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Weighing the Cost Pt. 2: The Four S’s

Paul recounts the measure of commitment it takes to follow Christ with an authentic heart…[T]he authentic believer will weigh the cost of following Jesus.

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The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “ For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (New International Version). Considering his long-term ministry, which included tortures, stonings, illness, starvation and imprisonment, among others (see 1 Thessalonians 1:21-17 for a list of sufferings he endured), this is a remarkable conviction to hold.

I think Paul was able to write this way because he understood 1) the impact of the Gospel in his life and 2) the measure of commitment it takes to follow Jesus with full devotion.

Unfortunately, the understanding that Paul displays, I think, escapes most who promote the Christian faith. For the most part, our devotion stops at our carnal natures. For some “would-be” Christians, pride in what they know (or think they know) about Christ, rather than esteem for Christ Himself blinds them from the Truth of the Gospel. Others ascribe to the notion of being a “good person”, considering this a mark of salvation.  Still others justify sinful living, excusing themselves because they hold to a Christian (or “Christian-esque”) worldview. Instead of coming to the Throne Room of Christ in humility, too often we take snippets of the Truth and cut and paste them how we see fit, reducing Jesus to a caricature, and discipleship to a formula.

Paul recounts the measure of commitment it takes to follow Christ with an authentic heart in Philippians 1. This cost is rarely communicated and more rarely accepted. Regardless, the authentic believer will weigh the cost of following Jesus and commit to the following:

Surrender

This is not something that our western world wants to believe. Quite the opposite actually. We are bombarded with messages about how we are due what is owed us or how we should hold to our individual rights. The problem arises when we hold to these values, and then confronted by Christ–who commands His disciples to deny our very lives to follow Him (see Luke 9:23-24)–we are required to surrender, to succumb.

Paul wrote in Romans 6:2-4 (NIV),

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

We must remember that Christianity is not about making Jesus our Lord and Saviour. It is acknowledging the Lordship of Christ over us and surrendering to His Will, and giving up rights to our own. Surrender is God’s call to the sinner, a call that Michael Beck states is “to those who are still fighting His rule.” Yet, the believer’s life is one that reflects surrender by “put[ting] up no residual battle once we have fully accepted the reality of the Holy Spirit’s control,” (P. C. Walker).

Submission

Where surrender is to succumb to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, submission is our allegiant response to it.

For many in our society, submission is a negative term, denoting some kind of tyrannical force is at play. Rather, to submit under Christ is to concede willfully to Him, while remaining free to rebel just the same. Submission is the call to the saint to obey even when logic, emotion or the empirical counteract.

In short, understanding submission as obedience when it doesn’t make sense can be summed up in one word thematic in Hebrews 11–“faith”. Faith to obey in the goodness of God is a choice that bears much fruit. For beginning believers, submitting in obedience will be harder than for those who have walked with the Lord for longer. This is because, as we become more familiar with the goodness and loving character of God, the experience we gain is something on which we can rely. Therefore, submitting under God’s rule becomes more natural.

Submission is a requisite of the surrendered life. For by submission, we are moving toward holiness and away from rebellion. It is functional faith–the doing of our belief in Christ as Lord.

Sacrifice

Once more, the words of Paul chime, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship,” (Romans 12:1, NIV).

The sacrifice is the most humble method of worship as it is the giving up of something valuable in order to give worth to something else. To worship anything is to proclaim its worth (worship worthship). This is certainly a call of the believer and it is certainly not without cost.

The authentic disciple will learn to live sacrificially, esteeming Jesus Christ above all, whether materials, relationships, beliefs, even principles. Living sacrificially does not necessitate that we forfeit such things.  However, we are called to value Christ to the point where we would forfeit materials, relationships, etc. in light of the worth Christ has in our lives (see Matthew 10:37-39). A simple way to know how much worth we ascribe to Christ is by evaluating our willingness to forfeit all other things we hold dear in exchange for Him.

Suffering

One thing, in my experience, that makes western Christians squirm is the biblical calling to suffer, as Paul continues in Philippians 1. He states, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,” (Philippians 1:29, NIV).

Suffering is to lay down our own well-being or self-interest in order to bring God glory.

A. W. Tozer once regarded sanctification (the process of becoming godly) as suffering:

In human experience [the self] is made of living spiritual tissue; it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole beings consist, and to touch it is to touch us where we feel pain. To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and death no death at all. It is never fun to die. To rip through dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus, and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free.

Yes, the call to suffer for Christ involves the continuing pain of exposed sin and repentance. As the Holy Spirit convicts us, we must learn to relinquish those things that we have worshiped, loved and on which we have become dependent that take God’s place as Lord. These could be the things as mentioned above, but also the carnal patterns in our lives that God regards rebellion.

We are called to remove these things that have become normal in our lives. When they are removed abruptly, it is as unsettling as a sliver removed from under the skin. But this is the suffering that occurs when we are committed to godly living.

It is when we are responsive to suffer in this way that we can take on the suffering as stated in 1 Peter 4:1-2 (NIV):

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

Weighing the Cost

We as Christians must weigh the cost of our life under Christ’s rule by consider the 4 S’s: Surrender, Submission, Sacrifice and Suffering. For by weighing these things, others can truly know where our allegiance lies and will not wait for us to confirm nor deny our position with God. It will be clear by our lives that the Gospel has impacted us and that our response is to follow Jesus with full devotion.

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Weighing the Cost

In His mercy, Christ bids us to weigh the cost to follow Him. However, those who respond to the free gift of salvation are those to whom Christ beckons to consider how to respond.

Jesus challenges His disciples in Luke 14:25-34 to weigh the cost of following Him, making sure to warn them with an illustration in verses 28-33 (New International Version):

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

I have a sinking feeling that many so-called Christians in our culture take little consideration of the calling that is the Christian faith. In many ways, it seems, Western Christendom (is that still a thing?) is treated more like a worldview, perspective, or philosophy, than it is a devoted, long-suffering commission. (Reducing anything to a mere worldview nullifies any real significance it has, making it one of many “options” among the plethora of competitive frameworks. This is a grave mistreatment of the promise of salvation through Christ Jesus.)

Christ calls us to discipleship, a calling to lose anything and everything that stands in the way of our devotion to Him. Twentieth century german theologian and martyr, Diedrich Bonhoeffer, once wrote, “[t]he first Christ-suffering which [everyone] must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old [self] which is the result of [an] encounter with Christ,” (Diedrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, italics added). [Click here to read where else I use this quote.]

In His mercy, Christ bids us to weigh the cost to follow Him. This isn’t to say that we choose our salvation. Christ won salvation for all that are called by God. However, those who respond to the free gift of salvation are those to whom Christ beckons to consider how to respond. Those who respond in humility and lay down all else for the eternal gift of salvation commit to abandon earthly things (sin and anything that competes with God). These are chosen by the Heavenly Father and united in eternal fellowship with Him.

Christ is recorded in an earlier passage in Luke, speaking to this.

Luke 9:22-26 (NIV):

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

So what does it mean to forfeit one’s self? A common english definition of the passive verb “forfeit” is “to lose or to be deprived of something, (have something confiscated) out of consequence of wrongdoing.” So, Christ’s warning is to those who refuse to come under His Lordship and give up the things that claim allegiance in their own lives, in place of Him–the rightful claimant of their allegiance. These are the ones who shame themselves in the end and are rejected by Christ, as a consequence of rejecting Him.

However, the wellspring comes to those who, unlike the former, see the gain of surrendering to Jesus. I doubt this could be possible without them first truly understanding (and appreciating) salvation. This is of course is our undeserved redemption from sin and bondage, but also our inheritance into the Kingdom of God and position as His holy stewards on earth–set apart for His mission.

Those who realise the gravity of their sins and understand the impact of Christ’s grace over them are those who are not only capable to weigh the cost to follow Jesus, but acknowledge the worth in doing so. They, not unlike their counterparts, forfeit their lives as well, consequently. However, theirs is an active forfeiting–out of allegiance to Christ. A necessary consequence of honouring Him. They have concluded that the world is worth losing in light of gaining much more: the abundance of knowing Jesus Christ.

My prayer is that more in this world would come to grips with this and surrender what can only serve as a loss in the end. I know that I would rather suffer earthly death than to give up eternal life with the God who loves me and calls me His own. The weight of losing this marvelous gift is far more than I can bear.

 

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A Throwback and a Response

I have received affirmation time and again of God’s acceptance of me. This hasn’t come in some loud, thunderous way, but in subtle, gentle ways, deep in my soul.

Today, I was reminded of a past blog post of mine. So, I thought I might post an edited copy of it here and then respond to it. You can read the original post here, but I have included it below:


Over the duration of my life, I have dealt with a silent belief about myself that I have only recently decided to share with others. Part of the purpose of this blog is to come clean about it. My silent belief is this: I often feel that I am exempt of redemption and grace.

This is interesting, as I have thrived to convey the message of Christ’s Gospel. But I admit that I don’t think I have completely believed that the story of Christ’s love applies to me. This isn’t to say that I reject the Gospel, let me be clear. I guess it’s more like I haven’t felt as if I have been included in this promise despite being a proponent of the Christian faith.

It burdens me to know that there is a barrier in the way somewhere deep in my soul that prevents me from growing in the faith as I would like to. Of course this barrier comes in the form of the belief that I am unredeemable. It cripples me from advancing in my discipleship in the LORD and it can keep me in sins I wish to conquer, like sexual lust, pride and criticalness. So, with this insecurity comes the recurring failures to crawl out of the pit of mire (see Psalm 40).

Having thought about what has influenced this notion, I can’t help but recollect the experiences I had growing up. It seemed as though my personality never seemed acceptable by my peers. I could make friends from the start, but they never lasted and by the time I finished Gr. 8, I really had no friends at all. In fact, when new kids joined, they were influenced by those in the student body not to “like” me or befriend me because I suppose it was the collective belief that it was “uncool” to do so.  One’s reputation depended on deliberately not being my friend or appreciating me. Unfortunately, due to this experience, I still deal with these echoes of unacceptance.

In the context of my primary and middle school years, not many bothered to understand me or to find out what mattered to me; this included some of the teachers. To me it seems as if they merely judged me and wrote me off as annoying, even if they didn’t know that that’s what they were doing at the time. Now, let me be clear that I hold no disdain or resentment toward any of my middle school peers. In fact, after our years schooling together and having entered adulthood, I have seen some of those relationships strengthen and I really look to the lot of them fondly. None of those peers were tyrants in anyway. They just didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t understand the ramifications of their actions.

Nonetheless, I live and breathe today with the feeling that I am not quite accepted. This feeling followed me into highschool, where it manifested itself in the way I related to those peers. The same feeling followed me and manifested its way into my experiences in college as well. It seems as though few tried to dig beneath the skin of who I am, but merely acknowledged my social quirks as displeasant and moved on as if that was all there was about me. Sadly, this was all within the Christian context. If Christians couldn’t accept me, how could I be sure Christ would? I now feel as if this was an undergirding issue for me all along, and now it’s come to light.


My first impression of these words is that I must have been in a negative headspace during their composition. A second impression is I can still relate to the struggle of feeling accepted by God, but I have grown in my experience of God’s love for me as I have exercised communion with Him. I have received affirmation time and again of God’s acceptance of me. This hasn’t come in some loud, thunderous way, but in subtle, gentle ways, deep in my soul.

That last part being said, I have to say, though the exercise of communing with God is a discipline of the believer, my resultant growth is a product of God’s fellow communing with me. I cannot take the credit for ongoing change in me. I cannot say that I have truly done anything to influence this change, if I look back.

All I can do is reflect on where I was and where I am and give God the credit for the difference.

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Imperfect Me

To be imperfect is to be unfinished in time, like a photograph is a captured moment in the past. Any past progressive action captured in that image remains incomplete….This means I am still flawed, defective and incomplete, but am on the road to completeness.

A simple realization with which I have had to grapple is the fact I am imperfect. Of course, the notion of one being “imperfect” logically implies the existence of the “Perfect,” against which the “imperfect” is compared. Considering a common understand that no one is without their flaws, a contradicting belief within postmodern thought is that one can be good while maintaining he or she falls short of perfection. My experience has been that this contradiction arises when so-called “good” persons are confronted with their own shortcomings. My intention is not to dialogue on the goodness (or lack thereof) of humanity. I only digress to transition to the position I am taking on the imperfect believer’s soul.

There are two ways to understand imperfect.

Understanding 1: English adjective, meaning  “to be flawed, defective or incomplete.”

Understanding 2: Grammatical past-continuous tense, denoting a past action that was stopped or interrupted while in progress.

For the purpose of this post, I am taking some liberties with these two understandings. Not to say that the adjectival understanding isn’t adequate, it is just that its grammatical understanding is also useful to convey my thoughts here.

To be imperfect is to be unfinished in time, like a photograph is a captured moment in the past. Any past progressive action captured in that image remains incomplete. However, the moment of captured incompleteness may not be as incomplete as moments before. This is due to the progress toward completion, during which the moment was captured. The past may be incomplete in time, but it was on its way to completion, and so remains imperfect.

Thus is the believer’s soul.

Philippians 1:6 says,

I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (New Living Translation).

This is to say that no faithful believer on this side of Heaven is perfect, but remains in a constant state of progression toward perfection. Another way to understand this, perhaps, is that a faithful believer remains in constant progression toward the Perfect. Once more, allow me to direct toward the contrast between what is imperfect versus what is perfect. For there to be imperfection, there needs to be an ultimate perfection against which to compare, or progress toward.

Christians understand perfection as being fully in God’s presence, or to be fully transformed to His character. Likewise, the Perfect is Christ Himself, whom is referenced in Philippians 1. Therefore, any snapshot of my life (and the life of all faithful believers) between now and the time of Christ’s return is a capture of imperfection: being made complete, but not having reached completeness.

This means I am still flawed, defective and incomplete, but am on the road to completeness. Regardless of the criticism I may receive from others in the area of my deficiencies, I must hold to this view of myself. Likewise, I must recall that any progression toward perfection that I reach has nothing to do with my own efforts. Paul’s proclamation in Philippians 1:6 echos the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
    We are the clay, and you are the potter.
    We all are formed by your hand. (Isaiah 64:8, New Living Translation).

Because of God’s great love for me, He is forming me by His hands, for His purpose, just as a potter forms clay for one’s own purposes (see also Ephesians 2:10). Indeed, am incomplete, but I am in the process of being complete by the Master Potter, who is both Perfect and Good. He has a plan for my life and as long as I submit to His work, His molding, His shaping, I may be formed into the likeness He deems necessary.

Yes, I am imperfect! This is the most blessed status to be. So, I rejoice in the knowledge that the Perfect One is still not finished shaping me. Therefore, I will go on with great hope and great joy, calling myself “Imperfect Me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isaiah 64:8, “And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
    We are the clay, and you are the potter.
    We all are formed by your hand.” NLT

 

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I doubt it!

Doubt isn’t the same thing as unbelief, just as faith isn’t the same thing as certainty.

My personal faith journey can be likened to driving in a strange place, relying only on signage and direction. I have no idea where I’m going. There is no certainty that I will make it to my destination. I only have to believe that the directions I have been given are reliable, trustworthy and that I have been following them accordingly and faithfully. I can recount several times in my life, while actually driving, when I failed to keep my attention to directions or second guessed that I had and thereby doubted that I was heading in the right direction.

Christian faith is often like that.

Continue reading “I doubt it!”

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Throwing in the Towel

I want to learn to let go of the things I typically want to call out on people unfairly. I want to “throw in the towel” so-to-speak and submit to Christ. I need to surrender to the fact that I do not hold righteous status apart from God and need to allow His Word to impress upon me.

davidcohen-127022-unsplash
Photo credit to David Cohen, on unsplash.com

The thought occurred to me today, how often I must be projecting my own judgments on other people, and believing them to be justified. This habit, while unchecked, is in stark contrast to the emotions I have when others judge me unfairly. Yet, I habitually tend to practice freely the act of judging others in the same fashion.

The feelings I have when I understand people judging me unfairly are usually ones of hurt, anger, and regret, or any combination of the three. In receiving what I perceive as unjustified criticism, my common response is to defend myself, and not always well, nor gently. These responses often are impulsive, lacking reflection on what the criticism is addressing. Only later do I often come to reflect on the points of critique and try to determine whether they were justified or not. I have had to accept true, constructive criticism for what it is. Though, it is more likely that unfair judgments toward my character are fewer than I realise, I also know that my ironic tendencies to judge others the same way only place me in the same hot seat in which I place them.

I understand the words of Jesus Christ in Luke 6:41-42 (New Living Translation):

And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Jesus also says in Luke 7:23-35 (NLT):

For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.

So, what are these Scriptures saying?

I believe Christ’s words tell us that judgments can be placed unfairly, in two ways: if the one doing the criticism is practicing the same things, and if a judgment is not based on verifiable facts (a.k.a., a perceived “fault”).

I want to learn to let go of the things I typically want to call out on people unfairly. I want to “throw in the towel” so-to-speak and submit to Christ. I need to surrender to the fact that I do not hold righteous status apart from God and need to allow His Word to impress upon me. This means a few of things:


  1. Know what I’m claiming is legitimate

There are many times that I could count when I convinced myself of someone’s shortcomings, when I didn’t even know them or know their situation. There have also been times when my confidence in what I thought of a person was completely shattered when I was made aware of the exact opposite.

I should be asking things like: Is their behaviour, demeanour, or lifestyle based on some sin or carnal nature, factually? If one is abrasive or authoritative in nature, is it necessary to think he or she is trying to pull rank on someone else? If I perceive a person of legal age to be childish based on their behaviour and what I generally consider to be “childish,” does that necessarily mean that the individual is functioning at an underdeveloped level, in general? What if the given behaviours stem from some sort of emotional or psychological depth to which I am not privy. What right do I have to claim I know someone’s character when I don’t know them outside of a given environment or circumstance?

I really ought to abandon whatever possible misperceptions I may have of someone and look passed initial impressions to gain more acquaintance with my neighbour. This takes honesty, modesty and integrity. It also involves looking at others as persons under the same divine judgment as I am.

2. Reflect on my own brokenness

Recognising that I am under the same judgment as anyone I encounter should help me honour those around me. This is because of my brokenness. My brokenness is my innate inclination to rebel against God. Apart from the grace showered over me by Christ, I would be in the same state as those outside of grace, destined for an eternal separation from Him in a chasm of punishment. Therefore, I must remain humble, knowing that it is only because of Christ that I am in right standing with God.

Even though I am saved for eternal glory and sealed as a child of God (see 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Ephesians 1:13-14), I still struggle with my inclination to sin. I must recognise where I am susceptible to sin in similar ways as others I encounter and must suspend judgment against them. It is only until I have broken free from certain patterns through fellowship with the the Holy Spirit, submitting to His work in my life, that I am free to bring correction to another.

This ties into what I perceive as sinful or flawed behaviour in another person. I must ask if there is anything in me that allows for the same perceived behaviour or attitude. I must be introspective first before I act on my perspective of someone else.


The bottom line to all this, I think, is that the Christian mandate is that love shall undergird judgment.

In love, I must forego any rights I feel I may have to assume I am right about any judgments I make about another person. I need to first verify that my perspective is accurate and then come with an open heart to the person, prayerfully asking for God’s guidance in how to direct them away from a destructive pattern and unto Christ.

When coming with an open heart, I must remain open to the fact that I am just as broken as the other person and without the grace of Christ, in the same standing. This should preserve in me a hope that there is a renewable mercy afresh each morning (see Lamentations 3:22-23) and I can afford to come to the person with introspection, offering to come alongside them as someone else who is broken.

Even if the other person is unreceptive to all this, at least Christ was honoured and that is worth so much.

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A Passion for a Passion

LatelyLately I have been thinking about my passions a lot. Most recently, during a recent visit to Southern Ontario visiting my in-laws,  I had the opportunity to meet with a national organisation with whom I am associated. This organisation is predominantly involved in publishing news media and articles targeting the worldwide Church. I met up with the chief editor who affirmed my literary talent and encouraged me to hone them in the form of writing for print.

Lately, I have been thinking about my passions a lot. Most recently, during a trip to Southern Ontario to visit my in-laws, I had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of a national organisation with whom I am associated. This organisation predominantly publishes news media about the global church. While there, I met with their chief editor who encouraged me to pursue one of my long standing passions: writing.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who comes across this blog that I don’t post a lot. In my past blog, I had mentioned this at least once as well.  The fact is I haven’t put a lot of effort into pursuing this passion of writing and I hope as the new year approaches I can turn a new leaf.

That being said, I want to be sure to use my passions (my core interests, not carnal inclinations) to serve God’s kingdom, including writing. In my life experience, I have come to realise no better purpose to living than to serve God and His passions.

1 Peter 4:10-11 (New International Version) tells us,

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

I believe God’s passions are for each person He created to know and to love Him. This we see from the Good News presented in the New Testament, whose pages point to our passionate God. We see that God’s pursuit of humanity was ultimately demonstrated on Calvary’s cross, when Jesus Christ took the punishment of our sins upon himself, releasing from guilt those who would put their faith in Him (John 3:16-18; Colossians 2:9-14).

The passionate, merciful love of God should be reciprocated through the service of those saved by Him. The avenue I believe I can best serve God is through writing, which has never been so unhampered before, with the internet so broad-stream and interactive. This blog is the best way I know to give God glory, while providing a platform for others to engage on the topic of God, faith, or spirituality–in a respectful manner.

The purpose of this blog, for me, is to stand for that which I believe brings Life, regardless of opposing values or worldviews. This, all in hopes to bring others into a closer understanding of the Living God I pursue.

So, I want my passion for writing to reflect the passion God has for His people. After all, the gifts, talents and interests I possess only pale in comparison to the heart of God and His pursuit of those who bear His image.

Truly, to Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

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The Measure of a Martyr: Stephen’s Witness and What It Means for Us

We can find ourselves with those sentenced to death or imprisonment, as we discover the immeasurable value of knowing Christ. We may walk in the footsteps of Stephen and echo the voices of our brothers and sisters the world over by contemplating the degree of commitment to Christ we take daily.

Jesus tells his disciples in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” (NIV). But, when replacing the word witnesses with its original Greek word, we understand Christ saying, “…and you will be my µάρτυρες (mȃr-tū-rȇs)…to the ends of the earth.” This Greek word can be understood simply as meaning “Martyrs”.

The sincere disciple ought to face a challenge with this understanding, as it suggests a deeper commitment to following Christ: to be a martyr is to witness to the testimony of Jesus Christ first-hand, even under threat of suffering or death.

While our North American experiences have often watered down the call to martyrdom—as Jesus laid before us—we get a picture of martyrdom as it was first recorded in the story of Stephen in Acts 6:8-7:60.

Within Stephen’s record, we see the measure of commitment required of the Christian to glorify God in three characteristics.

Continue reading “The Measure of a Martyr: Stephen’s Witness and What It Means for Us”

A New Year at Christmas

As 2018 fades into the proverbial rear-view mirror, I am left to contemplate the past year as I do every year during this season. To contemplate the past year means something more to me than just to recollect my life’s learnings and misgivings, jovialness and stresses; it means a new beginning as I appreciate a past ending. One particular way I know how to contemplate this way is by observing the connection the Advent of Jesus Christ at Christmas has with the coming of the New Year.

To enlighten you, allow me to provide a brief background to the current calendar events of this particular season:*


Christmas Day–that is, the birth of Jesus Christ–is celebrated around the world between December 25 and January 7. Of course, any Google search to find out if December 25 is in fact the birthday of Christ will be a short one. The simple answer is no. So, why these times for Christmas? Well, there is some variability as to the reason.

One possibility is the traditional event of the Annunciation, observed by Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. This is the revelation of the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary that God’s Son would be conceived in her womb (see Luke 1:26-38). Traditionally, this is believed to have fallen on what is now March 25 (Gregorian Calendar). Nine months following is December 25. The other possible reason Christmas Day is December 25 has to do with a Christianizing of two rival pagan festivals of the Roman Empire that fell around the same time: “Saturnalia”–the celebration of the god Saturn (like the planet), who was believed to control wealth, abundance and even time, and “Sol Invictus”–the festival of the “Unconquered Sun,” that commemorated the birth of sun god Mithra.

The variability of what day on which Christmas falls is simply due to the calendar change from the Julian Calendar (adapted by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE) to the Gregorian Calendar (replaced by Pope Gregory VIII in 1582), which saw Christmas Day move from January 7 to December 25.

New Year’s Day–January 1st. This date remained unchanged by Pope Gregory. What Julius declared the start of each year was an observance of another Roman god, called Janus (where “January” gets its name), who was believed to be the god of gateways and beginnings. So for the Caesar, the start of each year recognized the one who brings new beginnings.


In reality, Pope Gregory’s objective in reforming the civil calendar was twofold: to align the calendar year’s timeline more accurately with the solar year (a little more than 365 days) and to set the time of Easter more accurately to the time set by the early Church. In light of this, it may seem inappropriate to link Christ’s birth with the New Year because truthfully the two were never intended to relate with the other. It may also seem inappropriate when one considers the cultural climate of Christ at His coming. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is commemorated a week before Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place to offer atonement sacrifices for the sins of the Israelite people (see Leviticus 16). In light of these two festivals, it makes perfect sense that a new year would usher in the atonement of God’s people. The equivalent for the Church would be if New Year’s Day fell just before Easter.

That all being said, the coming of Christ at Christmas can be regarded as the beginning of the beginning whose apex was revealed at Easter. Hebrews 10:19-23 tells us (New International Version):

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

With Christ as the new way by which we have been given access to God, we can identify Him as the One who truly brings new beginnings. The Advent of His coming must then resonate as the One who indeed ushers in the New Year (in place of the Janusian myth). Moreover, as each year comes to a close and we reflect on His Advent, we can reflect on how “through the curtain” (the temple curtain, or “gateway” to God) He would later end the “old year” (the Old Covenant), to start the “new year” (the New Covenant) (Matthew 27:51, Luke 23:45, Mark 15:38 cf. Exodus 26:33, Hebrews 9).

This, I think, is why the Advent of Christ can be considered as ushering in the New Year. The start of the beginning of something new was announced at the onset of Christ’s birth when Garbriel revealed to Joseph (Mary’s betrothed) that, “…he would save his people from their sins,” (Matthew 1:21, NIV). Of course, this was the eternal redemption that Hebrews 9 tells us about and for which we have eternal hope.

So, when I look back at the past year and look forward to a new one, I want to extol Christ for having started something new for all those who trust in Him. I want to keep in mind the old English phrase “auld lang syne”, or “days gone by,” and appreciate what standing I have with God because of the promise fulfilled at Christ’s coming. The days of seeking redemption have gone by, for Christ introduced a New Year. The days of guilt and shame have passed away because Christ introduced a new and living way through His blood. I can look back with assurance that the days of old have gone by and something new has started at Christ’s coming.

Thank God for the coming of Christ Jesus, for He has ushered in a New Year!

(*Historical content can be found on www.wikipedia.com and www.whychristmas.com/customs/25th.shtml)