Good questions for a new year

its a brand ne w year is it the same old you_tIn my reading this morning I came upon a startling quote by Jim Elliot, who,  this week in 1956 was killed by the Auca indians when he was attempting to share the gospel with them. Knowing that his venture into the South American jungle was dangerous, he was reported to have said, “When it comes time to die, make sure all you have to do is die.”

Perhaps you, like me, struggle with putting a few things off. Elliot’s 15 words are a wake up call. Would you live this year differently if you knew you didn’t have this entire year to live? Here are  10 questions from Don Whitney to alert you to where some changes need to take place.

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?
9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in 10 years? In eternity?

I’m looking to find some time alone and prayerfully consider these questions. Perhaps you should do so as well.

Diagnosing your spiritual health…

The first week of January is filled with hope. Past struggles and personal failures seem to be fading with our final singing of Auld Lang Syne. But I have found that my personal challenges don’t seem to disappear with the new calendar year. They stubbornly refuse to leave without a fight, and before long the facade of hope begins to crumble as I find that these old friends from my past year never really left at the stroke of midnight.  They want to follow me into the new year.

I was reminded recently that prior to planning for the future, I need to take a good look at where I am presently. That’s good advice-especially when it comes to spiritual matters.

My good friend, Nicolas Ellen reminded our congregation of that truth yesterday with his message entitled Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. Here are the questions with the accompanying Scriptures.

1.Do you hunger for the presence of God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
2. Are you increasingly being governed by God’s Word? (Psalm 3:1-3)
3.  Have you become more loving or less loving towards others? (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
4.  Are you growing in your usefulness to God? (1 Peter 4:10-11)
5. Do you grieve over your sin or are you excusing your sin? (2 Corinthians 7:10-11)
6.  Who have you been living to please? (2 Corinthians 5:9,15)
7.  How Have You been spending your time? (Ephesians 5:11-21)
8. What do you truly treasure in your heart? (Matthew 6:19-21)
9. Do You functionally trust in the Lord or do you functionally trust in yourself? (Proverbs 3:5-6)
10. Are You longing for the return of Jesus Christ? (1 John 3:1-3)
So maybe our plan for the next year should include a time of evaluation on where we fell short in the past year. In that way our New Year’s resolutions make for more effective change and not just lofty platitudes of false hope.

Questions for a New Year

Questions cause us to think.  Sometimes they cause us to evaluate our lives. In our fast-paced society we don’t seem to make enough time for either of those pastimes. We wonder who has time for thinking and evaluating when our days are an attempt to play catch up only to feel like we are falling farther behind.

Yet, as you round the corner and anticipate the New Year, here are some questions that may prepare you for what’s coming.

Question # 1: Did I have a proper emphasis on my family this past year? It is one of the rare ironies of the world, in which we live, that we have routine performance evaluations at work, but rarely at home. We will all face retirement one day, but our family we will likely have with us as long as we live. So maybe it’s time for a “family evaluation.” How are you doing as a Dad? As a Mom? Are you properly fulfilling your role as a husband or wife? Before you enter the New Year evaluate your performance for the past one.

Question # 2: Did I have a proper emphasis on my relationship with God this past year?  As a pastor you know I’m going to bring that one up.  Yet, this is the relationship we often forget when things are going well, and attempt to lean on when we are experiencing a crisis. And like every other relationship its strength is dependent upon the quality of time we spend together with God on a regular basis.  Through prayer and reading the Bible we daily grow in our relationship with Him. Unfortunately, when we only run to God in crisis we will not have much confidence in that relationship. When we are attempting to know His heart during the non-crisis times, it better prepares us for the crisis times.  Our two relationships that are most important are often the two that are the most neglected. Let’s make a commitment to make this New Year different. It’s a commitment that may change your life.

Time with God: The right heart, time, place, and plan

When having an effective quiet time, it’s important to have the right heart, time, place and plan.  If your time with the Lord is lacking, consider which of these four elements could stand a little improvement. Several years ago now I came upon an excellent article by pastor Zach Schlegel on the importance of all four elements. He granted me permission to share it with our church family then, and I’m certain you will benefit as well.

The Right Heart…. Expectant – The writer of Hebrews reminds us that those who in faith seek after God can expect the reward of God Himself (Hebrews 11:6; also Jeremiah 29:12-13). Willingness to Obey – If we come listening not for what God has to say to us, but what we want; chances are we won’t hear Him. In John’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that coming with a willing heart is important (John 7:17). Teachable and Humble – When coming before the King of kings, the proper attitude is humility, not pride; being teachable, not a know it all (James 1:19-21; 4:6; Psalm 119:33-34).

The Right Time…Morning, afternoon or evening?  In deciding when to have your quiet time, choose the time that you are at your best: alert, focused, and fresh.  Jesus’ custom was to meet with the Father early in the morning (Mark 1:35), and for many people, that’s the best way to start the day.  But whatever you decide, make sure to be consistent with it and to schedule it in your calendar as you would any other important meeting! How long will your quiet time be?  If having a quiet time is new to you, start with a shorter amount of time and then build up as your appetite increases.  Everyone is different, just be sure to give yourself ample time to slow down, read, pray, and reflect.  If beforehand we decide and schedule how long (at a minimum) our quiet time will be, it not only frees up our schedule, but cultivates the discipline of slowing down and giving God our best time.

The Right Place…Comfortable and quiet; Good lighting. Free of distractions: Turn off your TV, phone, or internet – anything that would distract. Have a pen and notebook handy to write down the “To do” list that comes to your mind; if you’ve written it down, you can forget it and come back to it later. 

The Right Plan… Why a plan?  Why is discipline so important?  For some type “A” personalities, these may seem like silly questions; but others cringe at the idea of having a plan and being disciplined with it – why not just be free and ‘let it happen’?  Having a plan is not meant to be a rigid set of rules; but many times we don’t spend time with God because we have no plan. 

Elton Trueblood explains the relationship between discipline and freedom saying, “We have not advanced very far in our spiritual lives if we have not encountered the basic paradox of freedom…that we are most free when we are bound.  But not just any way of being bound will suffice; what matters is the character of our binding.  The one who would be an athlete, but who is unwilling to discipline his body by regular exercise and abstinence, is not free to excel on the field or the track. His failure to train rigorously denies him the freedom to run with the desired speed and endurance.  With one concerted voice, the giants of the devotional life apply the same principle to the whole of life: Discipline is the price of freedom.”  —-Zach Schlegel, blog 11.11.2009

Reading through the Bible in a year

As you prepare for the new year I’ve included several Bible reading plans to encourage your time in the Word. They are in PDF format so that you can print them and tuck them in the flyleaf of your Bible for a reminder as you develop the habit of  reading the Bible daily.

The six-day format will take you through the Bible cover to cover. The seventh day can be used to make up one of those days you might have missed or to reflect upon passages studied earlier in the week.

Thru the Bible in a Year – Reading 6 days a week

If you’re just starting your Bible reading adventure you may want to simply read a key chapter of the Bible each day. While using this approach will not allow you to read every verse in the Bible in the course of the year, you will move  through the high points without getting lost in the “lists of names” or Old Testament prophecies that often require greater cultural study for understanding.

A Chapter a Day – 365 key chapters of the Bible

Typically when we read a book we expect the events to be communicated  in chronological order.  However, the Bible groups its various books by genre or style of writing (i.e. histories, poetry, prophecies, etc.). For instance, the events of Job’s life probably occurred during the time of the events in the book of Genesis, but the book of Job is placed about half way through your Old Testament (because it is considered poetry). Reading the Bible through chronologically will open up some insights you otherwise might miss.

Reading thru the Bible Chronologically

If you would like to read the events of the Bible chronologically, but prefer to read a chapter a day then the following Bible reading schedule is for you. 365 key chapters placed in chronological reading order.

A Chapter a Day – 365 key chapters of the Bible in chronological order

Perhaps you would like to read the Bible in the morning, and in the evening. The following schedules arrange your morning reading from the New Testament, and your evening reading from the Old Testament.

Morning Readings -New Testament in a year

Evening Readings-Old Testament in a year

Whichever reading format you might wish to choose, the most important choice is the one you will make daily as you strive to read, learn and apply God’s Word to your life. May He bless you in your endeavor.

What we can learn from Church history…

One Sunday morning I took a chance. I did something I’d never done before, and that I’d never seen done before. We took the morning teaching time and studied church history. I confess I was a little nervous. History isn’t known as a subject that inspires most of us. After all the dates, places, and names of the past may help us with a game of Trivia Pursuit, but that’s about all they can do. Not so with church history. It can inspire.

As we study Christians from the past that put their careers, their families, and their very lives on the line for Christ we are encouraged to live more Godly lives.

Take Ignatius and Polycarp for instance. Two leaders in the early church whom when asked to turn their back on Jesus Christ and live, chose to remain faithful to Him and die. And others followed suit. You see, as those in the early church watched their leaders die for the faith they too were inspired to surrender their lives.

The best example? Take the Christians who lived in Rome under Nero’s reign. The historian Tacitus reminds us that the citizens of Rome believed that it was Nero himself who started the fires that broke out on June 18th, A.D. 64. These fires burned for six days and seven nights destroying ¾ of the city. When it was all over, Nero began looking for scapegoat – someone to blame for the fires. His eyes fell upon the 1st century Christians. Although they were guilty of nothing, Nero sought creative ways to take their lives. He had them dressed in furs to be attacked and killed by dogs. Others he would crucify.  Others he would impale upon stakes and light his gardens by night using them as human torches. And still the Christians refused to deny Christ and worship the Roman gods.

What they had found in a personal relationship with Christ sustained them through great suffering. Those early Christians not only discovered a Person worth living for; they had also discovered a cause worth dying for. May we learn our commitment from those who counted the cost and lived like it mattered.