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Seizing the New Year

January 2017
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yesterday-is-gone-tomorrow-has-not-yet-comeWe’ve all heard the expression, Seize the Day.” Well, a brand new year has arrived on our doorstep, so I say let’s do it one better by seizing this brand new year one day at a time!

In the opening statements to Chapter 9 titled, “Seize the Day,” in Joyce Meyer‘s book titled Seize the Day: Living On Purpose and  Making Every Day Count (2016), Meyer states the following:

From what I have learned over the years, this is a summary of what the word “seize” means: to take hold of forcibly and suddenly, or to grab, grasp, or snatch. It also means to take control of or to repossess. When we seize something we subdue it, and that is exactly what God told Adam to do concerning the earth.

And God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it. ~Genesis 1:28 (AMPC)

If we desire to know how God wanted man to live, we can look to the beginning of time as we know it, and there is no better place to look than Genesis chapter 1. God created Adam and Eve and gave them authority and dominion over the rest of His creation. He told them to subdue it,or, in other words, to seize it and use it in the service of God and man.

Far too many people are inactive, and they wait for something to fall into their laps–[and] they end up waiting until it is too late. They live dissatisfied and unproductive lives simply because they don’t wake up each day ready to seize the day and make the most out of it. (Quote source, “Seize the Day,” pp. 86-87.)

The Apostle Paul (Paul’s conversion is available at this link) has given us some great advice for “seizing the day” in Philippians 3 (taken from The Message Bible–MSG):

To Know Him [Jesus Christ] Personally

And that’s about it, friends. Be glad in God!

I don’t mind repeating what I have written in earlier letters, and I hope you don’t mind hearing it again. Better safe than sorry—so here goes.

Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it—even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.

Focused on the Goal

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.

Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.

But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.

The Apostle Paul was never one to shy away from obstacles or mince words. He had the background experience as a Pharisee to know exactly what he was talking about and why he was so passionate about getting this message across to others. And Jesus Christ was more to him than a religion with a bunch of rules to follow. When Jesus made himself known to Paul on the Damascus Road (when Paul, then known as Saul who was a highly respected Pharisee at the time, came face to face with the One who holds life and who clearly let him know he was going down the wrong path), it changed Paul’s life forever from that moment on and for the last three plus decades of his life. When Paul was still Saul the Pharisee, he murdered Christians thinking he was doing God a favor! Think about that for a moment! But Jesus came to Paul after his resurrection from the dead in a rather spectacular way that changed Paul’s life from that moment on. And that’s what genuine Christianity is all about–genuine change from the inside out. Paul didn’t even know he was heading in the wrong direction until Jesus made it quite clear to him that he was [the story of Paul’s conversion is available at this link, which is also found in Acts 9].

With that in mind, let’s take look at what it means to be Christian here in America as we begin 2017. David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons published a new book in 2016 titled, Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme (2016) which clearly describes what is going on here in America today when it comes to Christianity. On the inside front cover the authors make the following statement:

It is easy to feel overwhelmed as we try to live faithfully in a culture that seems increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. With a growing backlash against religion and people of faith, it’s harder than ever to hold on to our convictions while treating friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even family members who disagree with respect and compassion.

Based on groundbreaking research, this timely book by the bestselling authors ofunChristianexplores politics, sexuality, race, gender, and religious freedom, helping you:

  • respond with compassion, clarity, and confidence to the most toxic issues of our day
  • discover the most significant cultural trends that are creating both obstacles and opportunities for Christians
  • know what you believe and why it doesn’t make you a judgmental or extreme person
  • stop being afraid to talk about what you believe and start having meaningful conversations about tough issues
  • understand the heart behind opposing views and learn how to stay friends across differences (Source: inside front cover of “Good Faith.”)

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons are no strangers to what is going on in America today regarding Christianity. On the back cover they state (to a Christian audience), “You are no longer part of the majority. Your response will shape the future of Christianity in America.” As Christians, do we take that statement seriously? If so, it’s time to “seize the day” and not just sit back and think that someone else will do it for us. In the not-too-distant past a nation fell when the general population was too busy doing other things to notice, and it happened when they weren’t looking or paying attention, or worse yet, ignored the signs taking place all around them.

David Kinnaman is the president of Barna Group, a leading research and communications company that works with churches, nonprofits, and businesses ranging from film studios to financial services. Since 1995, Kinnaman has directed interviews with nearly one million individuals and overseen hundreds of US and global research studies. He is also the author of unChristian and You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith.” (Source: Inside back cover of Good Faith.”)

Gabe Lyons is the founder of Q (Q Ideas), a learning community that educates and mobilizes Christians to think well and advance “good” in society. Called “sophisticated and orthodox” by The New York Times, “Q” represents the perspective of a new generation of Christians. Lyons speaks on cultural issues where faith intersects public life. He is the author of unChristian and The Next Christians.” (Source: Inside back cover of Good Faith.”)

seize-the-daySome of the contents of this book, Good Faith,” might shock those of us who aren’t connected to the younger generations (and that includes parents) in a meaningful way. Much like the authors’ book, unChristian,” (published in 2007), the news that Christianity isn’t seeping down into the younger generations nearly as much as we might suspect even if they grew up in their parents’ church might be a bit unnerving to deal with, and the “cover up” can be a rather insidious surprise if it was revealed. When lightweight Christianity is sold to the young, they can find many reasons to walk away while still looking connected to their parents’ religion as well as others in the church. I wrote a blog post titled, Something To Think About,” in June 2016 on some of the findings found in unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity . . . And Why It Matters.”

For now, their latest book, Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme (2016) is the topic for this blog post. Looking irrelevant and extreme has always been attached to Christianity and Christians down through the centuries since Jesus Christ claimed to be the Son of God (see John 3 regarding his conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus); died at the hands of the Jewish religious rulers; and rose again on the third day, just as he predicted that he would do (see Mark 8:31-38; Luke 18:31-33). Believing in Jesus Christ requires faith. And that’s it. See John 3:16-18. The rest of the world will always mock what it does not understand and refuses to believe by faith. That Christianity may no longer be in the majority in America, as the authors state in “Good Faith,” doesn’t change what it means to be Christian whether we are living here in America, or in Syria, China, Russia, Iran, or any place else in the world.

As Kinnaman and Lyons state in Chapter 1 titled, “Bad Faith, Good Faith,” on p 15:

The aim of this book is to make a case for good faith. Christianity has managed to survive and thrive as a minority religion countless times throughout history–and does so in many places around the world today. So we hope you’ll gain confidence that holding tight to biblical conviction is not only worthwhile and critical but also absolutely doable. Despite the faults we Christians bring to it, Christianity practiced well helps people thrive and communities flourish. Together, we want to discover how Christians can do good for and with the people around us.

“Good Faith” will prepare you to be smart and courageous and to live faithfully in a changing culture that is no longer particularly friendly to faith.

At best, diverse, pluralistic cultures, like that of North America today, are indifferent to people of faith; they accept only the most tepid, inoffensive forms of religious expression. At worst, they are actively hostile toward religious practices and beliefs (one recent op-ed called them “superstitious rituals” and “comically outlandish claims”). This book touches on many topics that crowd the intersection of faith with the wider culture: sex and sexuality, politics, race, religion and public life, morals and virtues, and many more.

When it comes to good faith, everything must be on the table. (Quote source “Good Faith,” p. 15.)

Obviously, I cannot do justice to any book in the few words written in a blog post. If there is one book Christians should give thought to reading at the beginning of this new year, it is Good Faith.” To not fully understand the issues at hand going on in our society today because we tend to surround ourselves with fellow Christians is to do a grave disservice to ourselves and the Christian community at large. If ever there was a time to “seize the day,” and not just bury our heads in the sand or ignore the signs all around us, it is now. . . .

In the last chapter of the book, Chapter 18 titled “Faithful in Exile,” The authors open it up with the following conversation:

“It’s like we’re living in a modern-day Babylon.”

I recently overheard two Christian friends discussing today’s seemingly out-of-control culture. One of the guys felt like an ancient pagan civilization was the closest analogy he could find.

And his friend immediately agreed. “Definitely!”

Babylon.

Why would Christians reference an ancient culture to describe today’s society? If you had to describe mainstream culture in a single word or phrase, what would  you choose?

  • Complicated.
  • Accelerated.
  • Complex.
  • Pleasure-seeking and narcissistic.
  • Spiritual but godless.
  • Strong and powerful yet corrupt and immoral
  • Confused about right and wrong

In ancient times, Babylon was an empire that, like empires before and since, overwhelmed other lands and peoples with military and commercial power and sought to obliterate competing cultures. In the 7th Century BC, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege to Jerusalem, and the kingdom of Judah fell to the empire. To complete Babylon’s dominance of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar took captive most of the noble families, craftsmen, artisans, soldiers, and other prominent citizens, carting them all off to the empire’s capital.

One Hebrew, in particular, stood out.

Daniel, a member of a Judean noble family, was human plunder of a military conquest, a victim of human trafficking. He came from the ethnically and religiously homogeneous culture of Judah and was taken by force to the cosmopolitan and religiously plural capital. It was something likeThe Hunger Games,” if you think about it. All the “districts” of the Babylonian Empire were coerced into sending their best and brightest to serve the interest of the capital.

It’s not hard to imagine that Daniel and others who were taken captive felt outnumbered, dislocated, and culturally out of step–the very feelings many Christians and other believers are experiencing today.

We believe our faith community today faces an emerging social context that demands we learn to be Christian a new way, described best as being “faithful in exile.” We are no longer the home team, even though our physical location hasn’t changed. We’re playing on Babylon’s turf. (Quote source, “Good Faith,” pp. 253-255).

This chapter describes several lessons we can learn from the life of Daniel, who spent his entire life from the time he was taken captive as a teenager until he died in his 80’s serving the Babylonian kings without compromising his faith. The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament is taken from Daniel’s life in exile and how God used him in astonishing and amazing ways.

I’ll end this blog post with the final lesson the authors state from the life of Daniel from Chapter 18, and how it relates to us today (pp. 260-262):

The final lesson we learn from Daniel relates to following the call of God on our lives. It’s unlikely we would know about Daniel at all if he had not pursued his vocation. He essentially because the secretary of state for one of the most pagan civilizations in human history. He served at the pleasure of three kings, leaders of a triad of ungodly regimes that rose to power in quick succession.

Our love and orthodoxy brings good to society when we pursue our God-given calling. This includes our career–entrepreneurs, public officials, scientists, writers, teachers, pastors, dental hygienists, and so on. But it also encompasses how we parent, how we practice hospitality, how we steward our sexual lives, and how we engage in conversations. We are called to be faithful in all of life’s complexities. Our love and belief should compel us to become agents of God’s reconciliation through Christ in whatever sphere of life he has called us to inhabit.

Jeremiah’s [an Old Testament prophet] how-to-survive-in-exile instructions are as applicable today as they were thousands of years ago: plant gardens, build houses, and plan to stay. Work for your city’s peace and prosperity, for its flourishing will be your flourishing. As a community of God, work for the common good: that which is orderly and right, abundant and generous, beautiful and flourishing with life and relationships (see Jeremiah 29:4-7).

Hopeful expectation in exile is a biblical perspective. Not only do we have example of actual exiles like Joseph, Esther, and Daniel, but much of the New Testament also calls us to live “in the world but not of the world.” Peter says we are sojourners, strangers in the world. Paul and the writer of Hebrews offer practical wisdom for fine-tuning the church’s role in relation to the wider culture. “Bless those who persecute you,” Paul writes. “Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. . . . Live in harmony with each other” (Romans 12:14-16). “Work at living in peace with everyone,” Hebrews says, “and work at living a holy life” (Hebrews 12:14). . . .

We have a lot of work to do. At times, you may feel irrelevant or be labeled extreme. But you are in good company. Throughout the ages, the Christian community has faced pressure–even persecution–and endured.

We are called not to determine the outcome but to be faithful.

Led by love, grounded in biblical belief, and ready to live as a counterculture for the common good, we trust that our good faith will be used by God to renew the world. (Quote source: “Good Faith,” pp. 260-262.)

Good Faith will not only inform you of the changes going on in our culture, but also give you hope and inspiration for the new year ahead of us. . . .

UPDATE January 4, 2017: I have just become aware of another book that is a “must read” titled, You Will Be Made To Care: The War on Faith, Family and Your Freedom to Believe,” (2016) by Erick Erickson and Bill Blankschaen. Read some reviews at this link; and longer review is available at this link.

Get both books. . .

Read both books. . .

And SEIZE THE DAY. . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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