What Do Your Resolutions Say About You?

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With the exception of Christmas and Easter, New Year’s is my favorite holiday.  It easily beats the 4th of July, Memorial Day and even comes in ahead of Thanksgiving.  It’s not the parties that do it for me.  To be honest, I can’t even remember the last time Laura and I stayed up to watch the ball drop.

It’s the opportunity to look back and look forward.  I love looking back over the past year and reflecting on all God has done.  2015 saw the arrival of Aidan into our family, a season of growth for the church and some major work in my soul, to name just a few highlights.  And I love looking forward.  What will 2016 hold?  How can I leverage my life more for the glory of Jesus and the good of others?  Where do I need to make changes?

All of the reflecting, dreaming and praying inevitably leads to some form of New Year’s Resolutions in my life.  I know some people hate them, some people are obsessed and some people make them every year and forget them by Martin Luther King Day.  For what it’s worth, I’m a fan.  I don’t create a whole laundry list of everything that needs to change in my life.  I try to identify one or two major themes for the year, an area I’ve neglected and new habits I want to develop.

But here’s the real question: what do your resolutions say about you?  This is a particularly good question for those of us who consider ourselves followers of Jesus.  Here’s what I’ve noticed in talking to a lot of Jesus people about New Year’s Resolutions over the years – our resolutions look very similar to our non-Christian friends.  There is nothing distinctly Christian about wanting to get in shape, pay off debt, have more meaningful vacations and make more time for friends.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those either.  But what do they say about our love for Jesus?

Shouldn’t our resolutions look different?  And I’m not just talking about adding in a token spiritual resolution (go to church more, read the Bible daily or find a place to serve).  I’m talking about a whole orientation that is shaped by Jesus.  Shouldn’t our resolutions talk more about honoring Him than improving us?  Shouldn’t they be more about His standing in the world than ours in the office?

Here’s what I know.  Jesus holds all of 2016 in His hands.  He’s King of it all.  Nothing will come into your life in 2016 that He doesn’t allow and that He isn’t greater than.  He sees every high and low.  He loves you.  He died for you.  He’ll carry you every step of the way.  The smartest thing you and I can do is walk into 2016 looking to Him and asking Him to become our greatest treasure and the goal of all our resolutions.

Crash Diet Spirituality

Crash Diet Spirituality

We all know crash diets don’t work.  But we can be so tempted by the possibility of quick results that we just can’t help ourselves every now and again.  Or maybe it’s desperation that drives us into a frenzied season of carb-free, extended sessions on the treadmill.  Initially, it seems like everything’s working as planned – pounds come off, energy levels increase and clothes fit better.

Then some friends invite you to join them at the hot new pizza place in town.  You spend the whole drive there meditating on, “I’m only getting a salad.”  But six slices of pizza later you decide to skip the gym for the evening.  Then the following day is busy and you grab a venti sugar laden something.  By the end of the week, you’ve gained a pound.  It’s depressing.

Especially when we do the same thing spiritually.

After a season of sin, despair or distance from God, we resolve to get our act together spiritually.  We start making vows, promises and commitments: wake up at 4am, pray for three hours, listen to a podcast a day, never miss church, lead one person a day to the Lord and go on the next mission trip offered.  We permanently renounce lust, pride, anger, bitterness, fear and greed.  We even vow to start making our bed and keeping up with the laundry – all part of the new and improved version of ourselves.

And then we fall.  And start the cycle again.

Don’t get me wrong – repentance is a good thing.(Ps. 51)  It’s a neglected thing in the church.  In some ways, we’ve gotten so good at pivoting to the grace of the gospel that we fail to take stock of the horror of our sin.  There’s everything right with seeing how far we’ve fallen and turning back to the Father who loves us.

But the journey to spiritual health is a long and winding road.  It’s going to take sustained energy, resilience in the face of setbacks and patience with ourselves.  Becoming more like Jesus is a marathon, not a sprit.  The path to spiritual health is one of small daily decisions repeated for weeks, months and years.

Please don’t misunderstand me – this isn’t an invitation to complacency.  Fight sin.  Embrace Jesus.  Read the Bible.  Pray.  Serve.  But fight for the long term transformation over the short term mirage.

Long term transformation comes through the constant renewing of our minds in Scripture (Romans 12:2) and increasing reliance on the Spirit of God.  You’ll know you’re on the path to a healthy, sustainable relationship with Jesus when the road ahead is both beautiful and intimidating. When we see all that Jesus is inviting us into, we want to follow Him.  At the same time, we realize we’re totally inadequate for all He’s leading us into.  We need His grace, His power, His Spirit to carry us.

Real health and lasting change comes in that moment of awe inspired surrender.  Don’t look for shortcuts around that moment.  Embrace it and allow Jesus to meet you there.

In Defense of New Year’s Resolutions

Let me just come out and say it.  I’m a New Year’s Resolution kind of guy.  I love everything about them:  the reminder of a fresh start, dreaming about the future, reflecting on the past year and giving myself something to aim for in the coming year.  I’ve got a few Evernote files with potential resolutions on my computer right now and Laura and I will spend New Year’s Eve honing in on our goals as a family for 2015.

What surprises me most about New Year’s Resolutions is the increasing number of Christians who feel obligated to turn up their theological noses and reject New Year’s Resolutions as unspiritual or not gospel-centered.  The basic argument seems to be: resolve to love Jesus more and everything will change.  Awesome.  I totally agree with the theology behind that.  I just don’t think we need to take it so far that we aren’t specific about some of the changes we would like to see.  Paul seems to spend the second half of his letters being very specific about the kind of change a proper understanding of the gospel should bring about in our lives.

So, if you want to join me in coming up with a few gospel-centered resolutions for 2015, here are two questions I’ve been asking myself this past week.

1.  Would any of my resolutions be shocking to a non-Christian?  

If all you want out of 2015 is to lose a little weight, pay off a little debt and go on a nice vacation, you’ve got to ask yourself how much the gospel is really rearranging your priorities.  Everyone wants these things!  What are you praying for in 2015 that only makes sense if Jesus Christ is the Sovereign King and you know for sure you will spend eternity with Him?

There’s nothing wrong with getting in shape and being a good steward.  But don’t settle for that.  Push on to greater things – new ways to serve; people you want to see come to faith; new ways to be generous with your time, experience and money; new things you want God to do in your heart.  These are the prayers God loves to answer and these are the goals worth fighting for in life.

Yeah, it would be great to spend a week in Hawaii but what about a week on the mission field?

2.  What heart change is required to stick with this resolution?  

There is zero benefit in coming up with a long list of things you would like to have happen without developing a plan to make them happen.  If you don’t have a plan, it’s just a list of dreams.  If your plan doesn’t involve the gospel transforming your heart, you’re destined to abandon your resolutions just as quickly as you did last year.  If this is the 3rd year in a row you’ve vowed to pay off your credit cards and you’re more in debt now than you were three years ago, something clearly isn’t working!  Don’t take a 4th lap around the same bad track.  Dig deep into your heart…why do you keep acting the way you do?  What lies are you believing that keep leading you to the same bad place?  How does the gospel speak to this issue?  How would God lead you to freedom in this area?  This is where the real power in resolutions is found.  Don’t just make a list of things to do.  Ask what needs to change in your heart to start living differently.

Whether you’re a New Year’s Resolutions kind of person or not, I hope you have an incredible 2015.

I’ll start blogging regularly again on Monday, January 5th.  Until then, Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

When it comes to holidays, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are among my favorites.  No, they don’t trump Christmas and Easter.  But I’m pretty sure they beat out Thanksgiving and the 4th of July in my book.  And they definitely are ahead of Halloween and Valentine’s Day!

I like the thought of a fresh start.  I like new beginnings.  I love setting goals, dreaming about the future and wondering what the coming year will hold.  I love looking back at the last year and thinking thoughts like, “Wow, this time last year Jack hadn’t even been born.”  It’s a fantastic time of year for thinking, dreaming and celebrating God’s goodness.

It’s also a wonderful reminder of the gospel’s appeal.  I’m not alone in my desire for fresh starts, clean slates and new beginnings.  There’s something wired into each of us that connects with that desire.  And that’s exactly what God offers each of us through the gospel.  Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”  That’s the ultimate fresh start.  It’s the cleanest of slates and the newest of beginnings.  And it’s available to each of us.

My prayer for you this year is either that you find this new life if you never have before or that you live fully in it’s joy if you are indeed a new creation.  The joy and freshness of New Years Day fades quickly.  My guess is most of us will be done with it by next Monday at the latest.  But the joy and freshness of the gospel never fades and never grows stale.  Enjoy it!