As you begin the journey of 2014 2017, no doubt a great first step is to commit to daily Bible reading. As David wrote, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). The decisions ahead of you in the next 365 days need not detour you as long as long as Scripture is your guide.
Before you hit the delete button amidst your chuckling, thinking 1) you’ve heard this a thousand times before and 2) at least among believers, this is the second most common new year’s resolution (probably only behind losing weight) and nothing really new, stop and ask yourself some probing questions: Did I faithfully read the Bible last year? What changes would I experience if I increased my intake of God’s Word? Do I really understand the flow and message of Scripture? Have I ever really read the Bible all the way through? Am I being proactive in helping my family/children get the most out of the Bible? Am I really content with my current level of Bible reading and Scriptural meditation?
My guess is that, after pondering those questions, most, if not all of us, would admit we could benefit from an increase in our intake of the Bible. I know I could! So instead of closing out this post, act! Take the first step and start a reading plan. Then voice your intentions to one or more of those closest to you; this will help provide some accountability. Finally, starting today, get off to a good start and begin reading. Whether it’s through this plan we have developed or another one, like this one here described in this insightful post from the Gospel Coalition on the same subject, make today the first day of your 2017 journey through the Bible.
My prayer is that I, and this blog’s readership, continue to become immersed in Scripture and enamored with God; disciples known by their commitment to the Word of God and the passionate worship of God. As our culture, ironically enough, grows increasingly intolerant of biblical Christianity, it will be crucial that Jesus’ true followers know clearly what He said. That’s revealed in the Bible. What do you say we read it like never before? Ready? Set? Read!
How did you do last year? Think back to the resolutions you made last January and for just one moment evaluate how you did. Did you fail, succeed or somewhere in the middle? Maybe you decided to never make those blasted resolutions ever again. But, for those of you who haven’t sworn them off for the rest of your lives and are willing to give it another shot, here are some things to consider.
How to make sure you are successful with your resolutions:
1. Don't make goals. You can’t fail if you don’t try. Isn’t that a Wayne Gretzky quote?
2. Make things you are currently doing your new goals. Examples- brushing your teeth, going to work, drink coffee every day.
3. Keep them super vague and unspecific. Examples- be kinder, be more grateful, eat less fast food.
Honestly though, this time of year it is very convenient to decide to turn over a new leaf and get serious about things we may have been neglecting. So I offer you a few things to remember when making “New Years Resolutions":
1. God's love isn't dependent on your new you. Every year I get super excited about what I am gong to do spiritually. Maybe it's just subconsciously, but I usually think that this year God is going to be really proud of me. Then a month or so in (when the wheels have fallen off), I start to think, “Oh no, now God must really be disappointed in me." Let’s start this year remembering that Romans 8:1 is true today. Because of Jesus, we already are fully loved. We can’t gain more of the Father’s love and we can’t lose any. No matter how this year goes, God is fully pleased with us because of our imputed righteousness that Christ gifted to us when we believed. That is great news and a solid foundation to begin a few new habits.
2. The goal is making good things a priority. Each year I tend to set the bar so very high. I start each year thinking, “This year is going to be amazing.” Yet again I set myself up only to fail. The bar is set so high that there is no way I can keep up with my own demands at the pace I set them. As you set goals this year, remember the purpose is to do a little better than we did last year, to become more consistent with our spiritual habits. We believe that God changes people and he is the only one that can change us. Our job is to cooperate and be obedient. Also, set goals that aren’t affected when you get behind. Make goals that on June 1st, after a month of inactivity, you could get back into. An example would be to read through the Bible in a year. That goal gets harder as time goes by. A better goal would be to read your Bible 5 days a week. That way even the last week of December you can still fulfill your goal instead of completely giving up.
3. Accountability is the key to success. Just like any goal, if you have someone in it with you, your success rate goes way up. Find someone who will team up with you to do these things along with you. We understand this strategy when it come to fitness, but so many of us think our spiritual life is an individual sport. One of the greatest things I have ever been involved in was a small group of guys who met weekly for encouragement and accountability. That weekly gathering was so beneficial for so many things, one of them being positive peer-pressure. So right now, think of a few friends you could ask to join you. I bet you they would love the challenge/opportunity.
A few resolutions to consider in case you are coming up blank:
1. Read the Bible daily. Maybe get a devotional to go along with it.
2. Eat 1 meal a day with your family. This time is so meaningful and precious. Sit around the table with no electronics and talk about your day.
3. Make community a priority. Join a lighthouse or stay active in your lighthouse. You need them and they need you.
4. Serve in a ministry. There is so much joy in serving and many times you don’t understand until you experience it.
Write your own recommendations in the comments below. I would love to get some from you!
Ah, the debate between the secular Holiday or the Christian Christmas. I do love debates! Do you know to what I'm referring?
Should we set up a Christmas tree or a nativity?
Can we just do both, or does that send mixed messages?
Is it harmless to let our children believe in Santa, or should we consider it lying?
How many presents is ok, and how much is too much?
Should we read the Christmas story before the big day, or does it matter?
Which traditions should be considered Christian and which secular?
I know, hefty questions for a season that is supposed to be fun and festive. But the answers you have to these questions will be the foundation you have for your traditions during Christmas year after year. Being like Christ and following His direction takes careful contemplation.
My family has yet to buy a Christmas tree to put in our home. I feel compelled to say immediately afterward that we aren’t opposed to them. We didn’t know the origin of them before this year, and even after learning the likely origin, we still aren’t opposed. As a couple with young kids, we have yet to cement our family traditions, and we simply didn’t know how trees fit into our Christmas. I’m the type of person who is big on meaning, and I just couldn’t squeak out a reason for having an evergreen tree in my house in relation to Jesus being born. Also, on the real side of things, I didn’t want to buy it or work to put it up (especially if I couldn’t explain to myself why it was there).
We decided to watch a documentary about the origins of Christmas as a holiday, even though I didn’t really think there would be anything terribly new to learn. I figured it would explain how Christ’s followers had chosen this time of year to remember His birth, even though He wasn’t born in the winter, and the secular nations hijacked the celebration from us and made their own reason for the season. Boy, was I wrong.
It wasn’t anything like that.
I strongly recommend learning about the origins of Christmas for yourself, but here are some highlights that were especially interesting.
At one time, the celebration of Christmas was a tumultuous and dangerous event that was generally associated with immorality and the like.
In 1644, England banned it from being celebrated because it was so bad.
The Puritans tried to permanently be rid of it in America by banning its celebration as the new colonies were being formed.
It was a secular holiday celebrated at large that the church tried to adopt as one of its own.
As I said, please take your own time to understand the origins of Christmas for yourself, and discover how the holiday went from there to a minister writing a poem to his children about a man coming to visit them through a chimney, to where we are today. History has a lot to teach us.
But how does that help us understand what to do about “Christ” in ‘Christ’mas, and all of that?
Here is how it helped me. First, above all else, I’m a child of God by His grace. I want to take time during the winter month of December, with all my brothers and sisters in Christ, to remember Christ being born on earth, in order to live a sinless life, so that He could die in our place on the cross.
My Savior was born.
That is the most important thing I can teach my children during this season. I want to remember who Christ is and what God is like. Much can be learned about both through the story of the nativity.
Second, I’m an American. I live in the American culture in Ankeny, Iowa. People around here put up lights, evergreen trees, snowman, reindeer, elves, bells, bulbs, holly, etc. There are ways I can participate in these activities that make me a part of the community. They allow me to build relationships. One major reason people in the past wanted a holiday during this time was because of how cold and depressing is it this time of year (amen!). Lights and activities help bring up people’s spirits. I love the lights. They make me happy. I want to put them up for no other reason then I like them. God gave us things to enjoy and He loves a grateful heart.
If you want lights or something else to have more meaning, you can add to it something that points you back to your Savior (Christ is the light of the world, Jesus was a gift to us so we give to others, the star on the top of the tree and the star that led the wise men). This is a great way to look at all of life ,and not just a few special seasons. The number of ways we can remind ourselves of Christ are endless. Those reminders won’t mean the same thing to another person, but that doesn't mean it's not a good reminder for you and your family.
Does this mean we fully embrace every tradition out there in relation to Christmas in America? Not quite. We still need to think through what things we do and don’t adopt and why. Not all of them follow the principles of self-sacrifice, patience, truthfulness, self-control, good stewardship, and purity that the Bible clearly lays out as ways we can exemplify Christ.
Talk to your friends in Christ, your spouse, your kids, your parents, or your grandparents about Christmas traditions and how you can best practice them while reminding yourself of Christ and being grateful for all God has given. Especially, a Savior Who is Christ the Lord.
When we are presented with a problem, an opportunity, or a challenge, our instinct is to do something. Even Nike has adopted as its company slogan, "just do it." Words like "action" and "proactive" fill our modern-day books and teaching on leadership and management. The fact is, few of us would attribute concepts like waiting and patience with the image of a strong leader. Strong leaders are men and women of action!
Unfortunately, waiting and patience are qualities the Lord often asks of us as His people. In fact, it could be argued that waiting is the chosen way God uses to prepare someone for leadership. Joseph waited (in prison) for years before the Lord elevated him to a position of leadership in Egypt. Moses waited 40 years before he started leading Israel out of Egypt. David waited many years between when he was chosen as king of Israel and when he became king of Israel following the death of Saul.
In Acts 1, we find the disciples waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit. They have been given a strong commission by Jesus to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). They are also experiencing the transition of leadership left by His ascension. What we find is a group of people waiting and praying. Commentators believe the Apostle Paul spent more than 10 years between his salvation and the start of his apostolic ministry.
Waiting and praying. Praying and waiting. Mix in the challenges of life's trials contrasted with the truths of God's word, and that is the curriculum the Holy Spirit uses in God's School of Leadership Development.
In truth, the Bible has much to say about waiting on the Lord. Here is a sampling:
Learning from FFC's Waiting Periods
Even in the short history of First Family, we have experienced the process of waiting upon the Lord. Todd has shared that the seed to plant a church in Ankeny took root in his heart in 1998. While Todd was ready, this was not the Lord's timing. In fact, it would be six years before the Lord opened the door and First Family Church was birthed.
Through our search for a permanent home, we learned the value of waiting on the Lord. In the early years, we met at the Nevelyn Center, Ankeny Christian Academy, and Parkview Middle School. We were prepared to build on Ankeny's northwest side. We purchased and paid for land, and started the process of planning and designing a building. But, our Elders discerned the timing was not right. They heard the Lord telling us to wait. The building was put on hold and our church prayed for direction. Not long after making the decision to stop our building plans on NW State Street, God opened the door for us to purchase our current property on SE Magazine Road.
Waiting Makes Sense in Hindsight
As is often the case, when we view life through hindsight, everything seems to make perfect sense. We often see God's sovereign hand leading us and we see the wisdom of His waiting for His providential will. While walking through that valley, however, the waiting process can seem pointless.
Does God have you in a period of pause in your life? Maybe you are in job that is taking its toll on you or you are watching your children go through a difficult year at school. Perhaps your marriage is in trouble or you are growing weary of praying for the salvation of a spouse who is lost.
Take courage. Place your trust in the Lord and in His Word. Pray faithfully. If you need some encouragement, read in the book of Psalms. Here are a few chapters to get you started.
It was somewhat surreal, and a little surprising. Not that I had expected something really different, but it was still a reason to raise the eyebrows a bit.
That was my reaction to an email from Pastor Chris, one that contained a letter and some initial “napkin notes” I wrote back in 2003. The letter was to the elders at Grace West Church, and the napkin notes? Broad vision strokes for First Family Church. It seemed like just yesterday that I was jotting down those thoughts, yet here it was 13 years later, and much of what I was reading now had concrete names and places.
I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that the overall themes of small groups, church planting/multiplication, a strong staff, and missions are woven all throughout the letter and penciled scratchings. You can see why my facial expression was one indicating pleasant surprise—God was growing this type of fruit right here within this local faith family! Frankly, a few chuckles accompanied the raised eyebrows as I remembered the times I wondered if what lay ahead was actually possible. For instance,
But little by little, through the ups and downs and the good and bad, God was—and still is—actually accomplishing His will right in the middle of our messy lives and young church. Those initial thoughts are becoming a humble and delightful reality by God’s grace and goodness.
By no means am I saying we have arrived. Not at all! There are many miles left to travel, much yet to learn. There are corrections to make and adjustments to aim for. But the call to keep on keepin’ on is always heard with a bit more clarity when you look back and see the Lord’s faithfulness. He has not been detoured by our mistakes, nor derailed by our missteps. Not our sin nor our success has thwarted His sure will. Seeing that truth in the rearview mirror always provides a more beautiful windshield vista.
I’m probably not alone. Raised eyebrows and under-the breath chuckles are things you’ve experienced as well, right? That’s often our reaction when we spot God’s sure but admittedly slow hand of divine providence. You see, God’s work crawls along at a pace few of us actually notice sometimes; we too many times fail to see His sovereign will being fleshed out in the midst of all our life’s intersections and connections. After all, God’s sovereignty moves ever so subtly. But moving it is. Confidently. Completely. Convincingly.
That’s why it’s always too early to quit. Though you may not see it, though you may be unaware of it, and though you can rarely pin down the specifics, rest assured God is working. He’s faithful to his Word, committed to seeing us—you—all the way through to the end. Galatians 6:9 is precisely spot-on: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
In a peculiar way, reading that email reminded me of what occurs when you see a wall tapestry. Ah, yes, the front is always beautiful, and makes visual sense! But turn it around, and what do you see? A scrambled mess of threads that appears to have no order or purpose. But it actually does—to the designer!
So it is with our lives. Our church. Even this world. God is weaving His purposes and accomplishing His plan, even in the times when you don’t think it looks right or makes sense. The Grand Designer is working. He’s active. He’s in control. And sometimes all it takes is a 13-year old email to help us see it.
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