You can grow spiritually in 2017.
You can become a better person.
You can deepen your walk with God.
You can change.
You can deepen your faith next year, but you
must be intentional about it. Here are ten steps you can take that will help
you grow as a Christian in the new year.
1. Meet with
God before you check Facebook
We live in a social media world. We text, we
tweet, we update Facebook, we post our projects on Pinterest, and we put photos
on Instagram Some days I feel like I live on Facebook. And I like to start my
day checking my Twitter feed. While there is nothing wrong with social media,
it can control us if we’re not careful.
Start with God next year. Commit yourself to
reading God’s Word and praying before you get absorbed in the latest updates. “Seek first his
kingdom and his righteousness”(Matthew
6:33). Your day will go better when you
start with God, not with social media.
2. Choose a
book of the Bible to study this year
Many people will start reading through the
Bible in January. Nothing wrong with that. I encourage you to read through the
whole Bible in 2017, especially if you’ve never done it before. But there is a
great value in digging deeply into one book of the Bible and letting its
message soak into your heart. You could read Genesis or Proverbs or Daniel or
Mark or 1 Peter. If you don’t know where to begin, start with Ephesians. Read
it at least 20 times. Read it slowly. Read it fast. Read a few verses a day. Use
a Bible commentary to help you with difficult passages. Ephesians is so rich
that you could spend all of 2017 studying it.
3. Buy a
Owning a study Bible is like having a
seminary faculty on your bookshelf. A good study Bible has notes on every
passage, book introductions, outlines, maps, charts, diagrams, and
illustrations. Today you have many excellent options: The MacArthur Study Bible,
the Life Application Bible, the Ryrie Study Bible, to name only a few. You’ll
never regret investing money in a good study Bible. It will jumpstart your
knowledge of God’s Word.
involved in a small group
While it is possible to grow on your own, you
will grow much faster when you are involved with a small group of other
Christians. You could join a Sunday School class, a men’s group, a women’s
group, a Bible study group, or a prayer team. The possibilities are endless.
Don’t sit on the sidelines. Share your life with other Christians who can
encourage you, pray with you, laugh with you, and cry with you. Taking part in
a healthy small group is like taking an energy shot for your soul.
5. Start a
Chuck Swindoll said he found journaling a useful
way to track God’s work in his life. Keeping a journal is like keeping a diary,
except that you use your journal to do “God sightings.” Where has God shown up
unexpectedly in your life? Where have you seen the fingerprints of the Lord?
Write it down so you won’t forget it. Over time your journal will help you see
how God’s plan is unfolding in your life.
That’s the one that starts this way:
“Blessed is the
man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and
on his law he meditates day and night.”
Psalm 1 stands at the head of the psalter for
a reason. It describes the fundamental difference between a life lived for self
versus a life lived for God. Because we live in a me-centered world, we need to
tattoo these verses on our heart so we won’t forget them.
Start with Psalm 1 and memorize a verse or
two each day. You could easily finish it in a week. After that, go on to Psalm
2 or Ephesians 1 or 1 Corinthians 3 or Matthew 5:1-16. Whatever passage you
choose, commit yourself to storing God’s truth in your heart this year.
7. Do some
Start by downloading these two apps: YouVersion and Bible.Is. Bible
listening means that instead of reading the Bible, you listen as someone reads
it aloud. The Bible.Is app contains hundreds of audio versions of the Bible,
including tribal languages from around the world. They also include dramatized
versions that include music and other sound effects. After listening to a large
part of the Bible on audio, I can testify that many passages came alive to me
for the first time, even though I had read them many times on my own.
8. Become a
Mark Twain once remarked that forgiveness is
the fragrance the violet yields to the heel that has crushed it. Easy to say,
hard to do. Make up your mind that you won’t be a grievance collector in 2016. “Love doesn’t
keep score of the sins of others” (1
Corinthians 13:5 MSG). Add to that 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude
of sins.”Love has a
short memory and sealed lips. We need to hear this word because others will
indeed fail us a “multitude” of times. Sometimes the people we love the most
will hurt us deeply. Love expects others to fail, expects to be hurt and
expects to be used unfairly. It goes on loving anyway.
There is nothing sadder than a bitter
Christian. Don’t fall into that trap this year. Be a quick forgiver.
something crazy for God this year
Start by reading Hebrews 11. Noah built a
boat. Abraham left a prosperous city, not knowing where he was going. Sarah got
pregnant when she was 89. Abraham offered Isaac. Moses refused the riches of
Egypt in favor of suffering with his own people. The Hebrews marched around
Jericho. Rahab hid the spies.
belief plus unbelief, and acting on the belief part. At some
point, you’ve got to get off the couch and do something. Faith grows when we,
like Peter, dare to get out of the boat. What does that mean? It might mean
pursuing a God-sized dream. It might mean giving more than some think is wise.
It might mean getting involved in a new ministry. It might mean spending two
weeks on a missions trip. It might mean daring to start over again.
Living by faith means that you stop making
excuses and get in the game for God. If it doesn’t scare you, it’s probably not
crazy enough. True faith leads you out of your comfort zone. God will help you,
but you’ve got to take the first step.
10. Pray for
Every day you meet people who need the help
only you can give. Some of them need a word of encouragement, and you are
the only one who can give them that word. Some of them are staggering beneath a
heavy load, and you are the only one who can lift that burden from their
shoulders. Some of them are about to quit, and you are the only one who can
keep them in the race. Some of them have been hit with an incredible string of
trials, and you are the only one who can help them keep going.
God will give you Missionary Eyes to see the real needs of the people you
meet.Pray that God will bring at least one person across your path who needs the
help only you can give. That’s a prayer God will answer, for there are folks
all around you who are just barely making it. You see them where you work, and
you live next door to them. Your children go to school with their children.
They are out there waiting for someone to give them help.
So there you have it. Here are ten ways you
can grow your faith in 2017. But remember the key point: No one
becomes godly by accident. Intentionality is the key. If you want to grow next year, you can. With God’s help, you can be a
different person 365 days from now.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Romans 12:1 NLT http://bible.com/116/rom.12.1.NLT he’s talking about the dedication of our entire beings to God’s service.
From this verse, I began a habit of mentally going through a process of offering myself to God. It goes something like this:
God, today I dedicate my mind to you. I want to think on things that are good, right, pure, and excellent. I want to take captive any thoughts that aren’t from you. I want to remember your past faithfulness when I am tempted to doubt.
Today, I dedicate my eyes to you. I want to see others the way you see them. I want to view my circumstances through the lens of hope and faith. I want to look at life as one who is confident that you are with me.
Today, I dedicate my ears to you. I want to hear your voice above all the others clamoring for my attention. I want to listen to you and to honor others by listening well to them.
Today, I dedicate my mouth to you. I want my words to be life-giving. I want to speak honestly and sincerely. I want to think before I speak. I want to let others have the last word.
Today, I dedicate my heart to you. I want my heart to be pure and undivided. I want to master my emotions, not serve them. I want my dreams and desires to please you.
Today, I dedicate my hands to you. I want to work hard at whatever I put my hands to. I want to touch others in love and goodwill. I want my hands to be open for whatever you want to give me and willing to release anything you want me to surrender.
Today, I dedicate my feet to you. I want to go wherever you send me. I want to walk toward the messes, not run from them. I want to stand firmly upon the truth and not stumble.
The most important relationship I have deserves my greatest expression of worship: a dedicated life.
An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the ot...her pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. 'I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.' The old woman smiled, 'Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?' 'That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.' For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.' Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You've just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them. SO, to all of my cracked pot friends, have a great day and remember to smell the flowers on your side of the path!
#1 Forget that your pastor is a sinner. Yep. Dwell on the fact that he is not perfect as often as possible and make sure to meditate on all his faults.
#2 Forget that the entire leadership is made up of sinners. While you are thinking about all your pastor’s weaknesses be sure to look for all the weaknesses in all the leadership. Criticize their every decision and talk to others, but don’t ever go to them with your concerns.
#3 Forget that your brothers and sisters in Christ are all sinners. This is a really important one. Go to church expecting everyone to be perfect. Get really upset when someone doesn’t notice you or someone offends you. Then leave the church and tell people you don’t go to church because it’s filled with hypocrites.
#4 Forget you are a sinner. Like numbers one through three instruct, focus on everyone else’s faults, but do your best to forget about anything you do wrong. And since you’re perfect nobody should ever wrong you. Expect the most out of everyone except yourself and get really angry when people don’t live up to your standards.
#5 Don’t be involved, but then complain that you don’t know anybody, and make sure to point out how your church is filled with cliques. This one is SURE to make you miserable! Make sure you are involved in the least amount of activities and events, but then make complaints like, “Nobody ever says hi to me” or “Nobody knows me.”Consistently whine about all the cliques in your church and how impossible it is to get to know anyone.
#6 Get upset every Sunday about the music. Church bodies all over the world are divided over music; you can easily use this area to make yourself miserable. Make sure you criticize every song the music leader chooses and make fun of him if he makes a mistake. Bemoan how hard it is for you to listen to the hymns (if you don’t like hymns) and whine about how lame the contemporary songs are if you don’t like those. Be sure to do this with the leadership constantly. Forget about the fact that there is only one instance recorded of Jesus singing (and even then it was only one song), but make sure the music in your church is one of THEE most important issues.
#7 Don’t ever invite people over to your house. Then be sure to get really upset that no one ever invites you over.
#8 Wait around for the leadership to do everything, and complain about all of your ideas that aren’t followed immediately. Come up with things your church SHOULD be doing, but don’t do it yourself and get really angry when your pastor says, “That sounds like a great idea! Why don’t you go ahead and head up that ministry?” Never offer to help serve in the areas you see there is a need.
#9 Only come to Sunday morning service and then get mad because you and your family aren’t “growing.”Be sure to get angry that your church body (the pastor in particular) is not meeting your family’s spiritual needs when you only come to one service a week (maybe less) and are not looking for other ways to grow.
#10 Forget that the local church body is about Jesus and not you.This is THE MOST IMPORTANT AND VITAL WAY TO BE MISERABLE in your local church body. Forget that the church is for Christ and His honor, glory and purposes and make it for your honor, glory and purposes! Make church all about you!
Seven Ways Church Members Should Prepare for a Sermon
What if church members began their own form of sermon preparation?
For countless decades, we have heard about the role of pastors in sermon preparation. The number of hours they need to prepare. The priority of preparation. The role of prayer in sermon preparation.
But what if church members prepared for each sermon they heard? What if they believed their roles as recipients of the Word are also crucially important?
I can see incredible church revitalization taking place if church members took on their own responsibilities of sermon preparation. Here are seven ways members can actively prepare for sermons.
Pray for the sermon. For a few minutes, the church member should pray for the upcoming sermon. That prayer might take place during the week, the night before the preaching, or the morning of the preaching.
Pray for the pastor who is preaching. Pray that the pastor will understand God’s message for that text. Pray that the pastor will have no distractions. Pray that God’s Spirit will fill the pastor in both the preparation and delivery of the sermon.
Pray for yourself as you prepare to hear the sermon. Pray that God will speak to you through the message. Pray that you will not be distracted. Pray for clarity of mind and an open heart to receive the message.
Read the biblical text before the sermon is preached. If possible, read the text from which the pastor will preach. Read it thoroughly. Read it prayerfully.
Take notes. Take notes as the pastor preaches. You will have a greater focus and greater retention. Review the notes at least once during the next week.
Seek an application to your life. Ask God for discernment to help you understand how the sermon should change your life. Seek to understand the sermon not only in its biblical context, but in your life as well.
Share with the pastor “one thing.” If possible, share with your pastor one significant takeaway from the sermon. Pastors hear countless “good job, pastor,” or “nice message, pastor,” but they long to know if God really made a difference in the lives of the church members through the preached word. If you are able to communicate just one takeaway from the sermon in person, by email, or in social media, your pastor will be greatly encouraged.
The preaching of God’s Word is central to the life of the church. It makes sense that pastors should give it the highest priority.
But doesn’t it also make sense that church members should prepare as well?
When you hear the words Visitor and Guest, do you consider them synonymous? Do you think we are splitting hairs by looking for a distinction between the 2 terms? I was very pleased to have responses from the attendees, with most if not all saying that “guest” was more:
> Intentional (love that one for sure!!!)
Think about it in these common phrases. Which ones feel right and which ones don't fit: Guest of honor vs Visitor of honor Guest blog vs. Visitor blog Guest bedroom vs. Visitor bedroom Guest bathroom vs. Visitor bathroom Guest speaker vs. Visitor speaker Guest Appearance vs. Visitor Appearance
Here is another thought...in many sports, you will have the HOME team and the VISITORS. In this case, the visitor is actually your adversary. OUCH...not sure we want to consider those coming to our church for the first time as the adversary.
Below are “definitions” that I borrowed from some else…that I cannot recall, just don’t want you to think I was smart enough to come up with these on my own: “Visitor” - is typically somebody who comes and goes without much preparation on our part or much thought afterward. “Guest” - is typically a person who is cared for and has been intentionally prepared to attend. Most of the time, a guest is somebody who is a participant...a person looking for a specific experience.
For me it is pretty clear that if you are a church, you really are looking to have guests and not just visitors. We want people to feel a part…to feel welcomed…to feel as if we were expecting them to come and that we cared enough to prepare for them…and to follow up with them after.
To our guests…especially those that may not be believers or be far from God…these intentional shifts can make the world of difference. For the most part, we can make this adjustment to our “language” with little or no cost. Imagine that…a transformational change for little or no cost?!?!
Here are some practical ideas to help you implement this:
Parking lot should have GUEST parking signs and not visitor
Announcements…written or spoken…should address GUESTS
Have a GUEST welcome area
Possible have a GUEST reception area
Avoid anything that references “members only”…this is polarizing
Train your teams to identify and greet guests. Be creative, but not overbearing.
Prepare your facility for a great guest experience…not just the “special” things (aspects I consider “Second Mile” hospitality) like a free gift card or t-shirt or free coffee or mints in the restroom. But also what I call the “First Mile” standards like:
Adequate paper products in the restrooms. Is it more important to your guests to have mints or toilet paper? This is no joke. The lack of one will make a big impression!
Clean facilities. This tells a lot to a guest as to what you value…and if you don’t value your facility when expecting guests, how can you expect them to think you will value them? This includes odors.
Trash receptacles emptied regularly. Aromatic hand soap is cool in a restroom…I like it. But not if the trash cans are overflowing with waste.
Things work. This is everything from the toilets, to sinks, to lights, to HVAC, to sound system, to TV monitors, to ________ (you fill in the blank).
These simple…but intentional adjustments...can transform your guest’s experience. If we believe that our “church” is actually not for those regularly attending but rather for those not here yet, then why would we not take steps to make this the best experience ever?
Have you ever found yourself, in the midst of unimaginable grief, pain, heartache, or despair, wondering how you are going to make it through another day? Wondering where your next breath is going to come from? Your world has crumbled beneath you and you are left feeling shattered, empty, and hopeless.
And then a well meaning friend or family member comes along and drops the infamous “Everything happens for a reason” bomb. You smile kindly and nod- that’s all you can do to keep yourself from punching them in the face.
You can’t possibly imagine a reason for what just happened.
The more you stew about a possible reason for your pain, the angrier you become. You try desperately to make sense of a situation that won’t ever make sense. You reach for answers but none come.
I spent years searching for answers, trying to find reasons that would bring an end to my pain. I thought that if I could find the cause, I could treat the condition. But what I found through years of searching, experiencing, and living is that often there is no reason for why tragedy has occurred.
Sometimes bad things happen for no reason other than we are human beings having a human experience. Pain, heartache, grief, loss, disease, and death are inevitable parts of the human experience.
We hear people say “Life dealt me a crappy hand” as if pain and hardships are not the norm. We assume that life is supposed to be easy and when things don’t go our way, we feel like we have been wronged. Human beings seem to have an innate sense of entitlement. We think that we are owed a pain free existence.
But the truth is that human beings are not exempt from the human experience. And struggle is an innate part of the human experience. None of us are exceptions to this rule. We all struggle. We all suffer. We all experience pain, heartache, and loss. And sometimes, there’s just no reason other than we are human and pain is a part of the process.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who was struggling to find peace with “God’s plan” for her life including the recent death of a loved one.
“How could this possibly be God’s will?” she asked.
God’s plan is never for someone to have cancer. God’s will is not for an innocent child to be brutally murdered. God’s will is not for a teenage girl to be raped. God’s will is not chronic pain, illness, disability, or death.
God’s will is not an event that happens to us, it’s how we respond to what happens.
God’s will for us is to walk with Him through the cancer. Through the abuse. Through the death. Through the illness. God’s will is for us to draw close to him in the midst of pain. God’s will is for us to use our painful life events to carry his message of hope, grace, forgiveness, and mercy.
God’s plan was never for pain to be part of the human experience. His plan was for us to live in peace and harmony with Him. The human experience became painful when sin entered the world. Our own free will weaved threads of tragedy, loss, heartache, and pain into the human experience
God is not responsible for our pain. We are not responsible for our pain. What happened in the Garden of Eden is responsible for the human condition. And the human condition is hard wired for pain and suffering. God is not causing us to hurt. He is hurting with us. What we do with our hurt is what matters. How we handle tragedy is what brings purpose into our pain.
There’s hardly ever a justifiable reason for the bad things that happen in life. Tragic loss is not laced with inherent specs of good. I used to get so mad when people would say, “you can find good in every situation.” That’s just not true. There was nothing good about being raped. There is no good in murder or abuse. We have to create the good. We have to choose to respond in a way that brings good into an impossible situation. We have to choose to give purpose and meaning to our suffering.
Not everything happens for a reason. But in everything that happens, there can be a reason to bring hope and healing to others. God can use our pain for a greater good if we choose to let Him in.