not ready for the judgment day because they have not been following Jesus all the way. You need to ask yourself, are you like the wise or unwise virgins? If you are like the unwise ones, then you know that you are not ready for the judgment day. Don’t be like them. Change your ways and recommit yourself to following Jesus and His Word. When we use God’s Word as our guide and live by it, there will not be any surprises for us on that day because we will be judged based on the Word of God as Jesus said:

John 12:48 “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him -- the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.

Granted, there are things we do not know, and we will see things on that day that we have never seen before, but when it comes to whether or not we lived for God and obeyed His Word, there will not be any surprises if we are truly living our lives in accordance to God’s will. On the Judgment day, all will stand before Jesus and give an account for what they have done in their lives, which will include how ready we were to serve God Almighty. As Paul said:

2 Corinthians 5:10  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

As the ole saying goes, heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people, so I ask you again, are you ready for the judgment day?

There are many more areas that we could look at that will help us press on, but I hope these ideas I have expressed in the lesson will cause you to examine yourself to determine where you are at right now in your relationship and commitment to God, and I hope each of will strive to put 2020 behind us and look forward with a zeal of how we might do great things for our Father in heaven in 2021.