‘Believe’ in what’s right, not just fleeting feelings :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Betsy Hart

‘Believe’ in what’s right, not just fleeting feelings :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Betsy Hart.

This is a really good article about believing in what’s right and true, not just what we “feel.”  We hear this type of thing so often, “Just believe in your dreams and they’ll come true.”  But how many people are really living proof of that (and how many are living proof of the opposite)?

Maybe I’m just a pessimist, but I think believing in what’s true is more important than believing in what I feel or in what I want to be true.

Check out the article above, it’s really good…

Resolutions Worth Making

It’s that time of the year again… time for “New Year’s Resolutions.”  I’ve never been a big fan of them.  In my book, they’re too much like a diet – something you really want to keep to, but you know you won’t.  That’s not to say that Resolutions and Diets are both bad and worthless, because I’m sure some of you have greatly benefitted from diets and maybe even from your New Year’s Resolutions from years past.

But here’s the thing: If I want to make a change, it’s more about making a lifestyle change than about simply saying “I want to lose 10 pounds this year.”  I could say that all I want, but if I’m not committed to eating healthier and exercising regularly, then nothing’s going to change.

So what are some resolutions worth making?  I believe those are resolutions that we really intend to keep (afterall, “Resolve” is something that’s supposed to be firm and certain).  And those resolutions ought to be really worth it.  I think we can all learn a lesson in resolutions from Jonathan Edwards…

Jonathan Edwards was a Pastor and Theologian who lived from 1703-1758 and is widely considered among the most brilliant minds America has ever produced (and definitely the most influential American theologian).  When he was 19 he started writing his “Resolutions,” and he read them at least once each week to ensure that he was keeping them.  In total, he wrote 70 Resolutions to keep in the course of his life, the first 21 of which were likely written in one night.  Here are some of my “favorites,” you can read all of his Resolutions here.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

American Religion: 2009 Edition

The Barna Group has released a “Year-in-Review Perspective” on religion in America for 2009.  Here’s a brief summary (taken directly from the Barna Report’s article, please read the complete article linked to above (and browse Barna’s website too!) if you’re as interested as I am.

Theme 1: Increasingly, Americans are more interested in faith and spirituality than in Christianity.

Some of the related survey results Barna cited from this year’s studies included:

o       Just 50% of adults contend that Christianity is still the automatic faith of choice in the US
o       Nearly nine out of every ten adults (88%) agreed either strongly or somewhat that their religious faith is very important in their life.

o       74% said their faith is becoming more important in their life

o       Substantive awareness of other faith groups is minimal; even simple name awareness of some groups, such as Wicca, is tiny (only 45% have heard of Wicca)

o       Most self-identified Christians are comfortable with the idea that the Bible and the sacred books from non-Christian religions all teach the same truths and principles

o       Half of all adults (50%) argue that a growing number of people they know are tired of having the same church experience

Theme 2: Faith in the American context is now individual and customized. Americans are comfortable with an altered spiritual experience as long as they can participate in the shaping of that faith experience.

Some of the survey findings that related to this theme included:

o       About half of all adults (45%) say they are willing to try a new church or even a new form of church

o       71% say they will develop their own slate of religious beliefs rather than accept a package of beliefs promoted by a church or denomination

o       Three-quarters of adults (75%) believe that God is motivating them and others to connect with Him through different means and experiences than were common in the past

o       Barely one-third of self-identified Christians (36%) strongly agree that it is important for followers of Christ to maintain positive relationships with people who are not Christians

o       Two-thirds of adults (64%) are willing to experience and express their faith in new or different environments or structures than they have in the past

o       Only one-third (34%) believe in absolute moral truth

Theme 3: Biblical literacy is neither a current reality nor a goal in the U.S.

Some of the survey-based results that led Barna to his conclusions included the following:

o       68% of self-identified Christians have heard of spiritual gifts, a decline in the past decade; a minority (roughly one-third) can actually identify a biblical spiritual gift they claim to possess

o       Less than one out of every five born again adults (19%) has a biblical worldview, which is unchanged in the past 15 years

o       Just half of all self-identified Christians firmly believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles (not the facts, just the principles) that it teaches

o       Barely one-quarter of adults (27%) are confident that Satan exists

o       Less than four out of every ten self-identified Christians firmly accept the teaching that a person can be influenced by spiritual forces, such as angels or demons

o       An overwhelming majority of self-identified Christians (81%) contend that spiritual maturity is achieved by following the rules in the Bible

o       Only 4% believe that poverty is an issue that is primarily the responsibility of the Church

Theme 4: Effective and periodic measurement of spirituality – conducted personally or through a church – is not common at this time and it is not likely to become common in the near future.

Do the 30 Hour Famine!

What is it:
We give up food and drink (other than water, or juices if you want) in order to experience a taste of the hunger that many in our world feel every day.  You will raise money through asking others to contribute to you for doing the 30 Hour Famine.  The money raised goes to World Vision, which runs the 30 Hour Famine.  Learn more about the 30 Hour Famine and World Vision by clicking on these links.

How’s it work:
We’re participating in the 30 Hour Famine on Jan. 22-23rd.  You’ll stop eating after lunch on Friday, then come to EBC around 5:00pm.  Bring a sleeping back and a change of clothes for tomorrow.  We’ll go out and do service projects on Saturday morning.  We’ll spend tons of time together hanging out, watch a few movies, and all while learning about world hunger and about World Vision’s mission and how that relates to our faith in Christ.  At 7:00 (the 30 hour mark) we’ll eat dinner together and you’re free to get picked up between 7:30-8:00pm on Saturday.  If you need to come & go, just let me know and we’ll work it out ahead of time.

To learn more about world hunger, check out the World Hunger site… it’s got more information than any of us could memorize!

Is Giving Really Better?

As I write this, it’s two days before Christmas, and we all hear platitudes like “tis better to give than to receive” and such… but do we really believe that?  We hear people talking about selflessness and generosity, but do we really practice those things?

I love good quotes, and I recently came upon this one from Ben Franklin:

“How many observe
Christ’s birthday!
How few, his precepts!
O! ’tis easier to keep
Holidays than
Commandments.”

Ben’s right on!  It’s so much easier to celebrate Christ’s birth than it is to obey Christ’s teaching.  Yet, Jesus says “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21).  If we love Jesus then we’ll honor him by how we live.  Jesus doesn’t mince words or give us an “out” around it – he says, “If you love me, you’ll do what I say.”    So what does Jesus say:

“Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the man inquired.
Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony,honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”
(Matthew 19:16–22)

We don’t all have to give away everything we own.  But we should be generous and compassionate towards “the poor.”  Ultimately: Where am I storing up treasure for myself?  Here, where the economy so greatly effects what I have; or in Heaven, where my “accounts” are secure and rock-solid?

Right now we’re preparing for Christmas.  Don’t celebrate Jesus’ birth while ignoring his teaching and commandments.

“Love Came Down at Christmas”

“Love Came Down at Christmas” is an old-school Christmas song that Jars of Clay has reworked and included in their Christmas album.  I really like this song, it’s a great reminder of the “reason for the season”: God’s love meeting our greatest need.

Here are some Scripture passages this song makes me think of:

  • “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:14)
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  (John 3:16–18)
  • “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”  (Colossians 1:19–20)

Here’s the video:

Love Came Down at Christmas ,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Why We Give Gifts on Christmas

Have you ever asked yourself why we give gifts to people we love on Christmas?

Here’s a hint:

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  (1 John 4:9–11 NIV)

In this Christmas season, remember the amazing gift that God gave us: Eternal life through Jesus Christ!  And that was a costly gift… it was not cheap!  As the passage above says, God showed his love among us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have true life.  I think many of us totally take this for granted and disregard that God didn’t HAVE TO make that sacrifice.

When we read “God…loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” it’s incredibly important to know what is meant by “atoning sacrifice.”  That’s not a word or phrase that we hear very often outside of church.  In the Temple, the Jewish Law required for a sheep to be sacrificed to make “atonement” through the offering (the sheep) dying for the person making the sacrifice.  “Atonement” simply means “Agreement” or “reconciliation.”  It means that something hindering a pure relationship has been taken away and completely removed.  Through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, he has made it possible for our sins to be atoned for; completely removed from blocking us with God, our Creator and Judge.  Without the atonement of our sins, there’s an insurmountable obstacle keep us and God from having a pure and intimate relationship that we are meant to have.  But God took the initiative to tear down that wall by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to be born: fully God, yet fully human – the perfect sacrifice to make atonement for our sin!

As we reflect on the sacrifice that God the Son (Second Person of the Trinity) made in being born as a baby boy, remember that the sacrifice was made out of love.  God doesn’t want anyone to remain in their sins, that’s why Jesus was born to die on the cross so that we could be forgiven by repentance and faith in Christ.  The verse above also gives us a hint as to what the life of repentance and faith should look like: “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

We give gifts on Christmas as a reminder of the gift that God gave us through Jesus Christ.  Don’t give gifts this year simply out of social obligation… give them out of joy and thankfulness for what you have received from God.