New Year’s Resolutions

scrabble-resolutions.jpgWell, we are more than a week into the New Year. Many have made some type of resolution, most likely regarding self-improvement. According to a 2015 Nielsen poll, health and wellness are the typical top priorities for U.S. consumers.  “Staying fit and healthy” came in at 37%, with “lose weight” coming in a close second at 32%. Enjoying life, getting fiscally fit and spending more time with family and friends rounded out the top five. While some report that only about 41% of people even make resolutions, nearly 80% of them will fail in maintaining their resolutions by the second week of February.

Interestingly among the top ten resolutions, there is nothing overtly spiritual about them. As the Apostle Paul addressed his son in the faith, Timothy, he encouraged, “On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8, LB). If you are one who makes resolutions, do you focus only on the present life value of a resolution or do you think of the eternal life consequences, too. If you’re goal is to live a healthy and long life, what will be the eternal payoff for living longer here? Will you be spending that life building heavenly treasure or earthly treasure that will burn up? If your focus is on financial goals, are they focused on your own security or to benefit others and investing in ministries that will help people grow in their pursuit of God, as well?

It is easy to be temporal in our goals and resolutions. However, I was reminded of the long view as I reread a devotional passage last week. Over the years, I have used W Glyn Evans’ book, Daily with the King, as a daily prompt to prayer with my wife. The January 5th devotion was especially appropriate as one sets the course for his year, his life, and his eternal life, for that matter. Here are the points of his writings for that day (with the exception of the last two, scriptures are my addition).

I will, by God’s grace and power, keep the center of my life adjusted strictly to God’s will, and let God keep the periphery any way He desires. (Matthew 6:33)

I will seek holiness (which results in wholeness), without which no man can seek the Lord, at all times. Wholeness is God-centeredness, the “one thing needful,” the “one thing I desire and seek after,” the “one thing I do.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

I will not pray for peace, power, success, or fruit, for they are by-products of a relationship, not its conditions. They are God’s responsibility, not mine. (John 15:5)

Neither will I seek promotion, honors, recognition, or acclaim, for they also are by-products and therefore outside my sphere. Nor will I resent others to whom God gives these tokens, but I will praise God that His will has been done in them. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

I will no longer strive ambitiously for ends, for God’s purpose is process, not destiny. I never hope to arrive but rather to continue with God in an eternal adventure, the result of which is a continual knowing of Him who is the”end” God seeks for me. (Matthew 25:23, Galatians 4:9, Philippians 3:4-11)

I will accept the fact that the self-life is not only displeasing to God; it is His enemy. When self reigns, I am at war with God, and that leads to frustration, anxiety, and misery. I will therefore crucify the self-life and be at peace with God. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

I will realize that when all is said and done, I owe my daily overcoming to this one, solid fact: “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Therefore, I can say honestly, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

May God prosper you in your commitments this year, giving you perseverance to follow-through with the physical, intellectual, emotional, relational, financial and, most importantly, spiritual disciplines that will payoff in eternally rewarding ways.

Points to Ponder:

  • What steps do you need to take to center your life on God’s will?
  • Do you agree that peace, power, success and fruit are by-products of a relationship with God and not things for which to pray?
  • Are you seeking for “ends” or satisfied with being in the “process” of continually knowing God?
  • Where is self reigning in your life rather that God ruling?

Do You Really Want to Change?

Last week, we talked about several commitments we can make in the New Year that can significantly change the way in which we show love to God and others. I’d like to continue that theme, expanding one of the five points.

On Sunday, we explored how to spend more time with God. Some may ask, “What am I supposed to do in that extended time with God?” Prayer should be one component. It is our means of communicating with God. But too often, prayer is a one-way communication…I praise and thank God…I confess my faults… and I ask Him for help and direction for others and me. So, how do I hear back from God? It’s been my experience that God speaks and responds to my requests through His Word, the Bible. Unless I spend time accessing (hearing/reading), assimilating (studying, meditating, memorize) and applying scripture, I am cutting off God’s best method of speaking to me. If I really want to experience transformation, becoming more Christ-like, time in the Word is essential.

Our denomination’s publishing arm, Lifeway, conducted research that indicates about 84 percent of church members don’t read the Bible daily. About 68 percent of them don’t read it once a week. Is it any surprise that only 37 percent say the Bible has made a significant difference in the way they live their lives? An additional 2009 study by the Center for Bible Engagement, an arm of Back to the Bible, agreed that Christians simply do not read the Bible enough. But for those who read the Scripture at least four times a week, they not only have lower rates of immoral behavior, but also spend less time dwelling on temptation. [1] So, if you really want to change, regular Bible reading is key!

What should be involved in reading? First, ask God’s Spirit to help you in your reading to have spiritual understanding of the Word. Jesus promised But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13, NIV). Next, get into the Word, making sure to cover these three areas:

Access the Word. …humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you (James 1:21, NIV). We have never had such ease in reading the Bible. If you are reading this blog, you can link to a number of reading plans online, add an app to your phone and even have one of those electronic means of accessing the Word read it to you.[2]  Of course, you can even fall back to the “old-fashion” means of having a Bible in your lap. Find a reading plan and translation and get started!

Assimilate the Word.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does (James 1:23-25, NIV).

It’s not enough to hear or read the Word. Investigate what it means. Rick Warren has a great acrostic to help you analyze what God is saying through His Word by asking, “Is there a:

  • Sin to confess? Do I need to ask forgiveness of anyone or make any restitution?
  • Promise to claim? Is it a universal promise? Have I met the condition(s)?
  • Attitude to change? Am I willing to work on a negative attitude and begin building toward a positive one?
  • Command to obey? Am I willing to do it no matter how I feel?
  • Example to follow? Is it a positive example for me to copy or a negative one to avoid?
  • Prayer to pray? Is there anything I need to pray back to God?
  • Error to avoid? Is there any problem that I should be alert to, or beware of?
  • Truth to believe? What new things can I learn about God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or the other biblical teachings?
  • Something to praise God for? Is there something here I can be thankful for?”

There may be some times that you need to dig a little deeper into the Word by looking up cross-references, commentaries, and Bible dictionaries. When a verse really speaks to you, commit it to memory.

Apply the Word.   Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22, NIV).  In the words of the old Nike® campaign, “Just do it!” When God reveals something for you to confess, claim, change, etc., don’t delay in seeking to put it into practice. Quite frankly, the better you know the Bible, the more the Spirit is going to bring scripture to your remembrance and help you put into practice.This is when you begin to see real change in your life. The psalmist said, I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11, NIV). Dwight L. Moody, the great evangelist from the 19th century, echoed the psalmist by saying, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

Like all resolutions, daily time with God will take serious discipline. But in the end, it will reap more rewards than any other discipline you could pursue. As Paul said,  “train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8, NIV).

[1]http://www.christianpost.com/news/new-year-new-hope-for-turning-the-tide-of-bible-illiteracy-48279/  For a complete report of the Center for Bible Engagement’s 2009 report on Understanding the Bible Engagement Challenge: Scientific Evidence for the Power of 4, go to: http://www.centerforbibleengagement.org/images/stories/pdf/Scientific_Evidence_for_the_Power_of_4.pdf

[2] Here are some online reading plans. The “Read the Bible for Life” site has some great podcasts by Dr. George Guthrie that are excellent in helping to understand different literary forms and contexts, translations and more. You can subscribe through iTunes®.  Check all the reading plans out and find the right one for yourself. Invite someone to join you and hold one another accountable (Proverbs 27:17)

525,600 Minutes

The musical Rent had a catchy number called “Seasons of Love.” Using the number of minutes in a year, it asked “how do you measure the life of a woman or a man?” As the title implies, the song ultimately says that a life is measured by the love that is shown in that year. The writer got it right in these lyrics:  You know that love is a gift from up above / Share love, give love, spread love / Measure, measure your life in love.

Of the 525,600 minutes in a year (527,040 minutes of 2012 because it’s a leap year), how will you spend them?

Last Sunday, we talked about the importance of using each moment of 2012 in ways that demonstrate your love for God and others by making some commitments to use every moment to the fullest. In particular, we can use our time wisely if we live as Christ modeled in these five areas:

  • Seek reconciliation in a broken relationship (Ephesians 4:26)
  • Spend more time with God each day (Luke 6:12)
  • Serve someone else (John 13:35)
  • Share your faith story with someone (Matthew 28:19-20)
  • Surrender to God the part of your life that you’ve held back (Matthew 19:21)

Each of these actions are motivated by a love from God…for God and for others. Perhaps this is a good list to keep in front of us this coming year, asking God every day (in that extended time with Him) to help us use every moment of 2012 for His glory and to demonstrate His love in all of our relationships.

Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16, HCSB).

I look forward to spending some of our 527,040 minutes together this next year and hope to see you on Sunday!