Monday, December 31, 2012

4 Timeless Resolutions

“Oh brother, not another New Year resolutions article.”

Yes, sorry to disappoint. This would be another resolution article. But, this one may be different in comparison to others….key word “maybe”. I know some people have issues with “New Year resolutions”. Some people believe resolutions are a waste of time because the individual never sees it through or why the individual waits ‘til New Years, why not just start the resolution right when you realize it. While there are others who think New Year resolutions are an opportunity for a fresh start in some areas at the beginning of a new year. These see it more as being annually opportunistic.

What if I told you that the Bible endorsed New Year resolutions? Hmmm.

It doesn’t. However, the Bible does endorse making resolutions (i.e. making a firm decision to do something or not do something). It just doesn’t specify a particular point of time of when to start. So, if you choose to make and start your resolution at the beginning of the New Year, that’s cool. If you choose to make and start your resolution right now, or on February 22nd, or June 5th, or whenever, that’s cool too. Whatever your view is of New Year resolutions, we all can agree that making resolutions aren’t a bad thing, unless it’s a resolution towards something sinful or ungodly.

Resolutions can be pretty much anything: health, fitness, finances, more discipline, time management, breaking bad habits, etc. And then there’s Apostle Peter’s. Neatly tucked away in Peter’s first epistle is one rich verse with four timeless principles every believer should make as resolutions each year. They’re not your typical resolutions, though they read like resolutions. They will never get old, and they will influence other areas of our life. These four are worthy resolutions:
“Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (1Pet. 2:17)

Honor all people – Make a resolution to show respect to everyone, treat all with value. The context does not imply that the honor we show is only to those whom we believe deserve it or those who appear honorable, but to all people.
          One would think honoring all people would be second nature for Christians. Sadly, it’s not. Christians are not known for honoring all people. We’re not even good at showing respect to one another. That’s a hard reality to admit, and many may disagree with me. But let’s imagine if we followed this simple principle. Imagine if we treated everyone with respect and value. How many more people would experience the love of Christ? What kind of further impact could we have in Christ name? How stronger would our relationships be? How better a legacy would we leave for the upcoming generations? Every human is an image-bearer of God. Therefore we are to respect and value them as such.

Love the brotherhood – Make a resolution to love the brethren. Love here is an action. We are to actively love one another just as Christ loves us, which includes the first principle of honoring one another as well.
         You can’t say you love God and not love His Body. You can’t say you honor God and despise His image in those He redeemed. That’s oxymoronic (1Jn. 2:9-11; 3:10-18; 4:7-8). Yes there are times where we drive each other crazy, and get on each other’s nerves. We’re sinners, we’re still incomplete. But that’s not an excuse to ignore Christ’s command to love one another (Jn. 13:34). Our love for one another is one of our greatest witnesses of Christ to the world (Jn. 13:35; 17:23). How more unified would the Church be if we sought to actually love the brotherhood and not just say we do? Therefore, go out of your way to extend yourself and seek to actively love your brethren from different churches and denominations, different theological positions, different races and nationalities, and so on. Love the brotherhood so that others can come to know the Greatest Lover of our souls!

Fear God – Make a resolution to revere God. In context this term “fear” used here (Gr. phobeisthe) is conveying high esteem and humble submission. Peter is instructing us to highly esteem and humbly submit to God.
          This principle is the motivating force behind all the others. If we highly esteem and humbly submit to God we’ll honor all people, love the brotherhood, and honor our governing authorities. If we don’t have a healthy fear of God, then we will not have a healthy view of obedience and pleasing God. If we don’t have a healthy fear of God, then we will not have a healthy view of local church life and greater unity in the Body of Christ. If we don’t have a healthy fear of God, then we will not have a healthy view of personal holistic growth and evangelism. Revering God is the same as loving God. You can’t say you do one and not the other, just like you can’t say you love God and not obey Him (Jn. 14:15, 21, 23-24). If we are God fearing, then we’ll be God revealing.

Honor the king – Make a resolution to respect your governing authorities. This would also take in account respecting the governing laws of your land.
          Many times governing authorities get a bad rap. Some times it is because of their own doing. Other times it could be guilty by association or guilty by generalization. Regardless to what kind of person the governing authority may be, we’re instructed to respect and submit to them so long as it’s not in opposition to God’s law. Mind you, this principle came during a time when the Romans were persecuting Christians and an emperor who in a few years would burn Christians to death. If they were instructed with this, we have no excuse. We respect the governing authorities of the land and their laws out of respect and submission to the Governing Authority of all Creation and His laws.

What I tell you, not your typical resolutions, but very much influential. Are these not resolutions worth keeping? I think they are. And they’re Bible-endorsed. You can start these resolutions in the New Year or whenever you realize you need to tighten up in these areas throughout the year. Not only will these resolutions help us grow, but they’ll also help us to be more winsome for Christ. I believe if we keep these four resolutions we’ll see a considerable difference each year and so will others.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Newtown Tragedy: A Reflection & A Response

I woke up on Friday morning, December 14th, to the sounds of my wife gasping as she found out that an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut had been shot up. For the next several hours we sat, mouths open, watching the news.
We cried.
We were angry.
We vented.
We thought of that being our children.
We thought of the parents.
We saw for the first time in our lifetime a President cry on national TV.
We prayed.
We told our children, and then hugged them tight.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting is not the first school shooting, nor will it be the last. It is not the first national tragedy, nor will it be the last. There are mass murders of children, young folk, and innocent bystanders everyday in US low-income neighborhoods and in others countries. The only difference is they don’t get as much publicity as this recent tragedy. But that is not a reason to minimalize the Newtown tragedy. Twenty young lives were lost. Eight adult lives were lost (school staff, the gunman, and his mother). This is ample enough reason to be upset and saddened.

The victims and their families
It’s hard to think of dead children. Well, at least it is for me. I have three children. My two youngest are 7 and 5. That’s around the same ages of the kids who died at Sandy Hook Elementary. Thinking of never seeing my kids again makes my heart hurt. I can feel the pain deep in my chest. My children are my offspring. They are mini-mes. So I can only imagine what those parents must be going through. Or to lose my wife, who went to work only never to return. My state of shock and sense of loss would be paralyzing. Next to Jesus, my wife is my life. She is my rib. So I can only imagine what the spouses must be enduring. The pain.

Loss is the greatest knock-the-wind-out-of-your-chest blow. Loss has a way of K-O’ing us. Why? Because when God created us, He hardwired us for relationships and purpose (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:15, 18). Therefore, losing something we dearly love and dearly value never to have it again is the hardest thing for human beings to cope with. It’s the reason why depression and anxiety are so common and deadly. We have a hard time dealing with loss or the thought of loss. All of us then can empathize with these families, and we should. So weep with them and grieve with them. But let not their loss be in vain. Cherish the treasures that matter most: faith, family, and friends. And let not the heroism of the teachers and staff to put others before themselves be in vain. Fight selflessly for what matters most. Let us keep that in mind.

Reflection of a villain
I was humbled. This tragedy is a reminder for us…a reminder for me. As much as we may not want to admit it, this tragedy is nothing more than another confirmation of how mankind’s depravity has no limits. John Piper wrote about this as well,
“…the murders of Newtown are a warning to me — and you. Not a warning to see our schools as defenseless, but to see our souls as depraved. To see our need for a Savior. To humble ourselves in repentance for the God-diminishing bitterness of our hearts. To turn to Christ in desperate need, and to treasure his forgiveness, his transforming, and his friendship.”

If any of us believe that we are somehow different than Adam Lanza (the shooter), we have lost sight of our own depravity. If we remove Jesus from our life, we are no different. All we have to do is read passages like Ephesians 2:1-3, Titus 3:3, Colossians 3:5-9, and Galatians 5:19-21.

I can say personally I was Adam Lanza before Jesus rescued me. I murdered innocent lives with abortion, rape, drug dealing, and street violence…oh and I can’t forget the lives I’ve took with my selfishness, arrogance, deception, rage, and manipulation. I took innocence. I corrupted young minds. I terrorized families. I abused women and children. Adam Lanza is nothing more than a mirror of my old self. And that shook me, because my egregious sins have never been publicized like his. The lives I destroyed have never been nationally prayed for or comforted or mourned. I caused Newtown like tragedies for 16 years, and that’s just before Jesus. That’s not counting tragedies I’ve caused bearing the name of Christ. This is why I was humbled.

What about you? How many tragedies are accredited to your sin and selfishness? Have you forgotten your reflection as a villain before Christ and at times since being in Christ?

What can we do?
The Apostle Peter told us that “the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1Pet. 4:7, NKJV). We have to pray saints! Pray for those affected by the Sandy Hook school shooting. They need it. But also pray for everyone affected by sin and its effects. The voiceless. The unattended. The disadvantaged. And so on. My wife has a saying, “There is no such thing as a victimless sin.” How true! Sin rampages all of us in some way or another. And as we continue to get closer to “the end of all things”, sin will rampage all the more. Therefore, be serious and watchful in your prayers. Beseech the God of all Creation and watch Him work.

Peter doesn’t end his point with a call to only be intentional in prayer. He ends it with a call to be intentional in love
“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’” (1Pet. 4:8, NKJV)
Our greatest witness to a depraved and dying world is exhibiting God’s fervent, life-giving, sacrificial, undeserving love (Luke 6:27-36). We are to love the victims and the perpetrators. We are to love the abused and the abusers. We are to love sinners and saints. Why? Because we all were once victims, perps, abused, abusers, and sinners guilty before God, and it was His fervent, life-giving, sacrificial, undeserving love that drew us to Himself. Thus, it will be His love through us that will draw another to Himself. It will be His love through us that will help heal and mend the hurt and the broken. It will be His love through us that will help soften the hard-hearted, help settle the angry, help accept and embrace the misunderstood, help possibly rescue another Adam Lanza, or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (shooters of Columbine), or Seung-Hui Cho (the Virginia Tech shooter). His love rescued me, and I was a killer before these killers.

We’ve all been tossed around, world flipped upside down from the rampages of sin and selfishness---whether that be of our own doing or someone else’s. And those of us who are born-again, who’ve been rescued from sin’s penalty and freed from sin’s enslavement, we therefore have also experienced the comfort of God. Hence, the reason why Paul writes in 2Corinthians 1:3-4 (NLT),
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

As Christians, we’ve been on both sides of tragedies, the pain and the comfort! So we can come alongside those who are victimized and visited with tragedies and flood them with the same comfort we received from God. We can shower them with the fruit of the Spirit---which should sum up our loving manner of interaction, demeanor, and posture when around them. We can, at the right time and in a gentle and gracious manner, share with them the all-satisfying and eternal joy of the Good News of Jesus Christ!

Finally, even though we are not wrong to desire justice to be served when an injustice is present, we cannot forget to remember that our sin and injustices require justice as well. So as God forgave us of ours, so are we to forgive others of theirs. It’s not easy, but it is beneficial to all involved and a reflection of our Savior (and not the old villain in us). We have to forgive Adam Lanza, and any other Adam Lanza’s in our life too.

I hope my reflection and response will be of some help in some way during this time.
“The Lord is a safe place for the oppressed—a safe place in difficult times. Those who know your name trust you because you have not abandoned any who seek you, Lord.” (Ps. 9:9-10, CEB) 
18 …God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”” (2Cor. 5:18-20, NLT) 


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Scripture Meditation: Prov. 16:26

"A worker’s appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on." (Prov. 16:26, NASB). The Message paraphrases it like such, "Appetite is an incentive to work; hunger makes you work all the harder."

This is what we can take away from this passage:
1. Find out what is your appetite for work, volunteering, serving the church, serving one another, ministry, and so on (i.e. what is it that urges you on/makes you work harder?). For our appetites can work for us or against us.
2. If our appetite for work, volunteering, serving the church, serving one another, ministry, and so on is not centered on the Gospel, the glory of God, souls being saved, and believers being built up, then our appetite is self-centered and (a)we'll only work toward the end of whatever our appetite is for, (b)we'll grow weary and discontent because our appetite is for something temporal and not eternal, (c)we'll bail out when our appetite isn't being satisfied, and (d)we'll slowly become a slave again to our self-centered appetite.
3. If our appetite for work, volunteering, serving the church, serving one another, ministry, and so on is centered on the Gospel, the glory of God, souls being saved, and believers being built up, then our appetite is Christ-centered and we'll hunger to serve, help another, sacrifice, and so on all the more, despite the obstacles, to satisfy our godly appetite!

If you find after careful examination that your appetite is off, then take a break and focus on readjusting it away from the self-center towards the Christ-center. Don't be discouraged if this is you. Be encouraged because your spiritual health is far more important, and God cares more about you than your service. For the rest of us, continue to love and serve in excellence unto our Lord Jesus!