Resolute Resolutions

I’m not the type of person to make resolutions when a new year comes. It’s not that I have anything against self-improvement. It’s not like I don’t want to be a better person. I don’t hold anything against others making resolution, but I’ve just grown a little jaded about resolutions over time. It’s almost as if we make resolutions simply to break them, and we make these resolutions with full knowledge that we will not keep them. Some resolutions, however, are worth keeping, and we don’t have to look any farther than our Bibles to find a few.

Resolute Examples

We see, in Daniel 1:8, that Daniel resolves to eat no unclean food while in captivity. Even though he is away from the temple, away from many of his peers, away from the priests and Levites, he resolves to do what is right in God’s eyes. This pattern then continues throughout the rest of his life.

Think also of Joshua, in Joshua 24:14-15, challenging the people of Israel to choose their allegiance between Jehovah and other gods. Joshua is resolute in his faith, and his example impacts his entire generation and the one to come after him.

In Acts 19:21, Paul resolves to go to Jerusalem despite the trials that will face him there. He purposes in his heart that this is the path he will take. Again, his resolute nature impacts many more than himself.

Being Truly Resolved

We should be resolute  followers of Christ, but our resolutions cannot be lip-service. Simply making the statement does not make us follow it. Nor can we be purposeful because of peer pressure, for we cannot maintain a resolution if we lack individual commitment. If we are to serve God the way He deserves to be served, it takes a sincere determination of will that we will put our all into working for our God.

How could Daniel keep himself pure in God’s eyes despite all the ungodly influences around him? He and his companions could maintain their faith because they were determined to do so. Joshua, as well, sincerely wanted to serve God despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges associated with that service. Paul, Peter, Timothy, Titus – determination of will is what separates them from the pretenders of their day.

We should so want to do what is right. We need to be determined and we need a heart willing to sacrifice for that resoluteness.  Paul, in Romans 12:1-2, speaks of spiritual service in terms of sacrifice, holiness, transformation, renewal, and proving. Long before Daniel, Joshua, or Paul demonstrated their own spiritual resoluteness, they had particular mindsets. We need to change our minds to be followers of God. Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above, for we have died to all else. Philippians 2:5 simply calls on us to have the mind of Christ. When we set our minds to be like His, we can do anything.

This determination, however, requires a compliance of our hearts. In Matthew 22:35-40, one asks Jesus what the greatest of the commandments is. Jesus answers with two, and they both come down to love – loving God and loving our fellow man. We may readily submit to God intellectually while our hearts remain far from Him. Romans 10:8-10 reinforces the need of both heart and mind in faithful service to God. Finally, Ephesians 6:6, in the context of discussion serving earthly masters, admonishes us do God’s will from the heart.

Conclusion

Our spiritual resolutions do not have to be empty. Will you resolve to be a more faithful servant to God in all things? Philippians 4:13 encourages us that we can do anything in Him who strengthens us. We can rid ourselves of skepticism, uncertainty, and indifference if we are determined to have a Christ-like mind. We can be holy in an unholy society if we but yield our hearts and our minds to our Creator.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Being Resolute Without Resolutions

It’s the time of year again when we begin making resolutions for the coming year. Even if we aren’t in the habit of making resolutions ourselves, the topic is on our minds. Resolutions, however, can be hard to keep because changing the year on a calendar changes little else about our lives, our issues, our challenges, and our weaknesses. New Years Day is a new day, but it is a new day like any other.

To be resolved is to be unwaveringly set in a purpose, and perhaps it would be better to develop ourselves into resolute individuals without worrying about the tradition of drafting resolutions. In the Bible, we see individuals who demonstrate resolute characters despite their issues and challenges. Three such figures are Daniel, Joshua, and Paul – people who were unwavering in their dedication to following God.

Examples of Resolute Living

In Daniel 1, we meet a young man living under Babylonian captivity, and verse 8 tells of his purposing in his heart that he would not defile himself while living at Babylonian court. He behaves resolutely in his youth and captivity, even under pressure from those watching over him. In the face of his surroundings, from the beginning of his book to the end, he shows a fierce determination we sometimes lack.

Joshua 24 serves as a commentary on Joshua’s entire life. In verse 14, he challenges God’s people to put away the idols and commit to God. He warns them time and again of the dedication such a commitment will take, and the book records that the people living during his lifetime follow after God’s word, as do those of his generation who outlive him. His resolute determination leaves a mark on all those around him.

In I Corinthians 9:18-22, Paul speaks of his efforts in evangelizing the gospel, and he says he works that by all means he could reach anyone he can. He goes on to an illustration of those who dedicate themselves to win awards in Olympic games, but Paul says his determination comes from the incorruptible prize before him. He calls on us to know what we are working toward, to have a purpose and a goal in our lives. Philippians 3:12 returns to this idea, expressing the continual effort this race takes – leaving our former lives behind to press forward with purpose.

Conclusion

Our prayer lives, our attention to God’s word, our priorities – we should be resolute in our following of God. Rather than concern ourselves with numerous resolutions, we should be determining to be resolute Christians. In Ecclesiastes, the author resolves to find purpose or joy in the things of this life, but his conclusion is that true purpose comes from resolutely fearing God and keeping His commandments. We may make resolutions, but they are nothing if we are not resolute in our service to God.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Faith Is the Victory

In our Bible classes, we have been studying from Hebrews and James, and Hebrews 11-12 and James 1 encourage us to press forward despite all odds, despite all trials. Toward the end of Hebrews 11, the author begins to quickly cover several examples of individuals overcoming through faith. They trusted in God and found victory in that trust, these individuals like Samson, Gideon, Jepthah, and Barak.

Victors of Faith

  • Gideon. In Judges 7 introduces us to Gideon who is preparing for battle against Israel’s enemies. They constitute such an overwhelming force that scripture depicts them as a swarm of insects. Gideon begins with 32,000 men against these odds, but God tells him he has too many. Eventually, God whittles this number to an army of 300 against a seemingly insurmountable enemy. Furthermore, they are armed with no more than torches, clay pots, and trumpets. Gideon follows these instructions, and God delivers him and his force of 300. Sometimes, we don’t feel we have the resources we need, but God provides. He does not need us to be strong by secular standards for us to be strong in spirit.
  • Joshua. Joshua faces similar odds in Joshua 6 when bringing his army against Jericho. He and his men face an army behind walls as thick as a two-lane road is wide. Instead of a major act of destruction, God commands Joshua to lead his forces in marching laps around the city. No fire falls from the heavens. No plagues strike the city, but, when Joshua and the Israelites obey, Jericho’s defenses fall. We may not always understand the reason God does what He does. We may not understand His requirements and stipulations, but obedience in God leads to victory. In chapter 7, Achan leads the people in understanding the consequences of ignoring God’s rules. Achan takes of spoils that were devoted to the Lord, and the consequences are severe. With God comes victory. Without God comes defeat.
  • Joshua and Caleb. In Numbers 13, Moses sends twelve spies into Canaan. After returning, all report of the wealth of the land, but only two declare faith that God can deliver it into their hands. Those who lack faith are condemned to die in wilderness wanderings in chapter 14. At one point, the people decide they will try to conquer the land now that they understand the consequences of faithlessness. God does not relent, however, and only Joshua and Caleb survive to inherit the land of promise. Again, God’s absence leads to defeat for God’s people, but those who trust overcome.

Conclusion

Sometimes we don’t feel we have the support we need. We feel under-equipped and unprepared. We wonder why God requires certain things of us. Ephesians 6:10 reminds that we are in warfare like Gideon and Joshua. Unlike these, we do not face physical foes, but our assault is of a spiritual nature. Our faith in God, though, allows us to stand in the face of attack. If we allow God to guide us, if we spend time with Him, we can be victorious.

John 16:33 records Jesus telling His apostles that peace can be found in Him and that He has overcome the world. In I John 5:1-5 continues this theme of overcoming the world, and this victory is obtained through our faith in God. Philippians 4:11-13 demonstrates Paul’s willingness to endure anything in Christ because he believes that he can do all things in Christ. In Romans 8:31-39, Paul rhetorically asks who can stand against us when God is with us and that no external force can remove us from His love. Paul calls us more than conquerers in Jesus. I Corinthians 15:50-57 tells of the final victory we can have in faith – a victory over death and corruption. Finally, Revelation 15:2-4 describes those who are victorious singing praises to the Lord around His throne.

We are going to feel perplexed, alone, and outnumbered at times, but if we keep our faith with God on our side, victory is assured. Our trust is in Him. He has delivered victory to our spiritual forefathers, and He can deliver that same victory to us if we endure.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Be the Change You Look For

Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus is not an individual many of you may be familiar with, but you are probably familiar with his assertion that “change is the only constant.” While there indeed may be “nothing new under the sun” in God’s eyes, we live in a culture that is ever-changing, that is always in motion.

The concept of change has been a prevalent topic this year due to one of our presidential candidates whose campaign platform is built upon the notion of change. Barack Obama uses the slogan: “Change You Can Believe In,” and on February 5, 2008, he made his now famous quote: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” In this statement, he’s combining and paraphrasing calls to action made by other influential leaders. I think Hopi spiritual elder Thomas Banyacya coined the phrase, “We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for,” and Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi said, “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Creating or Reacting to Change

Too often, we do not live the change we want to see around us. Like Heraclitus says, “Change is the only constant.” The world around us changes day by day whether we want it to or not. It changes in ways we may like or dislike. Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, FDR, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Darwin, Socrates, Pablo Picasso, Herman Melville, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allen Poe, Gustav Mahler, Francis Crick, Jackson Pollack, Bob Dylan – these and more are the game changers. They are “the crazy ones” as an ad for Apple Computer once put it. Regardless of how you personally feel about any of these individuals, they are world changers. Rather than being shaped by change, they did the shaping.

Unfortunately, we often respond to the idea of change in one of two ways. We might be “tossed to and fro” as the Christians in Ephesians 4:14. In other words, we might be unable to discern between good changes and bad changes and we just go with the flow. Alternatively, we might be more like the children of Israel as Moses was leading them to the promised land – grumbling all the time but effectively doing nothing to help. We are the perpetual armchair quarterbacks, calling shots to people who do not hear us, who will not feel the consequences nor the benefits, but fooling ourselves into believing we’re helping.

One thing all of those individuals named earlier had in common was they didn’t get anything done by sitting around on their couches and griping. Every one of those people changed the landscapes of their specific disciplines and the world because they stood up to be noticed. They took risks. They suffered indignities, ridicule, and some died for their causes, but they made a difference. Can we say the same, or are we content being swept about by change or merely complaining about it to those who already agree with us?

Living Change In the Bible

The Bible, Old Testament and New, is filled with individuals and groups of individuals who stand out as heroes to us because they lived the change they wished to see. Where others shirked, they charged forward. In this lesson, we’re just going to take a look at three isolated examples and some results of their actions.

Joshua

We are familiar with the events of Numbers 13-14, even if we tend to forget the events belong to this book. This is the initial inspection of Canaan by the spies of Israel, and, in chapter 13:27-33, an overwhelming majority say the land is unconquerable. Caleb tries to persuade the people that they can overcome the odds, but he is quickly shouted down. In chapter 14:6-10, Joshua attempts to rally the people, reminding them the Lord is with them. As a result, he is very nearly stoned.

Joshua has already seen how the people reacted to Caleb. He could have just gone with popular opinion. He could have been caught up in the fear, uncertainty, and doubt all around him. He could have also just kept quiet but complained to Caleb and Moses later about the stubbornness of the people – if only they had faith in God. He could have done these things, but he doesn’t. He tries to make a difference, and he continues this pattern for his whole life. The result? Judges 2:7 records that the people serve the Lord under Joshua and under the elders who outlive him. He makes a difference that impacts a whole generation of God’s followers.

David

I Samuel 17 records David’s confrontation with the Philistine warrior Goliath, a man described in gigantic proportions and armed to the teeth. In verses 8-11, Goliath challenges Israel to send out a champion to challenge him, but King Saul and his soldiers cower in fear. Finally, the young shepherd David answers the call, but his brother ridicules him. The king tries to dissuade him, but David is adamant, and, in verse 37, he states confidently that he believes the Lord will deliver Goliath into his hands and change imminent defeat into victory.

We know David finds success with only the most humble of tools, but would it not have been easier for him to view Goliath as someone else’s problem. After, David is not a soldier. His place is in the fields. He could have just turned around and gone home, trusting that somebody would take care of the problem. Likewise, David could have sat around asking, “Why doesn’t someone do something?” “Why don’t we just throw all of our troops at him. That will end the problem quickly.” He could have done that, but he doesn’t. He put his faith in God and makes a difference. As a result, he is remembered as a man after God’s own heart, he is in the lineage and a shadow of Christ. He is a hero of the Old testament because he tried to live the change he wanted to see.

The Early Christians and Apostles

We wrap up with a group instead of an individual. These are the people who, in Acts 8:4, continue preaching and teaching even as they flee persecution. These are the people who, like Stephen in Acts 7, stand before the Pharisees and proclaim Christ, even unto their deaths. They are people like Peter in Acts 2, who stands and preaches Christ to the very people who had participated in His crucifixion – a mob that could have quickly turned on him as well. They are the ones praying by rivers, teaching in synagogues, enduring imprisonment, stonings, and torture while continuing their ministry. We know Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Silas, Aquila, Priscilla, Apollos, and others while many remain nameless. All of these, however, persisted in living the change the world needed and still needs.

Any of these could have dropped out at any time. I’m sure some did. I believe Paul and Peter both knew what fates awaited them should they continue to preach Christ. It would have been easier for Stephen to just give up and placate the Jews who accused him of blasphemy. Paul would have avoided many stonings had he just reentered Pharisaic practices. Peter and John could have avoided further imprisonments had they only followed the decree to stop preaching Christ in Acts 4:18. These individuals and more continued to work for change though, and the result is recorded in Acts 17:6 when the rioters cry out that these men “have turned the world upside down.”

Our Life of Change

Our goal should be nothing short of the accomplishment of those early Christians: turning the world upside down. We should be wanting to change the world, but it begins within ourselves. We cannot wait for change to sweep us off our feet, nor can we sit idly by griping about things we allow to be taken out of our hands. We need to take charge of our lives, and be the change we want to see. We can’t wait for others to do it. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Change is constant. We can either be victims of change, or we can be instruments of change.