Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
The idea of restoring New Testament Christianity is “that God set forth His standard of acceptance in salvation, worship, church organization and daily living” and “to follow the teachings of God, revealed in the New Testament, to direct our lives in the same way as He did first century Christians” (therestorationmovement.com/about.htm). We can open our Bibles and find a pattern for what the New Testament church is to look like, not in customs and culture, but in commands and cause. Yet, a tendency we must guard against is a haughty spirit that portrays the idea that we have already arrived. Consider four areas where we need to keep at the restoration plea and overcome neglect.
I love to spend as much time as possible talking about what the church is doing right. It is doing so much right. By following the New Testament pattern regarding salvation, worship, the church’s purpose, and the like, we stand out in a religious world that has lost its way. Meanwhile, however, let us stay at the business of restoring the church to the pattern revealed in Scripture, even in areas that are more difficult and demanding though just as necessary.
Grambling State’s Shakyla Hill pulled off a rare feat in basketball last night, achieving a “quadruple double” (meaning at least ten of four statistical categories–points, steals, rebounds, blocks, and/or assists). It was the first time a woman had done that in Division One in a quarter century and only the fourth all-time. There have only been five official quadruple doubles in NBA History. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t happen much. How does it happen? Of course, there are innate gifts like speed, size, and ability, but there surely had to be tenacious effort, too.
In keeping our resolutions, there must be tenacity. We should ask ourselves every day, “How badly do I want to achieve this goal?” The New Testament word for that is perseverance, a word found 22 times there (The Greek word ὑπομονή is found 32 times, also translated “patient” and “endurance” a few times). It means, “The capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty” (BDAG, 1039). Sometimes, it seems effortless to conquer a matter. Other times, it can feel almost impossible. Factoring in God (as we mentioned in part two), we can have confidence that He can strengthen us to hold out and bear up whatever the challenge. Scripture tells us the outcome of perseverance:
Now, apply this to your resolutions for 2018. There may be missteps along the way, a temporary loss of self-discipline, a sin or mistake, or a poor judgment. No matter! Resolve to hold out and bear up, no matter how hard the task. You will be glad you did, and you will find it rewarding.
Have you ever wondered about the origin of New Year’s resolutions? I have. If they are to be trusted, the folks at the History Channel denote the Babylonians, nearly 4,000 years ago, as the founder of such culture-wide determinations. It was as part of a 12-day religious festival known as Akitu. Later, at the prompting of none other than Julius Caesar, the Romans, again as a nod to a god—Janus, the two-faced god who looked backward and forward—observed the advent of a new year with the intent of improving areas of their lives in need of such. Sarah Pruitt, author of the piece, claims that Christians, since early times, have approached the new year to rededicate themselves to Christ. Pruitt seems to be indicting so many today who observe this holiday in a purely secular fashion, and wonders if such humanistic emphasis is why so many resolutions fail (source).
It is noteworthy that the history of making resolutions is so closely tied to religious devotion. Perhaps this is because we, as human beings, recognize our innate inadequacy. Paul, feeling it necessary to defend himself against unnamed critics of his work, wrote, “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant…” (2 Cor. 3:4-6a). Paul, so accomplished as a Christian, preacher, leader, mentor, missionary, and more, was always striving to do more for Jesus. He was not trying to earn God’s love and approval. Whether looking back at his successes or failures, Paul, in his love for his Lord, wanted to serve Him more effectively. He told Philippi that he pressed on (Phil. 3:12), “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13). He advised the conscientious Christian to follow his example (Phil. 3:15-16).
Christianity is not a religion of annual intention. It is the religious of daily determination (Luke 9:23). January 1 is an ideal time to reflect, review, and resolve, but is far from the only time. In a significant sense, each new day for us involves a resolve within ourselves to deny self and dedicate to the Savior. As I have done every year of my adult life, I will again set out objectives and goals, physically, financially, and familial. Yet, the most important will involve my faith. As always, these will need review, not just in January, but throughout the year. In my prayers today, I prayed for every Christian who resolves to conquer a sin problem, reach a lost soul, be more active in their local congregation, and any other noble aim for the Master. If you make some such specific resolution and would honor me with the privilege of partnering with you in prayer about it, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know. Then, let me know how it goes and especially tell me about your success. May God bless each of us with the resolve to be more faithful in our relationship with Him.
Karoly Takacs has one of the most interesting stories in Olympic History. The right-handed pistol marksman and sergeant in the Hungarian Army was a world-class shooter, but was denied an opportunity to compete in the 1936 games since only commissioned officers could compete. That prohibition was lifted after these games and Takacs anticipated competing in 1940, but a faulty grenade exploded in his right hand during army training in 1938. Unbeknownst to the Polish public, Karoly began practicing shooting with his left hand. He showed up at the 1939 Hungarian National Pistol Shooting Championship, and when other competitors came to offer condolences about his accident, he said, “I didn’t come to watch, I came to compete.” In fact, he won those games. But, he was unable to compete in the 1940 or 1944 Olympic Games because they were not held due to World War II. By the time of the 1948 games, held in London, Takacs was 38 years old. But, he qualified and won the Gold Medal there. Then, he turned around and did it again at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. He barely missed qualifying in 1956! For this, he holds a place as one of Poland’s greatest Olympic heroes of all time (information via Quora.com authors Ankur Singh and Swati Kadyan).
In the New Testament, God shows us how beautiful proper determination is. Starting with Jesus’ determination to save us from our sins, as we read about Him because of anticipated joy “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:1), we find the greatest example of resolve. But, then there was Paul. Before conversion, he was determined to exterminate the Christians (read Acts 26:9-11). After being won to Christ, he refocused his determination toward winning as many as possible to Christ (1 Cor. 2:2; 9:24-27) and he urged others to do the same (2 Tim. 2:1-6; Tit. 3:8; etc.). No one will make it to heaven without making a determined effort to do so. That does not mean that anyone will earn their salvation, but it just as true that no one accidentally goes to heaven. The way Jesus put it is, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). How badly do you want to go to heaven? What are you willing to give up in order to go there?
It is a true paradox. Today, I’ve been married longer than I have ever been. I’ve been a father longer than I have ever been. The same is true for me as a Christian, a preacher, and every other relationship I am in. My experience in all of these has never been greater than it is right now. Yet, as I examine things, I realize just how much I do not know. I am not saying that truth is unknowable, for such a statement would be false and contradictory to what God affirms in Scripture (John 8:32; Eph. 1:18; 1 Tim. 3:15; etc.). It is just that I realize how little I understand compared to what needs to be understood, that I find the challenge of putting truth into practice in every situation requiring wisdom and understanding as daunting as I ever have. Yet, despite such a realization, my optimism has never been greater. Why? Because I have never believed more strongly in the power and wisdom of God, nor have I ever depended more on Him for strength and provision where I am lacking than I do today. I feel smaller, but He seems bigger. While the walk on the narrow way seems a steeper, more strenuous, incline each day and the challenges to faith more daunting, more than proportionate to this is my realization that God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Eph. 3:20). My conviction about what the Bible says has never been stronger. My belief in God’s existence, involvement, concern, and righteousness has never been more than this moment. Yet, my awareness of my finiteness and limitations, the transiency of this life, and the ferocity of the adversary is acute. Incredibly, this doesn’t cause me to despair. It causes me to hope. It takes the focus off me and puts it where it belongs—on Him! He is able to establish me through His Word (Rom. 16:25). He is “able to make all grace abound to” me, that I, “having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). The most important thing for me to know, every day in every challenge and responsibility, is that God is able (Rom. 14:4; Phil. 3:21; 2 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 2:18).
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not despairing. I am not even frustrated. I am hopeful and excited. One of the greatest promises of Scripture is, “But He gives more grace” (Jas. 4:6). He will walk with me through the darkest valleys (Psa. 23:4). As He holds my hand and guides me through His word and His providence, He also points me toward His house. He tells me He will help me get home and when the narrow way becomes too steep or arduous for me to walk alone, He will carry me in His everlasting arms (cf. Deu. 32:7). I will keep studying His inspired guidebook and striving to apply it to my life. And as I do, I will increase my dependence and reliance upon Him, confident that “He who has begun a good work in [me] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). That’s really all I need to know!
I spoke with our newspaper deliveryman this morning, and he had some story to tell. He summarized his experience as the longest 15 hours of his life. He got stuck once and had been towed twice. He delivers his newspapers in a 2014 Toyota Camry, a front-wheel drive vehicle fighting against 10-12 inches of snow in a thousand cul-de-sacs. Surprisingly cheerful, he was plodding on until finishing his task—delivering The Denver Post to every customer on his route. That, my friend, is dedication!
As a former subscriber to the Rocky Mountain News and current subscriber to the Post, I cannot describe his product as “good news.” With the internet competing, the newspaper is far from the exclusive or timeliest source of news. That notwithstanding, this man is determined to get out the news.
The gospel is, by definition, “good news.” Without a doubt, it is the most important and timeliest news of all time and eternity. Every person needs to be exposed to it as it contains information that will impact where they will spend their forever. God has given the job to you and me and every Christian in this nation and around the globe. Every day, we see people and relate to people on their everlasting journey. They may or may not be oblivious to their need, but we are well aware of it.
Are we determined to get out the news? The first century church was. In bad times (Acts 8:4) or in good times (Acts 2:47), the news went near and far. Paul described it as news which had reached every creature under heaven (Col. 1:23). Christ commissioned that the news be spread to that extent (Lk. 24:44ff). The challenge is great today, with over seven billion people on the earth. But we have more resources than they did, and there are more of us, too. The difference, then, may be the level of our determination. Until we are determined to let nothing stop us from getting out the news, darkness will eclipse light and our challenge will grow. Let’s let nothing stop us from sharing the great salvation of Jesus to everyone we meet.