Going Through the Motions

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It has been said that many of us over-estimate what can be done in the short-term, but we under-estimate what can be done in the long-term.

Recently a friend expressed that he was discouraged because after a week of eating healthy and working out every day he had not lost any weight or seen any results. He was feeling discouraged.

Every near year people make ambitious resolutions, yet statistics show that most resolutions are not only abandoned, but that year after year, the same people tend to make the same resolutions, until many of them give up making resolutions completely.

I’m not against New Years resolutions; in fact I think that setting goals and making resolutions is a healthy part of Christian spirituality. See: Making Resolutions is Not a Lack of Faith, It Can Be an Act of Faith

Why do so many people abandon their resolutions?

One reason is because we often set goals which are too ambitious, or we set too many goals. As a result, we quickly burn out or become discouraged, or get behind and realize we’ll never be able to catch up.

Another reason is discouragement. Like my friend, when intense effort doesn’t produce foreseen results, we wonder whether our effort is pointless.

When I was 17 I tried to learn Spanish by listening to Spanish radio for hours every day. After a few weeks I gave up because all I got out of it was a headache.

We live in a society that expects quick-fixes and instant results. We want “just-add-water” and “microwave dinner” solutions. In other words: many of us are willing to give intense effort for a short amount of time, but if we don’t get the results we hoped for right away, we give up and move on: quitting diets/hobbies/jobs/relationships/churches – as soon as they are hard or not fun. As a result, we often don’t stick with things long enough to see significant impact.

Abide…and you will bear fruit

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Going Through the Motions Can Be Good

People tend to use the phrase “going through the motions” in a negative way, to refer to doing outward actions without heart or passion. However, “going through the motions” can be good if you’re going through the right motions! Getting set in your ways is only bad if your ways are bad! If your ways are good and helpful, then getting set in those ways can be the best thing you can possibly do!

Here’s why: because…

“Long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity every time.” – Bruce Lee

The Power of Walking

One of the metaphors the Bible uses to describe a relationship with God is “walking with God.”

  • Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5)
  • Noah walked with God (Genesis 6)
  • Abraham walked with God (Genesis 12)
  • Zechariah and Elizabeth walked with God (Luke 2)

Walking is used as a metaphor in the New Testament to describe a pattern of life, e.g. walking in darkness / walking in the light.

Walking is an interesting metaphor because it implies small steps, which on their own are not spectacular or glamorous or noteworthy, but over time the cumulative sum of those repeated actions can take you great distances, and to the highest peaks.

Walking doesn’t even elevate your heart rate – but perhaps that’s part of what makes it so powerful: it can be sustained for long periods of time.

Walking is essentially: small, continual actions, which lead somewhere.

For example: If you read just 2 chapters of the Bible per day, in 5 years you will have read through the entire Bible 3 times. Just imagine how well you would know God’s Word with that small effort, sustained over time.

If you read 10 pages in a book every day (about 15 minutes), in 5 years you will have read about 60 books.

What if you devoted the next 5 years to pursuing God?  What if you took small, but continual steps which, over time, would snowball into huge effects in your life?

C. S. Lewis put it this way:

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.132)

For more on this topic, check out this message: A Vision for Your Future

Most Popular Posts of 2019

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Thank you for reading and subscribing to this blog. 2019 saw continued growth in readership.

I wrote 101 articles this year, which were viewed 58,000 times, a 70% increase over last year. Subscriptions increased by 35%.

Most Popular Posts of 2019:

  1. The Gospel of Caesar Augustus & What It Tells Us About the Gospel of Jesus Christ

  2. Joaquin Phoenix is Playing Jesus, but Refused to Reenact One of His Miracles
  3. Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death & Resurrection?
  4. Augustine & Disordered Loves
  5. Why is Satan Going to Be Released at the End of the Thousand Years
  6. Jordan Peterson & the Bible
  7. What Does it Mean to Live “Coram Deo”?
  8. Why Gossip is Like Pornography
  9. New Zealand, Nigeria & New York: Religious Violence, Refugees & Reporting
  10. Is Christianity About Denying Yourself or About Being Happy?

If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do!

Have a happy New Year, and may God bless you in 2020!

Most Listened-To Sermons of 2019

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Our church’s website was recently updated, including a major overhaul of the sermon archive, which now allows you to browse by series and books we have taught through. Check it out here: White Fields Community Church Sermons

If you haven’t done so yet, you can subscribe to our podcast here, or just search White Fields Community Church in whatever podcast app you use. If you like what you hear, please rate and review us, as that helps boost us in their algorithm, and helps other people discover us.

I recently switched to the Overcast app for listening to podcasts. I like that it cuts out pauses and regulates audio to a consistent level, and allows me to make playlists. Overcast is only available for iOS, but the best app for Android, which has many of the same features is Podcast Addict. My wife’s biggest hesitation with switching to an iPhone recently was that she would lose Podcast Addict.

These sermons I preached in 2019 were listened to and downloaded the most:

10. Amos: Faith that Works

9. Daniel: How to Live a God-Honoring Life in a Hostile Environment

8. How to Be Right When You are Wronged – 1 Peter 3:8-22

7. What is Your Life? – James 4:13-5:6

6. Encouragement for the Fainthearted – 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

5. Count It All Joy – 1 Peter 1:1-9

4. I Could Never Believe in a God Who: Condoned Genocide in the Old Testament

3. I Could Never Believe in a God Who: Hasn’t Proven His Existence

2. I Could Never Believe in a God Who: Does Not Affirm Some People’s Sexuality

1. I Could Never Believe in a God Who: Sends People to Hell

Analysis

A few things pop out at me from this list. First of all, the fact that some of our more recent sermons are in the top ten means that listenership to our podcast is increasing.

Secondly our biographical look at the prophets, called “Remember the Prophets” was a lot of fun. Those books and their authors are often overlooked for various reasons, but their messages are very important.

Finally, our apologetics series “I Could Never Believe in a God Who…” was our second consecutive year doing a series like this, and clearly it struck a chord with a lot of people. These kinds of series are helpful both for engaging with those who might be skeptical about Christianity, and for teaching Christians how to respond well to those who ask questions. Oftentimes many of us who are Christians struggle with questions even though we choose to trust God and believe. As the church we engage with those issues and equip others to do so as well.

What Didn’t Make the List?

Leave me a comment below and let me know which sermon from this year made the biggest impact on you!

If need to refresh your memory, a list of our past sermons from this year can be found here: White Fields Sermons

Making Resolutions is Not a Lack of Faith, It Can Be an Act of Faith

You know the drill: the parking lot at the gym is full on New Year’s Day, but by March it’s empty again. “Why bother making New Year’s resolutions,” some ask, “if I’m just going to break them anyway?”

Others, I have noticed, state that they do not make New Year’s resolutions because they choose instead to “trust in God” rather than “rely on themselves,” assuming that to make plans and set goals is antithetical to faith, trust and reliance on God.

But is it?

I might argue that not setting goals and making plans is what reflects a lack of faith.

Real Faith Manifests Itself in Actions

The theme for our ministry year at White Fields for 2019 is: “Faith in Motion”, and during this year, we will be studying the Epistle of James, as well as looking at the lives of some of the Old Testament Prophets, because James tells us to “remember the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Take them as examples of patient endurance under suffering.” (James 5:10)

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We will begin that series this Sunday by looking at Amos: a man who – in a time of “professional prophets” was a mere shepherd and fig-picker, but was given a calling and message from God, and he responded faithfully. In other words: his faith in God was reflected in his actions of obedience.

James famously tells us: “I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18). The point is clear: real faith manifests itself in actions. If you really believe something is true, you will live – and plan – accordingly.

However, James also warns us against presumption in this. He says: ‘Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

The solution, James tells us, is NOT to not make any plans, but rather to still make plans, but submit those plans to God, and be flexible if God decides to take you in a different direction.

In other words: making resolutions (whether at the New Year or any other time of the year) can actually be an outworking of genuine faith. If you set goals which are in line with biblical and godly values, and make plans for how you are going to do those things, that is an act of stewardship.

A Matter of Stewardship

God has a LOT to say about stewardship in the Bible – starting with: Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:2). The point of stewardship is that you have been entrusted with certain things, and given a responsibility to use them according to the master’s wishes and purposes.

Jesus told his disciples: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) But to conclude that this means that we should then never attempt to do anything would be foolish and not at all what Jesus intended. It is not apart from Him that we attempt to accomplish anything, but with Him and by His power.

Paul the Apostle wrote this: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them (the other apostles), though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

It is wrong to think that planning, effort and thoughtfulness are somehow opposed to spirituality. Rather these are faith in motion: the outworking of values which come as a result of seeking God and seeking to follow God – similar to Daniel, who “resolved in his heart not do defile himself” while in Babylon. (Daniel 1:8) That was a resolution based on a conviction, and an act of faith, not of self-reliance.

Challenging Goals Actually Make You More Dependent on God

One of the greatest benefits of setting attainable, yet challenging goals is that it also fuels my prayer life. If I set goals that I cannot achieve on my own, apart from the work of God, then I am in a position of being even more dependent on Him.

My Resolutions Annual Goals

I don’t set “New Years resolutions” per se, but what I do every year is set attainable, yet challenging goals for the year which serve as guides for me later on, when I’m not feeling motivated or when I lose steam or need to be reminded of what I should be working on or towards.

I’ve found that having goals keeps me focused and motivated over longer periods of time. I can look back at them and be reminded of the things which I believed at one time were important guides to keep me on track.

Some of my goals are family-related. Some are related to my work as a pastor. Many others are personal. I set goals for how many books I will read, and in which languages. I set goals for how many kilometers or miles I will run, and I set goals to accomplish certain projects.

I have been doing this for the last several years, to good effect. I haven’t always met all of my goals, but at least having the goals kept me moving in the right direction on the days when I am tired or begin to miss the forest for the trees – and lose sight of the big picture.

My Advice on Setting Goals: Make them Specific and Measurable

I encourage you to consider setting some goals here at the outset of the year. If you are a Christian, let biblical and godly values drive your goal setting. But don’t only set goals, also map out plans for actually attaining them. If you plan to run 500 miles, calculate how many miles you will need to run each week. If you plan to read through the Bible this year from cover to cover, figure out how much you need to read each day in order to do that.

Don’t make goals that are not specific; rather than saying “I want to get in shape” or “I want to be kinder”, set concrete, specific and measurable goals, so that you will be able to measure whether you succeeded in reaching those goals or not.

I wish you all the best in this new year! May it be a year in which you walk with God like never before!

The 7 Most Popular Posts of 2018

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Thank you for taking the time to read and engage with this blog!

Our readership increased this year by 230% over last year, which itself was a 90% increase over the year before. At this point, the blog is being visited about 40,000 times a year by about 30,000 people.

These were the most popular posts from 2018:

  1. Pastors, Depression and Suicide

  2. Why Did Jesus Tell Some People to Keep Quiet About His Miracles and Identity?

  3. Anthony Bourdain, Suicide and the Bible

  4. Why the Dead Sea Scrolls Matter for Christians

  5. Will Studying Science Make You an Atheist?

  6. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations

  7. Expository Preaching: Structure and Progression

If you’ve found any of the content on this site helpful, please share it with others!

Thanks, and Happy New Year!

2017 in Review

This year readership of this blog nearly doubled!

In 2018 the plan is to begin creating video episodes to reach more people and elaborate on some of the topics addressed on this site so keep an eye out for that.

Here are 10 most-read posts from 2017:

  1. Take Joy in Being the People of God
  2. What is Over-Realized Eschatology?
  3. Grace Through Anna: Meet the Currats
  4. Want to Join a Korean Doomsday Cult?
  5. Politics and Identity
  6. Was Jesus in the Grave Three Days and Three Nights? Here’s How It Adds Up
  7. The Problem with Evangelism
  8. Racism is Not Merely a Matter of Ignorance
  9. What Happened that Made You Like This?
  10. Fearfully and Wonderfully Made? What About Those Born Handicapped?

Thanks for reading! You can let me know in a comment what topics you’d be interested in reading about in the coming year. like me to write about in the coming year.

5 Things to Keep in Mind When Making New Years Resolutions

There is a German saying: “Alles hat ein ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.” (Everything has an end, only sausage has two [ends]).

As we approach the New Year, this changing of calendars gives us something to measure by. With the end of one year and the beginning of another, we have the opportunity to look back and assess the previous year, as well as to look forward and pray and plan for the year to come.

In his book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, author Jon Acuff (who I first came to know about through his great blog: Stuff Christians Like) refers to a study at the University of Scranton(!) which determined that 92% of all resolutions go unfinished. Thus, in a world of bottomless possibilities and endless distractions, to be a person who finishes what you start is as rare, valuable and powerful thing.

92% of all resolutions go unfinished

I’ll admit to you right now, I’ve become a slight bit addicted to finishing things. If I start reading a book, I have to finish it, even if it’s bad (and I did read a few books like that this year). If I set a goal, I almost always finish it, even if it’s not always in a timely matter (like the 1.5 year landscaping project in my front yard).

I agree with what Ecclesiastes 7:8 says: “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning.” However, this in itself is one of the things which prevents people from completing their goals… Many people won’t even try to start doing something unless they are sure that they will be able to finish it. So they won’t even start exercising, because they are afraid they will give up.

Through Jon Acuff’s research, what he found is that the most common day that people give up on a goal is Day 2.

The most common day that people give up on a goal is Day 2.

In the past I was not a fan of New Years resolutions for the very reason that most of them don’t succeed, but perhaps I’ve become a bit less cynical (maybe I should have made that a resolution!), because I’ve really warmed up to the idea. So here are some things to consider when making resolutions and some tips on accomplishing them:

1. Don’t Neglect the Spiritual

The most common New Years resolutions are about 1) Health and Fitness and 2) Time Management. For Christians, we remember what Jesus said: that life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. (Luke 12:23) and that it is possible to “gain the whole world and yet lose your own soul.” (Mark 8:36).

2. Do Everything to the Glory of God

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
I’ve spoken and written a lot on this topic recently in light of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. The idea of doing everything to the glory of God was a key teaching of the reformers, as they rebelled against the division of life into sacred and secular realms and showed that the Bible teaches that we should do everything we do for God’s glory, and if it is something which cannot be done for God’s glory, we should not do it.
For more on this topic see:

3. Set Goals That Are Not Easy, But Are Attainable

Jon Acuff mentions how many people will set a goal like running a marathon, but yet they underestimate the time and effort that goes into reaching a goal like that. He suggests instead setting a goal that is attainable, and exceed-able, such as running a 5k or 10k for someone who is not already a runner. Having reached that goal, you can set another. Whatever goal you set, it should stretch you, but it should still be attainable, if you want to increase the likelihood of success.

4. Write Them Down

God told the prophet Habakkuk to write down the revelation that God gave him and make it plain. (Habakkuk 2:2) As a result of Habakkuk and the other “writing prophets” writing down the visions that God gave them, we are now able to look back at them and have a record both of how God spoke to those people at that time, and how God fulfilled what He spoke to them.
Having a written record of a goal helps keep you accountable to yourself and motivated throughout the year. I like to keep a list in my desk and check it regularly.

5. Make it Fun

Jon Acuff points out that gaming your goals is one of the best ways to ensure that you make progress on them and don’t give up. So a Bible reading plan (I use the YouVersion Bible app and bible.com) that shows progress each time you complete a section can help you keep going.
I like to compete against myself, so things like this are very helpful for me. I recently installed a productivity app on my MacBook and smartphone called RescueTime. It monitors all the time you spend on your devices and gives you reports and graphs to see what you actually do and how much time you spend on certain websites or particular tests. I also gives you a productivity score of 1-100. I like to see that number grow, which encourages me to spend more time working on things that are truly important and in line with my goals – and less time on things which are a waste of time, which there is no lack of on the internet.

Maybe you’ve got some tips of your own. Leave a comment below and tell me what those are. And may this year be one for you in which you live for God’s glory fueled by gratitude for what He has done for you in Jesus!

Why You Should Make New Year’s Resolutions – and How to Actually Accomplish Them

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I never thought I would be a New Year’s resolution type of person, but over the years I have learned a few things about myself and about New Year’s resolutions that have changed my mind.

Here are some quick statistics for you:
One study shows as few as 8% of people accomplish their resolutions.
However, that same study shows that people who make resolutions are as much as 10x more likely to achieve their goals than people who don’t.

People who make resolutions are as much as 10x more likely to achieve their goals than people who don’t

In a way, the New Year is a strange holiday. We aren’t celebrating a grand event in the past which changed the course of history, as we do at Easter or Independance Day. We are not celebrating the birth of a great figure as we do at Christmas or Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We are not celebrating a class of people as we do on Labor Day, Veterans Day or Mothers Day. All we are really celebrating is that the Earth went all the way around the sun again; which we could theorertically celebrate any day of the year. We have gotten to the end of our calendar, which begins on an arbitrary date.

However, I have come to greatly appreciate this holiday, because it gives us something to measure time by. And albeit slightly contrived, it does give us the sense of a new beginning, a fresh start.

On my desk in my office, I have a book stand, and on that stand is a notepad. For the past 2 years, I have been writing down several goals for the year, ranging from personal goals, to items related to my marriage and family to ministry and prayer topics, which I would like to see come to fruition in that coming year. Then for the rest of the year, I leave that notepad right there, always in constant view, so that I see it every day when I sit down and get to work.

The reason I started doing this was because I read somewhere that goals which get written down are much more likely to be accomplished. I think there’s more that goes into accomplishing goals, but that’s a good start.

Over the past 2 years that I have been doing this, I have been amazed how at the end of the year, almost all of the things which I wrote down have become reality. 2016’s list had about 20 items on it, and at the end of this year, only 2 of them remain unrealized. Those items will be rolled over into 2017’s list, but even those are not to be considered failure, as having them on the list for the past year led to them being topics of prayer that I brought before God almost daily and asked for His will to be done.

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Why You Should Make New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. If you set a goal and write it down, you are 10x more likely to do it than if you don’t.

  2. If done right, it can guide your prayer life and help you to see and rejoice in God’s faithfulness.

  3. If you set God-honoring goals, planning and working towards them are acts of faith and obedience to God.

    Setting goals which you cannot accomplish on your own keeps you on your knees and dependent on God, pushing forward and asking Him to do great things.

How to Actually Accomplish Your Resolutions:

  • Make Decisions.

Without a strategy, your resolutions will likely only remain a good intention, and we know what those pave the road to… This Forbes article points out that the huge difference between “intentions” and “decisions”: stating that most people don’t follow through on intentions, but they do follow through once they’ve actually made a decision.

This year one of my goals is to run a half-marathon. Rather than just writing it down, I’ve also gone online, picked out the race I want to run, signed up and paid for it, and signed up for a training program. Whatever your goal is, don’t let it remain only a good intention, make a concrete plan for how it is going to become reality.

  • Use Your Calendar.

Time is kind of like money: you’ve only got so much of it, so you’ve got to budget it. Be strategic and schedule things that are important to you into your calendar. If you want to pray and read the Bible more, scedule it into your day. If you want to spend more time with your kids, schedule it into your day. If you want to read or write more, schedule it. You can still be flexible, but at least having it on the calendar will give structure to your days and keep your on track towards your goals.

Thoughts at New Year

The new year is an interesting time – because it is somewhat of an arbitrary holiday; we are not celebrating a person or a great historical event. All we’re really celebrating, other than the fact that the Earth went all the way around the sun and now we have to go replace our calendars…

The value of the new year is that it gives us a gauge to measure by, it gives us perspective, and perspective helps us to see things more clearly.

The new year also comes with a sense of a new beginning – something which, as Christians, we can have a sense of each and every day because of God’s grace.

I’m not in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions, but there is one thing I do every year, which I find helpful: I sit down and write a list of things which I would like to see in one year from now. These are things which are not yet reality, but things which I would like to see become reality. Having written these things down, I keep that list on my desk, and pray and plan over these things until they become reality. Having this list helps direct my prayers and my focus, my time and my energy.

Zig Ziglar famously said: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

We have a big God, with whom all things are possible (Mark 10:27) – a God who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20). I encourage you to dream and pray in faith for those things which are yet unseen. Write them down, so that you won’t quickly forget them because of the tyranny of the urgent that creeps into our lives. At the end of the year, you will find yourself with a list of things which God has done.

Thoughts on Vision and Planning

I overheard this conversation between two cashiers at a store the other day:

“…then he asked me what my 5-year plan was, and I’m like: ‘I don’t know! I don’t even think like that!'”  “I know, right?!”

I remember when I used to think like that myself. When I first planted the church in Eger, people often asked me what my “vision” was, or what my 5-year plan was. I told them, “I don’t know. I just want to lead people to Jesus, plant a church, and raise up Christian leaders.”
Little did I understand, that what I was expressing was a very clear vision and plan!

I have come much more to embrace the mentality of having a plan or a vision.

Dave Ramsey says, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time”.

I have been in circles before where it was seen as unspiritual to plan or strategize. The thing these people don’t often realize is that they have unspoken plans and strategies, even though they don’t articulate them. It can be a strategy, for example, to not plan, and leave yourself open to whatever the day brings you. That’s a strategy – it’s a plan, and one which, like all strategies and plans, has advantages and disadvantages.

The New Year is a time of year I have come to love and appreciate, because a year is a measurable period of time, which gives us a scale to measure by, a scale to reflect upon, and a scale to plan by.

In reflecting on this past year, I realized that God did so many great things in the life of our family and our church. We finished the legal process of our son’s adoption and immigration, our church had several successful outreaches and did more for mission work, my wife and I celebrated 10 years of marriage… I could go on and on.

When it comes to strategizing and planning, I believe the best way to do it is in accordance with your long-term goals of what you want your life, or your organization, to be about.

I have a lot of ideas about things I would like to do in this New Year, and I pray by God’s grace that I would be cognizant of these things, and be able to bring them through to fruition. After all, it’s easy to start things, and a lot of people start things – but few people finish things, and even fewer finish them well.

Happy New Year!