Resolved: A New Year to Focus Heart and Mind on Christ

As a lifeguard I can tell you that January is a busy time of year for pools, leisure centres, and gyms. It’s this time of year when people buy pool and gym memberships. Why? Well it’s the time of year that the “Reolutioners” (as we call them) resolve to burn off last years’ extra weight.

It usually lasts about three weeks.

This whole business of making resolutions for the New Year is not a bad idea; it’s good to take some time to reflect on what we could be doing better with our short lives. I think, however, we would do well to consider our resolutions every new month instead of every New Year.

At any rate, hands down the best theologian that North America has ever produced is a man named Jonathan Edwards. Edwards lived in the 1700s and was a leading figure in a series of revivals which we now call the “First Great Awakening.” He was brilliant – a literal genius. He was a pastor and later a missionary. He was a man of God who loved the glory of God. And he was socially awkward…

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Anyway, at the young age of 19 he wrote 70 resolutions that would become the code for the rest of his life and ministry. And at this time of year, when we make new resolutions and new goals, it is worth considering what the best philosophical theologian in North America thought about such things. So I have read through his resolutions and copied a few that I found particularly note-worthy:

  1. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.
  2. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
  3. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
  4. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
  5. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
  6. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
  7. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
  8. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
  9. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.
  10. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it.
  11. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year.
  12. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it.
  13. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.
  14. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

God bless you this New Year! Love and serve the Lord in 2015! Seek out his grace and forgiveness when you fall short of your goals!

You can read all70 of Edwards’ Resolutions for free online at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works1.i.iii.html

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Loving the Gift or the Giver?

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The last post was a hearty encouragement to really go for it at Christmas. Bake some goodies. Wrap some gifts. Celebrate.

Now, that sort of post quite naturally opens up a bigger question that Christians have wrestled with for hundreds of years; namely, “What is the role of material blessings in my walk with God?”

The real danger we face today is to love the gift instead of the Giver. We reject God (atheism) but enjoy all that he daily provides us with, snatching his gifts greedily without thanksgiving or praise. Many Christians fall into this trap. The “prosperity gospel” falls into this trap.

But there is a more subtle danger among Christians. It’s the danger of asceticism. Asceticism is denying the body and its normal, natural appetites. Rightly rejecting this atheistic attitude they seek to enjoy the Giver instead, or in spite of, his gifts. They pursue a sort of ethereal, spiritual, monkish existence where gifts are renounced as a way of showing how valuable the Giver is. They struggle with guilt and have a hard time receiving anything.

At this point I would encourage you to watch a short interchange between my two favourite breathing theologian/churchmen – John Piper and Doug Wilson. Jump ahead to the 52 minute mark:

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/a-conversation-with-doug-wilson-and-john-piper

So the answer to this apparent dilemma is that we need to embrace the tension of loving the Giver and the gift. Or perhaps you could say loving the Giver in and through the gift. On the one side we ought to reject asceticism and then enjoy the material blessings of God – music, sex, beer, bacon, family, among others. But on the other side we must constantly cultivate gratitude and worship towards God’s goodness such that we love the Giver even if – or better, when – the gifts are taken.

Three take-away points:

  • Embrace the life of self-denial. The Christian life is one of self-discipline adn self-denial. As Jesus said in Mark 8:34: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” ESV)
  • Maximize your gratitude instead of minimizing the material: “…everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:5 ESV)
  • Incorporate punctuated anchor points of prayer and praise to the Giver throughout your day, every day, and especially at Christmas where gifts abound: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17 ESV)

Whoop it up this Christmas

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The more I think about Christmas the more I realize just how important it is.

Christmas is no small event – it’s really significant. It’s a really big deal.

It’s a big deal because the gospel is a big deal – and the gospel required Christmas – the announcement that Jesus died and rose again to make atonement for your sin. The cross required an incarnation! How could God have done it without a body? How could the second Adam redeem his people unless he too became a human?

The heart of Christmas is the incarnation – God became flesh and dwelt among us. And the incarnation is the prerequisite of the gospel.

That’s why Christmas is a big deal! Christmas is ultimately about Christ, the gospel, and the spread of the kingdom of God. It’s the reign of Jesus. It’s God’s reclamation of creation (so to speak). It’s all political. “Merry Christmas” is a war cry. It’s an announcement of the kingdom of God among us.

And that, my friends, is why we can’t let this Christmas just slip by as we operate on auto-pilot like we did last year. That’s the real danger of this time of year. The lights, the carols, the food, the gifts – it can all become so routine that it becomes meaningless.

That is where we need a good dose of theological thoughtfulness, incarnation intentionality.

We need to combine the festivities with “the reason for the season.”

That, for example, is why the Israelites had so many festivals. Tons of them! They needed times of year and particular actions and activities to remember Yahweh and what he has did for them!

So Christmas is about remembering Christ and his birth – it ought to be about joy, giving, family, feasting, and even fudge.

I mean just think about fudge. What a good gift from God! It’s awesome. It melts. It’s wonderful.

Christmas is the time to eat fudge in light of what Jesus has done.

It’s the time to enjoy family and friends in light of what Jesus has done.

It’s the time to give to others as Jesus has given to you.

Now…the Christian life is all about self-denial. It’s about simplicity. It’s not about extensive consumption, self-indulgence, and the endless pursuit of wealth. (That’s the world we left.) But with that said, remember that Jesus himself, at special times, promoted celebration and lavish acts of extravagance. Jesus made wine at weddings (gallons of it) and defended the woman who, at great cost, broke the alabaster jar on his feet (John 2:1-11; Luke 7:36-50). And I am convinced that he is pleased when we celebrate him with joy and feasting and gladness.

So whoop it up.

Really whoop it up.

Well, don’t go into massive credit card debt…

But really – eat the fudge. Drink the egg nog. Cook a turkey (and a ham!) Gain a few extra pounds maybe. Sing loud. Bless the poor! Hug the grandkids lots. Enjoy…and worship.

Take your soul off autopilot this Christmas! Don’t go through the motions again this year! It’s all about Jesus! He’s God incarnate! Think about him! Worship him! Read some Scripture with family (or friends)! Maybe start in Luke’s Gospel.

Enjoy it all. Do it all in worship with thanksgiving – because there is a lot more feasting coming your way when Jesus returns. We’re just getting started…“of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.”

(Note that this article is all shaped and incluenced by Douglas Wilson’s book God Rest Ye Merry, which includes a defense of fudge…so credit where credit is due – and read the book maybe)