If you use a mechanic for brain surgery, the mechanic will fail, and you may die. If you use a hammer to repair a windshield, the hammer will fail and the windshield will shatter.
Likewise, as long as we continue to consult politicians for their answers to problems that flow from the heart, we will continue to fail, no matter if we have a donkey or elephant in office.
I wrote an article a few years ago entitled “There is no political solution to a spiritual problem.” This is exactly where we find ourselves today. And because we have sought to solve our spiritual problems via political solutions we continue to fail year in and year out. Trump did not solve them. And truthfully, Biden will not solve them either.
So is there any solution? Well first what are the problems that are destroying this nation?
Hatred, injustice, anger, abortion, addictions (of all kinds), idolatry, self-sufficiency, pride, rebellion, and more. All of these problems don’t exist because we don’t have enough laws. Rather, they are alive and well within all of our hearts, to some extent, because we have failed to follow two laws:
💡 “Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39
Jesus is our only Hope and He is the only One who can solve the problems of our hearts, which is where all the sin that plagues our nation today resides, regardless of political party.
So are you a Jesus follower? Have you looked to Washington to solve our problems? As we begin a new year, and even a new Administration, would you consider a new paradigm? Let’s try shifting our focus from DC to Jesus, from politicians to our neighbors. As we do, we will experience a miraculous healing, first in our hearts, and then the hearts of our neighbors, as God does what only He can do.
💡“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” Psalms 146:3
💡“Don’t put your trust in mere humans. They are as frail as breath. What good are they?” Isaiah 2:22
💡“And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.” Ezekiel 11:19-20
💡“I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.’” Hosea 10:12
2021 is here. Another year in a string of years that, when bookended together, represent your life, and mine. Just two days ago a friend of mine passed away. Unexpectedly. The final bookend to his life was 2020. I was profoundly saddened for him and his family.
But if you’re reading this, you made it through 2020, and have once again begun what you’ve done for a number of decades now. Another year. If your life were a song, 2021 could be just another verse in that song.
But, should it be? Should your life be characterized year after year with sameness? Should the tune others have come to recognize when they encounter you or me, continue to be the one we play as each new year creeps closer to our final one?
Resolutions are something many of us make when a new year rolls around. I suppose the reason we make them is because we want the new year to be different than the prior one. We make them because we think back over the verse of last year’s song and we recognize things we don’t like, or we don’t see things we wish had been there. And so, we rise up, for a day or two, with a feeble attempt to change the song, not merely add another verse to the same old tune.
As I considered these thoughts, and the many years I have struggled with simply repeating the same old song, decade after decade, I went to the actual definition of resolution. Of course the conventional definition of the word in the context of a new year is generally “the act of determining; firmness or resolve.” But there was another use of the word resolution that, in the context of our theme of a song, seemed to be right on point.
Resolution in a musical context means, “the progression of a chord from dissonance to consonance.” With music, when you have dissonance you have “a mingling of sounds that strike the ear harshly; a clashing or unresolved music chord.” But dissonance also means, “inconsistency between the beliefs one holds or between one’s actions and beliefs.”
The second word in the definition of a musical resolution though is “consonance” which simply means “harmony or agreement among components.” In music, “notes that sound good together when played at the same time are called consonant; one can listen to them for a long time without a feeling that the music needs to change.”
So a musical resolution is transitioning from sounds that are harsh and clash and suggest a need for change, to notes that are pleasant, stable and do not require change.”
What an interesting analogy of what so many of us do each new year. We look back at our lives in the previous year(s) and we see a life of dissonance. We recognize that many of the things we profess to believe, or we know to be true, are not evident in our lives. We see inconsistency in our example. And that inconsistency often strikes others harshly, even those we love.
So we “resolve” to move away from personal dissonance towards consonance. We thus seek a life in the new year where our lives are in harmony with those deep values and beliefs we say we hold to. Whether it’s something as simple as eating what we know to be healthy, to reconciling our outward actions with what we know to be true inwardly, we all seek to harmonize our lives.
But if your past decades will predict your future course, then it’s safe to say that whatever you resolve today, will soon be another dissonant conclusion. Even though the definition of “resolution” includes the word “firmness,” it’s likely that your life and mine will lack resolve in 2021.
So why is this? Fundamentally, because we are frail. I know I am. Over and over and over I say I will do “x” and then I don’t. At least not permanently.
The Apostle Paul, perhaps one of the most resolute Christians ever, had this to say about this struggle:
“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” Romans 7:18-19
In a sense, Paul was acknowledging the dissonance that existed in his own life. He too struggled with doing (actions) versing knowing, or his beliefs. But…
Yes, thankfully there is the word “but” to offer us Hope. Note what Paul said just a few verses later:
“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” Romans 7:21-25
I too struggle with the very things Paul was talking about. It can be something as simple as eating healthy. Or it can be something as serious as aligning my daily walk for Jesus, with what God’s Word says it should be.
But the greatest secret I have ever found to instilling “firmness and resolve” into my resolutions has been what Paul disclosed above. If I want to be “free” from the song of prior years, if I want to move from dissonance to consonance, and if I want my life to reflect a new song, “the answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It’s oh so simple, and oh so hard. My life’s ruts, the harsh, dissonant chords I’ve gotten used to playing, are such a part of my life that it’s impossible for me to permanently change them. But there is Jesus. And He can literally transform your life and mine from one that is harsh, unresolved, and clashing, to one that is pleasant, appealing, and others desire to listen to. And it’s not you or me. But Him. If I ever forget this, my life will once again be dissonant.
So as you consider your resolutions for 2021, why not begin with the one that is the foundation for every other one. Resolve to pursue a new song. Let Jesus be the conductor of your life. Let Him write the music. And let Him take total control of your life.
You might ask, “how do I do that?” 1 John 2:6 tells us how:
“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.”
“Live your life as Jesus did.” That’s the secret. And finding out how to do that requires, or I should say, it “demands” that I find out just how Jesus lived by daily investing time in God’s Word, since we are told that Jesus is the very “Word of God.” So to know Jesus means to know the Bible. That is the foundation.
If you will resolve to reading the Bible in 2021, then your life this year will take on a new song. The dissonance will become consonance. And regardless of what goes on in the world this year, it will be the absolute best year of your life, as 2020 was mine.
Below are some thoughts on how you can make the Bible the foundation of your life, which will in turn strengthen you in every other resolution you might make:
🔹Practical Reading Suggestions
Download the YouVersion Bible App on your phone. (With the Brown Holy Bible icon).
Go to “Plans” and click on “Find Plans”
Go to “Through the Bible”
Click on “Whole”
Find “Read Through the Bible” Plan (It’s a one year plan)
Click “Start Plan”
My favorite version is the New Living Translation (NLT). Not only is it in modern vocabulary, but it has a great Audio option.
I both read (with eyes) and listen (with my ears) via the Bible App. Even when I’m reading with my eyes, I have the audio playing, so I can see and hear simultaneously. It helps me to better understand and retain what I’m reading.
Regarding the “Audio” option, it’s pretty much all I listen to anymore when I’m driving, walking/exercising, etc. It connects well with any Bluetooth device. Also, the NLT audio is by far the most pleasant to listen to, in my opinion. It also includes dramatization where various voices are used to “act out” the stories in the Gospels and Acts.
I recommend you Register with “You Version” so you can track your Bible reading, interact with friends and so much more. If you do, please send me a friend request so we can encourage each other via the app.
If you start on this journey, and have any questions whatsoever, please reach out to me. There’s nothing more important to me than encouraging others to read the Bible. So if I can help in any way, including questions or problems with the Bible app, please let me know.
So I pray that these meager thoughts will in some way, encourage, inspire, or motivate you to pick up God’s Word and begin afresh in 2021. Let this particular resolution be the one that enables you to succeed beyond anything your heart can imagine.
Begin a new song… by reading God’s Word, everyday, for the rest of your life!
“When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies.” Jeremiah 15:16
As we wrap up 2020, it’s clear that half of America is exhilarated over this year’s electoral results. The other half is anything but. One side is cheering. The other side is jeering. One side will watch with eager anticipation for what Washington will now do. The other side is eager to do all it can to block and disrupt. Four years ago, these same groups were in reverse roles.
So has anything changed? Seriously? I mean, if you look over the long haul, what is improving? More importantly, will anything you do individually have a scintilla of direct impact on what goes on in Washington? Does it feel like we are stuck in the proverbial one step forward and two steps back? Or perhaps it’s just another edition of the movie Ground Hog Day.
I think there’s a reason for this reality and it’s because of a misplaced focus.
The city where you and I can make the absolute least difference is Washington. However, the place we can make the most difference is our community. Yet, we are lured into placing all of our focus in the place we can have the least impact. Meanwhile, the place you can have the most impact gets your least attention.
For over a decade, when I was active in and obsessed with politics, this was my continuous challenge to those I led:
Don’t put all your energies into something that will, in the long run, give you zero return. Rather, put your energies and focus into that which you can actually influence and make a difference. In politics, for the vast majority, that would be your city, county or even state.
I seldom had anyone disagree with this concept. But here’s the problem. It’s easy to understand but hard to do. Why? Because Washington seems glamorous, and we reason that it’s for all the marbles. We see little glitz with city or county politics. Honestly though, your local elected officials likely impact your day to day life more than your congressman, senator, or POTUS will ever do.
So am I once again a political junkie? No. But if the above makes sense, then maybe I have your attention for an even greater truth.
A Greater Truth
If you’re a follower of Jesus, our enemy is someone who comes to steal, kill and destroy. He’s a master deceiver. He knows just how to distract us from those we can impact, and instead he lures us to focus on that which we cannot impact, at least not much, and certainly not for the long term, or eternity.
So who are those you and I can impact? For starters, those closest to us: our family, friends and neighbors. The little old lady down the street. The fatherless, widows, refugees, and such. Or that homeless person who is struggling to find food or stay warm in freezing temps.
That’s the story of the Good Samaritan. He was alert and aware of the needs directly in front of him. And when he saw them, he refused to walk on by, unlike the priest and Levite (the religious community) who ignored the hurting man in the ditch.
If you want your life to make a difference in 2021, and into eternity, then it might require you to shift your focus; reprioritize your energies; and elevate permanence over fleeting.
The famous Jim Elliot, who gave his life in the jungles of Ecuador pursuing the eternal, left us with the following quote that is known around the world:
”He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
I’ve always wanted my life to count for something. I assume you do to. But for years, my “counting for something” was measured by stuff, prestige, short term victories, business success, political campaigns, and other such objectives. Honestly some of them were really good things. But they were all temporal.
But as I’ve grown older, and spent more time contemplating what really matters, the truth of Elliot’s quote above grips me. And God has used a myriad of realities in my life to capture my attention. The following verses seem to encapsulate what Elliot was saying:
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:11-15
So, if you feel like your stuck on that old hamster wheel, where you’re going all out, deep into whatever you’re doing, but you just never feel like it’s making a difference, maybe it’s time to reevaluate.
The new year is here and it’s a great time to be introspective. Be honest with yourself. If 2021 is your final year on this globe, how do you want to spend it? Do you want to commit your final energies, passion, and focus on “wood, hay, and straw” or “gold, silver and jewels?”
Only you can answer that question. And only God, not me, can direct you to the right answer and what it is that is “wood, hay and straw” in your life. Your “gold, silver and jewels” may not be similar to mine at all.
But if you’re a Christ follower, whatever your mission is, it will be eternal. Anything less will never satisfy. Or last.
So if you’re on the hamster wheel, I hope you’ll step off. The enemy will do his best to lure you back on, but Go Deep into God’s Word to find the antidote to the enemy’s lies and deception.
So when you breathe your final breath, are you ready for a real “happily ever after” experience ? It can be when your life is invested in the eternal.
”What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Matthew 16:26
All of life is a test. From the first moments of creation, God gave Adam an infinite number of wholesome choices, and only one restriction: “you shall not eat…” This was man’s first test. Likewise, today you and I face numerous choices that confirm that God still uses tests. These tests prove to us, to others, and to Him, what it is we believe, we trust, and we value. Will we choose right? And how do we even know what is right? Read on…
As we approach another election season, there perhaps is no greater encapsulation of what you and I value, what we embrace, and what we trust, than how we will vote, or whether we will even vote at all. This is the subject I’d like to briefly address via four biblical principles.
— “God controls the course of world events; He removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars.” Daniel 2:21
— “It is God alone who judges; He decides who will rise and who will fall.” Psalms 75:7
No political leader/ruler is ever elevated to their position unless God desires or allows for him/her to be. There is nothing any voter can do, or not do, that can thwart God’s will in this regard. The Bible is abundantly clear about this truth. It is God that elevated Obama as well as Trump, and every President before them. Once we understand this truth we’ll understand that it was not any one person’s vote for, or against, Trump (as I did by selecting a third party four years ago) that was the ultimate reason for the outcome in 2016. Your vote will not thwart God’s preordained plan, and the man He will place in the Oval Office in 2021.
🔹”We the People” are not sovereign
— “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” Proverbs 19:21
Sadly, Americans have come to believe the deception that we are our own sovereign masters and that it is “we the people” who control elections and our destiny. This has led to a grossly mistaken belief system, particularly amongst those who claim to be followers of Jesus and the Bible. It has led us to believe that we can know God’s political will, and that God is just waiting on us to determine the outcome of an election. So it leads activists to embrace political activism because, without such, they believe their future is dire.
But as the verse above affirms, you can make all sorts of plans, and you could even rally millions to vote for your preferred candidate, but there is no overriding God’s purpose. It will prevail. Does this mean you should not vote? That’s up to you to decide, based on what Scripture informs. But should you obsess over a political campaign? Absolutely not. Sadly though, we only need to peruse the headlines, the rallies, and social media, to see that millions of professing followers of Jesus are in fact obsessing over this current political season and their preferred candidate, whether Trump or Biden.
🔹The “Vote” test
— “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31
At the end of the day, our singular vote is not about “electing” someone but more importantly it reveals what is in our hearts and what we value the most. I have come to understand that our vote is merely a test, nothing more and nothing less. It’s highly possible one might be led to refrain from voting, whether for a season, or even permanently. But, if you feel led to vote, will your vote honor God, and the values He teaches, or will your vote value something lesser, even if the end which your vote seems to achieve might appear to justify the means?
This I believe is the greatest test for believers living in a system that lures them to believe that they are in control. Nothing could be further from the Truth. The enemy is a master of deception and he has done one of his best con jobs when it comes to the role evangelicals believe they are to play in any election. Does our vote honor Jesus? Do we glorify God in the way we vote or do we simply achieve a short term win? Further, do we believe we can bend what we claim to believe, in order to “help” God gain a “victory.”
🔹The “End Justifies the Means” Deception
As short-sighted, temporal minded creatures, it’s easy to justify our actions, regardless of how contrary to God and His clear principles they might be. Sadly, we can seldom see when we have succumbed to an “end justifies the means” philosophy. But the approach to voting and elections by many Christians in America is a prime example of such a philosophy.
There is a story in 1 Samuel 15 about the first king of Israel that reveals how wrong it is to justify bad choices based on a self-determined “good” outcome that might be orchestrated. King Saul had been commanded to utterly destroy the nation of Amalek, including not just the people, but also the “cattle, sheep, goats, camels and donkeys.”
But Saul did not completely obey God. While he destroyed the people, note that the king preserved what he deemed would benefit himself and his people:
— “Saul and his men spared (King) Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality.” 1 Samuel 15:9
But when the prophet Samuel confronted the King about his obvious disobedience to God’s command, Saul easily justified his actions as follows:
— “When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!” “Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded. “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.”” 1 Samuel 15:13-15
So Saul blatantly disobeyed God, and was even proud of it. When confronted about it, Saul justified his disobedience by suggesting He was honoring God with his rebellious actions. Samuel however did not accept Saul’s flimsy excuse for his disobedience. Rather, the godly prophet had this to say:
— “But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”” 1 Samuel 15:22-23
Finally, only after Samuel’s bold reproof did King Saul admit the following:
— “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded.” 1 Samuel 15:24
So clearly, while Saul would have achieved what he believed to be a “good” outcome through his disobedience (sacrifices to God), God was testing Saul to see if the king would simply obey God. Sadly Saul failed the test, and Samuel called his disobedience rebellion and stubbornness, suggesting his sin was as bad as witchcraft and worshipping idols. Clearly an “end justifies the means” mentality was not only wrong, it ultimately cost Saul the kingdom, and his life.
There is much more we could write and learn from Scripture relating to our vote, but I hope the above four principles are thought provoking as you mail in your ballot, or walk into the voting booth during this election season.
So remember, God does not need your vote or mine. Rather, He wants us to simply obey clear Scriptural principles rather than our trying to “help” Him. When we obey God, even when it contradicts our “common sense” and peers, we demonstrate our trust in God and His sovereignty. But to obey Him requires that we study His Word, to discover what it has to say about what we should value, and how we should or should not vote. Rather than preserving a temporal nation with our vote, we are called to glorify God, not align with evil, and trust God above all else, even when following God might result in a short term political “loss.”
— “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.” Ephesians 5:10-11
— “Don’t put your trust in mere humans. They are as frail as breath. What good are they?” Isaiah 2:22
— “What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 31:1
— “He said, “Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.
— “But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!” 2 Chronicles 20:15, 17 NLT
— “Whether we like it or not, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” Jeremiah 42:6
This last weekend I was volunteering at a church being used as a #COVID testing site, in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Chattanooga. I’m grateful to my friend Bill Ulmer, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, and the many healthcare workers and non-medical volunteers who have given of their time, resources, and hearts, to administer thousands of tests to needy people over the last couple months.
As I was standing at the street directing traffic into the church parking lot for the drive-thru testing, I felt a lump under my shoe. I looked down to see what it was and to my dismay, I saw the spent shell of a 9mm bullet.
My mind went to the various homes I’ve lived in throughout my adult life, and the churches I’ve attended. Never have I ever considered that I would find a bullet shell lying outside my home, church, or place of business. It’s a reality that most of us do not have to deal with. But while that may be true for many Americans, bullets are all too much a reality for many of our citizens, who live in Chattanooga and cities across our nation.
Because we don’t see or experience something though doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It simply means it’s not a part of our bubble. But if we are going to be people who care about the needs of others, and the fears they deal with, we must be willing to burst our bubbles, and step outside our insulated world, to better understand the ugly realities that too many others live with every day.
So what if you stepped outside your home, or church, or business, and it wasn’t that uncommon for you to find bullets littering your street? What if your neighbor’s windows, or your own, were shattered by a drive-by shooting? What if violence was something that regularly visited your neighborhood? Would your life be different? Would you wish that others cared? Would your outlook on life change?
I believe that’s part of the message of Jesus when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And it’s also what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” (I Corinthians 10:24)
In Chattanooga there are no shortage of churches. We often proudly declare we are the “buckle of the Bible belt.” In fact, approximately 220,000 individuals claim to be followers of Jesus in our county. A “follower” suggests one holds to and seeks to live by the teachings of Jesus. If this is true, then is it too far fetched to believe that the problems of violence, poverty, depression, broken families, inner city dysfunction, and many of the other societal struggles could be better addressed by those who claim to, above all else, 1) Love God, and 2) Love others?
Let me be clear. The ultimate goal of a follower of Jesus is to honor and glorify God. One of the ways we do so is by sharing the Good News, we call the Gospel. That good news is both eternal and immediate. If it’s real in our lives, it will have a transforming affect on how we live, how we treat others, and the Hope we share with them. While we may be able to address many of these temporal needs referenced above, ultimately the greatest need we all have is a spiritual one. But oftentimes the best way to share a spiritual message with others is to first demonstrate that message through tangible physical means. Hence, the Church should be one that ACTS: Advancing Christ Through Service.
So if bullets litter our streets, they are simply symptoms of a deeper, spiritual need by the one who fired that bullet. May we as believers not close our eyes and ears to the needs that are so abundantly obvious. May we not be like the priest and levite, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who walked by the man lying in the ditch, even though they looked directly at him. Rather, let’s be like the Good Samaritan, who saw the need, and stopped to help. This is the true message of Jesus. Let’s love others and by doing so, we are demonstrating our love for God.