New Life in Christ Weekender
A short reminder of events happening this weekend
December 30, 2015
Why Goals and Resolutions Don’t Work and Leave us Discouraged
by Pastor Sean
With the New Year right around the corner, people all across the world will be setting resolutions. We have already begun to hear the health resolutions; about the six-pack abs and the plans to go to the gym? I’ve already gotten bunches of gym membership advertisements in the mail.
As you know for yourself, “resolutions” don’t usually work. The manager at my gym pessimistically commented that he expects 60-70 people to sign up for new memberships over the next week and that by March, none of them will be using the gym anymore. We know through experience that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). We may even cry out with the apostle Paul “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18).
New Year’s Resolutions have a bad reputation. They are also frustrating. When we fail to accomplish these goals we feel tired and discouraged. We give up on the whole idea of having goals. We lose the vision for our lives and we stop taking the small steps of faithfulness we need to live in obedience to God.
As followers of Jesus Christ we make God’s plan for our lives into our own personal goals. Beyond the physical/health goals that our culture pushes, we need some spiritual goals for the year ahead. But experience shows us that we need more than the goal itself.
There are three things critical for accomplishing any goal: personal motivation, social motivation, and structural motivation. To put this in other words: you need to want it yourself, you need other people to pursue the goal with, and you need a plan to keep going.
As I was working on this, I received an email from Caroline Pilgrim (a member of our church, leader of our UMW college ministry and an amazing young lady). It demonstrates these three factors perfectly. She said (edited slightly),
If any of you are considering starting a new Bible plan for 2016, let me know! Accountability is the key and I'm kind of good at "gentle" nudges to keep going. As a kid, I had to read my Bible everyday. At dinner, my dad would ask, "Did you feed your soul?" If we hadn't read our Bible I had to leave the table and go read (usually Psalm 117, look it up to see why). After we read through our entire Bible, my dad would take us shopping for a gift worth up to $100. It kept me on track and allowed me to read my Bible at least 7-8 times as a kid. Bribery works, people.
Let me break down her email really quick. First, she assumes (and encourages) the personal motivation of Bible reading. Every Christian should want to read the Bible for themselves. (A disinterest in knowing the Bible personally is a sign of coldness toward God and is a spiritually dangerous place. If you have a lack of interest in reading the Bible, ask God to give you a new heart to hear His Word.) So let’s assume the personal desire.
Second, she offers accountability. She offers encouragement (and a bit of pressure) to read the Bible. This is what believers do. The body of Christ challenges us to live a godly life. Sociologists, personal development gurus, and entrepreneurs all recognize the power of our community. They know that we will tend to become the kind of people we are around. We will do similar things to the people we surround yourself with. One man says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Entrepreneurs use this to talk about salary (you will move toward the salary of the five people you spend the most time with), but couldn’t this hold for godliness and character as well?
(Parents, take this seriously as you play the primary role in the spiritual formation of your children.)
As followers of Christ, we want to be like Christ and the only place to find the social support is the church of Jesus Christ. Godliness is God’s goal for us, and it ought to be our goal for ourselves as well. That’s why it is very important to put yourself under the influence of God’s people as much as you can. And if you want to read the Bible this year, gather together with other people who want to read the Bible too. With others you can find motivational conversation, encouragement, and accountability.
Third, she mentions her plan. Part of the structural aspect of goal setting is to have an action plan. The goal is not enough. You need a plan. New Year's resolutions are often goals without plans. This is a recipe for failure. The plan is more important than any goal. You live the plan, you don’t live the goal.
First, how will you accomplish your goal? For Bible reading, you need to know what to read each day. Don’t make it up that day, have a plan. I have a bunch of ideas listed below. You should always leave your Bible in an accessible place (next to your bed, in your quiet space, on your phone, whatever) and know what to read next. Second, when will you do it? I suggest reading and praying first thing when you wake up or last thing at night. You’ll have to find your plan. I also suggest that every household end one family meal per day with Bible reading and prayer (again, keep a Bible or a devotional by the dinner table for easy access).
In her plan she also mentions incentive. This is a sort of structural support for continuing in our plan. God has made us to be positively motivated by rewards and negatively motivated by negative consequences. As a child, the $100 gift was a huge motivator for her to read her Bible. It obviously helped. If you have a goal, do you have a reward if you accomplish it?
One of the recent areas of sociological study is something called “gamification”. Make something into a kind of “game” and it makes people more motivated to keep going. It takes some research on the power of video-games and applies it to shaping good habits. Researchers find that it works. One phone app I recommend makes daily exercise a game. If you do it daily, you unlock certain benefits. But if you skip, you have to start all over. I know people who have been using this app for months. We use something called Khan Academy for our children’s math education, which operates on the same principle.
There are Bible-reading apps that do similar things (see below).
What about some disincentive? Is there a consequence if you don’t carry out your plan? Negative incentives provide strong motivation. What will you lose if you don’t follow the steps of your plan? In the above email, this young woman talks about the disincentive that comes from skipping out on Bible … missing dinner, or at least being excused from the table for a while.
I’ve heard of other disincentives. One author advocates making a donation to an opposing political candidate if you don’t meet your goal! While I am not saying you should do that (for conscience reasons), I think many of you feel strong enough about your politics that I KNOW this kind of disincentive would get you to complete your goal! It is interesting to note that researchers have found that negative incentives are usually more powerful than positive ones. I even heard of one inventor who has a little bracelet that shocks you when you do something you shouldn’t be doing or going where you shouldn’t. I think that is extreme, but it shows how businesses try to tap into the power of disincentive.
The Bible is full of incentives and disincentives if you think about it. The most glaring and obvious ones are heaven and hell (Matthew 25:31-46 comes to mind). I have found that most people I know received Christ because they were afraid of going to hell. Talk about a huge disincentive! There is none bigger. Secondarily (or alternatively), they want to go to heaven. I have found it strange that the fear of hell is greater than the desire for heaven, but I have to admit that this same fear got me started in the Christian life. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” You have to weigh this out. Heaven and hell are eternal. You don’t want to go to hell and suffer eternally, do you? The joys of heaven are much more preferable, and the joys never end.
Now, just like the law of God was given to the nation of Israel as a teacher to bring them to maturity (Galatians 3:23-25), incentives like these are primarily helpful when we are growing in a new pattern of life.
Over time, as we continue to grow, we will continue good practices because they please God and help other people and that is our ultimate desire. Eventually, the incentive of our spiritual disciplines becomes our desire for close communion with God. The desire to avoid hell will not carry a person to spiritual maturity. Nor is it sufficient for eternal life and heaven. Our faith must mature beyond that into a desire for a relationship with God Himself. When it comes to practices like daily Bible reading, they must move toward a motivation to live in close daily communion with God. In the above email, now that this young woman is an adult, she no longer fears missing dinner, but she still reads her Bible.
So, while we are learning and growing, incentives and disincentives can be very helpful tools. They teach us and train us until we want to move beyond the need of incentive. Caroline tells how she finished the Bible 7-8 times as a child. Can you say “WOW”?!
These three components are critical for spiritual disciples as well as physical ones. I want to have good health. I am far from where I want to be, but my improvements exist because these things are in place:
My Christian growth has followed a very similar pattern. I want to know and honor God in the obedience of faith. I need God’s people to help me keep moving toward Him (Hebrews 10:25). I have a plan to do this: Word, sacrament, prayer - both corporately (weekly worship services) and privately. In this I find that growth in the Christian life is simple (but not necessarily easy). But it does take denial and discipline.
Goals and resolutions don’t work when we leave them entirely to personal motivation. In our spiritual goals, we need God and His people to help us make godly goals and to keep them. We need a plan so to keep us on track and to keep us moving ahead. The Spirit, the Church, and the Word. These three gifts help us grow spiritually in 2016 and into the future. Take advantage of each of these as you become the person God wants you to be!
New Year 2016: Making the Year Count for You and Your Family
by Pastor Sean
Over the past two weeks I shared two parts of a 5-part worship action plan for you as you look ahead to your goals for the year to come. Remember, goals don’t matter as much as the action plan you create to grow in godliness over the year.
So, I’ve been suggesting practical goals that will help you live a life of worship, goals that will help you live a more godly life. They are pretty simple goals, and you may have thought of them already, but the impact of this simple plan will have a massive long-term effect upon your life and the life of your family.
If you missed each one you can click on the links below or pick up a copy of the book Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship and read chapter 13.
The first action item was to “Go to church every week (even on vacation), fifty-two weeks this year, and sit together with your family.”
If you have a family, this is especially important. I wanted to add this bold promise to this action item.
The first and primary key to your family’s spiritual health is a commitment to the weekly public worship services of the church. The most important single commitment you must make to ensure your family’s spiritual well-being is to regular, consistent attendance at public worship.
Sound farfetched? I will say it even stronger. I have yet to meet a person for whom it could not be said that all of his or her problems--personal, marital, familial, or vocational--would not be solved by such a commitment. I do not believe that the person for whom this is not true exists. By saying so, I do not minimize the seriousness of the problems that people face. Rather, I maximize our confidence in the power of the gospel. So will say it again: we do not know of anyone of whom it could not be said, if only he or she were in worship week in and week out, fifty-two weeks a year, year after year, that his or her problems would be basically solved.
Ligon Duncan and Terry Johnson in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship (p. 329)
The second action item was to “Honor the Lord’s Day”. How do we respond to the frenetic pace of modern life?
What can we do? Slow down. Stay home. Quit running mindlessly all over town. Limit yourself. And do this: Commit yourself to the Lord’s Day in the Lord’s house, and little else outside of the home will be necessary for the cultivation of a thriving spiritual life. The Puritans referred to the Lord’s Day as “the market day of the soul.” Six days a week one buys and sells for the sake of one’s body. Sunday however we are to “trade” in spiritual commodities for the sake of our souls. All secular affairs are to be set aside.
Ligon Duncan and Terry Johnson in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship (p. 332)
The third action item is “Attend Evening Worship”. Consider this bold statement:
If we believe the whole day is the Lord’s Day, then it ought to be framed with worship. Morning and evening worship in the Reformed tradition is the single most powerful and effective total congregational discipleship program in the history of Christianity. I have never known a family that was faithful in Sunday evening attendance in an evangelical church that, when the great crisis of life came, did not weather the storm and walk in faith and perseverance.
Ligon Duncan and Terry Johnson in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship (p. 323)
New Year 2016: A Bible Reading Action Plan
by Pastor Sean
Jesus says "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Luke 21:33) If we are to believe Jesus here, we quickly realize that there is nothing more eternally valuable than committing to reading the inspired Word of God in 2016. To help you invest your time in such a valuable endeavor, let me challenge you read more of the Bible in 2016 than you did in 2015.
Key to any successful plan of Bible-intake, you need a time, a place, and a plan. In this Weekender, I want to give you a good plan to follow by providing a number of resources on the internet.
First, my personal favorite has always been the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan, and I have used it many times over the past 15 years. It still is my top recommendation for reading through the entire Bible as it makes reading through the Bible very accessible.
Second, the ESV Study Bible Daily Bible Reading Plan. It is a lot more aggressive than the Discipleship Journal plan, as it has you reading certain books twice: Psalms, Isaiah, Luke, and Romans.
Third, if you are looking for a helpful but less intensive plan because you are worried about not being able to finish, I would recommend the New Testament in a Year Plan, especially if you have never read the entire New Testament. The life and testimony of Jesus is so important, that we cannot even think that we will grow in Christ without a growing familiarity of the New Testament. We includes this Plan in our January 2016 newsletter (out last Sunday) if you want to pick one up.
While I recommend one of the three plans above for your reading in 2016, there are bunches of other plans available too. I'll quickly mention some.
Fourth, the one that has intrigued me the most, but I haven’t done yet, is the chronological Bible reading plan where each section of each book is read in its historical order. A handful of people in our church have done this with great encouragement. I need to see Jesus in the gospels through the whole year, so waiting until October is a bit too much for me, so I doubt I will ever do this one.
Fifth, here is a Two-Year Bible Reading Plan, helpful for a more paced study through the book.
There are other Bible Reading Plans available through:
The Discipleship Journal Web Site
ESV Study Bible Web Site (includes tablet and smart phone resources)
In what seems to be an unparalleled offering of Bible Reading plans, for 2016, Ligonier Ministries compiled a lengthy resource for Bible Reading plans, and it is worth looking at.
Finally, we must not dismiss the availability of online tools for reading the Bible. I know many people who use YouVersion to provide a daily Bible reading plan. It is a great app for your phone and you can customize it for the Bible reading you want to do.
I pray that in 2016, that New Life in Christ Church will continue to know the blessings of lives saturated in God's Word.
Check out the reading plans, read God’s Word, and take care how you listen!
New Year 2016: Starting the Year off Right
by Pastor Sean
Join the church for a special time of prayer on January 6 between 7 PM and 9 PM. This is an important time for humbling ourselves and seeking the face of our Lord. Without His favor, we will accomplish nothing. With Him, we believe that nothing will be impossible for us.
"if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Come when you are able, leave when you must. Please bring your children to be involved.
There are no care groups this week so we can pray together as a church. Everything resumes the following week.
Fast if you are able through the day, spend the time in prayer in worship of God and interceding to God on behalf of your own soul, your family, your church, the community and the world.
New Life in Christ Church
11925 Burgess Lane Fredericksburg, VA 22407