A New Year’s Resolution Every Disciple Needs

Today is the last day of 2018, and everywhere you look you can’t help but see messages and hear invitations to make 2019 a better year. A year to be happier than last year. We probably easily agree that all of us want to be happy. Most of us would even say that we want to live a full and satisfying life, a life of joy. 

Isn’t it great then that God wants us to experience that? Jesus said “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”– John 15:11 So, if we want joy, and Jesus offers us joy, why then does it seem that consistent happiness often eludes us? 

Consider that the earning power of the baby boomers and Gen X’ers, increased dramatically over that of any previous generation in history before them. They have more money, more leisure time, more access to sports, travel, and entertainment than any society has ever experienced and yet these two groups are experiencing a tenfold increase in depression over previous generations. It would be logical then to surmise that if the attainment of stuff and fun experiences did ‘it’ for us, then Canada and the US should be like Disneyland – “The happiest Place on earth”. But it’s not. Why is that? 

I’m convinced that it’s because in this pursuit of joy, we have made it all about ‘me’. We feel that it’s unconditional and doesn’t matter how I live as long as I can keep filling my basket full of goodies. But God says that it’s conditional based not so much of what we do but of what we don’t do. 

In Psalm 1 we see that the blessed man is described by what he avoids. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” – Psalm 1:1

Don’t Walk With The World 

The problem with most of us is that we have this habit of walking alongside those who try to give us a different message than what God wants us to hear. Our culture is good at that. The culture pounds into us messages that are anti-God and pro-self everywhere you look. So many messages are bombarded at us, messages that begin to sound so good if were not rooted in God’s word. 

Here is an example of a statement that I abhor being used. Ever hear the words, “just follow your heart”? That phrase is used in social conversations, movies, songs, and the average person quickly nods their heads in agreement as though it is the deepest of truths that the cosmos could provide. However, Jeremiah 17:9 says that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

If that’s true then how could we trust our own heart to be able to follow it in any matter let alone someone else’s? Yet this is one of the messages that so many of us, even in the church, have swallowed and accepted as fact. The truth is that a blessed man doesn’t walk in that type of council – in other words – doesn’t listen to those messages. And by not listening to the messages a blessed person doesn’t stand with the world.

Don’t Stand With The World

We are in danger of beginning to believe the messages that come at us from all over when we stop walking and we begin to listen more deeply. When we do that we are beginning to pause, stop and stand with the world in their anti-God sentiments. The facts are that standing is much more of a commitment than walking. Walking gives us that chance to keep on going, but standing is a picture of rooting oneself in the world system. 

Don’t Sit With The World

We move from listening to standing with the world and then ultimately to sitting. We move from listening to doing what we are counseled to do and then we become like the scoffers themselves, sitting and offering man’s advice to others through scoffing the truth. Maybe not in words but certainly in actions, which might simply be in not being willing to walk away from the world and stand up for truth. 

Delight In God’s Word

”But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night.” – Psalm 1:2 

Is that you? When God’s Word is read does that brighten up your life? So much so that you can’t help but meditate on it? 

Do you realize that the average family has the television on for over 7 ½ hours a day? And most of us don’t spend more 10 minutes a day in God’s word, and maybe 40 minutes a week attending a worship and fellowship gathering Sunday’s and then we wonder why we’re weak. 

Ponder this question. What if we had to hand in a time sheet to God that showed the time spent with him and time spent elsewhere? How would we do? Would you be embarrassed or ashamed?

It says here that a blessed man delights in the law and meditates on it all the time. So much so that it not only becomes a part of him but it produces a delight in his or her heart, or in other words, a deep satisfying itchy joy that can only be scratched by the hearing of more Word. 

Don’t Just Read the Word, Be Grounded In It

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” – Psalm 1:3

A blessed man or woman has their feet ‘grounded’ by thirst quenching water and nutrient enriched soil. If you have ever seen a satellite picture of river systems you will appreciate this picture here. The land is richest and lushest with life along the banks of the flowing river, but as you move away from the water, life becomes scarcer and scarcer until soon all that’s left is desert unless there is another source of water. 

Throughout history, civilizations were built up around water sources. A herd of deer will risk life and limb to gather around the watering hole in spite of the alligator or lion ready to have it for dinner – water gives life. 

The picture we have here in this psalm is of a continual flowing of refreshing waters that give the tree life. The water flows 24/7 and the tree is able to suck up all it requires to live and not only to live but to produce fruit. 

What burdens my heart though is that I know people who will leave after their 40 – 60 minute fix of God’s word on Sunday and will be so excited about living for Jesus but by that same evening will be drunk or high or back into pornography or fighting with their spouse – again. Maybe they have a complacency with anything to do with spiritual things or maybe it’s simply that they continue to struggle with the things that they were so sure were conquered after getting excited at church on Sunday morning. And they want to change but don’t. Why??? 

It’s because you can’t be watered 40-60 minutes each week and expect to be strengthened, there must be a continual watering. A tree will die without being watered. That is why we need to get involved in reading Gods word, or gathering one or two others who are actively growing in relationship with God to challenge us and keep us accountable and grounded. Don’t expect to grow if you are isolated from others who can speak into your life. The Christian life isn’t a Sunday thing – it’s a lifestyle. 

Don’t be Chaff

In contrast, look at how the wicked are compared to the blessed man. The comparison is that instead of strength and life the wicked are like chaff. Chaff is the husk around the wheat kernel, or the brown skin around a peanut. It is like ‘nothing’ and a quick puff of your breath would simply blow it away. 

That’s why in vs. 5 we see that the wicked can’t stand before God in the judgment or sinners in the congregation of the righteous. “Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” – Psalm 1:5

Imagine standing before God – perfect & Holy. I think we don’t think about that often enough. And in the world that thought is made light of, “Oh I’ll just deal with the man in the sky when the time comes”. But the problem is that you can ‘deal’ with God as easily as you can ‘deal’ with standing before a nuclear bomb as it goes off. You’d lose – every time. 

Imagine standing before God and all you have to show for your life is chaff, nothing to stand on. Well, the wicked can’t stand before God in the end no matter how confident they are today. So, don’t be chaff.

Our world has an expectation about what makes us happy. For that matter they have an expectation about how we are to behave, how we are to act, to think, to be. But it goes against how God has created us to be. We can conform to the world and think that we will be happy and find lasting joy, but ultimately, we will only find that true happiness and joy comes from placing our feet where God has created us to place them, grounded in him.

And one of the most effective ways we can be rooted in him is to immerse ourselves in his word. When you read and study Scripture, remember that it is a lifeline to the Godhead. You are striking your roots deeper and deeper into good life-giving soil and drinking from the living waters. These truths are part of the living water that flows into the roots of our lives. 

Be A Rooted Disciple

So, as we enter a new year, make your New Year’s resolution to be a rooted disciple. Someone who grows deep as you meditate on the word made flesh, Jesus Christ day and night. Causing you to grow so that you bear the fruit of Christ-exalting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). This is the source of our ‘joy’ in 2019 and beyond. 

War On Christmas?

The question that comes up every year at this time is whether or not there is a war on Christmas. Before we get to that question, let me share with you a part of the Christmas story that I love. It’s when the angels came to announce Jesus’ birth.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:8-14

Here we see good news of great joy being presented to the common person in the land. Great news guys, the long-awaited Saviour is finally here. You could almost feel the rush of excitement that would have filled the hearts of these shepherds who then went to meet their baby king. 

This is a wonderful and very appropriate message for the season – Good news of Great Joy for all people. It’s Good news of Great joy even for the whole year because of what it means. There should be happiness in our hearts, dancing in the streets and joy in all our homes. So isn’t it interesting that instead of doing what the shepherds did, focusing on the Good news of Great joy, there are many today who view this season as a time for war instead. 

Here’s what I mean. I’ve observed that many have been caught in the throes of a war on semantics. We are seeing and hearing more “Happy Holidays” and less “Merry Christmases.” The “Christmas tree” has turned into being a “Holiday tree.”One television ad plays regularly with carollers singing: “We Wish You A Happy Holiday” to the tune of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”

You can certainly see why a general mood of fighting back could prevail. I have seen numerous emails floating around with pictures of Christmas trees lamenting the secularization of Christmas. The underlying tone of these messages so far has been one of anger and partisanship, as if to say: “They can’t take our Christmas away from us!” 

It’s an interesting situation and one we need to consider seriously. If this is a battle, on what level do we fight it? If someone wishes us “Happy Holidays,” do we respond with a hearty “Merry Christmas,” thus striking a blow for the kingdom of God? But I wonder why we expect those who don’t know Jesus personally nor believe he is the son of God, why is it that we almost demand them to celebrate Christmas anyways? It’s not their holiday after all. 

Here’s the thing, the message that the shepherds received was about a baby being born, not a holiday to be birthed. The good news is about Christ, not the fact about whether we call the holiday Christmas or not. I am not in any way saying that we should ban the holiday or even to change the name, but I don’t even think Jesus cares very much about what we or anyone else call an evergreen with lights on it in December.

The fact is that there is and has been a war against God himself ever since Adam sinned in the garden. The attempt from the world to, in the very least ignore the Christmas title and at the very worst attempt to get rid of the Christmas holiday, is really an example of the rejection of Jesus’ gospel message of hope to a lost world. That is why Jesus came – to end the war and to redeem lost mankind. Look at Luke 1:35… 

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy.” – Luke 1:35

What’s in a name? It was William Shakespeare who popularized this question. The line is found in Act 2 Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is wishing Romeo would change his name and so renounce his family who had been in opposition to their romance. She tries to convince him by asking, “Tis but thy name that is my enemy; O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”Juliet got it wrong, because a name is important, and can’t be just taken off like a piece of clothing. 

In the Christmas story we see a baby who is born being called ‘Holy’. That is a significant part of the story and here’s one of the reasons why. Holy means pure, good, without any defect or deficiency or blemish. God is both sovereign and holy. Sin is incompatible with God’s nature. The penalty for rejecting God’s sovereignty is separation from God, separation meaning both spiritual death and physical death. 

The tragic story of man’s disobedience is told in Genesis chapter three. Immediately after Adam & Eve disobeyed God’s command they both realized they were guilty. Adam and Eve tried to cover their guilt and shame from God, but they chose a poor cover up, a bunch of leaves that only covered a portion of their bodies. 

Their sin was still exposed & God, being Holy, can’t look on sin. So, God chose skins to completely cover Adam and Eve. “And the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” – Genesis 3:21. The coats of skin that God provided for Adam and Eve represented the righteousness they needed so that they could be in God’s holy presence. 

The animal sacrificed was usually a lamb that had no blemishes or obvious imperfections & was an innocent substitute, an innocent victim. The problem was that this was all temporary and had to be repeated over and over again. What was needed was a perfect, lasting sacrifice because no matter how unblemished the lamb was; it was never going to be perfect enough and was certainly not everlasting or holy. 

Finally, God steps in and provides his own perfect sacrifice to cover our sins once and for all and provide us his righteousness. And we are introduced to this thru a little baby named Jesus who is called Holy. The only one who could be pure, good, without any defect or deficiency or blemish. Now when this baby grows into manhood and gives his life in sacrifice, because he is holy, perfect, without blemish, we can be clothed with his perfect righteousness. 

What’s in a name? In this case it’s the Saviour of the world. That’s the good news of great joy the shepherds received. Not a declaration of a new holiday with turkey and trees covered in lights. 

I don’t know if you ever thought about Christmas in that light before. We usually think of it in such a light sense, after all it’s about a little baby and a jolly happy man in a red suit and we always talk about peace on earth and the fact that it’s Good News, Great Joy! But is that the meaning of the Christmas season? What was the purpose of the Angels’ message to the shepherds? 

Just the other day I put myself in a very dangerous position by climbing up and down ladders onto rooftops, reaching and stretching for boxes in high up shelves in the garage. All this dangerous activity for what? Christmas is coming and Debbie had a list which I had to check twice just to make sure that I did everything on it. Today if you come by my home you will see three Christmas trees in the house, decorations both upstairs and downstairs and stockings hung over the fireplace. But is that what Christmas is about? 

We have this wonderful picture of a baby in a manger, feathery snowflakes, and soft lights all aglow over the fields, and complete Peace on earth as we all join hands around the cosmic tree singing Silent Night, not unlike the Who’s of Whosville. Not that I’m saying that that is a bad picture of Christmas, rather what I’m saying is that Jesus didn’t come into this world to make us peaceful citizens, he came to save us from sure death and the way he was to do this was by coming with a definiteness of purpose – his death for us. That is what the message the angels’ shared with the shepherds is truly about – death. More accurately it’s about Jesus coming to die. Good news of great Joy? Death? 

There was no other way to save us. He had to die, that was the only plan. You see, I was, am and always will be unacceptable to God. I came into this world a sinner, I am a sinner today and on the day that I die I will be a sinner. Out of my heart has, can and will come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God. 

Except for one amazing fact: The Lamb of God came to earth as a little baby boy, grew up to die, and took away my sins. I’m guilty of breaking the whole law when I break one, but now there is no condemnation for me, because I’m a follower of Christ Jesus. I am a sinner and a saint at exactly the same time because of the redemption that came through Jesus. That came that very first Christmas day 2000 years ago. It’s not about the deer on the lawn, rather it’s about the Lamb on the tree. 

Here’s how you keep Christ in Christmas: you celebrate him as Lord of your life and ruler of your heart, and you love even those who want to take Christmas out of the Holiday equation. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). He came to forgive sins – mine, yours, everybody’s. 

Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. Let’s not let religious pride get in the way of the core message of the gospel. It’s never been us againstthem; it’s us forthem. We mustn’t forget that Jesus came to die for the very people who are trying to secularize our country. 

In our zeal to keep Christ in Christmas, let’s be careful not to go to war against the very people who need him the most – those who don’t know him – which would only serve to alienate them from a relationship with ourselves and with Jesus. People are more likely to be set on the road to salvation by loving, caring believers who are secure in the hope of the real Christ living in their lives, and whose faith is brighter than any Christmas tree

That after all is the message given to the shepherds, and to us – Good News of Great Joy! 

Five Reasons Christians Should Attend Church Weekly

It’s tempting sometimes to want to skip church. Sunday might be the only morning all week we can sleep in, maybe we have chores and errands that need to get done, maybe it’s too much work to get the family up and out the door in the morning, maybe we have that football or soccer practice or maybe we just want to enjoy the beautiful weather outdoors. If we attend church two or three out of every five Sundays, that’s enough, right?

I am in no way trying to ‘guilt’ anyone into attending church, or even telling anyone what they ‘must’ do to be a better Christian. My main purpose for this post is to speak to those who believe that they can grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ outside of a regular, ongoing relationship with a local body of Christ followers. The idea of being a Lone Ranger Christian is not an idea you can find anywhere in the word of God.

At the same time, it’s surprising to me how many Christians struggle with the idea of regular church attendance. If church attendance isn’t one of your top priorities  (following other things that might easily take it’s place), then I’d suggest that our priorities are out of balance.

Let me say here that I completely understand that there are other things that do get in the way that we can’t do much about: such as sickness, maybe there isn’t a church close by, travel, the occasional live Super Bowl game (especially when Seattle is in it), work commitments, etc. But what I am speaking to regarding the priority thing is when I’d rather be on the golf course Sunday mornings all summer, or where I’m finding other ‘options’ in life regularly and consistently become the first choice over regular attendance, believing that they are the priority of my life.

Of course, this isn’t a new problem. Since the beginning of Christianity, the early leaders had to challenge this mindset, saying “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25

I don’t for a minute believe that it’s about not wanting to be with others. I’d think that it is instead a misunderstanding what being with others means. I say that, because most Christians I know would agree that regular fellowship is important. So, they make it a priority to connect in a small group, or an accountability group or at least get to the monthly men’s breakfast ritually, believing all the while that they are fulfilling the Hebrews 10:25 directive. But what if that’s not the case? What if we are actually not living out what we’re told to do in Hebrews and so are missing out on a great blessing?

If that’s the case, we may need to fundamentally change our thinking about what ‘going’ to church means in order to obey a directive given in God’s word and to appreciate the great gift that God has given us in being part of his body in a community of fellow believers.

I think part of the issue stems from the way we think about church attendance in the first place. Many of us think about church as something we have to do; that it’s another thing to check off our weekly checklists. Our view toward church attendance can begin to be transformed, however, when we consider a few important things that remind us of the privilege of meeting each week specifically to focus on God and his people.

WE NEED COMMUNITY

Firstly, it is important to make it a weekly habit of meeting with God’s family because if we truly want to grow as Christians, fellowshipping with other believers, hearing the Word of God, and worshipping the Lord are the perfect places to begin. Of course, personal bible study and prayer are integral as well, but worshipping God corporately provides us a unique opportunity to see what God is doing in the lives of his people in the wider church community.

Weekly attendance puts a check on our cultural tendencies to value personal time over community. Think about what Jesus calls those who would follow him to do with their lives.“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” – Luke 9:23. In many cases this would involve giving up our wish to keep all our time to ourselves. One important aspect of church attendance, then, is for us to interact with other believers and see how God is working in their lives. It’s an opportunity to value community.

WE NEED TO BE ENCOURAGED

The early church set the pattern for what this meeting together thing looked like. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer – Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” – Acts 2:42; 46

It is good to meet in small groups of Christian community, such as in each other’s homes, coffee shops, pubs or other small gathering places regularly, that is healthy and something to be encouraged as we see practiced in the daily meeting in homes the early church was engaging in. At the same time however, it shouldn’t be overlooked that as they met daily in their homes, they also met weekly in the temple courts. It seems that they gathered this way at the start of the week to be encouraged before scattering into smaller communities the rest of the week.

In Jerusalem during this time, the temple court was the place where the wider community gathered, both the Jews and the Christians, but as the church spread in other communities the synagogue became the common gathering place where they gathered on a weekly basis to worship, encourage each other and learn together, at least until the Christians were forced to relocate. But even when that happened they would still meet corporately wherever they could find space.

In fact, Paul and the other Apostle’s letters were sent to the many church communities that gathered in various cities to be read aloud ‘together’. The idea of Church meant getting together with other believers to worship Jesus Christ, hear the Scriptures, and encourage one another in the faith.

Wherever it is we meet, the act of gathering each week allows us to give and receive encouragement before we scatter out into the ‘world’ to face the challenges of the week ahead.

WE NEED THE LEADERSHIP PROVIDED

Because of the individualistic culture most of us have grown up in, one of the things often missed in this discussion is that the gathering in a corporate body allowed for the church to function as it was designed to function. Three of these functions were put in place by Jesus to provide a spiritual covering or protection for the flock, to offer some form of spiritual and community accountability, and to give the flock an opportunity to submit to Godly leadership.

Not all of us are called to church leadership, and so we should submit to, and serve whoever God has called to lead at the place we find ourselves. “Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. – Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.” – Hebrews 13:7; 17

WE NEED EACH OTHER 

Christians need God, but we also need each other. All of us long for community and connection with others. It fulfills something inside of us to do life with others, encourage each other and be authentically involved in each other’s lives. Christian TV, podcasts, books and conferences are wonderful additions to our spiritual lives, but nothing can take the place of consistent accountable and weekly vision casting Christian community provides when we gather as the local church.

Granted, it can be messy when we step into (and sometimes onto) each other’s lives. We are all human, and no one is perfect. So, it requires effort and intentionality and grace from God to do life together – even as believers. But gathering regularly with others becomes a refining process whereby we help each other, pray for each other and encourage each other to want to follow Christ more wholeheartedly. That’s why a healthy church family member learns to repent often, forgive freely, and extend grace continually.  It is a truly beautiful thing.

WE NEED TO BE INVOLVED

Church is the place where believers can love one another, encourage one another, “spur” one another to love and good works, serve one another, instruct one another, honour one another, and be kind and compassionate to one another.

When a person trusts Jesus Christ for salvation, he or she is made a member of the body of Christ and for a church body to function properly, all of its “body parts” need to be present and working.

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” – 1 Corinthians 12:14-20

It’s not enough to just attend a church; we should be involved in some type of ministry to others, using the spiritual gifts God has given us, And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:11-13

The truth is, a believer will never reach full spiritual maturity without having that outlet for his or her gifts, and the full expression of the gifts can’t be seen when alone and are limited in small groups settings. For these reasons and more, church attendance, participation, and fellowship should be a regular aspect of a believer’s life.

At the same time, please know that I am not saying that weekly church attendance is “required” for believers, but someone who belongs to Christ should have a desire to worship God, receive his Word, and fellowship with other believers.So, make weekly attendance a priority. You’ll be blessed and encouraged because of it.