It’s that time of year when everyone of us is making and desperately trying to keep our New Year’s Resolutions. Some of us will no doubt have more success than others because we most likely chose more realistic resolutions.
I have four primary goals this year. They’re simple: read more, write more, enjoy good food and drink more, and laugh more. That’s it.
You know, I’ve tried developing more detailed and specific resolutions for the year. One year, I was going to read a book per month. Another year, I planned to lose 20 pounds. And then, there was the year I decided that I was going to play golf at Pebble Beach.
Let me save you from the guessing game as to whether or not I accomplished them — I did not. I fell short. I made a good effort at reading a book per month in January but failed to complete one in February that year. I lost some weight the year I pledged to lose 20 pounds but put it back on between Thanksgiving and Christmas (which we all do, don’t we?). And playing golf at Pebble Beach? That dream died the second I found out that one round cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $500.
By now, you are probably asking, “What is the point of this article?” Great question.
I want to encourage you to think about 2021 in terms of getting better rather than completing a list of arbitrary and somewhat unrealistic resolutions. That’s the goal in life anyway, isn’t it? Be better today than you were yesterday. Be better this year than you were last year. Therefore, set some goals that will enable you to be better in 2021 than you were in 2020.
Take my four goals for an example. Here’s how I think they will make me better.
And there is one final thing that all of these goals will make me do in 2021, and that is: slow down. Reading takes time. Writing takes meditation and time. Enjoying good food and drink requires that I set aside many of the distractions that occupy my mind. Laughing more demands that I give more attention to friends and family so that I can find the humor in their stories and actions.
So, I challenge you to leave your resolutions open-ended this year. Set the goal to be better in 2021 than you were in 2020. Expand your mind, record your thoughts, share some good meals, and be pleasant to be around. And, you’ll have a great year.
Happy New Year!
** This article originally appeared in the January 6, 2021 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.
In his first post of the new year on the seventeen82.com blog titled, “Growing as a Christian,” Pastor James McManus wrote about the importance of growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ from 2 Peter 3. His post encouraged my heart and I trust that it will encourage yours should you read it.
If you will allow it, I would like to jump on the James Train in this post and draw our attention to the beginning thirteen verses of 2 Peter 3 where Peter gives us a three-fold philosophy for living faithful lives in light of the impending return of Christ.
Let me set the stage.
By the time we get to the beginning of 2 Peter 3, the Apostle has written (for the better part of two letters) to a group of congregations full of Christians and Christian families who have been “grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). They were marginalized by their society, led astray by religious leaders they trusted, and exiled from their families for their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. They were in a tight spot.
Knowing this (because he, himself, faced persecution in Rome), Peter sought to stir up their “sincere minds by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1). He reminded them first of the words and “predictions of the holy prophets” as well as “the commandments of the Lord and Savior through their apostles” (2 Peter 3:2), for they spoke God’s inspired word (2 Peter 1:21). He reminded them second that the prophets and apostles predicted that scoffers and false teachers would rise up in the last days following their own sinful desires and would try to convince others to follow them in their pursuit of godlessness (2 Peter 2:1-3; 3:3). He reminded them lastly that their only hope rests in the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel as it is revealed to them in the words of the apostles and prophets.
After stoking the fire of their memories, Peter focused on one particular promise they found in the Scriptures — Christ Jesus will return.
Central to understanding Peter’s message to his beloved congregations is the concept of the last days. For him, the last days is the time between Jesus’s ascension into Heaven and his subsequent return when he will completely establish his eternal kingdom after the heavens and the earth have been made new. This means that the present era has a beginning (the Day of Pentecost) and an end (Christ’s return), and the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee (Eph. 1:13-14) that it will all come to be as he testifies to our spirits of the reality of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and eventual return. Specifically in 2 Peter 3, Peter grounds his confidence in Christ’s return in the fact that Jesus came, lived, died, rose, and ascended in the exact way the prophets had predicted. Therefore, he and his readers could be certain that the predictions of Christ’s return would in fact come true in due time.
Armed with this faith-filled confidence, they could withstand the pressure of the scoffers and endure the hardships they faced from their persecutors. All they had to do was to wait patiently on the Lord to fulfill his promises, trust him with their lives, and prepare themselves to welcome him and his eternal kingdom.
Now, at first sight this instruction from Peter appears too ethereal, but it is imminently practical. Patiently waiting on the Lord’s return gives purpose, meaning, and direction to our lives. If we know that there is a definite end with reward for those who remain faithful to Christ and punishment for those who do not, then the decisions we make and the actions we take are eternally consequential for us. The conviction that Christ will return shapes our lives as we prepare ourselves for his return, a return that will come like a thief in the night (2 Peter 3:10). Because of this reality, waiting patiently on the Lord, trusting him with our lives, and preparing ourselves for his return are the most practical things to which followers of Christ can devote themselves.
As I conclude, I will draw your attention back to the opening paragraphs of this post where I said that Peter gives us a three-fold philosophy for living lives of faith in light of Christ’s return. Here is that philosophy, and I commend it to you.
May God bless you richly in his grace as you pursue him and elevate others to his glory as you wait for his certain return.
My beloved NC State Wolfpack beat Wake Forest Saturday night in thrilling fashion. After the game, running back Ricky Person, Jr said, regarding his breakout performance, “I’m speechless, honestly. I’ve battled through a lot of injuries throughout my career. I just kept faith in God, my teammates encouraged me on a daily basis, everyone. It was a long time coming for this moment…”
In a similar vein, Sunday’s winner of the 2020 US Open Golf tournament, Bryson DeChambeau, recently explained his belief in his new training regimen which was designed to drastically increase his body mass in an interview published in Golf Digest.
Based on their words, both of these athletes properly understand the concept of faith. They both know that faith, by definition, always has an object. It is “in” something or someone. Person stated it directly Saturday night when he said that he “kept faith in God.” His faith is in God. It wasn’t his faith alone that carried him through the obstacles. It wasn’t his faith alone that overcame the injuries to his hamstring and Achilles tendon. It was God that did it. His faith attached him to God and enabled him to rest in God’s strength while working tirelessly to get back to the playing field. The same is true for DeChambeau, except his faith wasn’t in God but in his process and training.
The Bible talks about faith in the exact same way. Biblical faith is grounded firmly in the Lord Jesus Christ, who famously told Martha, at the tomb of her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). He gave her hope in the midst of her grief. Later, the Apostle Paul claimed the same hope for himself through faith as he testified that he lived his life “by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20)
In both of these instances, faith was the conduit through which God’s power and hope ran to the individuals. Let me use an example to explain.
You have power at your house. You use it all the time. You heat water with it. You cook with it. You wash clothes with it. You turn lights on at night with it. You watch TV with it. You surf the internet because of it. You also know that the lines that bring that power to your house are not the power source. It comes from somewhere else.
The same is true for faith. Faith functions as the power lines do in that it is the way you and I receive the power, hope, blessing, grace, and mercy of God in our lives. God is the source of all things and he gives them to us by faith.
So, let me encourage you to exercise your faith in the good and gracious God of the Bible so you may receive his life and his power each and every day.
This post originally appeared in the Wednesday, September 23, 2020 edition of the Chester News and Reporter of Chester, SC.
Man, our world is noisy, isn’t it! Everywhere you turn someone, or some institution is speaking to — no, yelling at — you to get your attention.
It seems that we all are like my friend Greg was when he froze in the middle of a youth league basketball game because he didn’t know which of the many voices giving him instructions was the one to which he was supposed to listen. Was it his teammates? Was it his coach? Was it his dad? Was it one of the other parents in the stands? He didn’t know. So, he just froze and stood in the middle of the court holding the basketball.
Greg told me that his parents gave him some great advice after that incident, which was that he needed to learn how to discern which voices to listen to and which ones to disregard. They also taught him how to do that by using the teachings of the Apostle John in the Bible. They knew this lesson was far greater than basketball.
In chapter 4 of his first epistle, John tells us to “test the spirits” of those vying for our attention and seeking to lead us. He identified three different tests to use.
First, we are to test for the spirit of truth (1 John 4:2-3). Is what the person saying true? For John truth begins with the person’s belief about the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Does this person’s belief about Jesus match up with the Bible’s testimony? More broadly, John was concerned that we evaluate the trustworthiness and claims of those determining to speak into our lives.
Second, we are to test for the spirit of integrity (1 John 1:6-7). Does this person’s life exhibit the evidence of integrity? Does he or she firmly adhere to an acceptable moral code, while fulfilling a responsible social contract with us? We cannot give top billing to someone whose daily life does not reflect good character.
Third, we are to test for the spirit of love (1 John 4:7-10). Does this person exhibit self-sacrificing love? This is perhaps the tale-tell question of discernment. Here’s why: a person who is committed to the truth, particularly biblical truth, and is disciplined enough to live a life of integrity is going to be a person that will humbly consider and advance others before himself or herself. They know it’s about more than themselves.
These are the people to whom we should give top billing in our lives. We are to listen to them before we listen to anyone else. So, take the time to test the spirits of those incessantly bombarding you with their voices. Pay attention to the ones who pass the test and ignore the rest.
**This post originally appeared in the Wednesday, August 25, 2020 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.
During a recent interview, Georgia Bulldog great Herschel Walker described his morning workout. It is simply amazing! Get this.
Every morning Herschel does between 1500 and 2000 pushups, between 3500 and 5000 sit ups, and over 500 dips.
What? Are you kidding me? That’s simply an unbelievable workout regimen.
The crazy thing is that this has been Herschel’s normal workout routine for years. It has become part of his identity. It has helped train his mindset, enabling him to achieve great things on the football field and in life.
The best part of Herschel’s interview, though, was when he made the following statement: “The problem with most people I talk to is that they are not willing to put in the necessary work to be better people.” I could not agree more.
When I think about my own life, I see this reality and you probably do as well. We want to be better people. We want to be better parents and grandparents. We want to be better employees and employers. We want to be better citizens. And, if you are a Christian, you want to be a better Christian. All of this takes work.
Paul directed the Christians in the Roman colony of Philippi to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Being a faithful Christian – a faithful follower of Jesus – takes work. But, God has given us everything we need in order to be faithful to him. Paul goes on to say that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
This means that God not only commands us to do good deeds that bring him glory while working out our salvation, he gives us what we need to do it! Through his Spirit and in his grace, he gives us the desire as well as the ability to be more faithful men and women.
Paul had a specific good work in mind when he wrote these verses as well. Philippians 2:14 reads, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Paul’s intent here was to show the difference between a life of quiet endurance and one of discontented grumbling. Continual complaining and disputing stunts spiritual and personal growth as it focuses on the problems we face, our limitations, and our discomforts instead of the solutions. Paul is clear that our focus should always be on the solution because our eyes are locked on the target of our faith, the Lord God himself who has the power to do anything.
So, don’t walk around grumbling about everything that isn’t going your way. Don’t start an argument with everybody about everything. Don’t be afraid to put in the work to be better. Don’t quit when you confront adversity. Stay strong in your faith and let your light shine before all men and women remembering that God is always with you and strengthening you.
**This article originally appeared in the August 12, 2020 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.
One of the popular movements of the 60’s and 70’s was to be more environmentally minded. “We need to save mother nature!” was the cry. Protests, rallies, and concerts joined the chorus. Nature must be preserved. Today, this movement has become political. Various candidates all proposing different plans to save the earth and to protect our world. Often, the most vehement defenders of nature have drastically conflicting world views from Christians. What should a Christian think about all of this? Should we be conservationally minded? Does the bible have anything to say about this topic? All of these are important questions.
Throughout Scripture, we find numerous references to God’s creation. From the very beginning, God places the stars and planets in the sky, the trees and flowers on the earth, the mountains and hills rising against the skyline, and the waves crashing on the shore. Time and again, the Scriptures talk about God’s creation and how it all brings glory to Him. In Psalm 8, David says of the creation, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Or, in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul says that all men know of God because He is made known through His creation.
Christian author and apologist, C.S. Lewis explained that the creation is like a mirror. When someone looks at a beautiful flower or an intricate spiders web, they are seeing a mere reflection of God’s greater beauty and intricacy. All of creation serves this same purpose – namely, to reflect God’s attributes and to bring Him glory. In this way, every single piece of nature is significant.
What should we take away from all of this? First, we, as Christians, should care about nature. We should desire the preservation and protection of the trees and plants. We care about them because they ultimately point us (and all who see them) back to the one who made them. Second, we should use nature as a talking point. John 1 tells us that Christ is the one who made all things. The next time you see a beautiful flower, you have a reason to talk about Jesus! Finally, take time during your day to enjoy God’s creation. Look at flowers, marvel at the work of the tiny ants, or even go and hug a tree. God made it all, so enjoy it, and praise Him for it!
** Post was written by Ethan McConnell, Pastoral Intern of Chester ARP Church
It’s summertime and that means that many of us are using our grills regularly to cook food for our family and friends. There’s not much better than a hot, juicy cheeseburger grilled to perfection, is there?
In his cookbook, Boy Meets Grill, celebrity chef Bobby Flay defined grilling as a means of “cooking food quickly over a very hot fire,” which gives the food a “seared, flavorful crust and a juicy interior.” That’s what makes it so good!
In many ways, I think our contemporary society can be defined as a grilling culture, and it’s not just because of the fun, the casual fellowship, and the relaxation that comes from gathering around the grill. It’s because we love things to come at us hot and fast. It suits our appetite.
We want our internet instantly, with its movies on demand and our news in small, manageable, fast-paced portions. We want immediate economic and political solutions to our greatest problems. We want systems changed overnight. We want educational options and medical advancements without delay.
This is all well and good until we confront the absolute impossibilities of our demands. It takes time to develop vaccines and effective treatments for unknown viruses. It takes time to recover from severe economic recessions. It takes time to create acceptable options from which parents, children, and educators can choose their preferred method of education. It takes time to address our greatest social dilemmas.
God knew this as he inspired the Apostle Paul to write, “Put on…compassionate hearts, kindness, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you…” (Colossians 3:12-13). This brief instruction challenges us to be kind, compassionate, meek, patient, and forgiving. Every one of these qualities is necessary for the development, maintenance, and growth of a good and profitable society. That really doesn’t need any further explanation, does it? It is self-evident.
As I conclude, I’ll revisit the introduction of Bobby Flay’s cookbook where he made the distinction between grilling and barbequing. Barbecuing, he wrote, “is slow cooking over a low flame and is suitable for less tender food.” The low heat over a long time breaks down the connective tissue and makes the tough meat delicate and delicious!
Friends, most of our personal and societal problems aren’t tender and suitable for grilling. They’re tough, and they would be far better smoked. And, smoking takes patience. So, let us put on compassion, kindness, meekness, and patience as we bear one another’s burdens, working together to make this world a better place.
** The above article originally appeared in the Wednesday, July 29, 2020 edition of the The Chester News and Reporter.
What ever happened to grace?
Have you been wondering that lately?
It seems as if almost everyone has forgotten this little five letter word that author Philip Yancey has called our “last best word.” In fact, our experiences when interacting with one another both on social media and interpersonally often reflect the opposite of grace – harshness.
Now, I know that there are still plenty of displays of grace all around us, especially in our local community. But, would you not also agree that our society is becoming less and less characterized by grace, politeness, and good manners?
We jockey with one another for position. We tear each other down in order to elevate ourselves. We withhold forgiveness from those who have offended us. We hold others to impossible standards of behavior that we have no intention of meeting ourselves. We create fear in others to prevent our imperfections from being exposed. We do it all in some attempt to make ourselves feel better about our weaknesses and our failures.
This is what makes grace such an amazing word!
Grace is, in a biblical sense, the unmerited favor of God. It says that God loves and accepts you and me regardless of who we are, where we have been, what we have done, what we have not done, or where we are from. God loves us, provides salvation for us in Jesus Christ, and pours forth immeasurable blessings upon us.
John Newton wrote the most famous song about grace – Amazing Grace. Interestingly, his story of redemption began as the captain of a slave ship. His heart was arrested by the love, mercy, and grace of God and his life was transformed. After converting to Christianity, he renounced his former trade and worked tirelessly for the abolition of the slave trade. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “I’m a great sinner, but Christ is an even great Savior.”
God’s powerful and transformative grace enables us to be gracious to one another. Think about it. If you’re accepted by God, then you don’t need to elevate yourself over other people. Why? Because your identity is no longer found in relation to them; rather, it is rooted squarely in what God says about you. Therefore, you are free to be gracious, loving, polite, and forgiving to those you see daily.
Newton was right. Grace is truly amazing. We are much better off when we live in grace and extend it to others, for our world thirsts for it in ways it does not even recognize.
This article was originally written for and published in the Wednesday, June 24, 2020 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.
From the beginning of March, we have been living in a continual crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of social distancing policies. All of our students missed out on the last three months of their school year while our graduating seniors missed out on many of the rites of passage that they had anticipated over the last 3-4 years. And, the events of the last two weeks with the death of George Floyd and it’s repercussions have increased our senses of uncertainty, confusion, and frustration. Each of these realities would have been challenging in and of themselves, but when combined they have created a cultural pressure cooker, which has caused me to consider the proper attitude to possess while dealing with crises.
As a Christian, my first inclination was to study the life of Jesus to examine how he dealt with crises. When I did, I found six attitudes in his life that I think we would do well to adopt when we face our own crises or walk with others through them. Here they are.
I’m convinced that a prayerful, listening, compassionate, gracious, righteous, and wise person is well suited to confront the challenges that this world presents. Attitude matters. It determines how we respond, the words we say, and the character we exhibit throughout our lives. Let us follow Jesus’s lead while walking through these current crises as well as those that are sure to come throughout the balance of our lives.
This post was originally written for the Wednesday, June 10 edition of the Chester News and Reporter in Chester, SC.
One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is Philippians 2:2-4. There Paul writes, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
I think I like these words so much because of the way they focus on the virtue of selflessness and connect it to the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul challenges us to elevate others above ourselves and to do it in the same way that Jesus does it for us. He willingly sacrificed himself for each one of us. We are to do the same for one another. And, we are to do it out of love. That’s why Jesus did it!
This reminds me of a story I heard from a World War II Veteran named Roy several years ago. He was fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium when a German explosive device rolled into his shallow foxhole. One of his fellow soldiers immediately dove onto the device to muffle its blow. As soon as he covered it with his body, it exploded. The blast killed the young soldier instantaneously. His sacrifice, however, saved the lives of Roy and the two other young men in the foxhole. I’ll never forget the emotion that welled up in Roy’s eyes and voice as he told that story of that heroic young soldier. He didn’t bat an eye. He did what had become natural to him. He sacrificed himself for Roy and the other men.
I’ve talked to many soldiers who would have done the exact same thing. Why? Because they were trained to put the needs and desires of others above their own. This is what all of us should be doing as well. Selflessness does not come naturally to any of us, but it can be developed in all of us through faith, intentional decision-making, and action. Pastor Tim Keller has said, “Selflessness is thinking of yourself less.” If we decide to do that, then we will consider others more highly than we do ourselves over time. And, I believe we’d be happier people and build a better society because of it. Don’t you?
This post was written for the Wednesday, May 27, 2020 edition of Chester News and Reporter.