The only New Year’s Resolution you’ll ever need

The only New Year’s Resolution you’ll ever need

Once again it’s that crucial day when everyone decides whether to make or break their resolutions: January 2.

According to researcher John Norcross in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, approximately 50 percent of the population makes resolutions each New Year and by February, they have given up. (From Psychology Today)

Can you relate? I sure can. Each year I try to promise to do more, thinking that somehow that will make up for what I didn’t do last year. When it comes to giving up as soon as it gets hard, I’ll admit to being the first offender.

So I find myself wondering at this time of year – What does it actually take to accomplish your goals? I mean, really.

Well obviously, it involves changing our behavior. We can’t do the same thing over and over expecting different results. That’s the definition of “insane”.

But how exactly do we change? I’m searching for a better answer than “work hard”, “keep focused” & “stay inspired”. These nice sentiments don’t have the staying power to drive me when I’m stubborn, tired, or lazy. Cliche sayings will not move me to action. Reminders on my phone will get ignored. (An electric shock might do it, but then I’d just be in a bad mood.)

Here’s the truth: I can’t be interrupted.

“I can’t just stop my train of thought/netflix marathon/enjoyment of (insert guilty pleasure here)…Later” Later, we say. And isn’t that just what happens in every broken plan? Ignored advice? Sin?

Sin has the same beginnings as a broken resolution. The attitude that says, “No, I’m deciding for myself what’s best for me right now” is the same voice in us that decides against God’s plan to bring goodness to our lives. As a result, we find ourselves in a natural rut. Continually making deeper inroads going the wrong direction.

Trying to keep new years resolutions is like Salvation.
It’s not possible without Jesus.

Imagine you’re slipping down a rope hanging off a precipice. Someone holds out a hand from the top to pull you up. You can: (a) Accept the help (b) Swat away his hand and try to climb up yourself (c) Do nothing or give up and let go.

The Bible says that the price for sin is death. That means that if you die having sinned, you will only receive the just reward for what you have done.

In the old testament, the Jews had to sacrifice innocent animals for Israel’s sins. They had to do this every year because this type of sacrifice was not permanent. The animals were innocent, but still part of creation and not able to take away sins. It was only because of God’s mercy that he allowed humans to offer him something for their sins.

However, when Jesus came down, he was “begotten, not made”, Fully God and fully man, not a part of creation, but with the power to bring to life the dead and take away sins.

When He died, He was wholly innocent, a perfect sacrifice which does not need to be repeated every year. That one death was good to pay for every single person who ever was, if they chose to receive it.

That’s why we say that Jesus is the only way to Heaven. Because no amount of effort will ever do what his work on the cross has done. No amount of new years resolution-effort will ever yield perfect results.

The only way to succeed in making good changes in our lives is to first realize that we cannot do it by ourselves. We are powerless without Jesus. Our efforts alone are nothing but dirty rags. But what if our efforts are coupled with trust in His good plan for our lives? The possibilities are insurmountable.

So starting this year and moving forward, my resolution is to do everything I do for the glory of God because there’s no end to what is possible with Him.

How will you glorify God this year?

puredisciple.org

[Book Review] Not a fan. Kyle Idleman

[Book Review] Not a fan. Kyle Idleman

Fans are people who cheer someone on from the stadium, but who you’d never see out sweating on the field. They maybe own jerseys of their favorite players, know all the stats, and never miss a game. But when the team has a bad season they are quick to jump the bandwagon and support a team having a more successful season.

Sadly, it’s how we see many fellow Christians. Maybe instead of jerseys they have t-shirts that say “Jesus is my Homeboy”, or sport one of those snazzy WWJD bracelets. They might go to church but then from Monday morning to Saturday night, there’s no evidence of spiritual fruit or that Jesus is indeed their homeboy. For this type of person, it’s more of a hobby than a lifestyle.

Our church most definitely has a disease. It’s not a new one, and in fact it’s been around ever since the days that Jesus still walked around attracting large crowds. It’s called Fandom and I’m guilty as charged of it.

Up until reading this book I would have told you with proud confidence (red flag #1) that I am most certainly a devoted follower of Jesus, not just a “creaster” (which is what he calls people that only attend church on Christmas and Easter). If you are reading this, I’m guessing you consider yourself a follower of Jesus too. But just sit back and imagine with me for a moment that every assurance of your being on the right path to salvation … is wrong. Just, what if – this whole time I’ve been thinking I was right with God but really was confusing my religion for true relationship with Jesus.

That is the premise of his well-written book – centered around the section in Matthew 7 when Jesus, frustrated with the opportunist attitude of the large crowds following him tells them plainly, “Look, you’re all calling me ‘Lord, Lord’, but the day is going to come when the truth will come out and I’m going to say, I never knew you, away from me!”

Whenever I need a slightly louder version to hammer a verse through my thick head, I turn to the MSG version. Just read Jesus in this translation:

13-14 “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.

. . .

21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

Lukewarmness in faith is actually the same as being stone cold in faith. Or as Revelation 3:16 puts it succinctly, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth”. Jesus didn’t just want people to “like” his fanpage on facebook, he isn’t interested in your memorized scripture or impressed in how many charity events you coordinate. He wants your whole heart, soul, mind and life, to transform you until you are so much like him you gleam in perfection.

Although please understand, we don’t earn our salvation. Rather, we are expected to recognize ourselves as desperate and empty-handed and wholly in need of an overhaul, and then to allow God to change us through faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to work in God’s will for our good and the good of those around us.

He offers a very helpful set of questions to diagnose fandom, and help separate it from the outward “doing” part of religion. Each section should be read thoughtfully, and soberly. I definitely want to go back with a pen and spend more time answering his questions. Not only does Mr. Idleman address the state of the lukewarm Christian today, his writing style is enjoyable and easy to read. I have to be honest, I initially picked this book up because it was on sale for $2, expecting some punchy and quick encouragement to what I already thought I knew. What I found was a response to the disease of assuming. (you know what happens…) The answer: Don’t assume you’re good to go to Heaven holding your badge collection. The process of sanctification is far sweeter and far more worth the trouble.

You can get Not a fan. at Amazon here or at his site where he has small group studies and an accompanying journal.

Don’t (necessarily) follow your heart: Making faithful decisions that agree with the will of God

STRICTLY

Commonplace stock phrases like “follow your heart” are so prevalent in our culture that e don’t think twice when we see them plastered on greeting cards, posters, and children’s clothing. They sure sound positive, upright and true, but Jesus says something different. The sins that defile us, actually start with your heart.

“Out of a person’s heart come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness” (Mark 7:20-22).

The heart loves comfort & convenience above all

In school I had a friend whose parents were divorced, but had agreed to live together until the kids graduated. From where I was standing, they loathed each other and the air inside the house was fraught with tension. Their reasoning was that it was easier than having to deal with custody and cheaper than living apart. It may have seemed to work on the surface, but the arrangement still left deep wounds on the whole family. The heart does not want to be challenged or disturbed, and that shuts out any possibility for redemptive, albeit painful, work to be done. 

The heart can be blind to its own sin

Jeremiah 17:9 calls the human heart the most deceitful of all. Jesus talks about this too, in Luke 18:9-14 when he tells the parable about 2 men who prayed at the Temple. One, a Pharisee, proudly stood in a place of importance and prayed like this: “God, thank you that I am not a sinner like everyone else. I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I fast twice a week, and I tithe 10%.” The other man was a despised tax collector. He prayed with eyes glued to the ground and beating his chest in sorrow like this: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus explains that it was the tax collector, and not the Pharisee who stood justified and innocent before God.

The Pharisee’s blindness to his own sin came from within in the form of pride and foolishness. I believe that the Pharisee honestly believed himself justified, but that’s not enough. By fully trusting his own heart’s judgement of himself (we always tend to minimize our sins to ourselves, don’t we?) he lost an opportunity to be made right before God.

To be successful, our hearts need solid truth for direction

The basis of the gospel is that we (and our hearts) are not good or innocent by default (Romans 3:10). Thus, we cannot be trusted to follow our hearts unless what we desire matches up with God’s will for us. How does one do that, exactly?

  1. Believe First, take heart! (ha) Remember that God has said, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”(Ez 36:26). He can do amazing work with our old broken hearts.
  2. Commit There is a decision facing you today. It may be large or small, but to the Lord, size doesn’t matter when it comes to obedience. Make a commitment to seek the right path to take. “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
  3. Seek The first place I go when I’m seeking wisdom from the Bible is usually the concordance in the back of my Bible (many popular bibles have them). Biblegateway.com and openBible.info are also excellent for quickly finding what you need.
  4. Ask This one sort of goes together with #3. Often it’s not the finding of the information that’s difficult, it’s the application of it. Even if you are pretty sure you know what you’re doing to do, it’s important to check yourself with the wisdom of another older believer. Stay in fellowship with one another through a church, a small group, and/or with a spiritual mentoring relationship with an older and trusted believer. I’m personally so thankful to have several such wise men and women in my life to whom I can go for direction.

Do you have a person or church family you trust for support? If not, I challenge you to reach out this week to someone like this. Remember that we all get off the path and need the support of our church family. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

God’s Word never changes and “all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 timothy 3:16).

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Prayer: God, we praise you for your mercy on poor sinners like us. We pray that your Holy Spirit would help us to discern the difference between your direction and our own sinful direction for our lives. Show us how to recognize our need for your mercy. Let our hearts consistently move forward toward that perfection that we will have in Heaven with You.

Application Question: What decision is facing you today, and how are you going to search for the right way to go?

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

Why I Left USC

And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way. ~Ephesians 1:17-23

About 4 years ago, I thought long and hard about the career I would pursue, and the education I needed under my belt to attain the highest level of success. According to a workbook what helped me assess my strengths, weaknesses, and interests, I reasoned  that Social Work was the work for me.

As a recent college graduate, this was a time of life when I was both certain and uncertain that I could do anything in the world and make it count. God’s master plan is really amazing if you sit back and think about the precise succession of events that have taken place in your life. Just one decision could have made your life take a sharp left, but whatever happened, happened because God foresaw that it was the best possible option (and as C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory , what happens is the ONLY option).

I set my sights on applying to an MSW program and last November of 2011, I entered the MSW program at the University of Southern California, a top ten school for Social Work. The first semester was great, I got straight A’s and looked forward to starting my internship in the fall. The coursework was all introductory, of course.

So in the second semester, I began to learn things I was less inclined to agree with. As a Social Worker looking toward state licensure, I would be required to uphold a sort of Universalist worldview in which every lifestyle and liberal social doctrine is “PC”.

I don’t know what I expected. Of course this is how the world thinks. The NASW Code of Ethics stands for very honorable things, and I don’t mean to say that they are completely out of their minds. It’s that the overall framework I would be required to submit myself to is not Christ-centered. Even “Christian Social Work” must come under restrictions as applies to the Gospel of Jesus. That’s just the nature of the beast.

But lately I have come to realize in a major wayhowJesus is Lord of my life! I want to submit my decisions, my words, my whole life to His will. I don’t want to just say he is Lord, and then turn around and make decisions that don’t agree with what He is teaching me. I have been living the same hypocrisy as the Pharisees who did not truly practice what they preached. Through Christ we have been given the freedom from the worldly way of thinking!

It started with an inkling that what I was learning goes against what the Bible teaches. The inkling turned into an idea of leaving, and that idea turned into a desire. I prayed about it and talked to some people very close to me, and I officially withdrew last week. Now I am truly free to pursue Godly things!

The only way

I read this blog post from Lysa TerKeurst this morning, and it totally spoke to me:

No matter how many times I whispered over and over, “there’s no way,” this nagging sense of possibility wouldn’t leave me. It wove its way through every fiber of my being until I stood up and shifted everything I thought my family would be with one weakly whispered, “Yes.”

Aren’t there so many times in our lives when, presented with a seemingly crazy choice, we say “There’s no way…” It’s the choice between stability and uncertainty. Would I quit my job and become a missionary? Quit school to write for God? Sometimes the idea is so far away from what we imagine for ourselves that it gets immediately rejected before it has a chance to take hold. It’s probably true that “there’s no way” in my power, but Lysa reminds us of Jesus’ promise that He is the way.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)

If God is calling on you to do something for Him, there is a way — His way. I will trust in the Lord and lean not on my own understanding.