The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

Month: December, 2013

290 Year-Old Resolutions

ResolutionIt’s that time of year…the end of the year…you know…when everybody makes resolutions.

Now I am not knocking the idea of resolve! Resolve can be a good and godly thing. We should resolve to live our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit unto the glory of God! Yet, most of the time our resolutions are centered around our own desires like losing weight, eating right, watching less TV, or quitting a nasty habit.

All of those are worthwhile pursuits and we are right to approach them with a certain amount of resolve…but my question is do we approach our relationship with the living God with more resolve or even the same amount of resolve?

The most popular new year resolutions concern pursing better physical fitness. While that is important, it cannot hold a candle to the pursuit of holiness (see endnote for clarification).

1 Timothy 4:8
…while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

If we yearly resolve to pursue temporal, physical benefits, should we not resolve with even more tenacity to pursue the eternal, spiritual riches of Christ-likness!

To help me focus my resolve in the right direction each year…I have developed a little tradition. On New Year’s Eve, I read The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards.

Jonathan-Edwards-BannerAll you may know of Edwards is some limited exposure to his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God from a high school literature class, but that is a poor picture of the Puritan Preacher (and likely was taken out of context when explained in your class…as it was in mine).

Jonathan Edwards has had a profound impact upon my life and his resolutions continue to challenge me year after year. He wrote them 290 years ago (1723) when he was only 19 years old and he made it a habit to read them weekly. I’m doing good to read them once a year. I have copied them below in full and plan to pick out a few throughout the month of January and blog my reflections.

If you have the time, I would encourage you to read them in full. The language is a bit antiquated and can be difficult, but it is worth reading slowly and thinking through each resolution. I pray they will challenge you as they do me.

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing 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.

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 myriad’s 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 and how great soever.

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

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

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.

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

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

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

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

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

12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

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

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

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

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

21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

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.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.

28. 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.

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

30. 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.

31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, 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.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Proverbs 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec. 26, 1722.

34. Resolved, in narration’s never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.

37. 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. Dec. 22 and 26, 1722.

38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.

39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no; except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12, 1723.

44. Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan.12, 1723.

45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan. 12-13, 1723.

46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.

47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5, 1723.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.

51. Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

54. 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. July 8, 1723.

55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether ~ have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13, 1723.

58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May 27,and July 13, 1723.

59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July 2,and July 13.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4 and 13, 1723.

61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Ephesians 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.” June 25 and July 13, 1723.

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan. 14 and July 3, 1723.

64. Resolved, when I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those “breakings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear’, of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton’s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26 and Aug. 10, 1723.

66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23 and August 10, 1723.

69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

 

*Endnote: I do not mean to bifurcate the “physical” and “spiritual” as if the spiritual is superior to the physical. Such theology has led people to neglect the physical as if it didn’t matter for the entire goal was to escape to a superior-spiritual-heavenly realm. Scripture is clear from beginning to end that we were purposefully created as spiritual AND physical beings and the ultimate goal (i.e. heaven) is not a disembodied spiritual realm, but a remade heaven’s and earth which are one. Therefore, care for the physical is extremely important. My simply point above is to highlight the same truth as 1 Timothy 4:8, namely, that we work hard to get temporal physical results that will fade (in this life) with age…while all our striving for holiness brings gain in this life and the one to come.

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The Advent of Hope

*I wrote the following poem as a Christmas gift to the body of believers I serve as pastor. I pray that it fills your heart with the hope, love, joy, and peace of Christ as you celebrate his first Advent and anticipate his second Advent.

People where-in darkness dwell
A new star’s light from heaven fell
Angelic glorias fill the sky
And harmonize with baby’s cry

Young girl, still sweaty, wipes her brow
Loving eyes, caress him now
The infant sleeps, as she sings
Her voice the rush of angel’s wings

The carpenter stands, strong yet tender
Adoptive father, rights surrendered
His life he gives to this child
To raise and praise him, meek and mild

Shepherds come in from the fields
To see this babe, they stop, they kneel
No longer keepers of sheep it seems
They are the flock, and he shepherd-king

The babe’s chest heaves amidst the cold
While worlds spin on because he holds
Omnipotence wrapped in this small child
Hope of the world in his sovereign smile

Immanuel, God with us
Truth in flesh, incarnate love
Through his life and death the world will see
He’s fully man, fully deity

For death will never hold him down
The king will rise to take his crown
Ascend to sit on heaven’s throne
From whence he’ll come to claim his own

O people dwelling in the night
He will return arrayed in light
Look up as glory fills the sky
The Advent of hope draweth nigh

The “Elf on the Shelf” Who Stole Christmas

I actually do not like controversy.

Elf on the ShelfI am a stereotypical, peace-keeping middle-child. That being said, I think I’m about to jump into a larger mess than I did with my blog about jolly ol’ St. Nick. That’s right…for better or for worse…let’s talk about the elf on the shelf.

Now, if you have somehow managed to go through the last several years of Christmases without hearing about this rapidly spreading tradition…then here is a brief history lesson of the shelf dwelling elf. Apparently, various forms of the elf on the shelf have existed for quite some time, but the modern craze began in 2004 with the writing of a short story by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bel.

The story was published in 2005 and explains how Santa keeps track of who is naughty and who is nice via a personalized elf on the shelf for participating families. Once you have acquired your elf, you name it and then he or she will show up at your house each day to keep watch over you until Christmas Eve. Every night, the elf flies to the North Pole to report to Santa your daily behavior. Thus, every morning you will know the elf  left your home and returned due to the fact that he/she will be in a new location. Now…no kids are allowed to touch the elf as this will cause him/her to lose his/her Christmas magic.

4d23cf1ea84726c20289ab1dda3085a4This short summary describes the manner in which the elf of the shelf is intended to be used. From experience, I know many families use their elves in completely different ways. For instance, there are some for whom the elf is simply a fun mischief maker who pulls daily pranks throughout the holiday season. However, individual family uses of the elf are not necessarily what concerns me…no. My apprehensions surrounding the Christmas Keebler is rooted in its original intent as described by the book…many of you already know what I’m going to say.

The primary issue I have with the elf on the shelf is that it’s central purpose stands in contradiction to the heart of Christmas…the gospel. The elf records your deeds to see if you measure up and deserve presents on Christmas day. But, the true present of Christmas is “good tidings of great joy that will be for ALL PEOPLE” regardless of whether they are “good” or “bad.” That good news is that “a Savior is born who is Christ the Lord!”

Christmas is a day for celebrating grace! It is a day for celebrating God giving himself to us all…freely! It is not a day for earning, meriting, or deserving. No. On the contrary, it is a day for our “deserving” to die and our “undeserving” to be declared as good news…because the undeserving are specifically the people to whom Jesus has been given! None of us deserve Jesus! None of us deserve grace! If we did…it wouldn’t be grace! Meriting something at Christmas does not make the day more magical…it actually steals all of its magic, because the magic of Christmas is grace! Nothing is more wonder producing than gospel grace!

The elf on the shelf does not bring good news…rather, he/she brings bad news that your reward depends on your ability to be good.

phariseeI tend to think the pharisees would have been big fans of the elf on the shelf. I think they tried to promote “the law on the shelf.” Jesus had news for them, namely, that no one can fulfill all the law except him…so he has done it for us. Likewise, I think Jesus would have similar news for the elf, namely, ol’ shelf-boy/girl can watch him for a record obedience…then apply it to our account! That is the only way we will receive the true reward/gift of Christmas…true life, now and forever, through Christ!

Now…before everybody freaks out and thinks I’m trying to tear apart all fun and magical Christmas traditions everywhere…I’m not! Not at all! I simply think the most magical celebration of Christmas is gospel grace, not merit-based rewards. The former is better (more magical) news than the latter. I actually think you can still use the elf if you want, but do so in a way that highlights grace, love, and mercy instead of judgment, merit, and condemnation.

Whether we are talking about the elf on the shelf or any other Christmas tradition, here are three crucial questions I think will help us shape Christmas around the very thing that created it…grace.

1. What are we saying?
Everything communicates. We all know that communication goes beyond our words and extends to our actions. This brings to mind the often quoted saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” In many cases, this saying is true, and we must remember that our Christmas traditions communicate something about Christmas and Jesus.

What-is-the-Gospel-A-Look-at-God-ManWe cannot simply use our words to say that Christmas is about Jesus and the gospel while allowing our actions to undercut that message. The things that speak the loudest are not actions or words, but words that are married to action. As we examine our Christmas traditions, we need to ask what these things are communicating, and is it a message that is in line with the gospel?

2. Why are we saying it?
If our traditions do not support the gospel, or worse, undercut the gospel…then we must ask why we are communicating these things at all? Is it worth the time and effort? Is it worth the risk of ingraining a false message within our kiddos.

I have had people become really angry with me as we have discussed Christmas traditions such as Santa Claus and elf on the shelf. Typically, during the conversation, I ask them why doing these things is so important to them. Some of them have answers, but many cannot explain why they do what they do…or why they even want to do it.

I am not saying that we need to abandon our traditions, but we need to be willing to examine them and ask “why?” Even if you choose to do things such as elf on the shelf, you need to know why and make it a good reason why…a grace centered reason why.

3. Can we and should we say it differently?
Whether we are talking about the elf on the shelf, Santa, or whatever…can we use these things to speak the true message of Christmas? Can the elf become a pointer to grace…a pointer to Jesus…a pointer to the gospel?

Elf on the shelfI want to encourage myself and all of us to think deeply about our traditions and keep what should be kept, leave behind what should be left behind, and change what should be changed.

None of our traditions are more important than the gospel. If we can use the elf to highlight the gospel, then let’s go for it. If not…then perhaps we really should put him/her on the shelf…permanently.

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