Some people make new year’s resolutions and some do not. Are new year’s resolutions a good idea? I think so, as long as this is not the only time you think about making changes in your life.
To live in hope we must believe that change for the better is possible. Constructive change begins as we accept what God shows us needs to change – and then resolve that we are going to do something about it.
One of the greatest theologians that America has ever produced used to keep a running list of resolutions. As God impressed upon him something he needed to do differently, he would write it down in a little book. Then he would regularly meditate on these changes, and, by the grace of God, he saw his life progressively develop over time.
One may not see themselves keeping an ongoing list in a book, but the transition to a new year does provide a good opportunity to evaluate your life and make some resolutions for change. What has God been showing you that needs to be different? What steps can you take to bring those changes about?
The top three new year’s resolutions are typically: get in shape, eat healthier, and get out of debt. These, along with other common resolutions to better one’s life, are all good ideas. But there are even better resolutions that can be made – those that directly pertain to improving your character.
The Bible tells us that bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim.4:7). The principle here is straightforward: those efforts toward improving one’s character are the most fruitful in the long run.
The Bible gives us much direction about character formation. And from this you can develop your own resolutions to further your own character. Here’s just a sample.
Do not do what you do merely to please men, but God (Eph.6:6). Whatever you do, do it with all your might (Ecc.9:10). Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (Jas.1:27). When you do speak, be sure it’s truthful and in love (Eph.4:15). Do not seek to be served, but serve, and give your life for others (Mat.20:28). Think only on those things that are true, honorable, right, and pure. . .(Phil.4:8).
Resolutions like these are superior because they have eternal consequences. They also require us to seek the grace of God to fulfill them, which is always good. Not only that, we may pursue these qualities in hope, knowing that God wants us to possess them.
Are you thinking about making some new year’s resolutions? Go ahead and make them. But be sure to include the best resolutions – those that involve the development of your character. And as you pursue them, do not do so in your own strength, but according to the grace God supplies through His Son, Jesus Christ. There’s no genuine, lasting character change apart from Him.
In an article I read last week, the author stated that last Christmas
was the last “happy Christmas.” He made this claim based on his
observation that last Christmas we were still under the illusion that
you could borrow and spend your way to prosperity, but this Christmas
reality is dawning. It’s becoming clear that financial principles
cannot be broken without suffering the painful consequences.
Looking at Christmas in purely economic terms, it’s not hard to see
that last Christmas may indeed have been the last happy Christmas for
some time. For many families, gift buying has been scaled way back.
For others, unemployment (or underemployment) has become an unwelcome
reality. And just about everyone has awakened to concerns about what
the year 2009 may bring.
All of this has put a damper on the Christmas spirit. It has created
for some all the makings of an unhappy Christmas.
But the recent turn in conditions has also done something else. It
has given us an opportunity to think about what really makes Christmas
a season for celebration after all. Is Christmas merely a designated
time to revel in prosperity? Or is there something more, that would
give us reason for happiness no matter what our economic
The answer is that there is definitely something more.
Gift giving has its place as it helps us think of the individuals God
has placed in our lives. And the need for a job and the money it
provides is obvious. But from the perspective of what God has done in
giving His Son, there’s reason for happiness no matter what the
current economy. Because at Christmas we remember God has sent His
Son as Savior and Lord.
For millennia the world has suffered corruption from sin. And this
corruption – which resides in our own hearts – has left no aspect of
life untouched. But at Christmas we have reason for joy in that God
has provided a Savior for the world. ”For today in the city of David
there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord
It has also been apparent through history that this world needs one
who would rule rightly. Here too Christmas gives us hope. Kings and
presidents make promises, but the Lord keeps them. And He has shown
this by sending His Son who rules the world in righteousness.
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the
government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace;
there will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace. .
In the birth of Christ as Savior and Lord the real basis of our
happiness is to be found. As the carol “Joy to the World” puts it,
“He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found,” and
“He rules the world with truth and grace.”
Will it be a happy Christmas? If your focus is on Christ and His
kingdom, it will be, no matter what the passing circumstances of this
Rejoice! Merry Christmas!
At a time when so many are looking and praying for answers to their needs and concerns, it’s fitting for us to remember that God has already given us THE answer in His Son, Jesus Christ.
When we face problems, it’s easy to look at the surface and hope a quick solution can be found. But we must look deeper, to see where we have gone astray and what we must do to recover our way.
God has already taken that deeper look and provided what we need. God knows we have strayed from Him in the pursuit of our own desires, but He has not left us without hope. He sent His Son into this world so that we would be forgiven and restored to life in Him.
The Bible tells us that God’s Son would be named Jesus, because it is He who would save His people from their sins (Mt.1:21). So, Jesus’ very name (meaning Savior) points to our most fundamental need: deliverance from sin which separates us from God.
The deliverance Jesus brings from sin first comes to us in the form of forgiveness. This basic need has been communicated well in a familiar poem called “God Sent Us a Savior.”
“If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.”
Forgiveness is foundational because it enables us to stand before God, knowing we are accepted by Him. Once our guilt it taken care of, we are ready to move forward.
But the deliverance Jesus brings also comes in the form of power to live in keeping with His way. God did not send His Son so we would be merely forgiven and remain as we are, but that we would become what He intends us to be.
When Jesus’ birth was foretold to His mother, Mary, she exclaimed, “My soul exalts the Lord” (Lk.1:46). With this declaration, Mary does not make the Lord great, but recognizes His greatness over our lives. And as the One who possesses this greatness, we are to submit ourselves to Him as Lord, knowing that in Him all things are made new.
Jesus not only humbled Himself by taking on human flesh, but was also exalted to reign above every name, and at His name every knee should bow (Phil.2:9-11). As the day will surely come when all will bow, it is wise for us to yield to Him today. In fact, this is God’s answer for us in our troubled times.
If you’ve been following current events, you know there hasn’t been much good news lately. But there is good news to be found if you look in the right places.
God commonly uses hardship as a way to get our attention, open our eyes, and show us where we need to get back on track with Him. If we are willing to accept our need for His correction, we will be able to see what steps He would have us follow to experience His blessing again. That’s good news.
It’s good news to realize that in the midst of our difficulties we have an opportunity to return to those fundamentals that are essential to stability and prosperity. And what are those fundamentals to which we must return? Here are a few of them.
First, personal responsibility. This generation has become accustomed to what has been aptly called, “the nanny state.” Under the nanny state, the government sees itself as having the role of rescuing and providing for everyone who has a need – without regard to their responsibility.
Well, there’s an opportunity for that to change. As the list of companies looking for a bailout grows by the day, it’s becoming clearer that the nanny state is in over her head. She needs to repent of her promises of false security and return to policies that require personal responsibility. That’s good news.
Second, the family. It’s been said that if you have money, it increases your options. That’s true. But not all the options are good. How many divorces have taken place over the past decade because it was financially possible? How many young adults have remained alienated from their parents because they made enough money to not need their help? Plenty.
Well, that’s changing too. Divorce isn’t so financially feasible these days. Young adults are having a harder time finding a decent paying job. The result? People are finding that they need to get along with their spouses and family members. Hard times help to compel families to work and stick together. That’s more good news.
Third, church and community. When you’ve got all you want, it doesn’t take much to harden your heart and think you have no need for God or others. But take away the good life you thought you had, and you realize you’re not so self-sufficient after all. You see the need to break out of your isolation and come before God and attach yourself to others. And that’s still more good news.
Why are these things so? Because there is a God in heaven. And though we may ignore Him, we can’t escape Him. He will always pursue us in order that we would fulfill our part in the redemption of this afflicted world. And that leads us to the best news of all.
Jesus Christ has come into this world, full of grace and truth, in order to restore humanity to Himself and lead us in His way. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (Jn.3:17).
In His best-known message, The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus concluded by stressing the need to build one’s life on the right foundation (Mt.7:24-27). Those who hear His words and do them build on rock, and need not fear the tests that are sure to come. Those who hear His words and ignore them build on sand, and will not endure the storms when they arrive.
These words are always worth considering, but especially during the trying times that have come upon us. The kingdoms of this world – with all their apparent splendor and strength – are being shaken. And as we live in the midst of this trial, it is a good time to check the foundation of your own life.
What would happen if all that gives you security suddenly was taken away? How would you handle it if everything that grants you comfort and a sense of identity in this world disappeared? Sounds like a scary thought. But it doesn’t need to be.
Back in the fourth century there was a desert monk named St. Anthony. To strengthen His faith and draw closer to God he voluntarily gave away his earthly goods and entered a long period of solitude. What he experienced at first was terrifying. He discovered that what had been giving him security was nothing but a superficial shell which easily cracked. But out of this St. Anthony emerged a new man as He submitted himself to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. His old compulsive self was gone, and he became healthy and whole in body, mind, and soul.
Well, you don’t have to become a desert monk to be transformed by Christ. But you do need to be willing to break free from your superficial sources of security, and submit yourself to Christ’s Lordship. You must be willing to not only hear what He says to you, but do it. This is the only way to build your life on a solid foundation.
Of course, building on such a foundation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process, and here are some practices to implement that will move that process along.
Regularly make time for solitude, silence, and prayer. This world will constantly seek to squeeze you into its mold. An important step to resist this and become the person God intends you to be is to get alone, get quiet, and pray.
Get better acquainted with the Bible. The experts and talking heads are at a loss when it comes to solutions for the problems we face. But answers are available in God’s Word. We need to uncover the ancient paths of scripture before we can walk securely into the future.
Apply what you are learning at home first. When you get quiet before God and look to His Word, He’ll show you profound principles. But these principles must first be applied at home if they are to do any lasting good.
Get involved with a community of believers. The Lord never intended you to go it alone. He made us to function within His body, the church, wherein Christ is the cornerstone and we are built up as a spiritual house.
While our world remains enamored by appearances, be wise and consider the foundation you are building your life on.
Most of us know we ought to be more thankful than we are. And it’s for this reason Thanksgiving Day is a particularly uplifting holiday. It gives us an occasion to notice our tendency toward ingratitude and — for at least one day – give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy in this life.
But as much as this occasion is appreciated, the Thanksgiving experience of many is incomplete. Oh, sure, there is plenty of food, family, and football. And there may even be some discussion about what we’re thankful for. There might even be a prayer. But there’s still something missing.
What’s missing is a clear conception of the recipient of our thanks. Or, put another way, we need an object for our thanks. As any English teacher will tell you, if you have a subject telling you who is doing the action, and if you have a verb telling you what the action is, you also need a direct object to show you who is the recipient of the action.
The observance of Thanksgiving is no different. We have a subject – the “we” who are participating in the holiday. We have a supposed action – giving thanks. But what is the object of our thanks? To whom is our thanks given?
Lately, I’ve noticed this object has been missing. I’ve read and heard lots of exhortations to give thanks. But the object of thanks is never stated. It’s as if we are to simply experience some vague notion of indebtedness, without anyone in particular that we are indebted to.
But being obliged to give thanks – as we surely are – necessarily calls us to identify the proper recipient of our thanks. Simply emoting feelings of thankfulness is insufficient, and leaves our Thanksgiving incomplete.
This, of course, raises the question, “To whom shall we give thanks?” Shall we thank mom and the rest of the ladies for the meal and all their hard work? Shall we thank dad for his provision and care? Shall we thank all the other people in our lives that show us much good? Of course we should!
But at the same time we know that our thanks must go further. We know deep in our hearts that the blessings we receive come from a source far beyond us. We know that they come from the goodness and power of God. And because every blessing is derived from Him, He is the rightful object of our thanks.
Giving thanks is a wonderful activity because it forces us to realize that we do not have sufficiency in ourselves. Giving thanks to God is a necessary activity because it gives due honor to the One through whom all blessings flow.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me,
Bless His holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities;
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from
Who crowns you with lovingkindness
Who satisfies your years with good
So that your youth is renewed like
the eagle” (Psalm 103:1-5).
Augustine wrote The City of God in the early 400s, at the time of the late and undeniable collapse of the Roman Empire, which had been considered a Christian Empire for nearly 200 years. Augustine wrote something that defines empire and clearly labels the hypocrisy that is its undoing. Many of you have probably heard or read this before, but it is worth repeating here:
Without justice, what are kingdoms but great robber bands? What are robber bands but small kingdoms? The band is itself made up of men, is ruled by the command of a leader, and is held together by a social pact. Plunder is divided in accordance with an agreed upon law. If this evil increases by the inclusion of dissolute men to the extent that it takes over territory, establishes headquarters, occupies cities, and subdues peoples, it publicly assumes the title of kingdom!
A fitting and true response was once given to Alexander the Great by an apprehended pirate. When asked by the king what he thought he was doing by infesting the sea, he replied with noble insolence, “What do you think you are doing by infesting the whole world? Because I do it with one puny boat, I am called a pirate; because you do it with a great fleet, you are called an emperor.”
The American empire is collapsing – and as with the natural collapse of other empires, people in and out of the empire’s grasp simply stop believing some decades and generations before the physical end. This is where we are today – and unlike all previous empires in collapse, we live in an age of rapid communication, and instant access to history, research, commentary and imagery available for the asking. Tradition and habit can keep an empire on life support for centuries, at least it worked this way centuries before now. Today, change can come as quickly as ideas can travel, guide and inform individual choices and actions.
“. . . first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Mt.7:5).
Some passages in the Bible are noteworthy for their vivid imagery, such as the one above. How easy – and humorous – it is to envision a man anxiously seeking to remove a tiny speck from another’s eye all while he has a large plank sticking out of his own.
Scriptures like these do more than present clear mental images. They provide challenges that lie close to the heart.
How often we can be like the man in the picture – quick to critique others, but loathe to evaluate ourselves. We put the motives and actions of others in the worst possible light, while assuming our motives and actions are always pure and justified. We get preoccupied with others faults, and forget about our own.
Of course, the point that Jesus was making as he presented this picture is that this is folly. We each have our own issues to deal with. And they are often bigger than those we feel compelled to address in the lives of others. So, wisdom dictates we must learn to fix ourselves first.
Fixing ourselves first, though, is not something we’re all that keen to pursue. Picking at the faults of others comes easier than wrestling with our own flaws. But dealing with ourselves first is what we must do if we are going to see all that we need to improve our lives.
And what are we likely to see if we examine ourselves and are willing to make necessary changes?
First, we’ll see how much of the trouble we face in our lives is self-inflicted. When you work on fixing yourself first, you stop blaming others for your problems, and you realize much of your pain is brought on yourself.
Along with this, we’ll also see some hope for a new life. Our hearts are capable of great self-deception. But when we look at ourselves as we really are, we are also able to see what our lives could be.
Finally, we can see clearly in order to offer others genuine help. If we insert ourselves to help others without attending to our own issues, our efforts will always be tainted by our own agenda. But as we see ourselves in an honest light, we are positioned to see others as people as well and help them accordingly.
So, what would happen if you got serious about fixing yourself first and removed a little ocular lumber?
Initially, you’d probably not like what you see. You might feel some shame and embarrassment. You might need to ask forgiveness. And you’ll most definitely see areas that need change.
But that’s good news. Because seeing your need to change is the first step to change coming about. The next step is to seek the One who faithfully shows us our need and gives us the grace to address our problems.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps.139:23,24).
Each month I lead a “Business and the Bible” lunch at a local restaurant. This month we considered our society’s move toward statism. Since we are clearly moving in a direction that involves more state intervention in all areas of life — whether it be personal, social, economic, or religious — it is prudent to know how to respond. The notes to my address are below. . .
How do we respond to the increasingly statist direction of our society?
1. Get informed
Statism not new; it’s an idol that’s been around for long time
What’s troubling is how many are embracing it; Hos.4:6
Need to have understanding; so not partake of evil, but expose it, Eph.5:11
2. Don’t Fear
One of Jesus’ more common phrases: “fear not”; He knew the Father had all under control
Though men resist God, He has installed His king, and He sits in the heavens and laughs, Ps.2
God is bringing judgment/fear to a world that has rejected Him; we need not fear if we don’t compromise
3. Remember Kingdom of God
Kingdoms of men rise/fall, but God’s kingdom abides; tho nations shaken, kingdom of God unshakeable
We helped to remember this as remember history
Most of biblical record given in statist environment: Joseph, Daniel, NT under Roman Empire
Augustine at end of Roman Empire: it not the end, but end of beginning
4. Know what you believe
The pressures and changes taking place are sifting many lives
Need to come to terms with what you believe/who you will serve; Joshua 24:15
Likelihood of being tested on increase; will we obey God or men (Acts 5:29)?
5. Build Christian community
American Christianity for last generation been very individualistic; church community optional
This is changing: collapse of welfare state; believers seeing need for others in body of Christ
Need to build strong church communities; be devoted in brotherly love, Rom.12:10; Heb.10:25
6. Seek to do good
Temptation to become cynical, bitter, selfish, negative
But we are called to do good; Rom.12:21; Ps.37:3,4; Eph.2:10
Be lights in midst of crooked and perverse generation
7. Trust the Lord’s provision
Be faithful, no matter what you are dealt; Mt.25
Lord able to provide for his own, even in dry times; Ps.1
Lord knows who are His, and how to do right for His elect; Lk18:7
We live in a time of great change and uncertainty
The times certainly try us
But God is in the midst of our troubles; He will not be moved.
We must have faith toward Him at all times; He is a refuge for us, Ps.62:8
Worship may seem like an irrelevant aspect of our present-day problems, but it’s really at the very heart of them. And once we come to realize the central place that worship possesses, we are able to see that faithful worship is essential to bringing us the real hope and change we need.
The act of worship is inescapable. Every one of us places our honor, devotion, and trust in one direction or another. The question is, “What will be the object of our worship?”
The answer to that question is critical, because everything flows from worship. Whom we exalt as the object of our worship brings definite consequences. Let’s draw this out a bit.
The first object of worship that people are inclined to choose is the self. In this case, pleasing and following the passions of oneself becomes all consuming. Feelings and their gratification becomes ultimate.
This may seem like an instinctive – if not American – position to take, but watch out. The Bible warns us not to put the creature above the Creator. It tells us, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Pr.14:12). Doing what’s right in one’s own eyes has a long record of failure.
The second object of worship that people gravitate toward is the state. When people recognize their own limitations, they hope that other, perhaps smarter and more capable, human beings will deliver them. This desire is manifest in the expectation that the state will sustain and secure us from cradle to grave.
But here too we must take notice. God never intended the state to be a savior, but a minister of justice (Rom.13). When the state goes beyond its God-given role, it is sure to fail and afflict hardship on the people. The state cannot manage what is best for the people, even with good intent, because it does not know all the variables that affect the future. When it attempts to bring increased control anyway, it only leads to tyranny.
This leaves us with only one more option, and that is to worship the triune God Himself. And as God, He alone is worthy of our devotion and trust. He is the omniscient, sovereign ruler over all things. He has given His Word to guide us in the way of blessing. And He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, that we would be restored to Him.
To worship the Lord above all else is not the way to stifling oppression that is often assumed. It’s just the opposite. When a people sincerely worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, it’s the way to life and liberty.
Jesus put the paradox best when He said, “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it” (Mt.16:25).
At the root of our problems is the matter of worship. A nation that idolizes the self and state will find no deliverance. It must return to the Lord and worship Him.