The new year is traditionally a time for reflecting on life and setting goals. We’ve compiled these five excerpts and graphics to encourage and enable people during this season. Feel free to use these excerpts and graphics on your website or blog if you’d like to. We suggest posting one per week, starting after Christmas.
- Resolve to Love by Kerry and Chris Shook
- This Year: Dream Bigger, Start Smaller by Steven Furtick
- Learning the Art of Self-challenge by Jason Jaggard
- Starting the New Year with a Fresh Perspective by Mike Glenn
- Putting Your Faith in Action by Nick Vujicic
Right now, there are three relationships in your life that trouble you. Perhaps a good friend said something to you yesterday. It felt critical, but youre not sure what she meant. The two of you used to be so close, but lately youve been drifting apart. Somethings not right. Oh, and your mother called. Theres that. You know you should return her call, but you havent. Why? You know there are things you should have said before, you avoided them, and now you feel its too late. Its always so hard with her. Always messy. And then…your son has been missing. Not missing physically, but hes been distant, quiet, silent. Missing emotionally. Whats that about? Whats going on in his life? You want to reach out, but he pushes you away. It worries you.
Maybe the relationships in your life arent exactly like these, but Im guessing these remind you of someone close to you, a problem relationship in your life right now. Maybe its not your mother but your father, perhaps not your son but a daughter-in-law. It could be your best friend. Whoever it is, he or she is someone who matters to youor else the relationship wouldnt trouble you, gnaw at you on the inside, make you question and grumble, or even bring you to tears.
So take a moment and think, who are these three key people in your life? Which meaningful relationships are troubling you? Relationships you wish were closer. Relationships youd like to be deeper and richer. Relationships that trouble you, bother you, even make you a little crazy right now.
Seriously, think about it. Who are they? And now take a moment to name these three key relationships out loud.
Trust me, this is important for you. In fact, this may be the most significant thing you do in your life right now. Why?
Because life is way too short. At the end of the dayat the end of The Dayin this all-too-short life we share, all that really matters is relationships. Our relationships with the God who created us and with the people we love. Compared to these relationships, the job or career goals we set now arent really so important, the ladders we try to climb dont matter so much, and the objects we long to own and possess seem utterly trivial.
What really counts in the end is that special knowing look you share with your spouse, the arms of your child reaching up to you, or the quiet comfort of a friend who stands by your side in a difficult time.
The award-winning animated movie Up contains some profound truths about relationships. In a breathtaking sequence early in the film, we see the entire arc of the life of Carl, a balloon salesman, as he meets Ellie, falls in love, and gets married. They share a dream to travel to South America and save every penny for their big trip. But theres something familiar about the way their savings are constantly being used for the urgencies and emergencies of daily life. Before Carl and Ellie know it, theyre in their seventies, and although they have a beautiful marriage, they never realized their dream adventure.
Ellie dies, and Carl is overwhelmed with regret about the trip they never took. In a desperate attempt to escape loneliness and recapture memories of Ellie, Carl attaches a bunch of balloons to his house and sets out for South America!
You begin to realize as the movie progresses that this dream trip they were saving for, this object of their future plan together, wasnt really that important after all. The real adventure was the life they shared along the way.
The same is true for us: the adventure of a lifetime is right in front of us. Its just cleverly disguised as a familiar face.
Think about the possible loss of the relationship with one of those three people you named. You cant do anything about death and the physical departure of one of them from this earth. Thats in Gods hands.
But you can do something about your relationship with them in life.
Much of what youve been told about relationships is upside down and wrong.
Researchers tell us that a baby sees everything upside down for the first few days of life until the brain can adjust the visual picture to right side up. Most relationships today are stuck in this same infant stage; we tend to see relationships upside down, and our culture only reinforces this view. The concept of love at first sight permeates our music, movies, television, and books. What we learn as children and continue to believe as adults is that a fairy-tale relationship somehow just happens. Now, Im not bashing romance, but meaningful relationships depend on seeing other people as they are and looking at them right side up. Real lovewhether romantic love, a close friendship, or a family relationshiphappens long after first sight. It shows up as people get to know each other more deeply and often after they work through tough things together. Real love in relationships isnt a magic act; its a journey.
When people say, It was love at first sight, what they really mean is I was attracted to that person the first time I saw them. There is nothing wrong with being infatuated with someone at the start of a relationship. The real question, however, is, do you have a love that is growing stronger and deeper every day?
I dont believe in love at first sight; I believe in love at last sight. Each of my relationships has the potential to be better the next time were together than it was the previous time so that the last time we see each other on this earth were closer than ever before.
Id like you to join me in the Lasting Love Relationship Challenge. The book One Month to Love is the challenge, and you can do it on your own. Just read a chapter each day. There are thirty chapters, theyre short, and you can probably read one a day pretty easily. At the end of each chapter youll find the Lasting Love Relationship Challenge, which is designed to help you take the insights from that day and apply them to your key relationships. Also you can log on to onemonthtolove.com each day to access our personal coaching and get extra encouragement and advice or share your story. Our goal is to come alongside you to help you create the very best relationships possible. Lets resolve to love this year!
Adapted from One Month to Love by Kerry and Chris Shook with permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House LLC All rights reserved.
Ive met a lot of people who knew what it was to burn plows and set out to live for God but didnt know what to do next. They prayed, they made a commitmentand they got stuck. As a pastor, Ive seen it over and over again. As a man trying to live for God, Ive experienced it over and over again.
Im guessing youve made plenty of resolutions about stuff you needed to start doing or stop doing. Maybe you were going to start praying or reading your Bible more.
Or maybe you were going to stop smoking or boycott carbohydrates or stop looking at pornography or stop saying mean things about family members behind their backs. Maybe you decided to break away from a relationship you knew was unhealthy for you.
The way I see it, there are two major reasons why well-intentioned people like us get stuck after we burn our plows.
One, we dont think big enough. Two, we dont start small enough.
Im not trying to talk like Yoda here. Thinking big enough and starting small enough are two sides of the same coin. So I not only want to motivate you to dream bigger dreams for your life. I also want to challenge you to take realistic steps of obedience that can actually make Gods vision come to pass.
After all, our God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). It is true that we often settle for dreams and visions that are far less than those God has for us. And He wants us to experience much more. If I didnt believe that, the title of this book would be Samer.
So of course God wants you to believe bigits in His very nature. Ive devoted my whole ministry to inspiring people with this truth. Preacher Dwight L. Moody made a statement that I love: If God is your partner, make your plans big. That way of thinking makes my heart race.
But were not going to see Gods bigger vision fulfilled in our lives just because we spend more time thinking transcendent thoughts. We dont attain greater things simply by lying on the couch and concentrating on the possibilities of a better life. Alas, sitting for thousands of hours with my headphones on listening to Guns N Roses and imagining I was Axl Rose didnt translate into my being the lead singer of the worlds most dangerous rocknroll band.
You do have to be willing to think big. But the active ingredient of Gods greater work through us is our willingness to start small.
I want to show you an incredible image in one of the first main-stage miracles Elisha performs after Elijah departs and leaves the ministry in his successors hands. It demonstrates the principle that small steps and hard work precipitate a move of God. That human action prepares the way for supernatural favor.
It comes from 2 Kings 3, and it goes like this:
King Joram is ruling over Israel during the years when the kingdom is divided. When the king of Moab rebels against him, the frightened king enlists King Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom to help him. Their combined military force should be fearsome against the Moabitesbut they almost immediately run out of water for their armies and animals. Now they are preparing to face a terrifying foe while facing an even more terrifying fate: dying of thirst.
Par for the course in Israels history, the crisis drives King Joram to look for divine help. He isnt desperate for God, but he is desperate for a solution. King Jehoshaphat asks if there is a prophet who could consult God for them. A servant reminds him of Elisha, the artist formerly known as Mr. Plow. So the three kings and their entourages go looking for Elisha.
Elisha confirms to the kings that water will flow from Edom by the time the sun comes up the next morning. Their armies and their animals will have plenty to drink. The drought is almost over. God is going to deliver Moab to His people just as they prayed for. Hallelujah, somebody?
But he tells the kings to take a small, ludicrous step first.
This is what the Lord says: Make this valley full of ditches. (verse 16)
Why would anybody in their right mind dig ditches to hold rain that isnt even in the forecast?
Because thats the way faith works. When you know God has promised you greater things, you dont wait for a sign to appear before you respond. The kings wanted a miracle. They would get their miracle. But first they got a work order: This is no time for the power of positive thinking. Tie a bandanna around your head and pick up a shovel.
It would have been great if all the army had to do was sit around thinking hydration-related thoughts or had a few guided exercises to help them visualize the water. But thats not how God operates.
Its as if God says, If you really believe Im going to do what I told you I would do, get busy. Show Me your faith, and then Ill show you My faithfulness. Do your part. If you will do what I asked you to do, I will be faithful to My word.
If youll dig the ditches, Ill send the rain.
The entire nation must have pitched in and dug all night, because they got it done. The next morning the water arrived. As promised. As always. The newly installed ditches were full of water, the armies and animals were refreshed, and the joint army easily overtook the Moabites.
I think Elisha used the process of ditch digging to teach Israel this important paradox of great faith:
Only God can send the rain. But He expects you to dig the ditches.
It really comes down to this: What small steps and practical preparations is God asking you to make for the greater life He wants you to live? What ditches is He asking you to dig?
You cant expect God to entrust you with a big dream if He cant trust you to make a small start.
You cant have the apostle Pauls walk with God overnight. Big dream.
But you can pray ten minutes a day beginning tomorrow. Small start.
You cant entirely mend a broken relationship overnight. Big dream.
But you can have a conversation and open the door, write the letter, make the call, say, Im sorry. Small start.
If your kid is far from God, you cant bring him back overnight. Big dream.
But you could start praying for him every day. Small start.
Notice what Elisha doesnt say; he doesnt tell the kings to dig one ditch. No singular ditch digging on this prophets watch.
Instead, make this valley full of ditches. Plural.
Believe that God is going to send a lot of rain.
If we really believe God is an abundant God, ready and willing to bless our lives in greater ways than we could ever imagine, we ought to be digging all kinds of ditches. In our relationships. In our careers. In our ministries. In every area of our lives, there ought to be heavy-duty equipment on site. Moving dirt. Making preparation.
And we ought to dig ditches using every means available. We can dig ditches with our words. With our prayers. With our expectations. Even with our thoughts.
How many ditches are you willing to dig? How deep will you dig them? Youre not digging alone. And its not in vain. God has a downpour scheduled in your near future. The deeper you dig, the greater the rainfall has the potential to be.
Adapted from Greater by Steven Furtick with permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House LLC All rights reserved.
Learning the Art of Self-challenge by Jason Jaggard
Through taking healthy risks that make you a better person or the world a better place, you begin to develop a deeper appetite for good. At first it might not be very tasty. Taking even a small risk can be more difficult than it sounds. And that is why we have to practice. We have to develop the skill of challenging ourselves.
We want the act of making healthy choices to become a natural and authentic part of who we are. But before something can become a habit, it often is a hassle. Put another way: if we want new habits to become instinctual, then they must first be intentional. And in order for that to happen, we have to practice the sacred art of self-challenge.
I dont want to freak you out, but what were really talking about is obedience. Obedience to God is the path that leads to Life. Its the path that transforms you into the person you long to be.
And obedience always requires risk.
Whats amazing is that much of our obedience is instinctual. In at least some areas of life, we naturally make healthy choices. We naturally smile at a stranger, or perhaps we have a great work ethic or are naturally curious or easygoing.
Yet we cant define obedience solely in terms of what comes naturally. Often our greatest moments of obedience come when it is least natural. Perhaps our natural tendency in certain situations is unhealthy or hurtful. Or perhaps what we naturally want to do is nothing, to avoid taking action when action is called for. In these moments we have to choose something else, something we dont want to do, something that, most likely, will move us into the space of the unknown.
I want to be a person who is able to actwho is able to obeyeven when its unnatural.
Intentionality and risk are the ways we develop a greater capacity to obey. When we say, Im going to do this thing that I wouldnt normally do, we are developing the capacity to grow into the people we were meant to be.
When Jesus invited people to follow Him, He was inviting them to obey Him. There are parts of you that already reflect Gods character, parts of your uniqueness that are expressions of something God wanted to say when He created you. Those are already consistent with following Jesus.
Maybe its your smile.
Maybe its your way with people.
Maybe its your work ethic.
Maybe its your sense of right and wrong.
Maybe its your intelligence or your curiosity for life.
Maybe its your sense of responsibility or your flare for fun.
These things are good just the way they are. Its easy to obey when God calls us to things we naturally love. When God calls us to the stuff we already like (which happens a lot more than we realize), its one of the great pleasures of life.
Risk is the central narrative of the scriptures. When I do Spark Group trainings with faith communities, I always have participants do this exercise:
1. Pick any person in the scriptures that comes to mind.
2. Identify the risk God called that person to take.
This is surprisingly easy. And once people get going, its hard to get them to stop. Abraham: stopped living with his parents at age seventy and moved into no mans land to start his own nation. Moses: even with a speech impediment, he stood up to the most powerful man in the world to liberate an enslaved people. Mary: endured the shame of people assuming she had been unfaithful to her fiancé. Joseph: remained committed to a teenage girl, his fiancée, who in the eyes of their neighbors and extended family was almost certainly an adulteress.
The apostle Paul.
The twelve fellas who quit their jobs to follow Jesus, most of whom were later killed for doing so.
The people whose stories are recorded in the history of the scriptures all took risksoften huge risksto be a part of what God was doing in the world. It seems like a prerequisite for being mentioned in the narrative of the movement of God is the willingness and courage to risk.
Like Gods people throughout history, we can jump into life in ways that only we can so that God can move in ways we cannot. Call it faith if you want, but in terms of everyday life, its risk. And its through risk that God can change our lives.
Faith. Love. Hope.
Risk. Compassion. Optimism.
When we begin to live out these values, we create a context that is thick with potential. When we have the courage to take risks of compassion that produce optimism in others, we create space for God to move and work. We begin to form our souls into the kind of textured lives that gives God traction to guide us into the future He dreamed we could participate in. And we become fully alive.
This is what Jesus did two thousand years ago. He assembled a team and spent three years with them, throwing them into the deep end of serving humanity. Coaching them. Teaching them. And then He kept saying weird things, such as Have faith in me and you will do greater things than what I have done.
And then, before He turned His followers and friends loose to serve humanity on Gods behalf, He said: Go, create cultures of servant leadership, of risk, compassion, and optimism out of every society.
He looked into the eyes of folks like you and me and said, Go. Risk. Care. Create.
Just like the people youve read about in this book, you have ideas that need to be set free. God has placed potential inside you, potential for creative joy and love, strength and peace. And all of that needs to be unleashed.
So risk. Choose something. Do something. Partner together with God and others to pull off something beautiful that serves humanity. It will be hard. You will experience failure. But I promise, you will never regret it.
As Steven Ma put it: Its definitely a challenge. Its definitely a risk. But most important: its fun.
This is the way the world heals. It is the way God has chosen to move through the contours of history. He has chosen our hearts, our feet, our fingertips. Some people will hear Gods voice only if it sounds like ours, inviting them into the adventure of hope that we have been invited into.
This is how we spark our world. When we begin to realize that learning is a verb and that life is the best classroom. When we begin taking risks of compassion in the context of community. When we start intentionally leaning into our relationships, our careers, our faith. When we step outside of our comfort zones and experience a life that can exist only if God is with us.
Our world will begin to change.
One small risk at a time.
Adapted from Spark by Jason Jaggard with permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC All rights reserved.
In the story of the prodigal son, Luke uses a curious phrase when the younger son realizes what he has lost and determines to go home. The King James Version translates the phrase, He came to himself. That phrase has always fascinated me. How do you come to yourself? Can you set yourself down somewhere and then forget where you left yourself? Actually, it is something like that. We can become so buried under mistakes and failure, stuffed under grief and regret, that we get to the place where we no longer recognize ourselves. But Gods yes changes all that. When the Spirit changes our true identity in Christ, we leave behind everything that is false and start walking toward the truth of Christ and who he created us to be.
Changing your mind
Walking away from the lies and destruction of sin is very close to the practical meaning of biblical repentance. It goes far beyond feeling bad about your sinall the way to literally changing the direction of your life. And to change your life, you have to change the way you think. A change in your lifes direction means you stop fighting the current of Gods grace that flows in your spirit. Now you start flowing with the current of grace. As you reorient your life in the direction of Gods leading, you find your efforts are amplified through the Spirits presence in the same way an ocean current enhances the work of a ships sails.
When we talk about Christian conversion, we emphasize feelings of conviction and a decision to confess our sins and seek forgiveness. But we dont stress the essential role played by our thinking. The problem that results is we dont change the way we think, so we end up not changing our behavior. For a total transformation of a persons life, the mind as well as the heart must change. We live the way we do because we think the way we do. The mess is in our heads before it is in our lives, but it moves from the mind to daily life.
This changes when we ask Christ to renew our minds, to alter the way we think. We need to allow our minds to be completely transformed. Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Gods mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Godthis is your true and proper worship. When your mind is transformed, your life will follow.
I am not naive. I understand the lure of sin and the effectiveness of its deceptions. And I am familiar with the consequences of sin. I have sat with large numbers of people and listened as they recognized and talked through the harmful consequences of their actions. When the cost of their failures sinks in, it is devastating. A mans infidelity cost him his wife and children. For a few minutes of pleasure, he traded away a future with his family. It takes only one incident to disrupt a friendship, a career, a family, a life. Lies are told, discovered, and confessed in tears, but how can a person regain trust? Sin looks good in the moment but only because its hiding the future consequences.
Im convinced we dont understand the total impact of salvation. We make it about feelings or a one-time decision to confess our sins and trust in Christs death and resurrection. But to live a new life, to be completely transformed, our salvation has to be about the total person, including our minds.
Changing your frame of reference
If in obedience to Christ we are going to make different choices, we have to adopt Christs way of looking at things. God will create a new mind in you and me, but we have to join willingly in the process. And part of thinking differently is letting go of old assumptions and preferences and accepting the preferences of God.
In Acts 10 we read the story of the early church hearing from God a yes that led to its dropping of ethnic barriers. A Roman centurion named Cornelius was praying, and in his prayers he was told to find a man named Peter. Peter, in the meantime, also was praying. In his prayers Peter saw a vision of a sheet holding all kinds of animalsand they werent kosher. Although Peter was told to kill and eat, he refused. Again the vision came, and again Peter refused to eat. Each time, Jesus confronted Peter with the following rebuke: Do not call anything impure that God has made clean. Only when Corneliuss messengers appeared at his gate did Peter begin to understand the message of the vision. Nothing created by God, people most of all, can ever be called unclean.
God created Gentiles just as he did Jews, and no oneGentiles includedwas inferior to anyone else. God loves those outside the nation of Israel on a par with the descendants of Abraham. Having grown up under the influence of Jewish traditions and biases, Peter must have had difficulty processing this. But to his credit, he was obedient to Christ and changed the way he thought about these matters. And not just the way he thought, but his life and his preaching as well.
Free of condemnation
There are two reasons we should not condemn others or ourselves. First, we all are created in the image of God. And second, Christ died for sinners. This is the price God was willing to pay for our redemption. We are called to live in the glory of knowing what we are worth. And when we dont, we damage ourselves, one another, and the world we live in. Sin devalues us as people and causes us to see others and all creation as lacking worth. Sin negates the good work Christ does in us and in the world. Where Christ speaks yes, sin says no.
We have things in our lives that cause shame or grief, and they act as a giant but to the good news of Christ. He promises us new life, which sounds great, but…my family business went bankrupt after I misspent some accounts. I was going to pay it back, but then everything collapsed. And suddenly we forget the promise of Christ. He promises forgiveness and second chances, but its hard to believe the second chance could still apply after the things weve done.
Why do we think that we alone committed a sin so horrible it exceeds Jesuss ability to forgive? This kind of thinking is the ultimate heresy. What we are saying is the death of Jesus was payment enough for everyone elses sins, but our sin is so monstrous that his death isnt enough to cover it.
Let Christ change the way you think so you can let go of that lie. Jesus paid it all. No part of the debt has been left for you or me to pay by working hard to clean up our own lives. On our own we cant get clean enough to impress God. Whatever we might try, we will always be unworthy of his love. The gift of Gods yes in Christ is unearned, given to us freely. Our relationship with God is not a contract; it is a covenant, a bond of mutual love and commitment. In this covenant the parties are not equal, but the arrangement is mutual. Christ died for us and offers us his salvation, and we accept what he did for us as a free gifton his terms.
Christ opens the door; we need only to walk through it. We then live our lives in loving response to Gods grace expressed in Jesus. This is the mutual love and commitment of the covenant. Yet, for some reason, we have a hard time believing the gift of salvation is free. Who would give away something like that? So we think we have to earn it.
Adapted from The Gospel of Yes by Mike Glenn with permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC All rights reserved.
Having faith, beliefs, and convictions is a great thing, but your life is measured by the actions you take based upon them. You can build a great life around those things you believe and have faith in. Ive built mine around my belief that I can inspire and bring hope to people facing challenges in their lives. That belief is rooted in my faith in God. I have faith that He put me on this earth to love, inspire, and encourage others and especially to help all who are willing to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I believe that I can never earn my way to heaven, and by faith I accept the gift of the forgiveness of sins through Christ Jesus. However, theres so much more than just getting in through the Pearly Gates. It is also about seeing others changed by the power of His Holy Spirit, having a close relationship with Jesus Christ throughout this life, and then being further rewarded in heaven.
Being born without arms and legs was not Gods way of punishing me. I know that now. I have come to realize that this disability would actually heighten my ability to serve His purpose as a speaker and evangelist. You might be tempted to think that Im making a huge leap of faith to feel that way, since most people consider my lack of limbs a huge handicap. Instead, God has used my lack of limbs to draw people to me, especially others with disabilities, so I can inspire and encourage them with my messages of faith, hope, and love.
In the Bible, James said that our actions, not our words, are the proof of our faith. He wrote in James 2:18, Now someone may argue, Some people have faith; others have good deeds. But I say, How can you show me your faith if you dont have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.
Ive heard it said that our actions are to our faith and beliefs as our bodies are to our spirits. Your body is the housing of your spirit, the evidence of its existence. In the same way, your actions are the evidence of your faith and beliefs. You have no doubt heard the term walking the talk. Your family, friends, teachers, bosses, coworkers, customers, and clients all expect you to act and live in alignment with the beliefs and convictions that you claim to have. If you dont, they will call you out, wont they?
Our peers judge us not by what we say but by what we do. If you claim to be a good wife and mother, then you sometimes will have to put your familys interests above your own. If you believe your purpose is to share your artistic talents with the world, then you will be judged on the works you produce, not on those you merely propose. You have to walk the talk; otherwise you have no credibility with othersor with yourselfbecause you, too, should demand that your actions match your words. If they dont, you will never live in harmony and fulfillment.
As a Christian, I believe the final judge of how weve lived is God. The Bible teaches that His judgment is based on our actions, not our words. Revelation 20:12 says, And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. I act upon my beliefs by traveling the world and encouraging people to love one another and to love God. I am fulfilled in that purpose. I truly believe it is why I was created. When you act upon your beliefs and put your faith into action, you, too, will experience fulfillment. And please, do not be discouraged if you arent always absolutely confident in your purpose and how to act upon it. I have struggled. I still struggle. And so will you. I fail and am far from perfect. But deeds are merely the fruitthe result of the depth of a true conviction of the truth. Truth is what sets us free, not purpose. I found my purpose because I was looking for truth.
It is hard to find purpose or good in difficult circumstances, but that is the journey. Why did it have to be a journey? Why couldnt a helicopter just pick you up and carry you to the finish line? Because throughout the difficult times, you will learn more, grow more in faith, love God more, and love your neighbor more. It is the journey of faith that begins in love and ends in love.
Frederick Douglass, the American slave turned social activist, said, If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Your character is formed by the challenges you face and overcome. Your courage grows when you face your fears. Your strength and your faith are built as they are tested in your life experiences.
Adapted from Unstoppable by Nick Vujicic with permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC All rights reserved.