You Say You Want A Resolution….

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If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

As the year ends and a new one is about to begin, many people set goals for the next year. Goals like run a marathon, lose 30 pounds or watch every single episode of Duck Dynasty. I’ve never been very good at setting goals. I write them down and plan how I will achieve them, then I forget to look at my list. This past year I have managed to add a couple small habits to my life, which I was able to do because I tied them to my routine of making my morning coffee. While waiting for my first cup to finish brewing I do a few pushups and crunches. Hey, at least I’m doing something!

Whether you are hoping to achieve a goal, or hoping for a change in your job or that God would heal you or answer other prayers, if you know Jesus, then you have a hope beyond this life. Yes, Jesus blesses us, helps us, guides us, gives us joy and many good things in this life, but let’s remember that in him we have an eternal hope.

It is normal and right to have hopes for this life. I have hopes for my family. Hopes for my church. There are some things I’m hoping I can do. Areas I’d like to grow in. But I’m so glad I have a hope beyond this life.

Paul says that if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. Why? Because this life is temporary. It’s going to end. What good is it to gain the whole world if there’s nothing after this? Why should we pursue Christ? Why try to love others? Why deny ourselves any pleasure or sin? Why should we do good, forgive others, help the poor, give our money to the kingdom if this life is all there is?

Besides that, many of our hopes in this life won’t come to pass. In the words of Mick Jagger, “You can’t always get what you want.” We won’t achieve all our goals. Things break. People get sick. Life takes us on unexpected detours. And sometimes even when we get what we want, it’s not all that satisfying. But if our hope is rooted in Jesus and eternity, we’ll never be disappointed.

It is our eternal hope that stirs us to keep running hard after Jesus:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

Someday we’ll see Jesus face to face and be like him. What a day that will be. Some of our loved ones entered his presence this past year. Others have been gazing on his face for a number of years now. Someday we will join them at the throne to fellowship with Jesus forever.  That’s our ultimate hope. So go ahead and make your resolutions.  Train for a marathon.  Plan that trip. Hopefully you’ll get achieve your goals.  But if you don’t, remember you’ve got an eternal hope that’s far greater.

How To Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Absolutely Miserable

[This is a guest post by Ricky Alcantar.]

Every year around this time I build myself a yoke.

Yes, I mean the kind of “yoke” you put on a cow and use to plow a field wearing a homemade straw hat. Some years I spend a lot of time on it but other years I just sort of throw it together in a few minutes. Then, when it’s done, I put it on and start plowing.

I build my yoke out of past failures in the last year and future hopes for the next. It’s a yoke of my own making where success equals happiness, comfort, peace, and security. It’s a yoke where failure equals despair and paralyzing regret and it weighs me down with each successive failure.

In Matthew Jesus offers us a yoke, but a completely different kind of yoke: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-29)

What makes this yoke different? And how can it possibly be so light? It’s a gospel yoke.

We take this yoke up not to atone for our past sins and failures but because Jesus has atoned for our all or past sins and failures.

We take this yoke up not in order to earn God’s favor or to finally achieve happiness, comfort, peace or security, but because Jesus is our happiness, comfort, peace, and security.

This means that putting on Jesus’ yoke should feel impossibly light. And Jesus himself provides the power for us to take up the yoke (Phil 4:13). He never grows weary, he never gets short of breath, he’ll never leave us, he never fails.

Reviewing the past year is a good thing. Making plans for the future is a good thing. But let’s not allow these things to become a system of atonement or a search for fulfillment. Instead, let’s run to Jesus and find freedom in him. And then let’s allow that freedom to free us to run hard after good things in this next year.

You Say You Want A Resolution…(Part 2)

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Have you made your New Years’ Resolutions yet?  If not, no pressure.  Jonathan Edwards has done all the hard work for us.

For as I mentioned in my last post, he created a whole list of resolutions that are far more godly than any we could ever contrive. And like every good Puritan, he peppered his resolutions with phrases like “devout frames” and “henceforward” which only John Piper understands, and would take too much effort to text someone.  So because I care for all our loyal readers I have selected a few of Edwards’ resolutions and added brief and helpful explanations which you need not be smarter than a fifth-grader to understand. Let’s pick up from last post…

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances do not hinder.

You probably didn’t know that divinity had theorems. These theorems are sort of like physics problems, only spiritual, like, how did that donkey start talking anyway?  Or how could Adam and Eve sew fig leaves together without needles and thread?

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger towards irrational beings.

Jonathan Edwards must have owned dogs, which would explain why he’d be tempted to “suffer…motions of anger towards irrational beings.”   I too am tempted to “suffer motions” when I leave the house for literally 60 seconds to get the mail, then come back in only to have our 2 dogs start barking insanely and running about in a frenzy like I’ve just come back from 6 months in Singapore.

Husbands, “irrational beings” does not include your wives.  Do not go down that road.

19. Resolved, never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

Contrary to popular belief, Edwards was not against card playing.  What he means here is he wouldn’t do anything in any round he wouldn’t do on the last hand.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance, in eating and drinking.

I’m right with you, J.E.  I will drink no more than 15 cups of coffee a day, and eat no more than half a dozen Krispy Kremes before lunch.

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

I want to talk to my lawyer.  I think this means that if I’m caught snowboarding, I must immediately pay off all my credit cards.  Or something like that.  This is what is called a “Puritan Conundrum.”  It was an early form of Sudoku.

31. Resolved, never to say any thing at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.

This means don’t call anybody a “dufus” unless they deserve it.

33. Resolved, to do always, what I can towards making, maintaining, and preserving peace, when it can be done without overbalancing detriment in other respects.

This means whenever you can, make peace with people, unless you can give them a quick rabbit punch in the face.  That’s what “when it can be done without overbalancing detriment in other respects” means in Puritan.

34. Resolved, in narrations never to speak any thing but the pure and simple verity.

This means when telling stories tell the truth.  Puritans were fond of extra syllables, so instead of “stories,” they’d say “narrations,”  and instead of “truth” substitute “pure and simple verity.”  Using these words will win you friends in the office breakroom.  Next time someone is telling you a story, say, “Bill, I appreciate your narration, but can you give me just the pure and simple verity?”  If he asks you what that means, say, “It means, Bill, can you please shut your yapper?”

Well, we’ve only reached number 34 of Jonathan Edwards’ 70 Resolutions. Maybe we’ll take up the rest at a later time.  But for now, I’ll close this narration, lest I overbalance my detriment.

photo: Me and Jonathan Edwards enjoying a hike together

Originally published Dec 30, 2009

You Say You Want A Resolution…

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It’s that time of year again when many of us make bold resolutions to do things like quit smoking, start exercising, or quit smoking while exercising.

I have never found making New Years resolutions helpful though, because:

1) I don’t write them down, thus forgetting what I resolved by January 2nd,
2) I make resolutions I can never possibly do, like “Do Iron-Man Triathlon,” or “Memorize book of Habakkuk in original language” or,
3) I make resolutions I feel I “should” do but have not the least whit of actual desire to do, like “Raise organic free-range chickens.”

In the 1700s when there was no HDTV, YouTube or Twitter, people passed the time by making resolutions, as did the famous theologian, Jonathan Edwards.  He made approximately 5,000 mostly unkeepabable resolutions, such as “I resolve always to clean the kitchen sink before going to bed,” but narrowed them down to 70 keepable ones, like “I resolve to witness to 342 people a day.”

Yearly I examine the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards whenever I want to remind myself what a loser Christian I am.  But in addition to reminding one of how spiritually pathetic one is, the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards have great value to inspire.  So I thought it would be good if we looked at a few.  And because we are a full-service blog, I’ll make helpful and insightful comments and interpret his Puritan into language any common Pittsburgh Steeler fan can understand.  Let’s get started.

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

What a great beginning. We can’t do anything apart from God’s grace and help, so J.E. prays for grace.  I regularly fail to pray before doing things, so often I find myself looking at a toilet I’ve installed upside down, or hot water coming out the cold water spigot after I’ve repaired it, and my wife Kristi asks me, “Did you pray about it?” To which I reply, “No!  And I’m not going to!”  But let’s move on, next J.E. says:

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

J.E. hasn’t even made his first resolution and already I know I’d fail to do this.  I’ve entered weekly reminders into my Google Calendar, like “Jog” or “Clean Gutters” and though they pop up like prairie dogs before my eyes every week, after 2 pop-ups they become invisible, like the exercise equipment in my basement.  On to the first resolution.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.

Here’s a great example of Puritan language: “never so many myriads of ages hence.”  This means “a heck of a long time.”  Here Jonathan Edwards resolved to live completely for God’s glory, for his own and others’ good.  But Puritans always made things sound more impressive by using words like “hence” and “soever.”  One of their favorite words was “duty,” which roughly means “that which is boring and tedious like flossing”.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new contrivance and invention to promote the aforementioned things.

Again, it makes you sound more spiritual to your friends if you use Puritan words like “endeavoring”, “contrivance” and “aforementioned.”  What he means in plain English is: “Git ‘er done.”

4. 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.

When Edwards says, “nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it,” he means he will avoid things like snowboarding and swing dancing because he could throw his back out.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

Obviously he could only have kept this resolution because Facebook hadn’t been invented.  No one today can possibly do this.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

Let’s see, in the last hour of my life, I’d be afraid to light myself on fire, eat a live scorpion (Bear Grylls couldn’t make this resolution), or sing “The Impossible Dream” in front of Simon Cowell.

Well, so as not to overwhelm you, to be continued…

Originally published Dec 28, 2009

If You Only Make One Resolution…

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Resolved: To eat less salami and cheese this year…

Confession: I have a preserved meat tooth. I love salami and cheese, and I really should eat less of it, because it’s positively awful for me. After every snack I can hear my blood calling out in a loud voice, “Unclean! Unclean!”

And science has proven that men’s jeans are getting 27% tighter each year. Old Navy has reinvented the words “Loose Fit” to mean “I think my sister wore these in junior high school” fit. Some of you have embraced the spandex-denim revolution, but others, like myself, are hoping that Old Navy hires M.C. Hammer as a consultant.

Actually though, I’m not planning on eating less salami and cheese. I love it too much.

However, I do have serious goals for this year. I want to grow in sharing the gospel. I want to finish writing my book. I want to memorize more scripture. I want to finish house renovations. I want to waste less time. I want to love my wife more.

About this time of year, lots of people will write articles about setting spiritual goals for the upcoming year. And I’m all for that. We’re called to strive for holiness and kill our sin. But I want one resolution to be at the top of my list, written in bold letters, underlined, and highlighted:

Resolved: To rest in and savor and understand the gospel more in the coming year.

If I don’t get this resolution right, all my other resolutions will go to pot. If I’m not rooted in God’s love for me, as displayed in the gospel, my spiritual growth will be stunted. If I’m not convinced that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, I’ll be goaded by guilt. If I’m not first amazed at what Christ has done for me, I won’t be motivated to live for Him.

In the New Testament, the prescription for spiritual growth always starts with being bowled over by the gospel. Then comes works of service. If you don’t believe me, read the book of Ephesians.

So let’s resolve with all our might to rest in all that Christ has done. To begin our Bible reading and prayer by giving thanks for the gospel. To never be motivated by condemnation. To trash any hope we have in our works, and put all our hope in Jesus’ finished work.

Here’s to gospel resolutions. And now I’ll be eating some salami and cheese.

P.S. – The book A Gospel Primer for Christians is a wonderful resource to help you rest in the gospel.