Tuesday, December 30, 2008

January's Article

I Am Resolved

A new year dawns and an old one passes away. This time of year we often make promises for the upcoming year. These promises, or 'resolutions', usually reflect our goals and desires for the next twelve months. Whether it be to lose pounds, stop a bad habit, or start a good one, our resolutions define for us what our ideal self is. Unfortunately, as far too many of us know, these promises are fragile and are all too easily broken.

This upcoming year I would like to propose that we as a congregation make a resolution. In fact, it can be the only resolution you make this year. That's right, just ONE resolution. It's my opinion that if we keep this resolution, we will have one of the most spiritually fulfilling years ever in the history of our body of believers. (NOTICE: I said "spiritually" not physically. God doesn't see things the same way the world does.) What resolution could carry such promise? What could we possibly resolve to do that would bless this corner of the Kingdom so greatly?
The answer is found tucked away in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. As he strives to promote unity in a congregation that struggles with everything from false teachers to marital infidelity to the abuse of spiritual gifts, he reminds them of the secret to his success in planting the assembly at Corinth: "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (I Cor. 2:2 NIV). Why such an extreme resolution? "so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power" (v. 5). The point Paul is making is simply this: if you trust in yourself or some other earthly person, you will fail in what really matters. If you put your trust in God, you will succeed.

If we determine to know nothing except the gospel message of Jesus, God will grant us everything we need in life (remember that whole "seek ye first..." promise in the Sermon on the Mount?) If we determine to know everything through the lens of Christ, we will be able to accomplish whatever God desires for us (Phil. 4:13). When we focus on God's ability rather than our inability and His strength as opposed to our weakness, we will see God's power perfected in us (2 Corinthians 12:9). If we determine to know only Jesus, we will make decisions according to God's will and act according to His purpose.

There is a catch however. Paul's use of the word "resolve" is tricky to define into English. It carries the connotation of a conscious decision that requires critical thinking (the Greek word is, in fact, the root word for critical). In other words, Paul "chose" to know only Jesus. It was a conscious choice that required constant effort. The same will be true of our resolution. We must choose Jesus. We must "determine" (the NAS and NKJV translation of the same word) to be steadfast. We have to look at the world and look at the cross, weigh the options, and choose the cross. Then, and only then, will we truly succeed at being resolved.

Until Next Time,

Monday, December 15, 2008

"And the Word Became Flesh"

What is a word? Is it significant? What power does it hold?

These are powerful questions; important questions. Their answers are staggering. It was by the power of a spoken word that the universe was made (see Genesis 1-2). It is by the hearing of the word that we are saved (cf. Romans 10). We all know that words are imbued with power. We have all felt the sting of insults and the warmth of well-spoken compliments. History has been altered by words spoken emotionally, rashly or ill-advisedly. "Give me liberty or give me death" echoed in the hearts of the original American patriots while English resolve during WWII was strengthened by Churchill's, "never, Never, NEVER give up!" What Christian has not been comforted by Jesus' words in John 14 or heartened by David's 23rd Psalm? The word is an alarmingly powerful thing and when we speak of God's Word, the power is limitless.

So what is a word? It's an expression. It's a communication. It's the attempt to convey an idea into something tangible and real. Now consider John's phrase in John 1:14, "the Word became flesh..." All the power of God's Word wrapped in swaddling cloths. The ultimate expression of the Divine idea of love is contained in the weak fleash of a newborn baby. All this power, all this love, all this expression, wrapped in the most unlikely of packages. Why? So that God could communicate His love for us in a way we would understand. Flesh to flesh. Face to face. Mouth to ear. The Word became flesh.

The next time you see a nativity set up, whether it's in front of a church or in a store display, I pray you will recall the mystery of the Word becoming flesh. God did this so that he could "dwell" among us (John 1:14b). I love the KJV translation: "The Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us." The tabernacle is where God said He would meet His people and communicate His will for them. When Jesus came in the flesh the message is clear. God is communicating His will for us and He desires to meet with us. That's the message of the baby in a manger. That's the message of Christmas.

Monday, December 1, 2008

What have we become?

In the past year there have been some very disturbing news stories that reveal much of what we have become as a nation. In June of 2008 a story aired on Fox News that showed video surveillence of a hit and run during which a 78 year old man was hit by one of two cars that were "racing" each other through downtown Hartford, CT. What appalled me was that this man lay in the street for over 3 minutes while over 30 people walked past without assisting him. Later, in July of 2008, another story got my attention that reported how a woman in a Brooklyn, NY emergency room collapsed. She lay on the floor for over an hour before a nurse finally walked over and discovered she was deceased. Once again, what raised my eyebrows was that in this crowded waiting room no one got up to help her. Most recently, what comes to mind is the poor man trampled to death on Black Friday as he opened the doors to his neighborhood Wal-Mart. I am most baffled by the shoppers' reaction to the news that the store was closing due to the death. They were actually angry, not because of their own carelessness, but because they had waited so long to get inside the store and were now being forced to leave.

All this leads me to the conclusion that in many ways, America has become a self-centered society. All the new, technological toys that we buy that range from the incessantly ring cell-phones to the blackberries that dominate our minute to minute activities, serve only to insulate us from the concerns of others. Our thoughts become dominated by the "me" mentality. Who's calling ME? Who's texting ME? What's on MY agenda for the day? What's going to interrupt MY schedule? How dare they inconvenience ME? The death at Wal-Mart is a loud condemnation of our selfish, consumer driven, self-serving mentality. But should we expect anything more from a society that sacrifices the unborn on the altar of convenience and tries to teach us, through public schooling, that we descended from animals and are therefore driven by a "survival-of-the fittest" mindset?

Now the question arises, "Is there any hope?" Well the answer is both good and bad. It's good because there is hope. The Bible clearly teaches that our focus is to be on God first ("Seek first HIS kingdom and HIS righteousness...") on others second ("regard others as more important than yourselves...") and, finally, ourselves. So there is hope. But the negative side of this answer comes in trying to get the self-centered person to see the sense of putting God first, others second and yourself last. The self-centered person is focused on pleasing himself, serving himself and looking out for the good of himself, and thus, consequently, they do not wish to focus on someone else's will for them. Such inward focus leads to a calloused approach to life. If any good comes of these astounding stories perhaps it's a tool to pierce through the calloused heart and open the eyes of a nation to see just what we have become.