All of us have many relationships. There are the relationships that we have with our family, our friends and neighbours. We have relationships with the people we know at work or at school, in the church or in the community. In amongst all of those relationships there is also our relationship with God and, even if we are not always aware of it, that is the most important relationship that we have.
It is interesting, however, that so many of us go day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out with hardly a thought about how we stand before God. Even people who are an active part of the church can begin to take God for granted. God is just there like God is always there, like your neighbour or your spouse or your children or your dog. You just sort of get used to his presence. It becomes so familiar and comfortable that you don’t even think about it anymore.
On one hand, it is good to be that comfortable with God but it also presents a problem and here it is. Just as in any other relationship, you need to constantly work your relationship with God. Any relationship will suffer if you don’t work at it. Just look at married couples who have drifted apart and face serious marital issues. Inevitably, they got themselves into trouble because they stopped working on their relationship. They started going in different directions and lost the sense of commitment that they once shared. Or just ask parents who can’t seem to communicate with their children. Things were fine when the kids were younger but, as they grew older and rebellion started to raise its ugly head, they talked less and shared less and lost track of where each other was in life. Relationships break down because people forget to work on them.
Our relationship with God is no different. Like all other relationships, it requires work. It requires commitment. It requires dedication. But it also requires something else that is unique. It requires something that no other relationship can demand of us, that no other relationship can expect. What it requires is surrender.
To be in a complete and whole relationship with God, we need to surrender our lives to him, to put our lives in his hands for his use to fulfill his purpose. As I said, that is unique to our relationship with God. You shouldn’t surrender your life to your boss or your parents or even your spouse. Note that the Bible contains parameters for all our relationships. It talks about workers earning their keep. It talks about children being obedient to their parents and parents being fair with their children. It talks about the mutual submission that exists between husbands and wives. None of these things, however, implies surrender in the same way that we are called to surrender to God.
The person to whom we surrender our lives is the person to whom we give control of all that we do. That, my friends, is a place that is reserved for God alone. Only God sees all, knows all and understands all. God alone can guide us through the tough times and take us along the best path for our lives from beginning to end. That is why it is to God alone that we surrender our lives.
But here’s the trick, God won’t force his will on your life. Isn’t that ironic? We live in a world where dozens of other people and groups want to impose their wills on your life. That would include your employer, your union, the health care system, the education system, peer groups, support groups, the media and even – and maybe especially – family. But none of those has a right to your life. Only God does and if you want God to take control of your life, you have to surrender it to him. You have to let him do it. He might want your life but he won’t take it by force. He will only take it in love when you freely and willingly surrender it to him.
That’s what Jesus was doing in this morning’s Gospel reading from Luke 3. It’s the story of Jesus baptism by John in the Jordan River. The story begins with an introduction in Luke 3:15-17 (NIV):
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
In these verses John describes what the long awaited Messiah will be like. He will be powerful and righteous. And even more than that, he will baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit and with fire. In doing so he will separate the wheat from the chaff, the righteous from the unrighteous. The story continues in Luke 3:21-22 (NIV):
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus is baptized and in his baptism, he is symbolically surrendering his life to the Father. We know that because of what happens after the baptism. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
This may not seem like much to us but it really is a big deal. Like our relationship with God, we sometimes take baptism for granted. We think of it as something that we do for our children to introduce them to the Church and begin their formal walk of faith. It is all those things and that’s all good stuff. But it’s something more. It’s also an act of surrender.
The waters of baptism symbolize the washing away of sin and the cleansing of a person through faith. It is an act of surrender because through faith, we believe that we are giving control of our lives over to God.
When Jesus is baptized he surrenders his life to the work of his Heavenly Father. The timing is important because Jesus is about to begin his earthly ministry. He is about to gather disciples, teach the people, heal the sick, drive out the demons and do all those other things that we know he did. He is about to fulfill the words of the Old Testament prophets and the prophecy of John the Baptist. But before he does that, he must surrender himself.
What about you? Have you ever surrendered your life to God? If you have, have you taken some of it back? Is it time to do it again? That’s a challenging question for each of us to think about, including me.
LET GOD BE IN CONTROL
Those are important questions because here’s something that I know to be true; the happiest, most fulfilling life that you can live is the life that is surrendered to God. Here’s why. None of us knows the future. All of us face decisions every day about which way we should turn and which way we should go. A lot of those decisions are pretty mundane – like what we’re going to have for supper or do I wear my blue shirt or my brown shirt – but some of those decisions are important and some of the ones that you think are mundane end up being the most important ones of all.
Have you ever had that happen to you? Have you ever made a spur of a moment decision that affected the rest of your life and you had no idea that it would do that when you made it? I remember one office Christmas party when I was still single. My girlfriend at the time ended up not being able to go at the last minute. I had an extra ticket so I asked a young woman who attended the same young adult group if she was available. Her name was Ruth. Thirty-nine years later, after 36 ½ years of marriage, five moves, four kids and three grandchildren later, look where it led. The rest, as they say, is history. That was one of the best decisions I ever made but who would have guessed it at the time? All I thought I was doing was using up an extra ticket. Only God knew I was starting down a whole new direction in life.
Wouldn’t you love to know the results of your decisions before you had to made them? How many times have you said, “Boy, if I had only known then what I know now, I would have chosen differently. If only I had known that my cousin Clarence was going to drop by this afternoon, I wouldn’t have gone out to play golf (or whatever else you do in January in Essex County). If only I’d known that Mrs. Fletcher had moved to the retirement home, I would have dropped by to see her last Tuesday. If only I’d known how hard it is to quit smoking, I would never have started. If only I’d known that grandpa was going to die that weekend, I would have made at point of visiting him like I promised to. If only I’d known…”?
The reality, however, is that we don’t know. Proverbs 27:1 (NIV) says this: “Do not boast about tomorrow for you do not know what a day may bring.” We don’t know the future. We don’t know what will happen this afternoon let alone what will happen tomorrow or next week. We don’t know the consequences of our actions. There are all kinds of things that we don’t know.
There is someone, however, who does know and that person is God. In Isaiah 42:9 (NIV), God said these words through Isaiah: “See, the former things have taken place and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” That’s why it is so important to surrender our lives to him. By putting our lives in his hands we are engaging the one person who knows all and sees all: past, present and future. You may not know what the future holds but God knows. God knows the results of your decisions before you even make them. God knew the cousin Clarence was going to visit. God knew that Mrs. Fletcher had moved to the retirement home. God knew how hard it would be to quit smoking and God knew the hour when the angels would come to take your grandfather home. You may not know but God knows and when your surrender your lives to God and allow him to direct our paths, life begins to make a lot more sense.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt the Spirit nudge me to go to the hospital when I didn’t think anyone was there, only to discover someone who really needed a visit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt the sudden urge to phone someone only to hear him or her say, “I’m so glad you phoned because you’re just the person I need to talk to right now.” I can’t tell you how many times the Spirit has chastised me for not reading a bedtime story to my children and made me go back up to their rooms and do it; and I’m always glad that I did. I have to say that I don’t always get it right but I get it right a lot more when I trust in God and follow the leadings of his Spirit.
All of us have regrets. All of us have done things that we wish we hadn’t done. All of us have neglected to do things that we knew we should have done. I won’t guarantee that once you surrender your life to God, you won’t have any regrets but I will promise you that you’ll have fewer of them. You’ll still make mistakes. You’ll still do things that you shouldn’t do and you’ll still neglect to do things that you should. That’s because God made us human; God did not make us perfect and, as I’ve always said, there’s a world of difference between human and perfect.
Here’s something else to think about. Even those of us who have surrendered our lives to God may not have surrendered everything. We as human people are great at straddling the fence. We give our lives to Christ and surrender ourselves into God’s care to be guided and directed by the Holy Spirit. But we don’t give all. We keep back little portions for ourselves.
That’s not unusual, in fact, I’ve come to see that it’s more the norm than anything else. There are very few people in this world who gave their whole lives to Christ the moment they receive him as Saviour. That doesn’t meant that they’re not saved. The moment that you give your lives to Christ, your sins are forgiven and you are saved for eternal life. From that moment on, your life is transformed and the Holy Spirit begins to work in you in new ways.
That, however, is not the end of the process. It’s only the beginning. It’s also very basic Christianity and every now and then we need to go back and review some of those basics. Giving your life to Christ is what Paul calls justification. Paul wrote in Romans 5:1 (NIV), “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” What this verse says is that the only way to have peace with God is through faith in Christ. That peace comes when you surrender your life to him. It happens in a moment. You are either saved or you’re not saved. You are either justified before God or you are not. All those words mean the same thing. It’s like being pregnant. You either are pregnant or you are not pregnant. There is no in between. That’s the way it is with your salvation. You either are or you are not.
But once we are saved through faith in Christ, something else begins to happen. It’s what Paul calls sanctification. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says this: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I love the way the Contemporary English Version (CEV) puts it: “I pray that God, who gives peace, will make you completely holy. And may your spirit, soul and body be kept healthy and faultless until our Lord Jesus Christ returns.” What this says is that sanctification is that on going process whereby you become more and more the people whom God wants you to be. As you become sanctified you become aware of the Spirit working in your life. You become aware of God trying to direct your life. Not only do you become aware of it, you consciously let God do it.
This process of sanctification never stops. It takes time. In fact, it takes a lifetime. We can always grow. We can always walk closer with God. There is always something that we need to change, someplace we need to grow. Often those things are the areas of our lives that we haven’t quite surrendered yet to God.
Do you have any of those areas in your life? Is there some part of your life that you are holding back from God, keeping all to yourself? The answer to that is, “Yes,” because none of us has completely surrendered everything. All of us are a work in progress. That’s why we still need Jesus Christ in our lives.
Remember this also, that the last few things that need to be surrendered to God are always the toughest. They are the ones that you have tenaciously held on to when you gave everything else over to God. They are the things that you really don’t want to give up and the areas of your lives that you don’t want to give into God’s hand. You keep them to yourself because you’re afraid of what others will think. Or you don’t know what you would do without them. Or because you’ve done them for so long that you don’t know how to do anything else. Or sometimes you simply enjoy doing them way too much.
So, here’s today’s final challenge: Is there something in your live that you would like to surrender to God this year? Is there a part of your life where you are shutting out God? Are you the same Christian at work as you are at home? Do you act the same way at school as you do at church? Does your language change depending upon what group you are with? Do the books that you read glorify God? Do you think that God would approve of the movies you watch or the music you listen to or the foods that you eat or the car that you drive? Is God tugging at your heartstrings about something, trying to get into that part of your life as you keep trying to shut him out? Does any of this sound familiar. If it does maybe it’s an indication that there is an area of your life that you still need to surrendered to God.
It’s not too late to make one more new year’s resolution. It’s never too late to give one more part of your life over to Christ. Wouldn’t that be a great way to start off 2022.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Love, we come with our prayers of thanks and praise for you have shown yourself worthy of honour and glory. Your stars shine in the heavens. Your waters roll across the seas of the earth. Your wind blows where it will and whispers words of your grace and peace.
We give you thanks for the constant assurance of your ability to deliver those who place their faith and trust in you. Even in situations that seem impossible, you are able to do far more than anything we could ever ask or even imagine. When we face difficult circumstances, help us to pray as Jesus prayed, believing in your word and promises, and trusting confidently in your holy promises.
We pray for health care workers in hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes and other care facilities. They have under incredible stress. Give them strength and wisdom. Help them to know that their efforts are appreciated. And help us to support them in whatever ways we can.
We pray for our environment. You, O God, made the earth as part of your creation. Help us to be the stewards whom you called us to be. Enable us to treat the earth well and to adjust to the changing cycles of this our home in ways that are sensible and beneficial.
We remember those who are sick and pray for their healing that their recoveries may be quick and complete. We pray, especially, this day for Carol, Rachel, Mark, Richard and Angela as they look towards you for his life and hope. We thank you for those who watch over us in times of need offering support and comfort.
Gracious God, we are grateful for the confident assurance of your absolute faithfulness. You will always do all that you have promised. Others may fail, intentionally or otherwise, to keep their word but you are truth and your promises will never fail. We can rest securely in the knowledge of your limitless unconditional love, knowing that even when others may fail, you will never leave or forsake us.
Our prayers we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
January 9, 2022 / Baptism of Jesus
Psalm 29; Isaiah 43:1‑7; Luke 3:15‑17, 21‑22; 1 Corinthians 12:1‑11
CALL TO WORSHIP
The love of God reaches the heavens.
His faithfulness touches the sky.
God’s righteousness rises like mountains,
and justice like the depths of the seas.
Come to us, God, in your unfailing love.
Comfort us under the shadow of your wing.
We come, God of Love, as a community of faith, gathered to give you humble worship and praise. Speak to us of your love. Hold us in your arms. Protect us in the comfort of your wing. As Jesus turned the water into wine, we ask that you would transform us that our of the clay of our lives, you would fashion vessels of grace and righteousness. Renew us. Refresh us. Perfect us. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We come to your holy house out of the goodness of your world. We, also, come in awareness of our sin for all have fallen short of your glory. We fail to live by the standard you have set for us. We hope to do what is right but our human hearts turn us in another direction. We watch television while others sit in loneliness. We waste our resources on lottery tickets and casinos while children in our own community go hungry. We lament the high cost of living while we plan foreign vacations. Forgive our self‑centredness and enable us to live for others with simplicity and dignity.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
Although we are far from perfect, our perfect model for living is found in Jesus of Nazareth. His standards are high but when we fall short, we have forgiveness through his love and sacrifice. Hear the Good News; when we humbly repent and confess our sins, we are forgiven.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We offer you our gifts, O God of Creation. We ask that you, who turned the water into wine, would use our offerings to transform the world. May the hungry be fed and the thirsty be refreshed. Enliven us for mission and give us a sense of purpose. May the name of Jesus be heard and known in our words and actions that others may come to receive him as Saviour. Amen.
As God’s own people, baptized in the blood of the Lamb and saved through faith in Jesus Christ, we are called to share the Good News of salvation for all the world. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. May we share that Gospel and live it every day of our lives