Drawing Closer to God
New Year's Day 2023Pastor Leroy Wiggins - January 1, 2023
This morning is a little bit different than our typical Sunday morning, right? We've got a bunch of kids all over the place, and I think you heard John Cook said that if you need to head outside for a little bit out in the atrium, not outside, in the atrium, maybe outside, you're more than welcome to do that, but perfectly cool. But really looking forward to this morning together. We've got kids of all ages, we have adults of all ages as well. Then, let's see, probably almost everyone here is maybe a little bit tired 'cause you were up until the wee hours of the morning, so that's something a little bit different as well. And then knowing that we've got also some hot pancakes and syrup, so in just a few moments the aroma of pancakes and syrup is gonna fill the air. So here's the challenge: I've got tired people on this hand, and on this hand I've got pancakes and syrup and the aroma coming, and I'm in the middle, right? So you can see what I'm up against this morning, right? So we're gonna jump in and just go ahead and get started really quickly here on our shortened time. So I heard of a conversation that took place once. I wasn't actually in this conversation, but it was shared with me. That person number one said to person number two, "I wish I were as close to God as you are." Person number two then says to person number one, "You could be, you just choose not to." And that's rich right there, because I think what person number two was saying to person number one, and that means you and that means me, all of us, that we can be as close to God as we choose to be. That it's what we do, the prioritizing, how we get close to God, but we can actually be as close to to God as we choose to be. So in our shortened time this morning, what I want to do is for everyone from King's World age all the way up to Legacy age and everyone in the middle, what I wanna do is just spend a couple minutes this morning and help us to just kind of think about what it means for us to draw closer to God as we enter into this new year. So hopefully I'll be able to do that and you'll kind of hang with me for a minute. And the general assumption that I'm gonna make is that everybody here wants to be closer to God. I mean, every Sunday, no matter where you are, on a campus or online, the general assumption is everyone here wants to be closer to God. However, do our choices actually reflect that we wanna be closer to God, right? See, if I wanna be closer to my wife, the lovely and talented Iliana, if I wanna be closer to her, guess what? That means I have to be intentional, that I have to be purposeful, and it's gotta be something that's also demonstrated as well. My actions should reflect the fact that I wanna spend more time and be closer to my wife. Those things always need to be in place right there. Well, in our community group meeting just last week, it was one of our more spirited meetings, we got to talking about how we draw closer to God, and it was just really, really spirited. And you guys don't know this, but you actually wrote today's message, okay? It wasn't my plan at first, but it was so impactful the time that we spent together that I thought what I would do is maybe share some of the things that we actually talked about. Now, there are many, many ways that we can draw closer to God, but there were four in particular that continued to be the ones that everyone spoke about as we went around the table a little bit. So what does drawing closer to God look like? Drawing closer to God first looks like prayer. And prayer is simply talking to God, right? And you would think that as easy as it is to do that, right, because we talk from the time we get up to the time we go to bed, you would think as easy it is to talk that man, spending time praying to God would be not a big thing at all whatsoever. But as easy as you would think that would be, I think every believer will tell you this: "I just don't do that as effective and as well as I should." By a show of hands, how many of you would like to have an increased prayer life, a better prayer life? That should be everyone, everywhere. And if it's not you, that's a different message. But it should always be something that we are looking to draw closer to God. And that's the only way we will do that, through prayer. Listen to this verse here in 1 Thessalonians: "Pray without ceasing." Pretty simple. Which basically means that we need to live a life of prayer, so with our purpose being that we wanna draw closer to God, that we come to God with all of our heart, the good, the bad, and the ugly, yes, all of those things, that we go to God for those things, intentionally spending time with Him. So like in my wanting to spend time with my wife, right, to get just increased time together, there's one thing that I always have to be mindful of is her time, right? I want to be closer with my wife, I need to be mindful of her time as well, 'cause it's not all about Leroy. But here's the thing with God, we don't have to worry about His time. He has got time in the palm of His hands. He always has time for us. So if we say to ourselves, "Man, I just don't have the time," trust me, it is not on God's part, it is on our part that we would prioritize what it means to spend time with God. That's the part that's missing. That's what we need to do is priority of having that time with God. So what does that look like? Well, it might look like just a couple of minutes in the morning as you pray, as you get your day started. It might look like as you're driving to work or to school or wherever it might be. It might be at lunchtime, it might be in the evening time, it might be before you go to bed. It's spending those moments with God. But the one area that I think that we all would agree that we need to spend a little bit more effort and prioritization on is that focused, dedicated time with the Lord. The short prayers are great, they're awesome. God wants us to pray without ceasing, right? But it's those focused, dedicated times of prayer. So a buddy of mine, he and I, for the past four years, we've got one day a month, we spend 24 hours of prayer and fastening every month. Let me go back, almost every month. Let me go back, usually every other month. But the plan is every month, so what that means to us as we start going forward this year is how do we make that even more intentional, that the priority would be once a month, second Wednesday every month, and everything else revolves around that, that that would be the thing that we would do? So what does that look like for you in your life? When you think of 2022, what would 2023 look like? What did your prayer life look like last year personally? What did it look like with maybe you and your spouse? That's one area that I want to get better in. I'm sure you probably do as well. What does it look like with you and your family, maybe around the table? What does the prayer life look like in doing that? So I would encourage you to consider what that looks like and just listen here to Ephesians 6. I don't think you're gonna see this on the screen. "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests with this in mind. Be alert and always keep praying for all of the Lord's people." So consider what last year looked like in your prayer life and consider what you would desire for that to look like going forward: intention, purpose, and then demonstrate it. And here we are on the 1st of January, and if you say, "I'll start tomorrow," you've already blown it. You can still start today, okay? But think about what that means to you. So drawing closer to God looks like prayer. Drawing closer to God looks like time in the Word as well. It continues to blow me away that the creator of the universe first wants a relationship with me, and then also that He wants me to come before Him and talk to Him. It blows me away that He'd even be that mindful of me. There's a verse in the Scripture that talks just about that as well, but it really blows me away. So while we get to talk to God, we wanna talk to God, the most effective way that God, the best means He has given for Him to talk to us is through His Word, right? He will use the Holy Spirit as we listen to Him. He will use other believers in our lives as we listen to them. But his main method of speaking to us is definitely going to be through His Word. Listen to what Jesus says here in John 14:26. "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." And what jumps out at me at that right there is that the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance, right? But what that means is in order to remember something, I had to first know it. So in order to first know it, that means I also have to spend time in God's Word with a regular, healthy diet of God's Word. But I think not only just having a regular, healthy diet of God's Word, but I think if we approach God's Word the way the Psalmist does in Psalm 119, and we'll talk about a couple of those now, I think that's when we begin to see our lives draw much closer to God. And listen to Psalm 119. We've got a couple of verses here. "You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed," right? Obeyed. It's not just a read and walk away, it's a read and obey. And, 119:10, "I seek you with all of my heart; do not let me stray from your commands." I seek you. I'm going after, I'm pursuing this, I am going towards you with this. Is that the way we're looking at God's Word? Next, "I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you." To hide something, I'm digging into it. I'm taking God's Word and I'm planting it into my heart. I'm not just sprinkling it. I am planting God's Word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Your delight in 24. "Your statues are my delight; they are my counselors." Delight. Is God's Word a joy to you? When you pick it up, is it, "Oh, just gotta read these two chapters today"? Or is God's Word a joy to you? 119:97, "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on them all day long." That might be a word, it might be a short passage, it might be a block of Scripture, but we are chewing on God's Word all day long, like a cow chews on his cud, right? All day long. That is what we are to do with God's Word. And then lastly, and there's many, many more in Psalm 119, "Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble." Do you read God's Word that way? If you read it at all? That's how we have to posture our hearts when we read God's Word every day, that we are opening up God's Word, recognizing that this is not just ink on paper, this is God speaking directly to us. And there's a reverence that we need to have, and when we have that kind of reverence for God's Word, when we get ready to read that word right there, I know that you and I will draw closer to God when we do just that. So what does your time in the Word look like? What did it look like last year? Were there days or weeks that you've gone without putting God's Word into your heart? Yes, you've come to church and we've put some words there, but were there time that you've had with the Lord? What does that look like for you personally? What does that look like for you and your spouse? What does that look like for you and your family? What does it look like for you to take the intentionality again, the purpose again, and then demonstrate that God's Word, you will read God's Word in the same manner with the same posture as the Psalmist did? And you will draw closer to God in that way. So we draw closer to God, it looks like prayer, it looks like time in God's Word, and it looks like fellowship and it looks like a community as well. And and this is one of the vitally important parts of every believer's life, that they would have other people in their lives. The non-believers' version would say something like this: if you wanna go fast, go alone, right? You wanna go far, bring others with you. And as true as that is, the one that I like best, still, from a biblical perspective is the one that everyone here probably has heard a million times in Proverbs 27, that iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another, one woman sharpens another, one young kid sharpens another. That could not be more true in a believer's walk. But here's the deal, because the believer's walk is really a journey. There's nothing that's gonna be fast about this whatsoever. It's gonna have a lot of twists and turns. It's gonna be windy, it's gonna be uphill, it's gonna be downhill, it's gonna be bumps, it's gonna be all of this in a journey. We want to make sure we have others in our lives that are coming alongside us as we do that. There are gonna be mountaintop moments, but the reality is this: there are gonna be way more times that are not gonna be on the mountaintop. And we don't wanna be there alone. We wanna make sure that we have other people in our lives when we have our faith journey. You will grow best that way. Doing what I do as a campus pastor and a men's ministry pastor, I have the privilege to talk with tons and tons of people. It's truly an honor to do that, and I'm grateful that God has positioned me to do that. And whenever I talk with someone, you can always be assured that I am going to ask you, who is the community of believers that are living life with you? So if you ever wanna take me to lunch, you know that I will get to that, because it's so critically important that we have other people in our lives. And the apostle Paul knew that as well. The apostle Paul knew that we needed to be in each other's lives. And listen here to these two short passages in Romans 1:11-12. "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you; that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine." And then 1 Thessalonians 5:11. "Therefore encourage one another and build another up, just as you are doing." Listen, I love boxing. I can shadow box all day long and get it wrong, but my best workouts come when I've got somebody with me. We have to be able to have other people in our lives. As much as that is in the sense of physical fitness, it's more so in the sense of our spiritual fitness and our spiritual growth as well. You can define community in a thousand different ways, but it should look like something. Are we in community here in mass right now, in mass at your campuses? Absolutely. But we do wanna shrink that down to something more manageable and more personable so that we can actually walk alongside one another as we do that. One of the things I really, really love about our student ministries is that King's World and SHiNE and Movi, man, every week our kids are being exposed to what it means to be in small group community. They do that every single week. So kids, rock on in doing that 'cause you are an encouragement and a demonstration of what that means to be in community with one another as you look to grow at your own pace, at your own phases, which is really, really cool. But moms and dads, adults, we tend to lose that a little bit, don't we? As we get older, all these other things come into our lives, as they will, but this is still about the priority that we make. So let me ask again, what steps are you taking this year as you think about last year and what community looked like for you? What did community look like for you personally? What did community look like for you as a family? What did it look like for you as a spouse, right? What does that community look like and what changes might you make so that you'll find yourself in deeper relationships, deeper in community, walking alongside one another with community and accountability? That's what we ultimately need to make sure that we're doing there. So maybe you're saying to yourself, "Well, Leroy, I do all of those things." Awesome, rock on, but hold on a second. Who are you inviting into that community? I remember right here on this stage here, a number of years ago, pastor Shep Clark said, "We can't have the attitude of my four and no more," right? That we have to be able to take the opportunity to invite other people into that community as well for all of the right reasons. And you say, "Well, you know, if everyone in my group invited someone then our group would double in size." No, your group could split and now you have two groups. So there you go, we've just solved that for you. So listen here to Hebrews 10:4. "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." More often than not, it's just gonna take you to spur someone on, to invite them in to join you for a cup of coffee, to join your community group. It's sometimes just gonna take that invitation. No matter what I'm saying here, that hopefully is encouraging people that are kind of on the outside of, "I'm not really in a group. I'm thinking about it, I don't really..." If you're in one, just ask them. Just ask the person next to you, the person around you, and you'd be surprised that most oftentimes it's an invitation. Most oftentimes it was an invitation from someone to us that which we actually got involved as well. So I wanna make sure that you're doing that as well. Think about what that looks like for you as you walk into 2023. So drawing closer to God looks like prayer, it looks like time in the Word, it looks like fellowship and community, and it looks like service as well, right? And it couldn't be more clear than here in Matthew 20:28. "And even as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve." You see, as we draw closer to God, as we look more and more like Jesus Christ, it's just a natural thing for us to serve, right? You love God, you love Jesus, you love the church, you serve, end of discussion. Those are the things that we need to make sure that we're doing as followers of Jesus Christ. Because when we serve, we not only become, like here, a life-giving Spirit to those we serve, but we also get super encouraged by serving as well. You'll hear it said many times, "Hey, I love serving because I wanna be a blessing to others. But by the time I finished serving, it really turned out that I was more blessed than the people that I was serving." That starts because of our heart going into serving other people. I gotta share with you a really, really great story. On one of our recent mission trips to Dominican Republic with our Kingdom Come partner, Mission of Hope, We are in the village of Cecara, and while we were there serving, there was a woman who came by, her name was Esline. If you could put that picture up. That's Esline right there in the number five. We were able to spend pretty much an hour or two with her. But look at her posture. You could see somewhat slumped shoulders. She mumbled a lot of words. She was very broken. She was a pregnant single woman in a very difficult position. And we just spent time loving on her. We spent time serving, we spent time sharing the prayer. We spent time praying with her. We spent time in the Word, just spending time with her. She would barely look up at anyone the whole time that we were there. You could tell that there was a brokenness that was there. Man, we went to repair Pastor David's church, but there she was, and God presented her there. And by the time we had finished talking to her that day, that day Esline accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior. And look at this picture here just four days later. Is that a different woman or not? We were able to connect her with the other women in the church. We were able to connect her with Pastor David's church, and that was the end of the week right there. And here's what's so, so cool. When we just got back about a month and a half ago, we went back to Pastor David's church, 'cause that's what we do with community, we wanna be in one community, there we see Esline in church with her baby with a bunch of women close up to the front of the church. So who was more encouraged? Esline, yes, she's walked into the kingdom. But we were super encouraged by, "Wow, that's all this is. This is what this is about." And that comes when we start to serve one another. So we were blessed to see her do that. Ephesians 2 here says, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." God has prepared good work for each and every one of us. We just have to step into that work and do what He's asked for us to do. And for most of us that know about that and really get into the serving, we could probably spend hours talking about even this past week of what it meant to serve our neighbors right here in Western New York. But for those of you who may not have yet stepped into serving at that level, I would ask you to really consider what 2023 would look like for you to serve not only within the walls of the church, but outside of the church, locally, regionally, nationally. What does it look like for you to put your yes on the table right now when it comes time to serving? I know sometimes, well, I've got something going on. Yeah, but if we put serving first, let's let serving be the first thing and then everything else could be subservient to that. Far too often we put everything else up here, and hey, can you serve? Oh no, I got this, I got that, I got that. Let's flop that. Let's put our yes on the table to serving. And if something comes up, we get that. But you'll hear about many, many opportunities coming up with our partners locally and regionally and nationally. But what does it look like for you serving this year? What does that look like for you personally? What does it look like for you and your spouse? That's one of the things I want to do better. And what does it look like for you and your family to increase the level of serving but serve with a heart that says, "Yes, I wanna bless other people"? Because here's the thing, when we serve other people, when we do all of these things, when we spend time in God's Word, when we pray, when we spend time in community, when we serve, I think there's something that's produced in our lives that can't help but be a byproduct of that. And that's gratitude and generosity. Those are things that just can't help but being a byproduct when we find ourselves drawing closer to God. Gratitude for all that God is doing in and through our lives, even through the things we choose not to go to, but we are grateful for what God is doing in our lives. And then generosity, because of that gratitude, that just just flows into generosity. Now we are becoming generous to other people, generous in our time, generous in our talent, and generous in our treasures as well, being a life-giving spirit to those folks around us as we bring hope to them, but most importantly, we bring Jesus to them so that they would not only have hope for a better future, but they have a hope for a certain eternity, which trumps everything. So that is why we need to make sure we're doing those things. So if you know me, it always is gonna come down to a now what, right? Because Leroy does not leave without a now what? What do you do with the things that we've just talked about here? Well, in just a few moments, you're gonna be out at tables, you're gonna be having some time with the family and friends. Here's what I would ask you to do. So someone's gonna have to own this to get this started, but maybe just take a couple of seconds per person, and kids, you can participate in this as well because we are really concerned also about your spiritual growth and development also. So maybe just share a little bit around the table for minute or two about what these areas, or one or two of these areas looked like for you this past year. And let everyone maybe take a moment or two and go around the table, "This is what my 2022 looked like." And then after you've done that, maybe take one more moment and say, "Okay, well, what does 2023 look like?" Maybe choose one of those things and just talk about that around the table while you're eating your pancakes, and just kind of say, "All right, I've just agreed to something personally that might change as the year goes on. But now the people around my table can hold me accountable to what I said." And I know we don't like that word, accountability, but that word accountability is gonna help propel you and help you grow in your faith. So share a little bit about that around the table if you would. But remember the conversation that I started out with, right? "I wish I were as close to God as you are." "You can be, you just don't choose to." Let's choose to be closer to God. Well, in a moment we're gonna worship, and then we'll get ready to close and you be able to go out there and have some pancakes and stuff, which is awesome. But what I wanted to do though, because much of what I've been sharing this morning has been for those who have already said yes to Jesus Christ, right? And I understand that, and that's what we want to make sure we are doing while we're here. But I don't wanna miss an opportunity that someone may be here in this building right now, or at Lockport or at Niagara Falls or at Cheektowaga or online, have gotten themselves out of bed this morning not knowing what last night may have looked like, not knowing what the rest of day was going to look like, but they're here this morning and they have not yet said yes to Jesus Christ. So I wanna specifically speak to you there. I wanna share two verses that Jesus left us with and then one verse that Paul left us with. And the first verse that Jesus left us with is this. "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me." There is no Muhammad or Buddha that's gonna get you there. Your grandmother, your grandfather might help, but they're not gonna get you there. Your mom and your dad might help, but they're not gonna get you there. Your community might help, but they're not gonna get you there. What gets us there, Jesus is the way. So if you're here this morning and you have not yet accepted Christ, know that He is the only way. The cool thing about that is that there could be a million ways and we'd have to choose. No, there's one way and that's easy. We walk into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through Him, we draw closer to God. Because you might be here saying, "I wanna draw closer to God, but how do I do that?" One way, boom, done, end of discussion. So I pray that today you would do just that. Listen to this verse here. "I am the gate." This is Jesus again. "I am the gate, whoever enters through me will be saved." Not might be saved, not should be saved, not could be saved, but will be saved. Jesus is the way. And what the apostle Paul penned to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Romans 10:9, "If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." But those are two things there, right? It's confession with the mouth and believe it in your heart, because you could easily confess to something, right, but not actually do anything about it or believe it. I can easily confess that I wanna spend more time with my wife, but I'm really not doing anything over here. So it is a confession and it is also a belief. So this morning, know this: that you do need a Savior. Your greatest need is a Savior. You cannot, will not ever be able to save yourself. So if that is what you would want this morning, starting the brand new year off on January 1st on a Sunday in a room with everyone here, or maybe you're online with someone there as well, why would you choose any other thing but today than to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and as your Savior? That is your greatest need.