Friday, December 26, 2014

When the Resolutions Fail

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It’s nearing the end of 2014. You might be looking back now and thinking, “I didn’t accomplish almost anything I planned to do.” That can lead to disappointment and despair, and a resolve to try harder this upcoming year.

You might be reprimanding yourself, all the while pondering how you will do better in 2015. It is good to plan ahead and to set goals. In that sense, New Year’s Resolutions can be helpful. But the problem is, we tend to set goals, and neglect to follow through with them. Sometimes that’s because our goals are too broad.

For instance, consider these typical New Years goals.

Read the Bible.
That’s a nice goal. It’s an admirable goal. But just putting that on your list of New Year’s resolutions won’t guarantee that you’ll accomplish it. Instead, think of what would help you to be faithful in that area. Do you need to do an in-depth Bible study of a particular book? Pick a Bible reading plan? List out how you will discipline yourself for godliness in this area.

Pray more.
Another way to set yourself up for failure. How do you know if you’ve accomplished this goal? How can you keep from making it a quick run-through the prayer list?

Life is bigger than New Year’s resolutions. If you look back at this year disappointed because you didn’t accomplish what you had planned, ask yourself two things:

1. Did I set myself up for failure by creating unrealistic or vague goals?
2. Have I plateaued in my relationship with God? Did I drift in seeking Him?

After you’ve considered those things, look to the cross. Your hope is not found in what you did or did not do this year. You will never perform enough to make yourself right with God. Even as believers, God's acceptance of us is not based on how perfectly we live, it's based on the finished work of Christ. When we sin, when we fail, instead of scolding ourselves, we need to remind ourselves of who we are in Christ. He has performed perfectly and cloaked us in His righteousness.We can run to His mercy and forgiveness and lean upon Him for grace to accomplish what we need to do.

If this year holds regrets for you, don't live in light of those. Live in light of who you are in Christ, and by His power, seek to be more faithful in 2015.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Incarnation

Incarnation is a stunning word.

The infinite, eternal Jesus put limits on Himself. He, the living Word, became flesh (Jn. 1:14). He laid aside His Creator rights and willingly, humbly, came to live amongst us. Christmas isn’t about a sweet little baby bringing peace on earth. This is the one and only God coming down from His glory to our broken, sin-cursed world. Jesus willingly endured shameful treatment, wrong accusations, hateful words, rejection. And yet He never sinned. He lived the perfect life we needed to live and died in our place that we might experience forgiveness and freedom from sin.

When I ponder the outstanding humility of Jesus, I’m humbled because I don’t always like stepping into others’ lives, bringing truth or gentle correction. It’s hard. Bearing burdens, facing hurts, and experiencing rejection is not easy. My flesh wants to run from that. And yet when I look to Jesus, I wonder that the perfect, all-knowing God could step into our world, knowing what He would face. He had infinitely more reasons to not step into the darkness our sin had brought. Jesus didn’t receive the approval, the friendship, the recognition, the affirmation that often motivates our actions to help others. He was worthy of the worship of all people, and yet He didn’t receive it when He came to earth. It was the opposite.

And yet He came. This is the hope and the joy of the incarnation!

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” 
Gal. 4:4-5

What a perfect time to remember the purpose that Christ came—and to respond in gratitude and worship.

"Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the newborn King!"


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Books of 2014

A number of bloggers have been writing their top books of 2014. It’s neat to see what people have found to be the most impactful books they’ve read over the course of the year.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year compared to the last 5 or so years of my life. So I thought it would be fun to list some of my favorite books from this year, especially since I never got around to writing summaries for many of them. It’s hard to pick the best because I would probably recommend every book I’ve read this year! But here are some of my top picks and why.

What Do They Think of Me? Why Do I Care? (Ed Welch)
Geared towards teens and young adults, this book is easy to read, but filled with deep truths. With many practical examples, Ed Welch addresses common thoughts and struggles of young people, including people-pleasing, but always brings them back to the truth. He reminds that those things flow out of worship and asks questions to help you see what you're believing about God, yourself, and others.

Follow Me (David Platt)
This was one of the first books I read this year, and it inspired and encouraged to make disciples wherever I am. Following Jesus should result in us bringing others to Christ. He talks about crucial topics like salvation and the call to die as we follow Christ.

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (J.I. Packer)
This is the best book I’ve ever read that clearly explains our part in evangelism and our trust in God’s ability to do the work He will do. I highly recommend it!

Counsel from the Cross (Elyse Fitzpatrick & Dennis Johnson)
This book helped me in its explanation that the imperatives (commands) of scripture are always preceded with the indicatives (who we are). It’s a transformative way to look at the commands of Scripture. We are never told just to obey, it always flows from our relationship with Christ. I love how this book helps you understand the application of the gospel to your own life and the lives of others.

Who Am I? (Jerry Bridges)
Great book on what identity in Christ means and looks like. The phrase “identity in Christ” is one that may not make a lot of sense but it is definitely a Scriptural one, with so many passages in the New Testament speaking of us being “in Christ”. It’s easy to look for our worth, our satisfaction, or our approval in the things we do or the people around us, which inevitably leads to pride as we do well, and depression as we perform poorly. Jerry Bridges expounds on what it means to find our worth and identity in Christ.

The Pursuit of Holiness (Jerry Bridges)
Another fantastic book by Jerry Bridges. This is so helpful in helping believers understand what it means to fight sin and pursue holiness, motivated by the grace of God.

Rescuing Ambition (Dave Harvey)
I’ve read this book before, and this year I listened to the audio version. It reminded me over and over that my problems are worship problems—that my sinful heart often wants to pursue my own glory (selfish ambitions), instead of the glory of God. Dave Harvey writes great personal examples and stories that you can identify with, and then points you to Christ and your need for Him

Relationships: a Mess Worth Making (Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane)
No, this isn't a book about dating, which many have asked me since it's about relationships. It's about all relationships and what God is doing through them. If I was to pick the most influential author in my life this year, it would probably be Paul Tripp. Doing a small group study of “How People Change”, re-reading “Relationships”, and reading many blog articles by Paul Tripp has helped me to look to myself and my sin first in the midst of relationship challenges. This book in particular gives Scriptural hope and helps for dealing with conflict and reminding you of your identity in Christ as you deal with sinful people in a fallen world (yourself being the #1 problem!).

Just Do Something (Kevin DeYoung)
The more I’ve thought about what is taught in this book, the more I've realized how true it is. God used Kevin DeYoung to remind me that one of the most important things in determining God’s will in regards to a decision about school or ministry or a job, is asking if there is a good, local church that I could be a part of where I want to be. Kevin DeYoung makes some excellent points that we tend to be more concerned about our non-moral decisions than we are about God’s commands in Scripture to be holy and to love God wholeheartedly. Through seeking God's face, pursuing the wisdom of other godly believers, and reading Scripture, we can make decisions that honor God, without over-stressing whether we'll be outside of God's will.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Looking Back Over 2014

This year has been full.

Full in what sense? In every way. Full of difficulties and joys, full of excitements and disappointments, full of changes, full of burdens, full of God's grace.

In some ways this year has been hard, but God has proved faithful again and again. While I’m often resistant to change and to the difficulties as they come, as I submit my heart to my loving Father, I see Him working to change me in ways that I didn’t realize needed repentance and change. Studying biblical counseling, reading many great books, attending a conference, listening to sermons, fellowshipping with believers, and serving others have all been factors contributing to a deeper understanding of my sin and gratitude for what Christ has done for my sin.

God has shown me areas of complacency, idolatry, worry and fear, ingratitude, self-pity, and selfishness. He's deepened my grasp of the desires that motivate me, and reminded me time and time again that it's not about me. It seems like as soon as I start to understand and take responsibility for an area in the put-off/put-on process of sanctification, God reveals another area of sin in my heart. How gentle and gracious He is with me.

God has been strengthening my faith this year through intercession. Burdens have a way of forcing you to pray, and those times of prayer have been so rewarding as they have prepared me to watch God work. I’ve seen abundant answers to prayers, and while there are still many things I’ve not seen answered yet, God has made Himself known in powerful ways. In prayer, He has often redirected my heart to behold Him and His glory, which makes me more concerned about what He wants than what I want. I'm so grateful for God's goodness to me. 

How has God been at work in you this year?


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Faithful God

Sometimes my lack of blogging stems from not knowing what to write. Sometimes it's due to lack of time. But other times, it's because God is doing so many things in my heart and life, I don't know where to start. This year has felt that way in a variety of ways.

As I've been working to summarize some of the main things God's taught me and ways He's refined and changed me, I've been in awe of His goodness. I've seen His mercy overflow in new ways each morning.

This year, one of the songs that has ministered and encouraged me and reminded me of the powerful God I serve is this one:

Faithful God by Shai Linne

Part of the lyrics state:
When we believed, You were faithful to save us
And that means You’ll be faithful to change us
And the Spirit of Jesus will keep us ’til
You make us holy and blameless

It's such an incredible truth that God remains faithful even when I am unfaithful to Him, and He continues to work in me, revealing sin, unveiling His holiness, giving me desires to please Him, conforming me to His image. I quickly give up on others, but He never gives up on me. What a great God we serve!

How has God been faithful to you this year?