Thursday, December 31, 2015

Should a Christian Make New Year’s Resolutions?

There seems to be 3 reasons why some say Christians should not make New Year’s resolutions:

1. They are unbiblical. You don’t see this practice prescribed in God’s Word.
2. They are worldly. This is a common practice of an unbelieving world, selfishly trying to make themselves better apart from God & His divine help.
3. They are rarely kept. Christians should follow thru on their goals.

It’s easy to read these 3 reasons and then piously add New Year’s resolutions to our list of things not to do. But are the reasons above legitimate? Should they keep a person from making resolutions?

The short answer is no.

New Year’s resolutions are not unbiblical. Scripture doesn’t speak on the subject. We need to be careful not to make hard and fast rules where the Bible does not. Where God prescribes specific actions, we must obey. Where there are obvious principles, we must practice them. But where God is silent, we cannot put words in His mouth.

New Year’s resolutions are not inherently worldly. While non-Christians may make selfish resolutions that are kept by their own strength, this doesn’t need to be the case for the Christian. Resolutions can be motivated by a desire for God to be glorified and an understanding that we are incapable of keeping them apart from God’s gracious power.

The third reason listed is entirely TRUE, but is NOT a reason against resolutions. It is faulty logic to say that because resolutions are rarely kept perfectly, Christians cannot make them. If this were true, than we should not be aiming for Christlikeness as we will never attain this perfectly. No, our aim should be the bullseye (complete Christlikeness), knowing full well that we will often miss the mark. If we set our standards lower, we are not following Jesus but rather a version of Him that we’ve created in our own minds. Yes, Christians must follow thru on our goals, but to never miss a goal means that you’re probably sitting on the bench, rather than playing as if to win.

So if there is nothing wrong with making resolutions, the question becomes: Is it good to make resolutions and if so, what should my resolutions be?

I believe making resolutions is a good idea. In fact, we should be making them all the time. Following Christ on the road of life is an every day, moment by moment decision. We didn’t (or shouldn’t have) hit cruise control when Jesus saved us. We should constantly be driving in the direction that He is leading us, while making needed adjustments (resolutions) in our steering as we start to get off course. But when we plow into another person or we drive into a ditch, it is helpful to have a clear demarcation of recommitting ourselves to following Jesus in specific ways that we’ve been neglecting.

What then should our resolutions be? The first thing to do is to ask God. He knows where you’ve gotten off course better than you. If it’s been awhile since you talked to God, your first resolution should be to become a person of prayer. I’ve heard it said and wholeheartedly agree that “Prayerlessness is a declaration of independence”. We must be people dependent upon God’s Holy Spirit working in us and on our behalf.

After asking God (and listening), take a look at what our Christian brother, Jonathan Edwards resolved to do.[1] You can find a link to an excellent article on what His resolutions were at the bottom of this post.

The basic principle for what we should resolve to do is to do what God tells us to do, for this brings Him glory. For instance, the Apostle Paul tells us “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.”[2] We should resolve to not be conformed to this world but transformed into Christlikeness. If you recognize this is an area of failure, describe how you will practically do this and then resolve to do it. Repeat as necessary.

Conclusion: Our problem isn’t that we are too disciplined in our Christianity, it’s that we are not disciplined enough. Use New Year’s resolutions as an opportunity to be more faithful as a disciple-making disciple of Jesus, recognizing that it’s only by being dependent upon Him that your resolutions will ever be realized.

[2] Romans 12:1-2

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Confusing Message of Christians & their Guns

Let’s just get this out of the way: I don’t believe it’s wrong to own a gun or to protect yourself with it. But there seems to be a segment of Christianity who seems to have adopted a new mantra: “Preach never, and if possible, use guns.” Sure, I’ve not read or heard anyone say this exactly, but if you summarized the bumper stickers on many of the trucks I’ve seen lately, this is what you would get. It’s as if Jesus said, “Go therefore & make gun rights in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the NRA, the 2nd Amendment, & Charlton Heston”.

Am I missing something? Did Jesus come to institute personal freedoms or to command that we lay down our personal freedoms, like He did, for a bigger cause? Wasn’t it Jesus who said "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”? Why yes it was. Look it up, it’s Matthew 16:24. Its Jesus saying that we must die to ourselves if we are to live with Him. Identifying with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through faith, is what makes us Christians. Either many so-called Christians never did this, or somewhere along they way, they laid down their cross, stopped following Jesus, and along with their personal freedoms, picked up a gun.
Have you confused “The American Dream” with God’s dream that all people be saved??[1] Or have you simply chosen to go for the latter? Don’t you understand that “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” are only found in Jesus and in following Him?

So then, what is the greater cause we should be concerned with? The Great Commission.[2] Making disciples. Being a disciple-making disciple. Of Jesus! We must be adamant about this.
And here’s something so important that many Christians don’t seem to understand: When we are more or just as adamant about other things as we are about Jesus, it confuses the heck out of the world. And rightly so. Why should they think that Jesus is far and away most valuable & worthy to be the Lord of their lives, when your life and passion seem to say that other things are just as important, if not more important.

But it’s especially confusing when it’s guns. Guns bring death, Jesus brings life. Jesus taught mercy and love. Guns are used for justice and often hate. People often say “Gun’s don’t kill people. People kill people.” That may be true, but guns don’t save people, Jesus saves people. Guns may protect and prolong life on this earth but that’s it.

“Preach always, and if necessary, use words”[3], is the actual quote that I referenced at the start. This is good but I’d go one step further. Preach always, and if possible, use words. Because whether or not we realize it, we’re always preaching something by how we live our lives and what we stand up for. Think about it. Everything you do says to the world what is important to you. And look for opportunities to use words that exult Jesus and show others their need for Him, and only Him. Because it’s so much more necessary to use words than we realize. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”.[4]  So whether you’re speaking or simply going about your daily business, preach Jesus, not a confusing message of Jesus + guns.   

Listen, we only have one witness. Let’s not muddle it by forcing Jesus to share the spotlight with guns or anything else. Because He won’t. And I wouldn’t want to be you when He calls you to account for trying to force Him to.  

[1] 2nd Peter 3:9
[2] Matthew 28:18-20
[3] St. Francis of Assisi
[4] Romans 10:17

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Christian Response to a Muslim Topic

What to do about Muslims? Talk about a volatile question! Okay, I will. 
Albeit, briefly.

First off, this answer may not make sense to those who aren’t Christians. And to those of us who are, this may upset some. Yet I believe this answer is one we arrive at when we “put on the mind of Christ”, which according to the Apostle Paul, we have.[1] Unfortunately, too many Christians think in the flesh, with our primary desire being to protect our flesh, our physical bodies. But lest we forget, our mission is not to save ourselves from possible terrorists, but to join with God in the Great Co-Mission by making disciples out of possible terrorists. We must remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”[2] This means that our struggle is not against Muslim’s, but against the one (Satan) who desires to keep them from being freed from the terror of sin. We should have compassion and love for Muslims, especially when we remember that they are trying desperately to earn God’s favor and forgiveness.

So how do we this? I’d like to suggest 3 ways.

First, don’t generalize about all Muslims being terrorists. Yes, the basic tenants of their faith are not grace, love, and mercy to all people (as is the Christians). In fact, violence is an accepted way of making converts in the Quran.[3]. That being said, most Muslims do not practice this in the same way that most “Christians” do not practice the Great Commission. Most Muslims simply want to live peaceably. We absolutely cannot equate being a Muslim with being a terrorist.

Second, we need to have a paradigm shift. For some Christians, the question has become, “how do we have more Christians in the world than Muslims? Do we have more babies? Do we outlaw Islam?” This is the wrong question to be asking. The question should be “how can we do a better job of making disciples of all people, especially Muslims?” It’s not us versus them. The goal is not to “win” as if this were some contest. The goal is to glorify God by seeing more of his creations be redeemed thru faith in Jesus. Some of us need to change the way we think.

Third, let’s look at Muslims coming to the USA as an opportunity. For centuries we’ve had to primarily send missionaries to other countries in order to reach Muslims with the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is far less true today. In addition to that, I’ve heard reports of many Muslims around the world coming to faith in Jesus. This should excite, encourage, and challenge us to reach out to our Muslim neighbors with the hopes of starting a dialogue about the true identity of Jesus.

Christians, we need to be careful. It seems that our country is waking up to some of the realities about Islam and so it would be very easy to jump aboard, leaving behind our Christian witness. While Politics has its place, remember that it will never save people. We cannot police the world to Christ. Choose your battles wisely, and remember that it’s not Muslims we’re fighting against.

[1] 1 Corinthians 2:16
[2] Ephesians 6:12
[3] Quran 2:191-193) 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Disability We All Have

I recently read an article about Steve Sarkisian, the former Head Coach of the USC Football team. He is suing the school for various reasons. Included in the article is the statement that “The suit also asserts Sarkisian has, at times, been "a person with a disability" under federal law because of his alcoholism and that the stress of his job contributed to his alcohol dependency.[1]

My sister has disabilities. She was born with them. She cannot do anything about them. If she pushed herself, she could develop more in certain ways, but she could never be a fully functioning adult. Period.

I was a gambling addict. It controlled my life. I lied to my wife, family, and friends. I stole from a person very close to me.

Are we all in the same boat? Are we victims, equally in need of certain breaks and help/protection from government?

If so, what is your disability? What behavior can you not control that you should be getting special treatment because of? Maybe it’s cheating on your taxes? Maybe it’s cheating on your spouse? Maybe it’s running red lights? If so, maybe you should tell the IRS, or your wife, or the police, that you have a disability. Maybe then they’d back off and see that you’re the victim, not the people you hurt by your actions.

Okay, so I’m being facetious. Hopefully that’s obvious. Hopefully it’s equally obvious that Mr. Sarkisian (the alcoholic) and myself (the gambler) do not have disabilities in a way that’s even close to the same way that my sister has disabilities. Mr Sarkisian has a very real problem and I HAD a very real problem. He needs help. I needed help. But this does NOT mean that we should be classified in the same way as my sister and millions of others who cannot do a single thing to undo their disability.

Let’s be real. Addictions, especially chemical ones, are real and horrible life-changers. I don't pretend to know everything about addiction, especially chemical addiction. But what’s at the heart of the issue? At the heart of the issue is the heart. We’re all born with the same disability: selfishness. We’re addicted to self. This addiction plays itself out differently for every person. Some mask it pretty well, while others do not. Some deal with it and take responsibility for it, while others blame things and other people for it.

So how does one deal with it and take responsibility for it? It starts with Confession. Believing and saying the same thing as God on the subject: You’re a sinner in need of a Savior. Confessing that Jesus is your Savior, not yourself or anyone else. Then turning away from your sin and towards following Jesus. It’s pretty simple. Sin & selfishness are no longer in control of you, you belong to Jesus. Simple, yet so hard for prideful people. Simple, yet unfathomably wonderful.
What if you’ve truly done this? The means for stopping a certain behavior, whether it’s chemical dependency or not, are not much different. I’ll use my gambling as an example. I confessed that I was not living the way God created me to live. I was sinning against Him. I confessed that I needed a Savior then as much as ever. I confessed, again, that Jesus is my Savior. I confessed I needed His help. I turned from my sin and towards Christ (repentance). I put off certain things in my life that tempted me to gamble, including watching poker on TV & playing with friends. I put on truths from Scripture(such as needing the help of brothers) & a closer relationship with Jesus that filled the void left by the gambling. The grasp that gambling had on me was quickly weakened and then slowly destroyed. It’s not easy, because we’re fighting against the flesh, but thru dependency upon God’s Spirit and not ourselves, it’s very doable.

Some have a physical and/or mental disability. All of us share the same spiritual disability. Let’s be careful to put things in their proper category. Don’t you agree?


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Of dogs and God

“Yes! You’re such a good boy, aren’t you?!? You love it when I scratch your belly. Oh yes. Yes you do! You’re a good boy. You’re such a happy boy. Yes……yes. Good boy.”
Can’t you imagine that conversation taking place between a “man’s best friend” & its owner? In fact, I’m pretty certain that I’ve had conversations like this with dogs that I’ve had in the past. But the thing is, it’s not a conversation, is it? It’s essentially a person talking to themselves by putting words in a dog’s mouth, words that the owner wants to hear. Words that please them.
Now there’s nothing wrong with this. This is basically using the imagination that God gave you to enjoy the animal that God gave you. Unfortunately, all too often, this is how people in the world treat their “so-called” relationship with God.
We all know that dog is god spelled backwards, but have you ever thought about how much people treat God like they treat their dog? Now THIS is backwards. What exactly am I talking about? Well haven’t you ever heard someone say: “I’m spiritual and I have a relationship with God on my own terms.” Push them a little more and they might tell you that they pray and that God speaks to them thru songs, nature, good books, feelings, maybe even their pets.
What they’re telling you is that they’ve created a god in their own image. A god that does what they want. A god that tells them what they want to hear. A god who doesn’t really speak at all. It’s really no different than the “relationship” they have with their dog, except that at least the dog exists.
Obviously, this is foolish. In fact it’s idolatry and it’s disastrous. But I wonder if we Christians ever behave like this? Do you find that you treat God as if he approves of everything you do? Do you put words in His mouth? Do you act like He hasn’t spoken for Himself? Or do you try to know Him as He’s revealed Himself to be?
Because the truth of the matter is that He has spoken for Himself and He has revealed Himself for who He truly is!  Remember that we have the full revelation of God in Scripture! We have the oracles of God’s amazing character written down in an unchanging document right at our fingertips in the Bible.

So friends, let’s know Him for who He truly is, in all His unchanging Holiness by spending more time with Him in His Word and less time imagining Him in our own image. After all, because of the Cross, He is truly our friend and the best one we could possibly imagine!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

I thought "love wins"?

Help me understand something!
If you cannot control who you desire and who you love, then why did former Subway Spokesman Jared Fogle, get sentenced to 15 years in Jail yesterday for paying to have his sexual desires met? While I am sickened by his behavior and glad that he is locked away, what gives anybody the right to judge him? Most will point to the age of those who he was with. But age is such an arbitrary thing. I mean who decided that one day a person can be a child and wake up the next as an adult just because they turned 18?  It used to be common for people to marry at the age of 14, 15 or 16. Also, age isn't an issue in the animal world & don't most believe that we are, simply, animals? I thought "love wins"? Apparently age wins. 
If at this point your mind quickly thinks: "Yeah, but they were forced to," Wow!!! Do you realize that if the age argument was destroyed that quickly in your mind, what are you going to do when the thousands of perverts in our country band together to say that they should be able to love who they want as long as the minor is consenting??? What leg do you have to stand on? After all, don't you say that anybody should be able to love anybody? Don't you say "who are we to judge"? Please be intellectually honest. Unless there are moral absolutes that are true for everyone, at all times, who are we to stand in the way of people doing whatever they feel like, as long as "it doesn't hurt anyone". And who's definition of "hurting anyone" will we be using? 
The reason that I can boldly proclaim that what Jared Fogle did was disgusting is because it clearly falls outside of God's design for sex to be enjoyed in the context of marriage, marriage as he defines it in the Holy Bible. What's more is that Jesus came to die for sin such as this. If Jesus died for it, we must stand against it now and until He returns. The Good News for Jared though is this, by faith in Jesus he can be forgiven and cleansed. He may & should suffer in this lifetime, but there is hope for his soul. If you don't believe the Bible, what right do you have to judge people like Jared and what hope do you have to offer them???


Becoming a People Pleaser

Have you ever been called a people pleaser? If you have, it probably stung a bit as its meant to be a put down. Typically, if a person is a people pleaser, they are more concerned with having everyone like them than with obeying God and/or standing up for their convictions. This person typically has no backbone. They are wishy-washy. They are often a very frustrating individual. 

But did you know that the Apostle Paul was a people pleaser? Seriously. Much of 1 Corinthians and all of Romans 14 is about pleasing others. He says, "...I try to please everyone in everything I do". 1 Cor 10:33a Can you imagine that? Don't just imagine it, read it for yourself. Read how he says to give up your freedoms so as not to cause others to stumble. Wow, right!?! The pharisee, the hater & murderer of Christians became a people pleaser? What in the world would cause him to change in this way? Well I'm glad you asked.

A personal encounter with Jesus is where it started. This encounter led to a desire to bring Him glory. Out of this desire sprung forth obedience to Christ's Great Commission and an understanding that we, by pleasing people, give opportunity for Gospel seeds to be planted & watered. 

You see, we are to be people pleasers that we might be God pleasers. We please people not that we might gain, but that God might be glorified. We're people pleasers that they may be well-saved not that we might be well-liked. It's not that we compromise the truth, it's that we compromise our desires and maybe even rights. No desire to do this? Maybe you haven't personally encountered Jesus. It has to start there. Being biblical people pleasers, has everything to do with why & how we are pleasing people. 

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God! Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved!!!( 1 Corinthians 10:31-33,punctuation added)

Who are you giving thanks to today?

Who are you giving thanks to today? It's a legitimate question. If you're inclined to say, "friends & family", that's fine, but it's certainly a departure from the historical. Nearly all historians agree that Thanksgiving has it's roots in thanking God. If you freely admit that you're thanking "God", are you thanking the god of your own making or the God who made you? I challenge you to think about it! It might be very postmodern & popular to believe in a "higher power" that acts the way you would and also doesn't offend anybody, but come on! What kind of a "higher power" would think the way that you think? Maybe instead of trying to mold your "god" to meet your criteria, you should seek to encounter God for who He's revealed Himself to be. Take Him on His terms, even if you can't wrap your mind around Him & all His plans & ways. He's revealed His mysterious ways in Holy Writ that, despite attacks like the "Da Vinci Code", has not, in fact, been altered or changed. Encounter the God who has the power to save & transform lives, even yours. Today, why not thank the one deserving of all thanks? After all, He gave Himself for us, can't we at least give Him our thanks this Thanksgiving?