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Resolve. Even though you’ll fall.

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We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up.

C. S. Lewis, Letters, 1/20/42

Why We Don’t Resolve

Only one of five was. Some of the five shrugged. One shook her head and grimaced.

Why don’t we start the New Year with a resolution or two? Reasons tend to fall in one of two groups: either for sloth of soul or for fear of failure. I’ll explain.

1. Some of us opt out of New Year’s Resolutions because they’re so much work. We like comfort and a fast fix. Saying no to nighttime snacks and prepping salads for tomorrow’s lunch instead – these take diligence and effort and self-control.

And we don’t want to dig in for what might be a duel to the death. We’ve got work to do and kids to feed. Maybe next year. We’re not ready for that fight. Not yet.

2. Some of us resist resolutions because we know we’ll fall. Whether in two months or two days or two hours, it’ll happen. We’ll succumb. I’ll eat that bowl of ice cream at 10 pm and interrupt my friend, again. It’s only a matter of time.

But could it be that we fear stumbling on the right road more than we fear drifting along the wrong road?

Because we’re afraid of getting dirty, we let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We’re afraid to run and fall in the mud.

Which is why you might actually consider making these three resolves.

1. RESOLVE: To know God’s power in the fight.

C.S. Lewis knew of whence we speak, of what we fear, at the start of this new year.

I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious, provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience etc. don’t get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of his presence. (Letters, January 20, 1942)

So up and at ’em. Get in the fray. God is present with us in our muck.

Though a righteous man falls seven times, he gets up again (Proverbs 24:16a). Muddy and sweaty, maybe trembling or scraped, the righteous get back up.

But cowards watch unscathed from the couch. And cuddled up, clean and dry, they probably don’t much notice God’s power. They don’t feel his forgiveness and grace, helping them up.

We don’t know the strength of the wind until we try to walk against it and we don’t know the force of the evil within us until we try to fight it.

But, we also don’t know the power of God to strengthen us until we resolve, face off, do battle against the besetting sins and bad habits that would have us bound.

My power is made perfect in weakness, our Lord said.

2. RESOLVE: To avoid greater cost later.

It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish. -Sam Gamgee

Waiting can be costly. Strike while the iron’s hot. Resolve now. Agony comes when we wait too long, from thinking I wish I would have.

Rory Vaden is a motivational speaker. It’s hard to argue his premise that success of any sort requires self-discipline. He quips,

Procrastination and indulgence are nothing more than creditors that charge you interest.

He’s right. We eat too much and we feel sick and gain weight. That’s costly. We spew angry words and lose friends. Very costly. We don’t proof our messages and take triple the time undoing the confusion. Big interest. Procrastination and indulgence are costly.

Left unchecked, they cost us our souls. Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion (Hebrews 3:15).

Get started. Resolve today.

3. RESOLVE: To exalt Christ in the good fight and when you fall.

The Apostle Paul was a resolver. He resolved, he made it his ambition, to preach where Christ had not been named (Romans 15:10), to know nothing but Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), to minister in Rome (Acts 19:21) to name a few.

You might not know this, but Paul also encouraged us to make resolutions. To make faith-filled resolves for good.

My proof text for urging you to make good resolves is 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12,

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul’s train of thought here is important for us to understand in order to make good resolutions. Not all resolutions are good resolutions. Because without faith it’s impossible to please God and whatever does not come from faith is sin. Resolves that are made, and-even worse-kept, without faith cannot be good and only tend to pride.

Yes, definitely- count the cost (Luke 14:28). Don’t be like the guy who started the tower and got laughed out of town because he didn’t have the resources to finish. If you are in Christ, you do have the resources. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work for you (Eph. 2:19-20).

But then, make good resolves by faith, relying on God’s power to help us will and act. And refuse to see failure as a sign that you’re on the wrong path.

The fact that you get mud on the windshield and temporarily lose sight of your goal and swerve, doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong race track.

If you were, the enemy wouldn’t bother you. What the mud really means, John Piper explains (Future Grace, p. 55),

[I]s that you should turn on the windshield wipers and use your windshield washer.

Be encouraged. The mud means you’re right on track. Spiritual growth ahead.

Resolve Now. Quit Limping.

The opposite of resolved is not a happy-go-lucky drift to holiness. We only drift one direction and it’s not toward heaven. Not to resolve is to be undecided and irresolute.

Not to resolve is to limp between two opinions and to think, I really should stop ____ (eating, scrolling, interrupting)but not yet. 

So when should we resolve?

Whenever we see something we should be doing that we’re not doing we should resolve to do it and whenever we see something we’re doing that we shouldn’t be doing, we should resolve not to. To walk worthy, to see God’s power, to exalt Jesus. We should resolve. January first or December 31st and any day in between.

How long will you go on limping between two opinions? If the Lord is God follow him, if Baal is God follow him, Elijah challenged the Israelites.

It’s the same today. If God is strong and your resolve is born of faith and for good, don’t be irresolute. Resolve. Don’t go on limping.

Oh, sure, we’ll fail and stumble and get a little muddy. But we will rise.

And the towels will be out and our clean clothes waiting.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
Jude 24-25
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Gray and Plaid

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.
Psalm 14:2-3

I’m reading through the kings again. A decade ago I tucked into my Bible a chart detailing the names, dates, years of reign and “character” of each of the kings of Israel and Judah.  The character column lists simply, “good” or “bad.”  Yesterday a Sunday school student showed me his Bible’s updated table. It adds “mostly good” and “mostly bad” to the characterizations.

Saul-“mostly bad.” Recall: Early pardon of his enemies AND spears aimed for David.

David-“mostly good.”  Recall: Goliath, psalms galore, grace to bloodthirsty Saul AND Bathsheba.

Solomon-“mostly good.”  Recall: Prayer for wisdom, temple construction AND 1000 wives, princesses and concubines.

Fast forward a half dozen or so kings to wicked king Ahab.  Ahab who “did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel before him.” Whose hundreds of priests of Baal faced off  against Elijah on Mt. Carmel.  Who, with his lovely Jezebel, knocked off righteous Naboth. For his vineyard. The murderous thug.  Big, ugly, sin.  Selfish,ugly, melancholic king. 

But Ahab humbled himself.  God saw his contrition.  Bad king (mostly).  Repentant king, shown mercy.  Maybe enough to move from the “bad” to “mostly bad” category?

It works both ways.

Three kings later: Jehu- zealous for God.  So zealous that he executes Jezebel, slaughters Ahab’s 70 sons.  Not satisfied, Jehu “with cunning” manages to gather the prophets and worshipers of Baal worshipers and wipe them out too.   Such a righteous warrior!  Good-er, make that “mostly good.”  

Jehu didn’t “turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam” the worship of the golden calves.  His zeal was incomplete; Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord with all his heart. 

As I make my way down through the royal annals one truth is inescapable: the good kings are not all good, and the bad are not all bad.

I think God does not want this inconvenient truth obscured.  No one is righteous, no not one. Neither is His arm too short or his ear stopped to the cries of the humble and contrite.  Ezekiel preached it to God’s exiled people. 

Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. (18:25-27)

A few days ago we received a letter from the Voice of the Martyrs ministry.  It explained that Tom White, VOM’s longstanding director and public face, had taken his own life. On April 25th, with allegations of sexual molestation of a minor becoming public, he quit the fight.  (See a beautifully written letter to his victim at http://www.wadeburleson.org/2012/04/sin-and-suicide-of-voice-of-martyrs.html) I have long supported VOM and its ministry to persecuted Christians around the globe.  I pray for God’s blessing on its leaders, especially now.  Tom White’s front cover inspirational editorial of the May issue was still sitting atop my reading pile. 

My stomach still churns, my mouth grimaces at the thought of it all.  The impact on the ministry, the victim, his family, the suffering saints in North Korea and Columbia and Nigeria whose causes he championed all these years.  A seasoned and mature seeming saint, imprisoned in Cuba decades ago for his faith.  Good?  Mostly good?  A sexual predator and hypocrite.  Bad?  The Lord only knows.

If you envision “good”  (or “mostly good”) in the column after your name in listed, 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 has a word for you:  Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

And if you’re feeling like your epitaph would more likely include “bad” (or “mostly bad”), take heart from persecutor turned apostle Paul, The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.(1 Timothy 1:15-16)



Pondering this with my mom she nodded, smiled knowingly and recited:

No one whose good is all good, 
Or whose bad is all bad.
Rather we’re all shades or gray
Or plaid.

That’s me.  Us.  We’re gray and plaid.  Not all good, not all bad.  Serving with joy one moment and then wallowing in jealous, self-pity the next.   Check out Jon Bloom’s blog “You don’t have to obey.”  His depiction of the war that rages within is right on. 

I know it.  I live it.  I hate to admit it, but I lose sleep over my desires, turned demands, turned idols.  I don’t always fight sin hard enough, drawing strength from my union with Him, from His Spirit within.  Ugly, sinful, melancholic.  I, Abigail, am Ahabesque. But I am not a slave to sin. No sir! 

We have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end eternal life.  (Romans 6:22)

Good.  Very good.